It took us a bit of time to put the finishing touches on it (not to mention upload the 1GB video using Bolivian Internet...), but feast your eyes on a trip summary of the first few weeks of the journey! This covers Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to El Calafate, Argentina.
We leave today for Antarctica! Hard to believe it’s finally happening after such an extended period of waiting for the boat to leave.
We said goodbye today to Aussie friends Stu and Janell (check them out at thepacktrack.com). They’re off to new destinations with their Venezuelan dog Pachita in tow.
It’s been kind of fun to witness the turnover in guests at the hostel. We’ve been here so long that new guests feel like intruders in our home. It’s sad when the "old friends” leave and are replaced with poor substitutes.
We got a classic picture of the fisherman and penguin setup here in Ushuaia. And, no joke, it was taken whilst a woman sang opera from a balcony immediately above me. She comes out most days around 3-4pm and signs a number of tunes for the onlookers to drum up business for the store below. Another quirky Ushuaia fixture!
Breakfast of champions this morning for the sendoff. I went with the beer and waffles tack. Ice cream, bananas, and dulce de leche. Can’t really imagine a superior breakfast!
And after our lengthy stay here in town, Sandra and I finally got around to having our picture taken at the “End of the World” sign.
Our Antarctic journey lasts until March 13th, so we’ll basically be offline until that point. Apologies for the probable lack of updates until then. We’ve heard the Internet on board is closer to the “maybe I can get a tweet out” end of the spectrum than the “let’s stream Netflix in 4k” side of things. We’ll do our best to edit photos along the way so we can hit you with some magic when we return.
Wish us luck! Place your bets on who pukes first: Ian (vomits on roller coasters) or Sandra (feels mildly ill on ferries Ian can tolerate).
At last, we do something a bit more touristy in Ushuaia! Only a couple of full days left before our departure to Antarctica, so the crunch is on.
We took our American roommate Jenie (an artist from Madison, WI) and her Couchsurfing buddy Anna (Perth, AUS) on a trip up to this lake hike. It required a cab ride to the trailhead (and a negotiated agreement for a pickup 4 hours later), and involved some confusion about where the trail actually started. An employee at a campground near the start of the trail was telling us we needed to pay 30 pesos each to walk along the trail. But then he let it slip that if you walked back up to the highway and down the road about 200m, you could start the trail over there for free. Needless to say, we took that option!
The hike itself was quite pleasant! There was a fair bit of mud to contend with, but we managed. Although a bit chilly, the weather held up quite nicely for us. Until, of course, we reached the big payoff of Lake Esmeralda at the end of the trail. Upon arrival, the clouds immediately began to descend from the mountains above us and a mild rain commenced. Combined with the cold weather, we decided we didn’t want to hang out too long. We took some pictures at the lake complete with raindrop-covered lenses and started making our way back home. And of course, after ten minutes we turned around and noticed that the weather over the lake was beautiful once again. We were cursed! But this is how it goes, sometimes.
Overall, a lovely, straightforward hike on the outskirts of Ushuaia and well worthwhile!
Sandra and I have been filling our days by wandering around the city a bit more. We're basically pros now, and it's funny to think that by the time we leave for the cruise we'll have effectively been residents for two weeks.
In these shots, you can see the HMS Justice (beached and abandoned in 1957). It's still just sitting there... not sure exactly why but I guess it makes an interesting photo! It's quite a busy port city here, so big boats and shipping containers abound!
We got a tip about a gym (with spin classes!). That's the one with the sign that has penguins lifting weights on it. Sandra and I went today and had a pretty good time. Although all of the instructions were in Spanish, we think we pretty much nailed it. Stand up, sit down, more resistance, harder harder rest. We can do that.
Lots of beautiful dogs around the city, many just abandoned by their owners or feral. Sad to see so many cute pups meandering about in search of food. The problem is pretty widespread around Argentina and Chile, but it's starting to get more attention as groups spring up to try to curb the problem.
