Walking around Ushuaia over the last few days has that awkward feeling of running into the same people over and over again in the supermarket. Sitting her at the airport we are next to a lovely German couple who shared our coldest day of the trip on the Pira tour to visit the Magellanic penguins. More about that to follow.
Lots of hugs with the crew as we left the Ushuaia. As everyone disembarked the must reach the polar circle at all costs American couple, you’ll hear more about them in later posts, were sitting down with a staff members from on shore to document their complainants. I felt a bit sorry for them as thy had managed to ruin their. One holiday by hanging on to expectations which were contingent on things beyond any one’s control.
The expedition staff did all they could to make the journey as full of experiences as possible and I think they did a great job. Angry Ken and Sulky Barbie did not share that view. As I frequently remind a certain someone, name calling is unhelpful, but in this case I’m making an exception.
We zipped up to the hotel is a convoy of taxis for $5 each. As we were early we couldn’t check in, so just dumped our suitcases and ran off with our dirty clothes to the lavadero. Only to find it closed. Even with Linda’s translations we weren’t able to figure that out much with the guy who happened to be there, but after carting our gear back to the hotel we asked at reception to discover that everything would be closed, and we were going to have to ration our clean clothes until we got home.
It turned out we arrived back in Ushuaia on the 3rd day of Carnival. Which meant that everything was shut. Are you picking up on a theme for our holiday yet? Luckily Antarctica was open while we were there, but because of no internet there, and stupidly slow internet at our hotel you still have to wait to hear about all of that.
Back at the hotel I connected to wireless and had a slight (possibly not so slight) panic when the first message I got was from someone in our street saying our dog Sausage had wandered into their house and that they would hold onto her until they heard from us. The message was dated Jan 30, over a week ago. A number of frantic messages, emails and phone calls later we were assured that both dogs were alive, well, and relocated to their aunts house. The gate had been damaged in a storm and despite the best efforts by our gallant house sitter alternative accommodation was required.
Once that drama was resolved we decided our sea legs weren’t bad enough to prevent us from pottering around the even more-closed-than-usual downtown of Ushuaia. We booked ourselves on a tour to Isla Martillo for the following day, grabbed a bite to eat and then checked in and napped.
Although we had napped through the main part of Carnival, when we ventured down the many steps to town at about 7 there were some folk still celebrating in the streets. For the mobs of kids and teenagers this amounted to chasing each other with cans of fake snow. Empty cans were discarded on the ground without any concern. I was amazed to see how little mess there was when I was walking around the following morning. The lovely poppies I had intended to photograph wee a little worse for wear sadly. The cleanup crew must have worked through the night. Apparently whatever it was is non toxic as it was spayed into people’s faces.
A little spooked we headed uphill for yet another dinner in Ushuaia. Over our time here I think we have managed to eat at every eatery in the main street. And yet, nothing exciting, just pasta, pizza, salad, steak and potato. Ushuaia is not a foodies paradise.
The next day, Tuesday, most of our fellow expeditioners were leaving town, either for home, or for further adventures in South America. We missed saying goodbye to some, but met up with others over breakfast in the hotel. I
left Kingsley at the hotel to chill while I took my well traveled and little used macro lens out on the town.
Instead of flowers I found cat street, the street that runs parallel to the main drag. I met one exceptionally smoochy cat who seemed keen to walk along with me. He also had a friend, and a kitten in the background. I’m allergic to cats, but this little one even got a tummy rub out of me. I spent the walk back to the hotel reminding myself not to touch my face with that hand. After that encounter I seemed to run into a cat on every block, none of whom were as friendly as the first.
Pub lunch at the Irish Pub with a friendly waitress, a rarity in Ushuaia, and then down to the port to get on our bus for our afternoon tour.
This started with being loaded on a bus (we were told there was a limit of 20 on the tour so at this stage I was a little confused by the size of the coach we were on) . This was soon explained and the green lanyards would be going first, while the blue lanyards visited the museum, and then the reverse.
The guide ran through the rules for walking with penguins, but it was a little difficult to hear over the noise of the other passengers and the bus. We were old hands at the right of way, but from Fiona’s review form the previous day many of her group didn’t pay much attention to this.
The bus ride took us through some lovely scenery and lasted about 1 hour 45 minutes. I will admit to snoozing through part of the journey, and I think most of our fellow travelers did likewise.
On arrival it was starting to drizzle , which expanded to full on rain by the time the first group were on the island. The museum was more of a research station. They let us have a little look at the areas they use to clean the bones of the animals that come to them, all non chemical to allow them to extract DNA and take samples of heavy metals etc. The guide was very informative, and covered much of the same material we’d been told in lectures aboard the Ushuaia.
