25 December 2013
Christmas Day! This would be one long day for me. I was staying in Estoril Terraza in Buenos Aires and they were having a Christmas Eve dinner, where guests were asked to cook or buy food to share with other guests. I was up for the Christmas Eve function, had a shower at 1:30am and was ready to leave at 2am. Since 10pm the night before Estoril Terraza tried to organise me a taxi to the airport for 300 pesos, but the taxi company was not answering the phone. During the Christmas function on the rooftop of Estoril Terraza, where we were watching the fireworks being lit up throughout the city, I saw a few taxis driving by which gave me a little relief that I may be able to make it for my 5:25am flight to Ushuaia.
At 2:05 am I came onto Avenida the Mayo and was surprised to see so many people waving their arms on the street for those limited taxis occasionally passing by. Others were looking to hit the clubs, but I needed to be at the airport. With my bags I walked further down to the end of the one-way Avenida de Mayo to a small street that I also saw taxis passing by from the roof of Estoril Terraza. At 2:15am an empty taxi did stop and offered me a ride for 400 pesos. I said too much and he lowered it to 350. It wasn’t “crunch time” yet, and I don’t like being ripped off with a functioning meter disabled, so I let him go. The official airport taxi company charges 215 pesos but I couldn’t speak enough Spanish to ask them to collect me. I was willing to pay Estoril Terraza 300 pesos for the transfer, but this taxi driver was trying his luck with me. At 2:30 am another taxi did stop. He offered to take me for 240 pesos, on the typical 45 minute ride to the airport. I accepted, and he got me there in 25 minutes, at high speed!
Once I checked in my luggage by 3:10am I found a seat available, set the alarm on my phone to 4:05 am and caught a small nap before heading through airport security for a short wait before boarding my flight to Ushuaia. The flight took off shortly after 5:25 am and arrived in Ushuaia at 9 am on Aerolinas Argentinas. The airline has a 15kg limit on baggage, but I was lucky that they did not mind my 17kg’s (of mostly winter clothing, emergency meds and food).
There was a fair amount of turbulence just before we landed.
All I saw was fog, then the sea for a minute before we reached the runway which begins on the shoreline. After collecting my luggage I saw transfer agents from National Geographic and Quark Expeditions ready to transfer Antarctica passengers to their accommodations in Ushuaia. This option was given to me when I booked my Antarctica trip but I thought it would only apply to people arriving a day prior to their cruise to Antarctica. I was planning to spend 4 nights in Ushuaia, so I did not think that the option was available to me. In any case, it only costs 60 Argentinian pesos for the taxi transfer.
Ushuaia was 1 degrees Celsius that morning, far cooler than Buenos Aires which was 28 degrees Celsius the previous night. But, this was to be expected. I was at Fin Del Mundo (End of the World), the southernmost city on Planet Earth.
I arrived at Cruz Del Sur, my accommodation in Ushuaia at 9:45am, but it was too early to check in. Instead, I left my luggage in their luggage storage area (i.e. underneath the staircase), took a short walk in town, and returned to their lounge room to relax and use their internet.
The first thing that I heard from other travelers in the lounge was how they were stuck in Ushuaia, as buses out of town are limited. Those who only visit Ushuaia for a few days during peak season without bus tickets out will have to extend their stay a few days.
I took a short nap when I got my room at 12pm as most of the shops and restaurants were closed on Christmas day. Fortunately for me, some restaurants would open after 5pm. I wasn’t looking forward to digging into my dehydrated rice and powdered soup supplies (which I brought for Chile).
I had a good grilled fish and vegetable dish at a family run restaurant with a great view of Ushuaia, after a little struggle in translation with the Spanish speaking waiter. There was also another restaurant open that night serving the local special, King Crab, but I’m not a big fan of crustacean food.
That evening I was still exhausted after the early morning flight with limited sleep the previous night. I took a short walk near the port and then headed off to sleep.