We purchased our rain pants for Antarctica yesterday. A steal at about $75 USD per pair. We were sadly considering grabbing crazy Gore Tex pants at a cost of about $400 USD per pair. Gross. Good thing we managed to find a store selling cheapies! It's scary how little stuff is actually available. We could rent if it weren't for the pesky fact that our particular cruise ends in Buenos Aires. Oops. Now all we need are some gloves and hats. They may be difficult to find as Tuesday is a holiday (Carnival/Mardi Gras). Although they celebrate it here in Ushuaia, something tells me it might be a little more tame than Rio...
A pizza dinner and romantic ice cream date capped off the day. We'll continue our little missions tomorrow with the anticipation of the upcoming cruise continuing to mount.
Alright, so we think we're far enough down the path that we can confirm this: we're going to Antarctica!
Initially, we weren't even planning on coming to Ushuaia on our trip. We were already supposed to have turned around and headed up north to start into Bolivia enroute to Peru and Machu Picchu. But as we were headed south we kept hearing "well, you're so close to Ushuaia, you should check it out!". Which then became: "well, if you're in Ushuaia you should really look into last minute Antarctica deals!". We didn't want to get our hopes up too much, but it looks pretty sealed up at this point that we'll be headed out on a boat for a 22 day journey starting on February 20th. Until then, we're just holding tight in Ushuaia to wait for our departure. Sorry in advance for a bunch of boring updates until then, but we're sure you'll understand. Hopefully the pictures we'll have upon our return from Antarctica will more than make up for it!
We've switched hostels again to what we believe is the cheapest in town. Great people here (tons of motorcyclists!). We're trying to determine how to keep ourselves occupied before the departure. Sandra has learned that the local theatre is showing "50 Shades of Grey" in English with Spanish subtitles. And Jupiter Ascending. I'm not too keen on either of them, but darned if we probably don't watch both in the intervening week before we leave. We've also heard there's a public pool we can get access to after submitting ourselves to a short physical. You know, just checking out those toes for Athlete's Foot and checking out those armpits for... other fungal infections? Anyway, once you're cleared you should be good to swim for about 25 pesos per month. Good news!
Our new mission is also trying to source some waterproof gear for the trip south. Although a parka and waterproof boots are included, we're expected to provide our own waterproof pants and mittens. And Ushuaia is quite an expensive city, so this is a problem we have yet to solve. Our semi-plan is to try to buy the items from people returning from Antarctica, but we'll see how that goes.
We did manage to find some nice Merino wool socks today (two pairs each!) from a local combat/tactical gear supply store. Most of the outdoor stores were selling crappy socks for the equivalent of $30-40 CAD, but we got these beauties for $15!
We walked to the mall today in hopes of finding a cheaper outdoorsy store than on the main strip. No dice. Prices were the same. But we did have our first taste of Freddo ice cream -- an Argentinian chain. Man, do they ever make some great ice cream here! Swiss chocolate, banana split, and Chocolate Freddo completed our 1/4 kg trio of flavours. So tasty.
The wind speeds were pretty incredible on the walk over. We tried to capture the whitecaps on the channel. It was difficult to walk without stumbling, and my legs felt like they'd received a complimentary massage from my flailing pant legs.
Ushuaia is a neat city because we're discovering so many trips end here. I mean, wouldn't you plan a trip that ended at the end of the world? Just tonight we've met two Swiss motorcyclists completing a 21-month trip around the world. They're all done. And tomorrow, we have a cyclist arriving (no motor!) who's completing his journey from Minnesota to Alaska to here. It's funny the way you meet people finishing their journeys while you're just beginning. And we've just met our first couple on a year-long trip who started after us. Scary to think we've already been gone over a month. Another motorcyclist in our hostel here is on his fourth consecutive year of travel. Not sure we could do that, but it's pretty amazing!
We'll try to take some interesting shots around town and hopefully get some time put into editing all of the video footage we've captured thus far. Goodness knows it won't be easy to edit in 6 metre swells in the Drake Passage. Wish us luck!
