Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Patagonia - Ushuaia, "el fin del mundo"

After an exhilarating few days having our breaths taken away by the magnificent landscapes in Patagonia, we were ready for the last stop on our Patagonian journey - Ushuaia, "el fin del mundo"  as the Argentinians called it (the end of the world). After a short 1.5 hr flight from El Calafate, we arrived in Ushuaia - a bustling town, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, a busy port for cruise ships and also hopping off point for adventure trips to Antartica. There were any number of excellent restaurants and our first night we headed straight for the fisherman's restaurant to try the king crab. We picked our own live crab and it was quite an experience. More later on Foodsparks, the food blog.

The main reason for our visit to Ushuaia was to see the penguins on Martillo Island and a zoologist had delivered an interesting lecture on penguins the evening of our arrival to prepare us for the trip.  In the morning we boarded a catamaran that took us down the Beagle channel.  Along the way we saw king cormorants and other birds in flight - there were islands full of sea lions and cormorants. There was a slight wind and the sea was just slightly choppy, enough to make a few people sea-sick, but not too badly.

The catamaran took us to the Estancia Harberton, a historic farm founded in 1886, the oldest in Tierra del Fuego.  From there, we boarded a zodiac which took us to Martillo Island. All through the trip, we were entertained by a charming naturalist (his name is Valentin!) who gave us interesting details delivered in inimitable style - this guy is a natural showman, which certainly enhanced our enjoyment of the trip.  

We were lucky that one lone King Penguin was sitting on the beach as we landed. The rest were Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. We were warned to keep at least 2 or 3 metres from the penguins in order not to disturb them.  The guide took us through to the rookery where the penguins were mottling. The young penguins had already left the nest at this time of the year, in fact, in a few weeks (in April), these penguins would all be gone.  The penguin pairs were fascinating to watch and we had to be dragged away when our hour on the island was up.There were not only penguins on the island, we saw at least 10 different kinds of birds and you can see some of them below.

We had lunch at the Estancia and a guided tour of the museum which had a huge collection of whale bones. The trip back to Ushuaia was on a 4x4 bus!  It was quite a day! It was topped off at dinner by a treat of merluza negra (Patagonian toothfish), the sweetest fish I have ever tasted in my life (no exaggeration), a far cry from the frozen Chilean sea bass, the closest thing to this we could sink our teeth into at home.  

I was lucky to capture some cormorants in flight - no wonder, there were several  islands full of them in the Beagle Channel 

And islands full of sea lions AND cormorants

A Southern Giant Petrel - note the tube beak

This looked like a Chilean Skua

Sandpiper in flight

The lone King Penguin on Martillo Island - the Gentoo penguins were keeping it company

This photo gives a better idea of the rookery
An informative chart showing the annual cycle of the Magellanic Penguins - note how they will be migrating from mid-April to mid-September so they won't be on the island.

It was molting season for the Magellanic penguins, there were feathers everywhere! And they were helping each other clean up...

Peaceful coexistence of the different kinds of birds on the island...
Upland Geese

Sooty Shearwater


Upland sandpiper
Gentoo penguin drinking
Social gathering
Taking a stroll along the beach (King cormorants)

The zodiac that took us back to the Estancia

Local guide Valentin hamming it up for the paparazzi...

The historic Estancia Haberton

The 4x4 that took us back to Ushuaia

We stopped by this lookout of the river between the windblown flag trees
Back to Ushuaia, at the foot of the Martial Range
Goodbye, beautiful Patagonia!
We flew back to Buenos Aires the following day...

Next post:  Buenos Aires, the "Paris of the South America"

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Patagonia - Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

After a long 6 hour drive (with stops) across the Patagonian steppes, we arrived back in Argentina in El Calafate, itself a tourist town catering to visitors to the nearby Perito Moreno Glacier, one of 47 glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park. The glacier was our main destination and as part of the affiliation with National Geographic, we got a glacier specialist to give us a talk on glaciers and also act as our guide at the glacier the following morning. 
The glacier was stunning as you can see below.  According to the local guide, this was the only non-retreating glacier in the world because it has somehow maintained a perfect balance in spite of climate change.  That, in itself was a phenomenon.  

Travel inside the park was by park shuttle only and just as we arrived at the glacier, we heard a thunderous clap - we turned around and saw a huge chunk of the glacier calving and a huge wave when the ice hit the water.  That was a spectacular sight that we could only recall in our mind's eye as no one was quick enough to capture it. There were going to be quite a few more such occurrences during the day.  It seemed that by the time we heard the sound, it would already be too late or the calving was not in the direction our cameras were pointing. I was able to catch the last half of a calving while we were on the boat tour which took us just slightly closer to the glacier although not really that much because of safety concerns over calving.

We had two excellent dinners while we were in El Calafate, including an asado which I will write up later on Foodsparks, the food blog.

Perito Moreno glacier

The glacier looked very small from the highway with the surrounding mountains
The person provided a sense of scale

Our first sighting of a condor that was close enough to capture on camera on this trip. It was flying over the glacier and I was thinking it's too late but pulled out my camera anyway. Good thing I did as it took a turn and flew up our way!

A piece at the foot of the glacier that had an ice cave
This was the large chunk that fell off just as we arrived and caused a huge wave. That was the reason why boats were not allowed to get close to the glacier.

The amazing surface of the glaicer

The "tongue"
The "teeth"

An ice cave in the glacier


After the calving, the fresh exposed surface was bluer than the rest


A small "iceberg"

The view of the plains on the road to El Calafate

Next stop: Ushuaia - the southern most town in the world, according to Argentina...