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Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Breakfast at the hotel is a bit sparse, but seeing as we managed to turn down the heat in our room I’m happy. Internet speed is still woeful. First world problems. I know. The air fresher that attacks in the hallways is also a mild irritant.
Happily we were out and about today on a tour of Tierra del Fuego with Canal Fun tours, organised by co-traveler, animal rescuer and fellow bird lover, Fiona.

Our guide, Valentine, and canoe specialist Frederico, were very entertaining, informative, funny and accommodating. Couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Patagonia. Some of what I report here may be false however as Valentine tried to convince us that horse poo came from the Antarctic Mosquito (or something to that effect). Blame him for anything here that isn’t completely factual.

I can say with certainty that today was the perfect weather for a canoe / raft ride and a hike through the serene national park. It was about 17 degrees, with a breeze and a few sprinkles of rain. With layers that went on and off like a strobe light we were very comfortable.

While others were using the ‘organised toilet’, Kingsley, Nicole and I were lucky enough to see a Condor circling overhead. I have a few photos which are really just black specs so verifying them as a condor might be tricky, but Valentine said it was (see disclaimer above).

Other wildlife spotted included two types of falcon, the ash headed and the Upland ducks (both with chicks), an endemic red fox, miscellaneous small song/bush birds and black necked swans (sort of a like a top deck style swan). Dave saw a beaver, but our boat was too busy paddling around in 360 degree circles to see that one. We all looked rather special in our waterproof pants though.

We learnt a little bit about the history of Ushuaia, which I hope to consolidate with a trip to the maritime museum tomorrow. You all know how I love a good maritime museum. Like many parts of Australia, Ushuaia has some of its relatively recent roots as a prison colony.  Keeping prisoners geographically separate to the general population always helps to hide all the atrocities you might like to inflict on them after all (seems to work for equally well where people have committed no crimes and it is merely convenient to shut them away for no good reason but I’ll resist the urge to get too political here and now). Islands are especially popular for this.

The Europeans also manged to wipe out the local indigenous, Yamana,  population by introducing diseases. Again, a sadly familiar story to back home.

We did learn that Patagonia stems from the term big foot, related to the indigenous population who were not only tall, with big feet, but who wrapped them in skins as shoes, making their footprints seem even larger. And that aia translates to bay from the Yamana language to English.

The first part of our tour involved a paddle in an inflatable boat.  Call it a raft or canoe as it suits you best. The very best of the ‘’rapids’ we went over meant that we didn’t have to paddle to move, so no risk of toppling over as long as no one stood up. No one did. We could have benefited form a bit more paddling and steering practice but we got where we needed to be in the time allotted, without falling in, and allowing appropriate time for photographs along the way so well done us I say.

We have a  number of vegetarians on our trip, and this was specified when the tour was booked. One way or another that message didn’t get through to catering so there was a bit of rearrangement at lunch.  I think that the staff ended up eating the chicken dinner while our vege travelers ate their lunch.  I can’t be certain.

We got to see some of the damage I had read about  by beavers introduced to south america form north america. In the wisdom that has been repeated worldwide some enterprising soul thought that setting up a fur trade (yes, not a good plan even if it had worked out) in south america was a good idea. So they brought 25 mating pairs of beaver from Canada and deposited them in South America.
The chronicles of Narnia and a trip to Canada as a child leaves me predisposed to like beavers, but everything has its place, and the beaver does not belong here.

Beaver gnawed tree
devastation caused by cute little beavers

Not only is the climate so different to where they come from that the fur they produced was worthless, but there are no natural predators so the beavers set to work terraforming the environment, cutting down some trees and drowning others with their dams. Clever critters, in totally the wrong place. There is a now a program in place to eradicate them. Sucks to be a beaver in the wrong place, but that applies equally to rabbits, cane toads and the long, long list of our other F&*^ ups.

And less that 20 years ago, when people really should have known better, salmon were introduced to the rivers and now have to be eliminated as they out compete everything here.  For a very clever species we are dumb as rocks.

On our hike we saw a couple of different orchids.  I know Jon would have stopped there and we would have had to send Pepe out looking for him. The vegetation is a mixture of forest and meadow land. The tree line finishes at roughly 700m (that’s from memory so don’t go basing a thesis on it). We were well, well under that, but looking up at mountains on both the Chile and Argentinian side. Because of the climate everything takes much longer to break down.

It was lovely to get to know some of the people were will be traveling with over the next 11 days or so. There is the off chance some of them will be reading this, but I can genuinely say they are a great bunch of folk and I’ll looking forward to getting to know them better. Given my normal aversion to people that’s saying a lot.