26 December 2013
I woke up still feeling exhausted with body pain. I am not sure if I was getting a cold or if I was still extremely tired from the previous day of travel, so I decided to sleep in a bit extra, load up on Vitamin C and Brufen, and take it easy as it was only 3 more days for my Antarctica trip and I wanted to be feeling 100% strong on the cruise. I visited all the shops in San Martin Street, the main street in town and ate a light meal that afternoon.
I also took the opportunity to learn more about Ushuaia which used to be inhabited by the Yamana people until the late 19th century before the missionaries were sent in, and then most of the native population were wiped out by both hunting and western diseases that were introduced into Ushuaia.
I read that only one true blooded Yamana was still alive in 2005. There are 3 museums in Ushuaia, one of which is solely about the Yamana people. Ushuaia which lies on the shores of the Beagle Channel has a population of approximately 60 000 people. It is the capital city of the Argentine Province of Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia was also used as a penal colony in the past, but today it is a major port and gateway to Antarctica, handling 90% of the world’s tourist traffic to the 7th continent.
27 December 2013
After waking up a bit late, I had the option of doing a three hour hike in Tierra Del Fuego National Park, but other travellers at Cruz Del Sur told me that they were fairly disappointed with the hike (and cost of it), and I should visit Glacier Martial instead.
I decided to take an afternoon boat cruise on the Beagle Channel for that day, with a company that also allowed me a short trek on one of the small islands in the channel which provided me with great views of Ushuaia.
We also sailed up to the lighthouse, to see the local birds and seals.
The Beagle Channel, 280km long and 5 to 13km wide, is located where the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean meet. It also provides a natural boundary between Argentina and Chile which can be seen on either side.
28 December 2013
Today was a day for me to do some trip planning. I needed to book my bus tickets out of Ushuaia and get an idea of where I will go to after Chile. My cruise to Antarctica would end on 7 January so I needed a bus ride out of Ushuaia to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales in Chile on 8 January. The first bus company I approached (Compana) only has two buses a week to Punta Arenas; the earliest departure being on 9 January. The second bus company was fully booked until 11 January, but the 3rd company (Tolkiyen) had availability so I booked a 7am bus on 8 January to Punta Arenas, and an 11am bus to Puerto Natales on 9 January.
When it came to paying for the bus tickets, I realised that I never have enough Argentinian pesos for the bus ticket. I handed over all but 50 pesos to pay for the bus ticket and used my credit card to pay for the remainder (at the lower official rate). I needed the 50 pesos to purchase water and snacks for the evening.
After preparing my luggage for check out the next morning, I booked one more night at Cruz Del Sur for the night after the Antarctica Cruise. I then decided to take a nice brisk walk to a higher view point on the streets above the port in Ushuaia.
29 December 2013
I woke up early to check out, but ended up leaving a little after the 10 am check out time as I was having an interesting discussion at breakfast with an Ozzie that is traveling by motorcycle across South America. He sold his car and house, and has enough savings for 1 year of travel. Some great stories from his journey thus far.
I left at 10:15am and had time to pass as the cruise ship to Antarctica only allows guests to board at 4pm. I decided to find a taxi and take a ride to the chair lifts to Martial Glacier at 11am. This was the first time that I ever went on ski chair lifts, so I wasn’t too sure how to sit and secure myself on the chair lift.
The chair lift ride costs 45 pesos for locals and 80 pesos for foreigners. There is also a hiking route to the top, but I did not have time to hike it. At the chairlift station at the top there are a few hiking options available, up to Glacier Martial and to a lookout point above town.
I hiked for about 2 hours on a return trip to Glacier Martial. Like other travelers, I couldn’t see the glacier until I looked at a map after I returned from the hike. This was a receding cirque glacier, the first of this type that I had seen, which looks fairly different from other glaciers that I am accustomed to.
It can be quite windy near the top.
I then went on the hiking route that provides you with a good view of Ushuaia.
