Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photos of Torres Del Paine National Park

Hi All

Attached is the link for the photos for Torres Del Paine National Park. Play the slideshow and enjoy. Just cut and paste.

https://picasaweb.google.com/118181109521024542820/PatagoniaTorresDelPaine?authuser=0&feat=directlink

Monday, March 26, 2012

Torres Del Paine and Laguna Amarga

Wednesday, with the radiator fixed again we were back on the road to – where else – Torres Del Paine National Park. We still want to get views of the Torres (towers). Like the cuernos (horns), there are three of them, the North, South and Central. They are gigantic, granite monoliths rising out of the mountain and shaped by the glacial ice. The South Tower is now thought to be the highest at 2,500 meters (8,250 feet), although surprisingly that has not been definitively established and was first climbed by Armando Aste. The Central Tower is 2,460 meters (8,100 feet) and was the first of the three to be climbed back in 1963 by Chris Bonnington and Don Whillans and the North Tower which is 2,260 meters was first climbed by Guido Monzino, who back in 1977 donated around 12,000 hectacres (30,000 acres) to the Chilean government which established the definitive limits of the park. Our goal is to camp at Hotel Del Torres and then hike from there. We are now accustomed to picking up hitchhikers and just leaving Puerto Natales, there were two ladies waiting for rides. They were going to EL Calafate so we told them we could give them a ride to Cerro Castillo, which is the turn off for the park and also the border entrance to Argentina. After crossing the border they should be able to pick up another ride to El Calafate. The two girls were from Santiago and one spoke good English so we were able to chat with them as we drove. After leaving them at the border, Tom checked the motorhome. So far, so good – no leaks. We are now on the familiar gravel trails which lead into the park and just as we are approaching Laguna Amarga, a beautiful ice blue glacial lake, Tom announced, with a certain degree of dread in his voice, that he smelled “something”. We pull off at the turnout to the lake and sure enough we are leaking once again. Frustrated and depressed doesn’t begin to express our feelings. We take stock of our situation, yet again. It is about 3 in the afternoon and we are by a gorgeous lake with some fabulous views of the mountains including the Torres. We will spend the night and once again go back to Puerto Natales. I’m beginning to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day! But, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. At least we have some great views of the towers and so as Tom checks out the motorhome and prepares it for the night, I walk Winston. There are guanaco grazing by the lake so I keep Winston on his lead until they have moved off. Then he is free. He runs to the water, stops for a moment, runs in and….he is up to his belly in ice. He is shocked. He tears out of the water shaking himself and looking at me reproachfully. “Not my fault” I tell him, laughing and taking his photograph. He runs around but does not go into the water again. Once bitten, twice shy. I check out the landscape. The towers are amazing and as I walk further to study them, I shout to Tom. Coming from the North Tower is a natural ice bridge crossing a glacier, connecting it to the adjacent mountain. In the reflecting sunlight, it looks phenomenal. We take a ton of photos as this may be the closest we get. I make beef soup for dinner and as we eat we watch the sun setting over the towers and decide it is a great camping location. It was never our original destination and if the motorhome had not developed a problem we would probably have not stopped. And yet, here we are with near perfect views of the towers. Tomorrow is another day and we will again, limp back to Puerto Natales and if we can’t find someone capable of helping us, we will go to Punta Arenas. For right now, we are by Laguna Amarga, it is quiet with not another soul in sight and those Torres in the setting sun are spectacular.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A minor setback