I’m not much of a landscape photographer.  Landscape really is about planning to be at the right spot, at the right time of day, at the right time of year, while scratching your right ear with a four leaf lover, well you get the idea. My challenge today was remembering to switch back from landscape setting when I saw something interesting (ie birds). There were a few occasions that were a massive fail, but at least I learnt that today and hopefully will manage not to repeat this when I’m on the next continent.

And tomorrow is the day we set off. That means no more posts will be published until we’re back here. I will endeavor to write them up every day though.

Other fun facts.

Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city.

Argentina legalised same sex marriage in 2010 (come on Australia, get out of the dark ages already) and that the first Latin American marriage was conducted here in Ushuaia.

Tierre del Fuego National Park is approx 68,000 hectares in size and home to roughly 50 horses as well as a range of endemic wildlife and introduced pests.

The average temperature year round in 5 degrees C. It has an average winter temperature of 0 degrees, moderated by the proximity to the ocean.

Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Up early for a morning flight. Quick taxi ride to the Areoparque and an eventless flight south to the little town of Ushuaia. The airport here is like I’ve never seen before. The interior in all exposed pine, reminiscent of our place in Sussex street, but with cleaner edges, higher ceilings and a lovely sense of light. Quite charming really.

The town makes me think of all the little tourist towns supporting skiing and surfing. Every third shop is for branded gear or clothing, very second a bar or eatery, mainly pizza and pasta. The view over the bay at 9 pm, when it is just starting to become dusk, has the most gorgeous reflection on the glassy water. Hard to imagine that not that far from here Drakes Passage awaits.

The supermarket has a very odd system for queuing ( thanks for the heads up Alex) and the man at the express queue seems thoroughly depressed, despite having a chair so he can sit down while he works.
The hotel we are staying in is the Las Lengos, in the middle of the hill / mountain the town Is situated on. This time we are on the first level so no elevator woes as we had at the Sheraton, and no beeping elevators like the Bristol. We do have a construction site outside our window, between us and the view,   But we are working on the assumption they’ll stop by the time we go to bed. As with many cooler places the rooms are overheated (for our tastes) but we turned on natures air conditioning by opening the window.
Up the hill Angela and Lorri are staying in a fancy place where you can set your alarm, and instead of an annoying noise, the blinds slide up and the curtains gently open to reveal a view of the bay.  Now that is style. I look forward to Kingsley implementing this for me at home on our return.
Fun fact leant from Di and Dave, there actually are monkeys at Iguazu and the sign off the balcony door warning you to keep it closed so they don’t steal your things has merit. 
And you’ll be delighted to know we found a laundry service just around the corner so we dropped off all our stinginess and should no not be shunned on the boat. At least not for being stinky.
It’s funny walking around a strange new town and running into people you know. The other members of the group we are travelling with have been arriving here over the last few days so there were a few chance encounters as we wandered into town for lunch.
We also had a lovely dinner with the bulk of the group. We are very lucky to have the talented Bridgid (sp?) along as she speak fluent Spanish and was able to liaise with the waiter on a number of issues. 
Serving sizes here are big. Far bigger than I can ever manage. I nearly insulted the waiter by passing my dish over to Kingsley to finish. I never thought I’d say this but I can do without anything with cheese in for for some time. 
Not much else to report today. We’re off into Tierra del Fuego tomorrow at the very civilised hour of 8:40. Internet here is sooo slow so no pictures today.
Chile, Argentina and Antarctica

Chile, Argentina and Antarctica

This proverbial trip of a lifetime has been over a year in the planning.  And that’s with someone else planning the important things for us (Thank you Alex Cearns and World Expeditions).

Just like many of the people I’ve spoken to about the trip, I was initially suprised that we would be traveling to Antarctica via South America, and not Tasmania as I had imagined.  This is why…

Map courtesy of

We will be going to the Antarctic Peninsula (the bit in the red square).  The trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Peninsula via Drake’s Passage should take us a couple of days. Travelling from our side of the world would take us to the eastern side and take considerably longer. So all in all the loooong flight from Perth to South America makes sense, and lets us visit three other countries on the way.

Perth to Santiago, Chile

15 January

We fly via Sydney and will no doubt spend most of that time trying not think about Brian and Craig and their Business Class tickets to Europe.

Santiago, Chile 

16 – 18 January

We will be staying in downtown Santiago.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (and a bit of Brazil) 

19 – 23 January

Seeing as this trip is actually our belated honeymoon, I thought a few days of luxury were in order.  We’ll be staying in the Sheraton, in the national park on the Argentinian side.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

23 – 26 January

Staying downtown we may take a bicycle tour to check out the sights.