Before heading down on the chairlift I realised that my Nokia cell phone was missing. Did I drop in on the chairlift journey up, or in the taxi from Ushuaia port to the chairlift station? I headed down to the lower chairlift platform on a squeaky chair. I’m not sure if it’s normal for these chairs to squeak, but I had about ten minutes to think of whether there have previously been chair lift mechanical accidents and ways to land if the chair breaks off before I reached the lower chairlift station.
I waited in the taxi rank until 3:15pm hoping to spot the taxi driver who drove me up. I tried asking one of the other taxi drivers in Spaish “Perdido Negro Cellphone in Remis” and after a few hand signals he realised that I may have lost my black phone in the taxi. He tried radioing the other taxis to ask, but then other passengers requested he take them down before he got any feedback. When I returned to Cruz del Sur at 3:40pm for my bags I asked if they could phone the taxi company and ask if they found my phone. The owner called and the taxi company said they will investigate and advise her later. I told her that I have to leave for my cruise but if they find my phone can she please hold it until my return on 7 January. The phone has my South African sim card in it, and gives me access to Whatsapp on my trip so I would really like to have it back. I headed for the port, passed through passenger control / customs, and walked directly onto the ship with my luggage where they checked me in at 4:30pm. My journey to Antarctica would begin now. Comprehensive trip report will follow in other articles.
7 January 2014
After an amazing adventure in Antarctica we docked in Ushuaia at 7am. Breakfast was served from 7:30am. I napped a little longer and went for breakfast at 7:45am. After a good meal with new friends we disembarked the ship by 9am. Normally, passengers do not walk off the ships to the city. Buses are outside to transfer passengers directly to the airport or to a luggage store in town. I went to the luggage store, dropped off my bag and headed for San Martin Avenue with 3 other passengers. Most of the shops and restaurants in Ushuaia only open at 10am but we found Café Banana open. I just had a hot chocolate there while the other tried out a banana smoothie. After Cafe Banana we walked a little in town and then decided to wait in another coffee shop / bakery until 12pm when they had to head to the airport. I decided to get myself some souvenir magnets before heading to the luggage store and then Cruz Del Sur. While I was still on the street I was surprised that Anna, an owner of Cruz Del Sur recognised me (in my sunglasses) from my stay there 10 days ago. She said that her mum will be able to check me in. I highly recommend staying at this establishment for it’s personal touch and homely, welcoming atmosphere. Would any staff from Marriott or Hilton recognise you on the street? The taxi company called Cruz Del Sur and said that unfortunately they did not find my phone.
I dropped of my luggage and decided to relax in the lounge and wait for internet connectivity to be restored (it was unavailable throughout town for a few hours). At 6pm I decided to go out for supper. I just walked outside when I remembered that my camera was still inside. When I went in to fetch it, I received an email from Sarah at Freestyle Adventures (she is the agent who organised my Antarctica expedition) stating that somebody notified her that they have my phone, and they were about to leave the office so if I want it I should go immediately. Sarah gave me the address for Claudia at Antarpply, a short walk away. Claudia said that her father drove the taxi I rode in. He found the phone and gave it to her. She managed to switch it on (the power button does not work on my Lumia 620, but if you hold the camera button for 2 seconds then it switches on). She went through my emails and saw my correspondence with Sarah, who she recognised from Ushuaia, and told Sarah to contact me. What good fortune! I gave Claudia some cash to give her father as a gesture of my thanks and then headed to the port to see if the Ocean Diamond had sailed yet. When we left for Antarctica 10 days prior we departed at 6:10pm. It was 6:20pm now and after watching the ship still docked for 10 minutes I decided to get supper instead, from Café Banana.
When I returned at 7:45 pm the ship was still there. Around 8:00 pm I could see the docking lines being retracted on board, but it wasn’t until about 8:15pm that the ship departed. It was extremely windy outside, so I have a feeling that the Drake Passage for the latest expedition to Antarctica may not be too inviting.
That night I only slept around 11:30pm.
8 January 2014
I awoke around 5am for my bus ride to Punta Arenas. I was at the bus station at 6:45am for my 7am departure. I grew a bit close to Ushuaia and felt a little sad to leave this beautiful city at the End of The World.