After two nights at Grey Lake, our plan was to wind our way north through the park and spend a few days in the parking lot at Hotel Torres Del Paine where we are hoping the weather will hold for us to hike to the torres. The road from Lake Grey goes east to a bridge crossing Lago Toro and then north which gave fabulous views of the Paine Massif, an eastern spur of the Andes of which both the Cuernos and the Torres del Paine are a part of. Small valleys separate the spectacular granite spires that dominate the landscape. On our left we pass the gorgeous blue waters of Lake Pehoe which has two waterfalls at each end: Salto Chico which connects Lake Pehoe to Lake Toro at the south end and Salto Grande which drains Lake Nordenskjold into Lake Pehoe in the north. Although we did not take the trail to Salto Grande, we did stop at the mirador and get some photos. It was just after we started up the mountain leaving Lake Pehoe to round Lake Nordenskjold that our setback started. The radiator which we had had repaired in Punta Arenas started leaking again and with steam coming from under the hood we made it to the top of the hill before pulling over. With the ever present Patagonian wind buffeting the motorhome, Tom pulls on his hat and jacket to check it out. He comes back inside, furious. The repair had obviously not been done correctly, his guess was that it was never pressure tested and now we were leaking fluid again. We get out the map of the park and start making another plan. We need to get back to a town and Puerto Natales is the closest, about 75 mile and half of that on the gravel trails. Thank God the motorhome has a 40 gallon water tank which is close to being full. As I fill some containers, Tom gets back out and begins to top up the radiator. He estimates that we will need to stop about every 15 minutes to check and re-fill. At least with all the stops, we got some great views of Lake Nordenskjold which is a pretty azure blue and the Rio Paine which lived up to its name and was a bright blue under the sunlight. We are a little depressed because we don’t want to miss seeing the torres but the motorhome takes precedence. Now we will have to come back into the park on our way to Argentina and Los Glaciares National Park and pay the rather steep entrance fee again in order to see them. That and we lose another few precious days of summer, autumn is approaching and we are still far south of where we wanted to be with April approaching. Such is the “glamorous” life on the road. Anyone who travels knows of these setbacks and how frustrating it can be but it is part of the experience. It takes us 2 and a half hour to get to Puerto Natales and we arrive back at Camping Josmar in time for dinner. After walking Winston and getting settled, we decide to eat at a nearby restaurant as we don’t feel like cooking. It is St. Patrick’s Day but there is no corned beef and cabbage. Tom orders the king crab (centolla) for which Puerto Natales is famous and I the veal chops which were really good and Winston gets the bones. We then Skype our family and kids and bring everyone up to speed with our latest news. Monday we will find a mechanic who can help with the radiator and hopefully we will be back on the road by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grey Glacier, Grey Lake and a boat trip

Grey Glacier is another of the chief attractions in Torres del Paine National Park. It is located on the west side beside the Cordillera del Paine and the Paine Massif and is at the south end of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. The glacier covers a total area of 270 square kilometers and it is 28km long, however, like all of Torres Del Paine's glaciers and most glaciers around the world for that matter, it is retreating. Flowing southward, at one end is the Patagonian Ice Field and at the other a 40-metre wall of ice, which smashes ice blocks into Grey Lake below and with them, glacial rock flour, the silt which gives Grey Lake its milky blue/grey color. Grey lake is really a by-product of the glacier and because of the glacial silt it is a “dead” lake meaning that nothing lives in it. In some areas closest to the glacier, it is more than 500 meters deep and its waters reflecting the Paine Mountains behind it turn it into a postcard worthy picture. The surface of the lake and much of the glacier can be seen when following the big circuit of Paine Mountain Range at John Garner Pass. There is another view from the south shore of the lake, where the glacier can be seen in the background with icebergs floating on the water, some quite close to the shore. However, the best views of the glacier and the surrounding mountains are seen by boat which is booked from the Hotel Lago Grey. The boat leaves at 3 in the afternoon and sailing time is about three hours but can be cancelled because of weather, if necessary. The day we had scheduled the trip started windy and stormy and by noon although the rain had stopped, the wind had not abated much. We wondered if this was one of the days it would be cancelled but when we showed up at 2 o’clock, we were told the trip was definitely a go. Hmm. By 2:30 everyone had checked in, some 20 or so brave souls. Besides us, there were the four ladies from Texas and the rest were predominately a group from France. Everyone was bundled up against the elements. After a short bus ride, there was a 15 minute walk to the dock, first crossing a narrow, wood-slatted bridge which moved steadily in the wind and then across the beach which exposed us to the elements and left most people breathless. The wind was fierce and howled around us. There was no boat at the dock and we all huddled against the rock cliffs for any small shelter. The lake looks rough, ice-cold and very uninviting but none of this lessens the mood of anticipation for the trip ahead. After no more than a few minutes, the boat appeared. It looked smaller than I had expected and anchored a short way off-shore. A smaller motor boat then came and this would transport us out to the “Grey II”. As we got aboard the small boat, everyone was handed a life-jacket and instructed to wear it at all times when on deck or up on the second level open viewing area. My only thought was that if anyone fell in the water, hypothermia not drowning would be the issue. But, rules are rules. As we were climbing onto the main boat, one of the crew suddenly told us to check out the cliffs. There was an Andean Condor flying around. Considered quite rare, there are only a dozen or so breeding pairs in this area. Once, we were all safely ensconced on board, inside and out of the wind, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and after a brief introduction from the captain and crew, we were underway. Even with the wind and cold most people were too excited to stay inside and went to stand on the back or go up to the top to check out the scenery. We were not disappointed. The Cordillera del Paine surrounded us and the sharp snow capped granite peaks were beautiful as they were reflected in the water by the sun, peaking out behind clouds. There were icebergs and chunks of ice of various sizes in the water and nudging against the sides of the boat. The glacier in the distance was starting to loom larger and we could make out the tongues of the glacier. Tongues are segments of a glacier which has been divided by a “nunatak” – a piece of land that has separated the glacier to create an island in the middle and the tongues are the parts that form the ice wall where chunks break off which fall into the lake. It is now just a short time before we reach the base of the glacier and the giant wall of ice which soars in places 40 meters above us. The rock and ice formations leave everyone spellbound and speechless for minutes while the boat cuts the engines and the only sounds are those of nature surrounding us. The water as it rocks the boat, the groan of ice moving under its tremendous weight, the occasional splash as chunks fall into the lake and stillness, nothing more. Then, the cameras are out and the photo ops begin. But nothing can detract from the perfect images. There are not enough adjectives to adequately describe this phenomenal feat of nature, the millions of years that went into the making of this amazing park and this spectacular glacier. The colors were mesmerizing, ranging from pale azure blue to the deepest of periwinkle. Glacial blue, ice blue, the names of shades of blue flash through my mind but none of these truly represent the colors that surround us. The shapes and formations of ice sculpted over the ages and the field of ice as it looms over our heads looks as though it goes on forever. And yet this and most of the other world’s glaciers are rapidly receding. Global warming, the natural cycle of the earth, God’s creation, man’s destruction - who knows for sure and the arguments rage on but for this one moment in time, I can just stand in awe at the majesty of it. We must have taken a hundred or more photos as, at each turn there seemed to be yet another view equally as photogenic. As the boat idles and we move around to get different aspects of the glacier, a crew member appears with a tray laden with either straight whiskey or pisco sours mixed with ice made from glacial water. “Million year old ice” as it is known. (Pisco is a national drink from Chile). And so we stand on deck, as the boat gently glides past the giant wall of ice in front of us and occasionally nudges small icebergs floating by and we stand and toast one another. One of the ladies from France summed it up quite perfectly. “C’est tres magnifique”, she said. Ah, yes. It is very magnificent. Was the trip worth it? Absolutely – every penny, every step, every view. Did the weather affect the trip? Absolutely – in a good way. This is Patagonia, cold, desolate, windswept, glaciers, icebergs floating by, the end of the world. If it was warm and sunny, it would have detracted from the experience. And would we return? Absolutely. Now, if only we can figure out a way to stop the rapid melting of the glaciers. That would also be tres magnifique.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Torres Del Paine National Park

