End of the World

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We left San Jose, Costa Rica en Route to Ushuaia on January 7th.  We touched down in Buenos Aires at night, found ourselves a comfortable window sill to tuck into and slept until our morning flight left Buenos Aires for Ushuaia the next morning.  Everything went really smoothly with the flights and we managed to find ourselves some good quality silverware for our camping trip, courtesy of Copa Airlines.  As we got closer to Ushuaia, the tail end of the Andes appeared beneath us- just incredible - and we needed to circle around and through them to turn the plane to make our approach.  I tried to surpress the visions of ´Alive´ playing out in my mind and just enjoy the stunning beauty of the area.  The airport was all wood construction too, very cool, and a nice friendly info lady found us a cheap gem of a place.We headed right away to get some warm clothes as the place was absolutely freezing!! And I don`t mean cold just cause we have grown soft during our Central American travels, I mean wind-whipping bloody cold!! So we stocked up on long-john´s, toques, mitts, and of course cheesy wool sweaters. Nik`s has llamas and mine has penguins. They are awesome. More importantly, they are warm!! We checked out a couple of the maritime museums they have down here, one is located inside a prison as Ushuaia was originally used as a penal colony as well. There was a lot about penguins and a stuffed King Penguin that was taller than our belly buttons!! Huge! Also, lots of shipwrecks...!

The next day we set sail on the Beagle Channel in a small sailboat. They day before when we picked this tour the sun was shining and this sounded like just an amazing idea! The morning we were set to sail, there were thick grey clouds, a drizzle of freezing rain and a wind that blew right through your bones. We put on all of our clothes and jumped on the outside of this boat. First we cruised (were tossed beside?) an island full of grunting sealions and cormorons - a relative of the penguin but able to fly. The animals were pretty cool and absolutely covered the island, quite impressive to see them - the awkward waddle of the lions and the birds getting pushed out to the ocean by the wind.

We then sailed to an island reserve called H Island. This is where the Yamana tribe of indigenous people lived and were in fact the people who inspired the name of the province Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). This group of indigenous people lived on this island naked and only found warmth through covering their bodies in sealion blubber and lighting fires (even inside their bark canoes!) They even used bird bones as straws because they are hollow and supposdely you can´t get sick when you drink really cold water through a straw...Darwin considered these peoples to be the missing link as they had arms disproportionately long for their bodies and were unable to stand fully upright. They primarily spent their time paddling their canoes in search of food and found shelter by rocks on the island. As we were freezing in mid-summer in all of our clothes (even while using their rock shelters), I can hardly accept that these people were actually human and able to withstand such weather!! It seems just impossible! On our way back to shore the wind really picked up and despite the fact that we were 100km in either direction from the oceans, the waves were big and they were strong. It became easy to imagine how shipwrecks could happen to those early explorers out on the ocean.

We spent the rest of the day trying to get warm and were fortunate enough to get a beautiful day the next day to explore the National Park (Tierra del Fuego). We did a circuit of about 22km through the forests and along the Beagle Channel bay with inspiring mountain views of Chile and the Channel. Canadians are actually famous around these parts, especially in the park, as we are actually responsible for introducing the Canadian Beaver to the park. With no natural predators down here, it has essentially wreaked havoc and offset their ecosystem. Yes, we are indeed loved down here. The park was very beautiful though - mountains, streams, beautiful views, cute bunnies (these may also be Canadian...). Really nice day, really delicious cake from the coffee shop as well...wow....

Next day we went to see the Martial Glacier outside of Ushuaia with a Californian we had met at our hostel that morning, Victor. They use this as a ski hill in the winter too so we were able to hop a chair lift 2/3 to the top and then hiked the next hour or so to the top of this glacier. I would personally say that the Columbia Icefield Glacier in Jasper is a bit more interesting to look at, but the views of the Channel and the mountain range this glacier was nestled into were quite impressive.

We took off the next day from Ushuaia and headed to Punta Arenas which was a surprisingly beautiful town - we didn`t think it would be as it is certainly less touristy. We met some friends on the bus who had a place all booked, so we just slipped in the *free* transport with them and the hostel was very very nice. The owner looked like Robert Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond) and was also a cop. He brought us to the bank to get money, showed us his new place he was renovating, and drove us to the station the next day. We are now in Puerto Natales collecting some camping equipment to hike Torres del Paine. We will likely wait a day or two here as it looks like we can likely meet with Oksana and Bret for at least a day in the park!

Looking out the window of our busses, we see a lot of amazing scenery. Huge mountain ranges, lakes, vast flat expanses with hundreds of grazing sheep wearing huge fluffy coats! There are llamas and their cousins guanacos everywhere, and also the occasional oil battery, so a bit familiar as well! On our ferry ride across the Straight of Magellan, we not only saw two truckloads of the most adorable lambs ever (unfortunately on their way to an all you can eat restaurant...I felt like Lisa Simpson on the verge of vegetarianism) but we also saw these amazing small whales jumping from the water next to our boat...It was incredible - they were the size of dolphins but black and white like a killer whale.

We are very excited for this next bit of our trip - first to spend four to five days in Torres del Paine National Park, and then to visit the Moreno Glacier, the world`s 3rd largest fresh water source (after Lake Baikal in Russia and our Great Lakes). After that, north to El Chalten and Mt. Fitz Roy and then off to Penninsula Valdes to see all sorts of penguins, whales and wildlife.

Hope all of you are well at home and keeping warm as well! Miss you all and hope to talk soon.

Love, Niko y Sarita
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