We now find ourselves in Ushuaia. It's the southernmost city in the world. "The End of the World", in fact! It was a 12 hour bus ride from Puerto Natales that involved two bus transfers, a ferry, and a border crossing. We definitely wish the 7:30am to 7:30pm ride was a night bus so we didn't have to pay for a night's accommodation on either end, but such is life. The ride included a quick stop at a panaderia (where they make those tasty empanadas) for a break. The place was called La Union. It was weird. The main dining area had an area wherein you could take your picture within a mock doctor's office. At the table across from you was a statue of a doctor, complete with stethoscope. Just, you know, for those people who want pictures of themselves with doctor statues. Want to wander toward the back of the restaurant? Good idea. There, you'll find a Swedish Chef clone doll passed out amongst his cookware. And encased in glass. In case you wanted to steal it or something, I guess? Regardless, Sandra bought some more cheesebread and we continued on our merry way.
We had planned a couple of nights here on a secret mission, the results of which we are presently awaiting. To fill this void of time, we've been exploring Ushuaia at a very slow pace.
One morning run introduced us to the houses up on the hills. But mostly it just woke up dozens of dogs who barked at us and chased us throughout the run. Some of them leaned toward the cute and amusing part of the doggie spectrum while others were more on the "please don't kill me" side. There are lots of strays here in Argentina, and many dogs who have legitimate owners are also allowed to run free around the town to keep themselves entertained. It can be a bit overwhelming at times!
In our hostel, we met a Dutch journalist by the name of Anna. We befriended her and headed out with her our second evening in Ushuaia. Our destination was an Irish pub called Dublin. They served a funny microbrew by Cape Horn Brewery that was a green beer. Not the kind of food-coloured green beer you see around St. Paddy's day, but an earthier, sea weed-y green. Still no idea how or why it's that colour. Not the worst tasting beer, either! And after an hour or so at the pub, who should walk through the doors but Dave and Jess, our Aussie friends from Buenos Aires! These coincidences are always awesome when travelling. They sat down with us and walked us through their Torres trek while we swapped stories.
A couple of days later, we met Sarah and Jeremy from Portland. They were interested in a hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park, so we joined along for the ride. It was a 130 peso cab ride out there, which we split two ways among the couples. Before commencing the hike, we stopped in at the post office at the end of the world. Inside is an eccentric old man who will stamp your passport with an indicator that you have, indeed, made it to the end of the world. It costs 20 pesos per stamp (about 3 dollars CAD). Both Sandra and myself regretted it immediately as we watched him mash a giant, goofy cartoon stamp in our passports. And then insert a small sticker alongside it containing a picture of a man with a stamp. It's him. So now you've got the stamp itself and a sticker with a picture of the man who stamped it with a stamp in his hand. I guess that means you really get your money's worth?
Although the rain in the park tempered our excitement a bit, we did discover the best stone skipping beach I've ever encountered. Everywhere you looked were smooth, flat rocks that fit perfectly in the palm. The water was calm. The game was afoot. I tried not to inconvenience the rest of the party too much, but I made sure to get in a good number of tosses. Can't get enough!
We tried to return to the city from the park using our same economical taxi approach. After stealthily following a taxi we caught entering the park, we tried to get him to take us home. No dice -- he had other customers to bring back. Alas, we were forced to take a shuttle bus back to the city. At a cost of 400 pesos. So we got in for 130 pesos and out for 400. Such is the asymmetry of Argentinian pricing.
The plan was to chat with Dad on his birthday in the evening (Happy Birthday, Dad!). Alas, the Internet had other plans. Upon returning from our hike we discovered that the Internet was no longer functional. Assuming it was some problem local to our hostel, we approached the staff about the issue. It's not just us. The whole city has lost Internet and cell phone service. We must be bad luck for this stuff, because you may recall this happened to us in El Calafate too! It appears that robustness is not part of the game plan for Argentine ISPs. Sorry we missed the Skype chat, dad, but we tried!
If everything goes according to plan, we've got an unexpected destination next!
So: Torres del Paine. Wow!
We just returned from an epic 5 day "W Circuit" trek in the park. Many blisters and sore body parts later, we'd hiked somewhere in the area of 70km carrying our not-light-enough packs and camping every night. We carried our food, tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and cameras throughout. We endured gale force winds, some light rain (lucky!), and even a bit of snow. But we made it!
Our path took us from west to east through the park and started with a catamaran trip. We decided right away to start hiking with our Swiss friends Tobias and Manuela. Also in the crew were Danielle (Brisbane, AUS) and Kai (Germany).