Located about 110 kms (70 miles) north of Puerto Natales is Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine (pie-nay) which is without doubt, one of the most spectacular parks in the country. A national park since 1959 it was first called Parque Nacional Lago Grey and in 1970 the name was changed to Torres Del Paine. It was established a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978. As a world biosphere reserve, it has a huge variety of plant and animal species which, with its incredibly beautiful setting has made it an almost unequalled destination for hikers, backpackers and nature lovers. Snow-capped mountain peaks, cascading rivers, waterfalls, glaciers and lakes give it an elite place in the world of national parks. The parks name is derived from the Spanish word “torres” meaning towers and an indigenous word “paine” meaning blue so although often translated in English to Towers of Pain, it’s true translation is Towers of the Blue. Leaving Puerto Natales the paved road quickly gives way to the now familiar gravel trails which seem to make up many of the roadways in Patagonia. The trail winds through the Patagonian steppe and mountain passes before descending to the foot of the Andes and the first views of the cuernos (horns) del paine formed predominately from granite and whose origin dates back millions of years. These three peaks named the North, Principal and East horns, along with the “torres”, also three peaks known as the South, Central and North towers are some of the main attractions within the park. It is a beautiful sunny day, windy with some clouds and the cuernos are magnificent against the blue sky with Lago Del Toro in front. There are several entrances to the park and our plan is to enter via the southern one and make our way north through the park to Cerro Castillo and the Argentine border. Our destination in the park for the first night was Lago Grey (Grey Lake). There, there is a hotel and we can park in the parking lot according to the park administration. The hotel is about 10 kilometer inside the park and we can see the lake with Grey glacier in the distance. After giving a Winston a walk down one of the trails leading to the lake, we go to check out the hotel. Within the park our goal with Winston is to try to keep him as contained as possible, giving him walks on some of the more quiet trails and being extremely conscientious about picking up after him so as to reduce his carbon footprint as much as possible. The Hotel Lago Grey is a beautiful 5 star hotel and whoever coined the phrase “location, location, location” was right on the ball. There is a wall of windows looking out over the lake toward the glacier. As we settle in comfortable chairs in front of one of the windows and order a beer for Tom and wine for myself, we are confronted with a view that is absolutely spectacular. Front and center, close to the edge of the lake is a huge iceberg in such intense shades of blue ranging from turquoise to periwinkle. It looks as though it could have been towed there and dyed that color just to enthrall the guests but it is natural and we can see other icebergs, some just as large and several smaller in the same colors. There are plenty of American guests staying here and we chat with a lady from Texas travelling with her daughter Emily Ann and two of her friends and also with a group who are travelling as part of an adventure trek with a tour from REI – the national store which sells outdoor gear and equipment. When they find out we are not staying at the hotel but rather in our motorhome in the parking lot and we relate our story, they are amazed. We decide to eat dinner in the restaurant which does not open until 8. That is fine by us. Our bartender Philippe pours me another glass of wine and we sit contentedly gazing out through the windows at the snow capped Andes, Grey Lake with the glacier in the distance and that magnificent iceberg. With the sun setting, it is magical.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is situated on the Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope) Gulf portion of the Magellan Straits and we are having a hard time shaking that “land at the end if the world” feeling which has followed us from Ushuaia. This is where the tip of South America has crumbled into a myriad of islands enclosed by fiords, glaciers, mountains and glacial lakes as the land, sea and ice intermingle. The feeling persists as you enter the town and are confronted by a huge statue of a bear-like animal, the Milodon. This is a prehistoric extinct mammal and not too far away is a huge cave where the remains of one were found a few years ago. There are numerous hostels in town and we had been told that one of them “Josmar” had room for motorhomes. True, however anyone with an RV bigger than ours would not get in the gates. It was a tight squeeze but we were able to get parked and run electricity. There is also internet. And the rain. It has continued to pour down since we left Punta Arenas and did not stop for two days. We were later told that Punta Arenas had so much rain that there was massive flooding and part of the road was closed. So luckily, the decision to leave when we did was well timed. We spent our time hunkered down at the hostel, catching up with family and friends via the internet and trying to stay dry. Most of the people who come to Puerto Natales are backpackers who are going or have been to Torres del Paine National Park. Whilst talking with one of them he happened to mention that he had ran into friends of ours. Huh! It seems that Kurt and Cindy, a Belgian couple we had first met in Puerto San Julian but missed in Ushuaia are in town. They have been to Torres Del Paine and are now headed to El Calafate. They stopped by and visited for a while and as we say goodbye, we know we may meet them again, along the way. The weather has remained steady now with sunshine early in the day, turning cloudy by late afternoon and then rain at night. This is as good a time as any to move on to Torres del Paine and try to visit a glacier and do some hiking.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Punta Arenas

