Day 1 – 11 Nov 2016 – Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire
We have left Buenos Aires at 4:30 in the morning, and after a flight we have spent mostly sleeping, we landed in Ushuaia at 8:05. The airport is very small with only two gates and it has a wooden structure. At the exit, we had to go through a special check, because they don’t allow food from outside. The information desk was very helpful and gave us information about both the national park and the canal tours. Then we have taken a taxi (160 pesos) to come to the room we have booked from the AirBNB (92 USD for 2 nights). Our host has welcomed us and showed us around, and offered tea, which was very welcome at this time. After settling and also lying down for about one hour, we have decided to go to the port and see if we could do a canal tour. Our host has suggested her favourite tour, and we have talked to that company first. It is a tour with the sailing boat, for 8 people. The advantage of a sailing boat, other than the experience of sailing, which we never had before, is that they can get quite close to the islands where there are colonies of wild animals of different types of penguins, sea lions, and other birds. We liked that idea, and have decided to go for this one. Unfortunately it was booked for today, so we have decided to make a reservation for tomorrow and explore the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego instead. We have bought some snacks from a bakery nearby, and walked around a bit while waiting for the bus that will take us to the national park. The first bus we could take was at 13:00, and it costs 400 pesos/person and the entrance fee to the park is pesos/person for foreigners.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego is absolutely worth the visit. We got quite lucky and the rain has stopped soon after we have left home, and the sun started to show its face by the time we got there. The view of the mountains with the lakes and rivers and the bay is absolutely breathtaking. Even the journey on the bus is worth it as we pass through the park to the last stop of the bus, where we could make shorter hikes around the Bahia Lapataia.
When we got off the bus and started walking towards the bay, we stopped for a second and didn’t make a sound. The only thing that could break the absolute silence was the sound of the birds. The view of the Lapataia bay was awe-some with the view of the mountains surrounding the bay. As we have walked, we indeed started to see many different types of birds. We have passed by rivers, and the sound of the water mixed with the sounds of the birds. It was a beautiful feeling to be surrounded with nature indeed.
Since we didn’t have the whole day, we have started from Arias Port and did short trails of Mirador Lapatia, Laguna Negra and Paseo de la Isla. After we have reached to the Alakush visitor’s center, we realized we had more time, so continued for a bit along Acigami Lake for a while, and sat down and stared at the lake for a while. The view of the lake with the mountains behind was really beautiful. I feel like I will run out of adjectives to describe our experience soon. It was just simply beautiful to be surrounded by absolute nature.
Then we took the bus back to the city. We like the Argentinian meat, but we wanted a change for a day, so we walked a lot along the main street. We looked at king crabs, they are really big, but also quite expensive. So we kept looking for a while, and we ended up going to an ordinary restaurant. We have ordered crab soup and the soup of the day, which was full of grains, and also got a good salad with grains, such as lentils, corn, etc. We also got a burger, but we couldn’t finish it all, as the soup felt really filling and good after a long day. We got the burger to go “para llevar” and headed back home to rest and get ready for tomorrow.
Day 2 – 12 Nov 2016 – Beagle Channel, following the steps of Darwin
We woke up early to catch the boat for doing a trip in the Beagle Channel and see the penguins. First they took us by bus to a fishing village, Estancia Harberton. We passed by rivers and lakes with mountain view at the back. The scenery was worth taking the bus ride. When we got to the sailing boat, Paludine, we put on sailing pants and jackets. There was wind and sea was wavy, so M was quiet the first part of the trip, concentrating to the horizon to avoid getting motion sickness, while B was looking around, taking pictures and enjoying the waves. We have sailed the first half of the journey, and we thought it was a good choice, because at the end, all you can hear is the wind, the waves, and the clinking sound of the sail — no engine sound. Some big birds accompanied us along the journey. It was quite magical to think how people used to sail back in the day, at the time of Darwin, and had the time to gather their thoughts together and contemplate. It has been really good for us to get lost in the nature for a while.
When we moved towards the islands, the passage between Argentina and Chile got really narrow and we are pretty sure that we have crossed to the Chilean side for a short while. At this time, the waves also slowed down, and we both could enjoy the sailing part better.
First, we got to Isla Martillo, where we saw the Magellanic penguins (Pinguino Magallanico). They are the dominant species on this island. The boat gets quite close to the shore, so we could get a good look at them. At this time of the year, they are mostly nesting, so not many of them had decided to get to the shore, but we nevertheless saw quite many of them. (We were told there are thousands of them by the beach around February.) They were swimming, taking a bath, walking, and lying lazily. We also took a short video here ;) Around the corner, there were also some Gentoo Penguins (Pinguino Papua), but we were not lucky and they had decided not to come down to the beach today.
Right next to where we saw the penguins, there was a tall wall of rock, and there we saw the nests of Rock Cormorants (Cormoran de roca). There were many of in their nests on the rocks and they looked quite impressive. They are distinguishable with the red circles around their eyes.