As you can see, the views are pretty amazing. Here's a rundown of the full trek by day. Note that a Refugio is basically an area with some dorm rooms and some paid camping areas. A Campamento is just a free camping site. Mirador means scenic viewpoint.
All in all, it was a very rewarding experience. It's amazing what the human body can endure. Many times I felt achy and sore within 10 minutes of hiking, but somehow we were able to make it through each day! Success!
Preparation for the trek today!
We started the day off with a 10km run along the Patagonian coast. The famed high winds were certainly in full effect, but that didn’t deter us! It’s quite a rugged terrain here, but absolutely gorgeous.
First order of business was picking up all of the food required for the trip to the park. The hike we're planning is called the “W Circuit” and generally takes 5 days to complete, so we needed to think carefully about what foodstuffs to bring with us. The less water weight, the better! So now we’re the proud owners of a whole bunch of granola, oatmeal, condensed milk powder, Milo… you get the point. Not exotic, but it works.
Puerto Natales is a “no plastic bag” community. The first in Chile, so we’re told. We suppose they’re trying to push an environmentally friendly agenda because they’re the main jumping off point for hiking in the national park.
Spanish is different here in Chile. Whereas most South American countries would pronounce “Como Estas” something like “COH-moh ess-TAH”, the Chilenos think it appropriate to turn it into “COH-moh ay-TYE”. So everybody who took language lessons up in Bolivia (where they’re super cheap) and then came south to Chile is realizing they can’t understand a word anybody says to them.
Cash is also king here in Chile. The problem is, on a Sunday the bank machines tend to run out of money. And there’s only one bank open. And only one of the two machines works. So there’s a lineup of 20 people to get the cash out which they require to pay for access to the park, transportation within the park, and so on. By the time we got to the front of the line, the machine was only giving out 5000 peso notes which are the equivalent of about $10 CAD. Imagine how many of those you need to get anything reasonable done. And also imagine the frustration for the people in line who get nothing after waiting for thirty minutes because the town is out of cash. Ugh.
We rented sleeping bags, mats, a tent, cooking gear, utensils. Got our outfits ready. One for hiking and one for sleeping. These two outfits last 5 days of intense hiking. You do the math on the resulting smells. We made sure to do some laundry to get our clothes in the best shape possible before heading out.
We met a great Swiss couple who are also staying at our hostel — Tobias and Manuela. They’re also doing the W Trek, so perhaps we can align ourselves on the journey!
The Internet access for the next 5 days will be incredibly spotty (if not non-existent), so apologies for a lack of updates! See you on the other side!
This morning it was time to take a bus to Puerto Natales with the goal of seeing Torres del Paine National Park. The bus ride of approximately 5 hours brought us over the border into Chile and eventually to the city of Puerto Natales in time to attend an information talk about hiking in the park. Torres del Paine is quite famous for its trekking, but there’s a lot of knowledge to digest in order to understand how to get into/out of the park, how and where to camp, renting gear, and so forth.
We met a great Canadian couple from Saskatoon (Rachel and Jared) in our hostel. We had also met Ian and Luke (Yorkshire, England) on the bus over. We grouped up and headed to a local brewpub by the name of Baguales. Their blonde ale was a beautiful, unfiltered ale and is the best beer I’ve had on the trip to date. Lovely! American-style food had us eating lamb burgers and great fries. A great meal, and a perfect introduction to Chile.
Tomorrow we prepare for the trek!
A visit to the famed Perito Moreno glacier today. It’s part of Los Glaciares National Park. It’s a massive glacier (about 3 miles along its front face) that exists in a strange kind of equilibrium. It continually pushes forward about 1.7m per day, only to collapse in large sheets at its front where it runs head on into a strong current separating two lakes. As a result, viewers are treated to frequent and massive calvings of the glacier and accompanying cracks and smashes as the glacier disintegrates into the lake below.
On the way to the glacier, the tour stopped off at a ranch so we could visit with some animals! The main purpose is really to stall so that you’re arriving at the glacier a little later than the unwashed masses, but Sandra and I were certainly happy to meet a bunch of goats, foxes, cats, and a guanaco — a cute-as-anything mini alpaca lookalike!