Overlooking the Straits of Magellan, Punta Arenas is the most southern continental town in Chile and, in the world for that matter. It is a port city and or the last few years it has been a tax free zone and attracts people from both the mainland and Porvenir (on the island of Tierra del Fuego) to its mega duty free stores. We spent several days here mainly servicing the motorhome. During the final analysis of the tires we decided to purchase four new ones. Three of our original tires had been mutilated by the rough gravel roads and the fourth had a slight tear in the sidewall just enough to concern us, especially with the road conditions through Chile to Torres Del Paine and then up Highway 40 through Argentina. The mechanic also found a leak in our radiator and that was sent for repair. Fortunately, we were able to stay in the Ford dealership parking lot over night, which was not only secure but had internet. The other two nights we parked in a lot on the beach. When we woke up on the first morning, I got Winston together for his morning walk. As I stepped out of the motorhome I noticed a couple in their car watching the water. The lady got out and came up to me. “Look” she said in Spanish and pointed out over the water. At that moment several groups of dolphins arched through the waves, maybe a dozen or more total. As I allowed Winston off leach to race through the sand, I watched the dolphins cavort just offshore and couldn’t help but realize how fortunate I was to begin my day with such beauty. The beach promenade is only a couple of years old and it well maintained and clean. Whilst there, we explored the town and shopped at the local municipal market. There were lots of fishmongers selling salmon, merluza (hake), shellfish and a few different cerviches. It all looked so fresh and enticing especially coming from Argentina where it is all beef, beef and more beef! After browsing we purchased merluza, scallops and salmon cerviche. We will freeze the scallops but cook the merluza for dinner, irresistible. On Saturday, the weather changed and a storm blew in, bringing high winds and lots of rain. We had met and been invited to dinner by a firefighter from Punta Arenas and his wife but with the rain continuing to fall with no respite in sight, we decided instead to head for Puerto Natales. We called Alvaro on his cell and gave our apologies. The 240 km (150 mile) drive to Puerto Natales will be wet and slow but at least the road is paved.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ushuaia to Punta Arenas

