January 22, 2003

Argentina flagBecause we were going to wake up in port, we had closed our curtains. And so we didn’t wake up until about 7 am. But when we did wake up, it was to sunshine and blue sky over Ushuaia, Argentina! What a change. The city is situated on the northern shore of the Canal Beagle, with 1000-metre mountains directly behind it. For the past four days it had rained in Ushuaia, and the temperature was low enough so that the mountaintops got a dusting of new snow.

We headed down to the dining room for breakfast, having our usual choices. We had signed up for the optional tour that would take us hiking in Tierra del Fuego national park. Our trip began at 9:30 am with a bus ride out to the park, which is about half an hour from Ushuaia. At least, it is about half an hour if you try to go around every single pothole in the road.

Our trip leader was named Claudio, and along the way he gave us some basic information about the area. For example, the Argentinian government has an incentive program for companies to relocate to Ushuaia, and consequently the population is very young, averaging 24 years of age. And the road we were driving on was National Route 3, which starts in Buenos Aires but which was rapidly running out of steam after 3050 kilometres.

There were about 15 on the tour—us, some Belgians, a Brazilian family and a few others. When we reached the park, the bus dropped us at a hiking trail up to a lookout overlooking Canal Murray and Canal Beagle. We followed a well-signed trail that passed through a lenga forest that had been logged by prisoners early in the 20th century. Along this trail we saw a variety of flowers including dog orchid, yellow orchid, and daises, and we were lucky enough to see a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers, male and female!

The highest point of the trail was only about 300 metres above sea level, but it offered a very good view. We were lucky that the weather was good, so that we could enjoy the views for once. We carried on down the other side of the hill, crossed the road, and continued on to Bahia Ensenada. It was quite windy here but it was a lovely site.

The bus picked us up and took us on to another trail that would lead to an overlook of Bahia Lapataia. On the road we saw a red fox, just sitting there. We were quite excited, but Claudio told us that people sometimes feed them, although that is against the rules. So it probably wasn’t surprising that the fox was there. We passed the military post where the border guards live, but we couldn’t imagine anybody trying to sneak into Argentina by land down there. Claudio said they didn’t have to work very hard.

At Lapataia the trail was very short, just up to a lookout and then down to the end of the road. The signs there claim it is the end of the Pan-American Highway. Chile also claims its Route 5 as the Pan-American highway, but the Argentinian route makes more sense, since it goes all the way south.

The bus was waiting for us here, too, and since it was nearly 2 pm we dashed off to the restaurant. Its name was Patagonia Mia and it was just outside the park. Our lunch was preset and consisted of salad and lamb shish kebabs. Dessert was fresh fruit cocktail and ice cream.

Once back in Ushuaia we returned to the ship to change boots and leave our pack. As we still had time to spare, we headed back to town to explore. We decided to skip the museums and go to the souvenir shops. There were plenty of those and plenty of tourists to shop at them. The main street was also crowded with young locals on their bicycles. Fortunately all of the stores were happy to accept U.S. dollars, as we really didn’t want to deal with Argentinian pesos for just one day. We bought two T-shirts (with penguins on them) and a metal pin (with the Magellanic Woodpecker) for only $12 U.S.

Two dozen souvenir stores later it was time to re-board. Cocktail hour was at 7 pm followed by the overview of the second half of the cruise. Hopefully tomorrow we will be landing at Cape Horn. Dinner was at 8:30 and we had been moved to a different table. Pam and Peter were still with us but our new table partners were some Australians who live in New York. Dinner was artichoke and king crab salad, followed by a cream soup then beef, potatoes and vegetables. Dessert was a cream puff with raspberry sauce.

Meanwhile the ship was underway, first heading out of Argentinian waters with the local pilot, then doubling back to head west to anchor at Puerto Navarino (population 2 or 3) so that Chilean immigration could check our passports again. This process took quite a while but fortunately we didn’t have to participate in it. Tonight we will travel down Canal Murray; this is significant because this is the first year in recent history that commercial vessels have been allowed to do that. Even now the privilege is restricted to Chilean-flag vessels, in other words to the Mare Australis and a few others. We went up to the top deck to look at the stars, but unfortunately it was cloudy. Too bad, no Southern Cross.

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