Ushuaia, Argentina 

26 – 28 January

Before setting off on the boat we have a fun day out planned with Canal Fun Ushuaia which will take us out into the Tierra del Fuego National park.
We’ll meet up with our tour group before embarking on the MV Ushuaia.


28 January – 8 February

Aboard the MV Ushuaia we will spend the first few days hoping for a calm crossing of Drake’s passage and that the sea sickness meds work.

We’ll then make our way around the South Shetland Islands and the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula visiting an assortment of islands and bases.

Ushuaia, Argentina 

8 – 10 February

A quick stop to get our land legs before heading home.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

9- 11 February

Just a day.

Buenos Aires to Perth  

11 – 12 February

The long ride home.

Preparing for Antarctica

Preparing for Antarctica

Having got the whole Christmas thing out of the way the countdown is on to our ‘trip of a lifetime’.
Had I know how much the trip was going to end up costing I don’t think I could have justified it.  As a result I’m very glad I didn’t know, and that I have not felt the urge to add it all up.
People tend to ask the same questions when they hear about the trip.

Do you sail from Tasmania?

Actually the trip is to the Antarctic Peninsula which is much closer to the tip or Argentina that any part of Australia is to Antarctica’s east coast.

How many people will be on the boat?

The  Ushuaia has 84 passenger berths, and our photographic group numbers about 20 people so we will be well represented.

How cold will it be?

From what I’ve read we’re expecting most days to be between -5 °C and 5 °C. I’ll let you know if that was wrong when I get back.

Where are you going?

The list of islands on our predicted itinerary is;
South Shetland Islands and the western side of Antarctic Peninsula, Livingston Island, Half Moon Island, Deception Island (volcanic crater), Paradise Bay and Lemaire Channel (gigantic icebergs and huge cliffs).

Will you see polar bears?

Ah no, they only live in the Arctic with Santa. I wonder if that’s where the Claus (claws) part comes from… And before you ask, no, you won’t see penguins in the Arctic. Bears north, penguins south. Tigers in Asia, Lions in Africa. Dolphins aren’t fish.  You get the drift.

Have you got warm clothes to take?

It’s all about layers.  It is difficult to know if we have enough or even too much stuff.  We’ve been given advice by the kind folk from World Expeditions so hopefully we are on the right track. Even so, just how many pairs of socks do we need?

My packing list
  • Socks, thick thermal 3 pair
  • Socks, liner 2 pair
  • Polar buff (neck, head, balaclava) 1
  • Beanie 1
  • Ear warmers 1
  • Gloves, outer 1 pair
  • Glove liner 1 pair
  • Snow pants 1
  • Light weight trek pants 1
  • Waterproof outer pants 1
  • Gortex jacket 1
  • Down, long sleeved puffer jacket 1
  • Thermal leggings, 2 pair
  • Thermal top, long sleeved 3
  • Thermal top, short sleeved 1
  • Polar fleece vest 1
  • Polar fleece jacket 1
  • Underwear
  • Passport (with troublesome Brazilian visa for day trip prior to the Antarctic voyage)
  • Camera bodies x 2
  • Laptop
  • Portable hard drive x 2
  • ipad (because some hideous people introduced me the The Room and I will now have v2 and v3 to play on the plane)
  • Go Pro Hero with head strap
  • Chargers x aargh
  • Lenses (18-200, 70-200, 150-600)
  • Dry bags x 3
  • Aquatech weather shield
  • Spare batteries x 3
  • Memory cards (totaling 480GB)
  • Lens cleaner
  • Spider pro holster
  • Kindle (fully loaded)
  • Rain cover for camera backpack
  • Polarising filter (just in case)
  • iPhone fully loaded with Audible books for travel and down time
  • Card reader with cable
  • Photocopies of insurance, passports, itinerary, flight details
  • Reading glasses
  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Travel adapter / power board
  • Sneakers for on board
  • Hiking boots for prior travels
  • FastPictureViewer
  • Lightroom CC 2015
  • Open Live Writer so I can write blog posts even if I can’t actually post them
  • Canon camera manuals
  • courses for downtime
  • Zero Assumption Recovery software in case of emergency card failures
Things I’m leaving behind (with regret)
  • Penguin onsies
  • The dogs
  • Kitchen sink
  • Ug Boots
  • Playing cards
  • Many pairs of extra socks
  • More shoes
  • A Sherpa to carry all the stuff I AM taking