Montevideo - Ushuaia (12/11/15 - 31/12/15)
Our journey to the most southern city in the world began in Uruguay with a ferry trip back to Buenos Aires and then commencing the 3,000 plus kilometer highway to Ushuaia. Covering the distance in approximately 6 weeks we had many interesting experiences but for the purposes of this site we will only comment on some of our highlights.
The journey will be remembered for the long stretches of Patagonian plains, stunningly wild and beautiful coastlines, wind, Guanacos, Rheas, lovely flowers and surprisingly good weather. Aside from nature and the geography something that will always stand out for us was the population of dogs, every town no matter what size seemed to have almost equal number of dogs as residents! Also sadly the rubbish and broken glass was impossible to ignore – strewn across empty spaces, gutters, parks, tangled in fences and overflowing from every bin, a problem obviously not helped by the wind but shocking none the less! A really positive contrast to the rubbish was the love of colour which brightened up even the most basic buildings and seemed to be popular in most communities, all colours of the rainbow may be found in just one street. We were continually surprised by some of the sights on the road and the locals' ability to keep alive even the most ancient vehicles, we never found out whether such a thing as a WOF exists but suspect not!! Another thing which fascinated us were the hundreds of little shrines dotted along the roadways with prayers and offering to Gauchito Gil, many of them painted red with red ribbons tied to all the nearby fences and trees and often surrounded by stacks of plastic bottles. We never found out what the bottles were about but it turns out Gauchito Gil was a legendary Argentinian saint, a Robin Hood type character who was eventually murdered by a policeman just prior to receiving his pardon.
El Condor (Burrowing Parrot)
A few days south of Buenos Aires on the coast at El Condor beach near Viedma we found an amazing colony of burrowing parrots, locally called Condor Parrots these fascinating birds excavate their own nest burrows by tunnelling into cliff faces. The colony stretches for about 9 km along the cliffs, includes about 35,000 nests and is the main breeding site in the world for this bird. They are beautiful to watch with their multi-coloured plumage of olive-green, blue and yellow with a red-orange patch on their bellies and we spent hours wandering along the beach and also the cliffs to watch from above and below.
Southern Elephant Seals
Our experience of the famous Valdes Peninsula was a little disappointing in that we paid the high entry fee to drive all day on the rough dirt roads and were only legally allowed to leave the vehicle at the rare viewing areas and we had way more memorable experiences of viewing wildlife outside the park.
We heard about a colony of elephant seals on the coast south of Valdes and were surprised and delighted to find this small group and being there on our own were able to quietly wander among and photograph them without disturbing. The southern elephant seal is the largest seal and males can weigh around 3.5 tons and measure up to 5.5 meters so we definitely didn't want to disturb them! The males also have the large nobbly nose or trunk that they use to produce their loud belching roars. Apparently this small group and the colony on Valdes are the only breeding places outside Antarctica.
A surprise while on Valdes peninsula was to arrive at a colony of Magellanic penguins and be able to wander close to them while they practically ignored us. They are delightfully cute and very photogenic! This species of penguin mainly only breeds in Patagonia with over one million pairs in the many colonies on the coast. They breed in the colonies only from September to April and then remain at sea for the winter.
We camped right next to the beach on the coastal road out to Valdes and woke to the blowing of whales just metres off the shore! These were the southern right whale, one of the world's rarest species of whale who were once hunted almost to extinction and who now breed in large numbers around Peninsula Valdes. They have the unusual large blunt head with thickened callous like skin on the top which itself becomes the home to a colony of lice! These whales are very social and gather in pods especially during the breeding season when sometimes over a hundred whales can be seen from a single point on the peninsula – on our first morning in Puerto Madryn we were surpriseded to see dozens of whales in the bay just close to the city.
In awesome contrast to the coast was a trip inland to the Jaramillo petrified forest, recommended to us by several people it was fascinating and beautiful. There's a great little info centre which filled us in on the details - the forest originated in a different climate nearly 1.5 million years ago and was buried under ash by volcanic activity until discovered. Incredibly carbon dating has some of them at 1000yrs old when they were buried!! We stayed at a quaint little campground close to the forest which seemed to be a converted farmyard with dogs included and surrounded by a range of old automobiles in varying stages of decay!
Monte Fitz Roy
This famous mountain owing its fame as much to its inclement weather as to its beauty pulled all stops for us and turned on an awesome display!!! We drove up the valley in clear warm sunshine with not a cloud in sight and Fitz Roy sparkled! Next day we hiked up to a viewing ridge … 8 hours of hard work after not much recent exercise was a mean workout but the views more than made up for the pain! Monte Fitz Roy is considered one of the most technically challenging for climbers due to its sheer granite faces despite only being of average height. It is also the basis for the Patagonia clothing company logo and is called the 'smoking mountain' by local indigenous tribes due to the near constant ring of cloud around its peak. At its base is the neat little mountain village of El Chalten which luckily hasn't become excessively touristy yet!
The Perito Moreno glacier is hard to describe as any except awesome!!! The viewing platforms which seem to have used thousands of tons of steel and zigzag for many kilometers are initially off-putting but soon become insignificant when the glacier cracks and groans sounding like a war-zone and great chunks of ice crash into the lake! We were mesmerised and stayed the whole day, addicted to waiting for the next explosion of ice and foam and trying to capture the magic in photos.
The glacier is about 30km long, 5km wide and about 74m in height above the lake and even more amazing is that it grows by an estimated 2m per day.
Perito Moreno action series
Ushuaia the "World's End" superlatives
The most southern city in the world, four seasons in two minutes, main getaway for Antarctica Cruises, town with the highest prices in Argentina, main tourist destination of Tierra del Fuego, southernmost Ski resort in the world ...