Greetings from Ushuaia
11.01.2012 - 15.01.2012 10 °C
Today we find ourselves in surprisingly sunny Ushuaia. We've had an excellent few days here taking in some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen in South America. Being honest, we both had low expectations for Tierra del Fuego; we expected a barren land with a dumpy, charmless little port town. We were wrong!
We flew in on yet another prop plane with an amazing final descent which took us along the Beagle channel skirting between island mountain ranges on either side. What made these ones different is they were what a montain range ought to be: snow capped, jagged peaks with rolling green valleys skirting around the bottom. Ushuaia itself was surprisingly busy and has a great feel. Rather than being full on scrounging backpackers moaning about the cost of everything, it buzzes with Antarctic reseachers, tourists embarking upon and leaving the huge ships (easy to spot which is which from the proliferation of facial hair), hikers and of course locals as this is the only local town for a very long distance!
Whilst we have devoted much time to munching on Patagonian lamb (much better than its famed Argentine beef counterpart - the French need not lose sleep, Gallic steaks still leave the rest trailing), we did manage a couple of days out.
Tierra del Fuego national park
Firstly, we went to the national park - we went there on the old steam train. It's called the train at the end of the world (pretty much everything here gets that moniker) and was built by the convicts who were Ushuaia's first inhabitants. We then hiked part of the coast of Tierra del Fuego, almost tripping over wildlife as went. The coast is strangely like home (cold, green) albeit with bigger mountains around, but the flora is all slightly different which is actually a much weirder sensation than when things are obviously strange.
Beagle channel & estancia Haberton
We also took a boat trip along the Beagle Channel to an estancia. We don't know why, but we were given VIP status on the boat. Usually this means absolutely nothing but on this exciting occasion it meant we got fat leather seats on the top deck of the catamaran. Even better, as luck would have it we were sat opposite two American biologists on their day off ahead of a research trip so we got a seriously informed guided tour for free and managed to wind them up by pointing out fancy looking sea gulls (black browed albatrosses), agile penguins (comorants), and massive seals (South American sea lions). We are now much better informed.
As with Chiloe, we got up very close to penguin and sea lion colonies. These ones were rather more active than in Chiloe however and we got to see some pretty cool stuff. In particular we saw the huge alpha-male sea lions on each of the colonies - they're mighty impressive and must be about twice the size of the normal sea lions. Another thing I didn't realise is that when penguins swim, they occasionally jump out of the water, much like a dolphin - very cool to see. After much patience (and many photos of the sea with nothing in it) I even managed to catch a few of them at it!
Once we've seen the penguin colony we jumped off the boat onto shore to visit Estancia Harberton, a farm with an English house which was built in the UK and then exported by boat to the end of the world. It now has lupins and rose gardens to finish the look. Now that really did make us feel like we'd slipped into a parallel universe.
En route back we saw some spectacular scenery (including the slanty windy trees featured on every Ushuaia postcard), a husky breeding house and Anita earned the wrath of the biologists by successfully testing whether the local grey fox we chanced upon seeing would come to her if she threw it a piece of sliced white processed bread. Oops!
Quiz of the week
Finally, a return to quiz of the week. What animal is this?