On the shore of the Beagle Channel stood The Bone House. A quaint little shack where they do the final processing of the skulls, which is apparently quite stinky. A bit macabre, but quite pretty from a distance.
Once we’d finished in the museum it was nice and sunny and we thought we were in the clear.
Next was a quick trip to the cafeteria to extract more funds from the tourists. We sat with a lovely couple from Germany who were visiting South America to hear the Rolling Stones play. They had seen them play in Russia and a number of other countries, including a trip to Australia where the show was cancelled. As good a way as any to decide where to go next I suppose. They are now retired with 5 grand children to keep them busy between Rolling Stones concerts. Despite their five languages they didn’t speak Spanish. The europeans really put us Aussies to shame. All you parents out there, get your kids to study a language. Spanish is a good choose I think.
After a cup of what passes for coffee in most of the places we’ve visited in Argentina we were filed onto a large covered zodiac and warned that it might be a bit bumpy. Bone jarring would be a fitting description as we zipped out into the Beagle Channel towards the island that the Magellanic penguins call home at this time of year. There are 70,000 of these birds on the island along with some Gentoo penguins and itinerant and confused handful of King penguins. King penguins aren’t supposed to live in this area, but the island frequently has between 1 and 6 of these very handsome creatures.
We were lucky enough to see four of them. The weather was not going to make it easy to photograph them however. With a heads up form Fiona I had brought the long lens with me. The wind decided that would be fun to play with and even with Kingsley trying to act as wind break it was blowing all over the shop.
And was it cold! The coldest we have felt in the whole trip, and that includes being snowed on. I was lucky in that I had donned thermals top and bottom, brought gloves, a hat and my buff as well as the Gortex the jacket and polar fleece. Kingsley hadn’t read the brochure and was less padded. I think the cold got to him as he ended up having a bit of stumble on the way up the hill and put a nice dirty mark on his last pair of clean pants.
The guide hustled us up the marked trail as the rain started to fall. It wasn’t too heavy, but enough to collect the chill from the Antarctic wind and add to the sense that this was the coldest place on earth.
The Magellanic penguins are more like our little penguins in Australia in that they like nice cosy burrows to next in rather than nests made of pebbles. The island looks like a bit rabbit warren actually. On a different day we would have hung around on the top of the hill taking photos for ages. With a gale force wind bearing down on us ( this may include some poetic license) we couldn’t get down the hill fast enough.
The King penguins were right in the middle of the colony on the beach, but we were able to snap a few shots from the boat.
The Magellanic penguins make a very odd braying sound so if you closed your eyes ( and managed not to fall over beau case you don’t have your land legs yet) you could be forgiven for thinking you were surrounded by donkeys. I will henceforth refer to them as Eeyore penguins. There is a lot less penguin poop in these colonies too. I think the chin strap have the market cornered on easily excavated guano. Except for it all being in the Antarctic I suppose. Maybe they were just the stinkiest. And good for them, it’s clearly working out ok.
After waiting for some green lanyard stragglers we were back on the nicely heated bus for the long drive back to town. As Kingsley said, a very expensive bus ride at about $150 ach, but I can add two more penguin species to my list which is quiet exciting.
By the time we got back I was about 9:15pm and time for dinner. Yes, that’s right. I was not only still awake, but in a restaurant ordering tea. Luckily this is Argentina and eating at that time of day is more norm than exception so we had no trouble getting some pasta and a nice malbec to go with it. Then a walk home, uphill, in the rain.
It is worth noting that I did not take the aquatech camera gear on the trip and everything survived the elements fine, including us. Kinglsey did have to put his boots in front of the overly enthusiastic radiator at the hotel, but it was nice to give it a purpose for a change.
Our flight out of Ushuaia was at a respectable hour so there was no mad rush in the morning. That gave us ample time to slosh coffee all over the table multiple times on the poorly designed, wobbly, easily knockable tables. I couldn’t face more cake for breakfast so stuck with fruit ( the hotel offers some fruit, some toast, frosted cereal and the most extensive range of tarts, pies, muffins, cakes and sweet pasties you can imagine. It’s like they are trying to promote diabetes. But I digress)
The internet at the airport is free, and significantly faster than the hotel to the point of being ridiculous. The view from the airport is also very impressive when compared to the hotel. If you’re designing windows in a room where people are going to be seated, don’t start the windows at shoulder height. Just saying.
Our southern adventure has been very satisfying and it will be a while before we put our cold weather gear to use again based on the weather back in Perth.
Now back in Buenos Aires it is warm, but not hot. I’m pleased to discover I still have clean warm weather clothes so should make it back to Perth without attracting too many nasty looks from strangers.