Wrinkly backpacking in Argentina - 7 - fin del mundo

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Thu 13 Mar 2014 17:10
From Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego is over 2000 kilometres and this summer has been a cold one down south so it took us a couple of days to get acclimatised (after the steamy heat of the River Plate).  The "land of fire" felt very much like the "end of the world".  We had packed as much warm weather gear as we could carry and ended up buying more.

The 'far' side of the Andes - looking North to Ushuaia from over the Beagle Channel

Ushuaia, the capital and the most southerly city in the world, is small and very dependent on cruise-ship tourism, but we got to like it over our 5-day stay.  The setting, on the shore of the Beagle Channel with snow-splattered mountains either side, is gorgeous, but often windy and cold.

We went 70km east by bus to Estancia Harberton, one of the earliest ranch settlements in Tierra del Fuego, named after the village near Dartmouth in Devon where the owner's wife grew up.

An appropriately named flag tree shows the prevailing wind direction at Estancia Harberton

From there we went to a nearby island where penguins breed.  With a guide we were able to walk around and take lots of photos.  As long as we moved slowly they didn't worry, and some were really quite curious, being used to visitors. 

If you've seen Eric and friends in the wild feel free to skip the next picture section.

"Pass the word - there's another boatload coming!"

The colony - spot the pair of Kings among these Magellans . . .  . . . geese seem to be welcome visitors

"Follow me" . . .

 . . . to the beach

back in the colony there are yodelling lessons . . .                   . . . and it's a nice day for nest building

but some of the chicks don't want to give up their fur coats

There's a Tango exhibition
. . .                           . . .  and dancing on the beach

"They're going - we can relax now."

To get back to Ushuaia we took a catamaran ferry up the Beagle Channel.  The scenery is lovely on both sides and spotting the seabirds - albatrosses, giant petrels, skuas, terns, gannets and others - is very entertaining.


Gannets and seals on one of the Chilean islands

Chile's naval base town, Puerto Williams, on the south side of the Beagle Channel

On other days we went trekking in the nearby national park, building up our stamina with walks through the wooded countryside, though not seeing a lot of wildlife.  We did see some black-necked swans - the ones that we'd failed to see when in La Paloma!  Paul's hiking boots fell apart - must have been assembled with water-soluble glue - so we had to buy him some more and break them in too.

At last - black necks visible. Here the river is the national boundary

Much of the Tierra del Fuego National Park is beech forest
We spent Sunday afternoon with the crowds walking up the Martial glacier, taking the chair lift for the easy bit, which looked rather boring.  The glacier is nothing special but the hike was good for our fitness and the views are great.  After these arduous hikes we'd return to town and treat ourselves to hot chocolate in one of the many cafes.  The atmosphere in the late afternoon is reminiscent of apres ski - and this is summer!

Originally a prison camp, Ushuaia is now a duty free zone and port serving yachts and cruise ships

The classic U shaped glacial valley, previously below 1,200m of ice!

Glacier walk!

It's the end of a small world - one evening we walked into a restaurant and were hailed by Richard, who Paul shared rooms with in Cambridge and had not seen for over 40 years.  He had spent a month sailing to Antartica and back with a group of friends aboard a chartered British yacht called Elinca (one of the British Steel Challenge boats).  They brought her here from the UK in stages and were preparing to return via the Falklands.  It was great for us to meet them and hear about their experiences.  Although quite a few yachts visits Antartica now, most are commercial.  (Anyone interested can check out www.adventure2013.co.uk and don't blame us if you lose a day reading through their blog).

Should we have sailed Lynn Rival down?  Definitely not.  We don't like cold weather sailing.  However, we did feel a tinge of regret when leaving Ushuaia.  Would we ever come this far south again?  Should we have taken the opportunity to go on a cruise to Antartica or, indeed, the Chilean fjords?