Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 15-22: Tierra Del Fuego

We´re now in Tierra Del Fuego, literally "Land of Fire", named by Magellan after observing the fires of the native "cannibals", when he first discovered his famous Straits, and finally a passage connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific. Ushuaia, our base for exploration of this remote part of the world, was originally a penal colony based on the example of Australia, as Tierra Del Fuego is actually an island and was very difficult to get to in those days. The town´s location is spectacular on the water and surrounded by mountains. These days it is an interesting mix of independent trekkers and people getting ready to take a cruise to Antarctica. As the southernmost town in the world it is the most common starting point for trips to Antarctica.

While not as difficult to get here as it was in the penal colony days, it is still quite a journey. After leaving El Chalten, we took a van across the country to the Atlantic going through some very remote and beautiful land. We didn´t see anything for six hours, except for condors, guanacos (a Patagonian llama) and rheas (a Patagonian ostrich - who knew?). Our first stop was the small sea-side town of Puerto San Julian. Way off the beaten path, we didn´t see any other tourists the two days we spent there. Even Argentineans gave us weird looks when we tried to figure out how we could get to this town. Somewhere along the way we had picked up a little flyer saying you could see penguins in this town, and we were determined to see them. It ended up being a sleepy little town, with exactly one little cabin by the water offering anything remotely touristic, which was our trip to see penguins. They had a four person minimum, so the guy running the place told us to come back the next day, which we did to find there were still no other tourists in town, so he took us out for a private tour.

The Magellenic penguins are really cute at only 40 cms tall. It was a week or so before their eggs were meant to hatch, so couples were protectively nesting over their eggs, while others wobbled around awkwardly looking for a lost egg. Others were out fishing; They´re much more graceful in the water.

From there we started an epic 20 hour journey down to the end of the world. Because of various land disputes between Argentina and Chile, the trip down involves going through a narrow strip of Chile´s land, which unfortunately means four immigration and customs checks, out of Arg, into Chile, out of Chile, into Arg. That along with a ferry crossing meant almost as much time out of the bus as in the bus.

But it was worth it. We´ve been blessed with some amazing weather down here, and went on two magnificent hikes. Tierra Del Fuego National Park is breathtaking with its soaring peaks, the glassy Beagle Channel, and its forests covered in old man´s beard and habitated by geese, rabbits and beavers.

From town if you hike straight up you can get to a glacier, while not as impressive as Perito Moreno, the hike gives you a great view of the surroundings as well as a chance to do some fun scrambling.

We also took a couple extra days to get our lives in order a little, catching up on the news and planning our upcoming time in Brazil. While we have loved our time in Patagonia, after a couple months in the mountains we are looking forward to some beach time.

Hope everyone is well and happy thanksgiving if we don´t write before then.


  1. 40 cms, what is that like 5 feet or something?

  2. I suppose we shouldn´t assume understanding of the metric system for our readers from the three countries in the world that still use the English system (US, Burma, and Liberia)