On another rocky island, we saw a big colony of Blue-eyed Cormorant (Cormoran Imperial). These were not on the rocky wall, but instead covered the whole island. We could watch them bringing sea weed to build their nests, and it was very impressive.
Afterwards, we were offered some warm drinks and cookies. M was chatting with the guide and convinced him to make some mates for us, so we could finally taste this drink that we were so curious about. We never thought it would be in the middle of the Beagle Channel though :) We we were sailing, we could also spot a llama, and some “flag trees”, which can grow only one way, and more different types of birds.
Before we left the Guaraní Pass, we stopped by one last island, where a colony of sea lions lives. The male was much bigger and darker colored than the rest, which were his wives, apparently. They were so big and impressive! Afterwards, we came back to where we have started and we took the bus back. However, we were suggested that we can get off along the way and do a hike to a lake.
We got off the bus with another French girl that had been sailing with us, and the three of us started to do a hike to Laguna Esmeralda. A dog has accompanied us at the beginning, but as we went along, the hike got a bit more difficult. It was very muddy, because it snowed before we had arrived. M was bragging about the path we should take and he was trying to lead, and then, he fell on the mud and got his butt wet! It didn’t look too bad, and there was nothing to do at that moment, so we have decided to continue to hike. After a while we started climbing a bit in the forrest, and then we came to an opening of a beautiful scenery of the mountains with glaciers and rivers with small water falls.
After climbing one last hill, Laguna Esmeralda welcomed us with its green-blue colors and mountains behind it. It was a well-hidden beauty that was worth the effort.
After having our lunch there and resting a bit, we have decided to head back. This time it was B’s turn, and she stepped into the water, where she got one of her feet wet, but we were already returning, so it wasn’t too bad. When we got to the parking lot, we didn’t see any busses or taxis there, but only private cars. We asked one couple to take the three of us, but they were not going to Ushuaia. So we have tried to hitchhike. We got really lucky and a car stopped for us very quickly. We jumped on it, and started to chat with the girl who was an English teacher, and the driver was speaking very well French. All five of us chatted until we reached Ushuaia. One cool trivia that we have learned was that the lighthouse, which we sadly didn’t see in our cruise, was linked to Jules Verne’s book. We were really lucky that we met such nice people. When we got to Ushuaia, we all parted ways. We walked back to our house, buying a sandwich for the road for the next day, and got home to dry and rest for the rest of the night.
From Ushuaia to Punta Arenas – 13 Nov 2016
We left Ushuaia at 8:00 in the morning. We took a last look at the bay and took the bus. At the beginning, we again passed by the mountains and rivers and lakes. We first drove by Lago Escondido, and then the much bigger Lago Fagnano, which looked more like a sea to us.
After a while, we started to see some plain fields with some trees. Close to Rio Grande, we saw sheep in the plain fields, without any barriers, in a much more natural environment than us – the city people – are used to seeing.
At the border, in San Sebastian, we first stopped on the Argentinian side, and got our stamp for leaving. We probably spent half an hour here. Then we have entered the Chilean side. On Chilean side, the checks are more strict. They take all the bags and scan them with xray machines to make sure that you do not have any fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products etc. However, border was not that crowded so we were able to complete all procedure around 40 minutes for the whole bus. Right after passing the border control, we have stopped to get something to eat on a road side restaurant where you can use credit card, chilean or argentinean pesos, or even dollars. Patagonia’s weather would surprise you, and it surprised us when we saw it. It was partially sunny, rainy and hail on the same day.
Then, we went through mostly paved roads but on flat and not that interesting fields up to the point where we were supposed to take the ferry. Actually, you drive to a point where the road ends and ferry picks cars up without a port by using a platform. When we get there there was a ferry and it left half empty without taking any more cars. We couldn’t figure out why it just left like that. But then we learned that next ferry will arrive late. In the end, it arrived 3 hours later! We tried to go to the beach and have some fun there but the winds was strong and we believe that was the main reason the ferry could not pick us up for a very long time. Ferry ride itself was smooth: you get out of the bus, get on the ferry, sit inside (due to winds) and get off on the other side, jump on your bus and continue. Due to this delay, we couldn’t catch the 7pm bus that we were hoping to catch and we caught the 9pm bus from Punta Arenas. Finally, we were able to get to Puerto Natales around midnight. Luckily our host was waiting for us. We really appreciated this as we needed to rent our camping equipment and hit the road the next day. Our AirBNB host provided us bus tickets for Torres Del Paine (15000 pesos per person round trip), equipment and everything we need. Since she wasn’t speaking English, M tested his Spanish and sign language skills where he was mostly successful. We got our gear and headed to our bunk beds, very excited to wake up next morning for our first long hiking and camping experience in one of the best camping places on earth.
PS: RIP Leonard Cohen. it was a pleasure to see you live performing.