Day 178: Feb. 9, 2008 Tolhuin to Ushuaia and Back

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Hostería Petrel

Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Saturday, February 9, 2008

Day 178: February 9, 2008 Tolhuin to Ushuaia and Back

We awoke to beautiful clear skies. Lago Fagnano sits in a long, narrow, east-west running pull-apart basin situated along the major strike-slip fault that separates the South American Plate on the north shore from the Scotia Plate on the south shore. Low yellow cliffs of Pleistocene sediment drop into the lake around much of its forested shoreline on the south side. Cliffs seem less prevalent on the north side but the forest appears equally as dense. The west end of the lake terminates in Chile.

We ate a nice breakfast in the hotel dining room. We checked out at 10:00 and headed south toward Ushuaia, stopping in at the Hostería Petrel, on Lago Escondido, to make a reservation for the night. It is another beautiful place with cabins that stick out over the water. It seems, however, to be chronically undermined by poor management and today was no exception. The water lines were broken and apparently had been for some time. The manager had been waiting for someone to fix it and had to turn away clients, including us. How much of an incentive would he need to offer any plumber to fix it immediately? It would certainly pay for itself in booked rooms pretty quickly! We decided we would try to go back to the Hostería Kaiken.

We headed up the collapsing cliff road over the Paso Garibaldi, pausing to take the obligatory fotos of lagos Escondido and Fagnano to the north. From there, it was a 45 minute descent into Ushuaia, on the Beagle Channel. We drove right to the port and bought 3:00 tickets on the Rumbo Sur boat excursion to the pinguinera on Isla Martillo, near the Estancia Harberton, a penguin rookery I hadn't been to before. It is a 5-hour excursion that goes about 60 km east of Ushuaia on the Beagle Channel.

A quick walk one block up the hill not only introduced Liz to Argentine sidewalks but got us to San Martín, the city's main street. We ate empanadas for lunch at the Irish Pub that the students and I hung out in during the 2004-5 GSA student trip. Liz bought some ear buds for her iPod at the internet place I used in December. I checked my email and made a reservation, by fone, at the Kaiken.

At 2:30, we returned to the port and picked up our boarding passes for the boat excursion. We boarded the Eduardo B about ten minutes later. Departure was delayed about half an hour. When we finally did leave, we went straight to the Cormorant rookery on Bird Island, where Ushuaia Bay enters the Beagle Channel, seeing hundreds of birds and plenty of sea lions. We proceeded to the Sea Lions' Island and then to the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse under partly cloudy skies.

The Beagle Channel is another amazingly beautiful spot in the world. Steep, high, snow-covered, forested mountains rise from the channel on Argentine Tierra del Fuego on the north side and Chilean Isla Navarrino on the south side. Long views to the east and west show beautiful blue water and the picturesque mountainous landscape. Albatrosses, petrels, gulls, skuas, cormorants, ducks, and other waterfowl glide above the water. I was particularly taken with the albatrosses this time with their large wingspans.

We passed Puerto Williams, the world's southernmost town, on the Chilean side. I finally made it south of 55° S, according to the boat's GPS. We sailed south of Isla Gable and then nearly beached in front of the penguin rookery on Isla Martillo. There were several thousand birds there. Nearly all were Magellanic penguins but some Gentoo penguins also nest there. I couldn't see any but then one of the guides pointed one out to me. They are a little bigger and fatter than their cousins and sport orange feet and bills. I've now seen three penguin species in the wild in 2008!

We befriended a young Dutchman named Alex Voor who is in the final days of his 6 months of travels in South America. He was a nice, interesting guy who will obviously be a lifelong traveler. We returned to Ushuaia, sailing into the sunlight playing on the magnificent clouds. It was a tremendous excursion, the best I've had on the Beagle Channel. We docked around 9:00 and bid farewell to Alex. Liz and I hopped into the truck and started the drive back to the Hostería Kaiken. The clouds shrouded the mountaintops and we gradually ascended into their heavy fog accompanied by a drizzle that became a rain. It was a relief to get below them as we descended the north flank of the Cordillera Darwin toward the lake. We arrived, ravenous, at 10:35 and went straight to the dining room. We had a fabulous chicken milanesa and topped of the meal with flán con dulce de leche.

We walked back to our cabin in a light drizzle. It was nearly 1:00. This cabin had twin beds, unfortunately, but we were both asleep almost immediately so it probably didn't matter.
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