Fire Island -- Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina

March 9-18, 2007

 

Ushuaia sits on the Beagle Channel and looks across the (mid-channel) international border into Chile. Even at the end of summer, the surrounding mountains rising up out of the ocean are dotted with snowfields and glaciers. There is a lot of hype around here that this is the southern-most city in the world, and everything from pizza restaurants to internet cafes are billed as this or that fin del mundo. Ushuaia's port is the departure point for ships heading south to Antarctica, and cruise boats small and large, the largest like a small city, stack up on the pier every day.

The forecast was for rain, rain, rain, but the towering clouds mostly do not fulfill their threat, and on many days, the sheltered ocean is as calm as a lake. It looks so much like southeast Alaska (with penguins instead of bears) and this makes us want to head out into the maze of channels and islands in our kayak.

 

 

 

 

 

Southern beech forests are just starting to turn red in mid-March.

 

The Atlantico at Cabo Don Pedro.

 

 

 

It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood...

 
One of the few tours we've signed up for on our journey takes us to a small island in the Beagle Channel to see the Magellanic and Gentoo Penguin colonies. It's the first time we've seen Penguins in the wild, and they are so cute! (Liza can't stop thinking up silly captions.)

"Let's fly, come on, let's try flying!"

 

No one is following Terrence, the Teetering Tai Chi Teacher.

Penguins debate the future of the planet: "Is sea level really rising?"

 

 

 

Crested Caracara, Guanaco, and Andean Condors abound throughout Tierra del Fuego.

 

All along Argentine's roads and highways, from the Bolivian border to Ushuaia, red flags mark little shrines filled with water and wine bottles, and images of the Difunta Correa. We wondered why in the world huge piles of empty plastic bottles were placed around these shrines. Legend has it that during the civil wars of the 1840's Deolinda Correa followed her husband's battalion through the deserts of San Juan, where she perished from hunger and thirst, but she continued to nurse her baby son even after her death. The son survived, inspiring thousands of Argentineans over the decades, especially truckers on lonesome highways, who believe in her ability to perform miracles and leave her bottles of water and wine to quench her thirst. Apparently, the Catholic church is none too happy that people are worshipping a difunta (a "lost soul"), and despite thousands of requests, has refused to grant her sainthood. These shrines remind us of others we've seen around the world -- spirit houses, idols, some nothing more than a rock ( in Sikkim, I placed my knee very carefully in the hollow of a rock that is purported to cure knee problems) -- that are such an important part of many people's daily lives.

 

 

 

 

We are back on the nomad migration route, down here in South America. Whenever we are deluded into thinking that we are adventurous, we run into someone like Marieke from Denmark. After living for eight months in Buenos Aires learning Spanish (and how to ride a motorcycle), she bought a big ole honkin' BMW bike and launched a solo road trip through South America. Marieke rode 3200 kilometers down to Ushuaia, then roared up the unpaved Ruta 40 in Argentine Patagonia, crossed over the Andes and cruised the length of the Carretera Austral through Chilean Patagonia. She was on her way north to Bolivia and beyond (possibly Alaska), when we ran into her in Pucon.

We met Tom, a young bloke from London, on the bus, sipping his mate cup (unusual for tourists). He arrived in Buenos Aires, worked a month in a restaurant, and then landed a job as a cook on a remote estancia (ranch) several hours outside of El Calafate. With no prior experience and very little Spanish, he spent two and a half months living with the gauchos in the middle of nowhere, responsible for cooking huge meals for the tourist guests (and butchering the odd sheep or cow when stores ran low). Now that summer is over, he's touring around Argentina for a while before returning home again.

And another solo traveler, a young woman, is a glass blower from Japan who had been on the road six months, sort of doing our trip in reverse. She had had some challenging times traveling by herself, often facing a huge language barrier. But she's full of energy and enthusiasm and has a wonderful spirit.

Then there was the young acupuncture student from Seoul, South Korea. When we asked if he was cold walking around the cool rainy hinterlands of Ushuaia in his flip flops, he said no problemo, and told us about hiking the length of Torres del Paine National Park in this same footwear. He was sad to be returning home at the end of his three month sojourn, and was interested in knowing our views on North Korea. He was perplexed by the attitude of the US towards the North (axis of evil?). Reunification is what he hopes for.

The most amazing character we've met was "Dreadlock Jennie" originally from England. With long gray hair tightly bound in dreadlocks, she seemed to be nearly our age. She has been on the road for four years! She spent a year touring Australia, where she spent time with her twenty-something massage therapist daughter, and the last two years or so exploring every corner of Argentina and Chile. She is full joie de vivre, has a ready laugh and great stories, and provided us with invaluable travel tips. It seems the nomadic life might becoming a permanent state for her.

This feeling of being part of a community on the road makes us feel more connected as we wander along...

 

 


Bariloche (plane) ► Ushuaia