On our last couple of days in Ushuaia the weather turned cold and rainy with some sleet and snow in the mountains. We shopped in town and bought some souvenirs and ate at a very good seafood restaurant, Tia Elvira. Tom had the king crab which was cooked in a delicious sauce and I had the baked hake which was recommended by our waitress and which was also very good. Dan and Brian, the two Americans who we left at the national park have returned. Brian is flying home from Ushuaia but Dan has taken a three week job at an organic farm in El Bolson, which is north-west of here. We offer a ride to Punta Arena which he gratefully accepted. His plan is to hitch-hike from Punta Arenas to Rio Gallegos and from there take a bus to El Bolson. However after studying the map, we decide his best bet is to try and get a ride from the border at San Sebastian to Rio Gallegos instead of detouring to Punta Arenas. We again spent the night at the border in San Sebastian before crossing into Chile. We made a beef soup for dinner with fresh French rolls and after eating, dismantled the table and made up the middle bed for Dan. The next morning before crossing the border, I made oatmeal for breakfast for everyone and Tom cooked up some chicken breasts that we had left over as we can’t cross the border with uncooked meats. We gave some to Dan, which he gratefully accepted and would be consumed for his lunch. The border crossing itself was easy and the inspection was nowhere near as thorough as when we entered Chile before but we still had to hand over two onions and some jalapeƱo peppers which we had not used. We were concerned about leaving Dan by himself and hung out for a while with him. He is confident that he can get a ride and we all know this is the best place to try. One, most of the traffic crossing into Chile goes to Rio Gallegos with only a few, like us, going to Porvenir for the ferry. Second and most important, he can wait in the building instead of outside in the cold. And it is cold! The wind is constant and so strong that I felt windswept just walking Winston and the motorhome rocked steadily with the gusts. We were not on the road 15 minutes and Dan passed us in a truck. He waved and gave us the thumbs-up sign. So now we know that went well and he will be in Rio Gallegos by nightfall. From San Sebastian it is 150 kilometers (100 mile) to Porvenir where we will catch the ferry to Punta Arenas. The road is rough gravel and our speed only averaged about 25 miles an hour. We arrived in Porvenir around 6pm with another flat tire. The gravel roads are brutal on rubber. We found a gomeria (tire repair shop) and put on the spare but one of our goals in Punta Arenas is to purchase new ones. We had tried in Ushuaia and had been told that we could get our size and load bearing requirements there. The ferry is at 7am in the morning so we park at the port and settle in for the night. By the next morning there are plenty of trucks, a few small motorhomes and cars waiting in line. There is also plenty of foot traffic and we surmise that many people go to the mainland either to work or for shopping as there is little to be had in Provenir. The crossing is on a stretch of glacial waters called Canal Ancho and in the distance we can see small islands, other fiords and mountain glaciers. It was a beautiful 2 and a half hour boat ride. Punta Arenas is much larger than we had thought and we are pleased. We feel sure that we can find tires and have the motorhome serviced. Tom is concerned about the transmission and he wants the brakes and radiator checked also. We will probably stay in town for a few days before heading to Puerto Natales and Torres Del Paine.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beagle Channel and a boat ride

The Beagle Channel is one of three straits the provide access from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. The others are the Straits of Magellan and Drake Passage. It is about 240 kilometers (150 mi) long and is only about 5 kilometers (3 mi) wide at its narrowest point and extends from Nuevo Island in the east to Darwin Sound and Cook Bay in the west. The channel was named after the ship HMS Beagle during its expeditions of the coasts of the southern part of South America which lasted from 1826 to 1833. The second was the famous Darwin expedition under Captain Robert Fitzroy, when Charles Darwin, the naturalist was given the opportunity to explore the area. Darwin had his first sight of glaciers when they reached the channel on 29 January 1833, and wrote in his field notebook "many glaciers, beryl blue, most beautiful contrasted with snow”. There are quite a few options for sailing the sights and we chose one that lasted about 3 hours. Sailing the islands in the Beagle Channel is a definite “must-do”. We were lucky, today is partly cloudy and fairly warm and hopefully there won’t be any rain. The trip starts by travelling out past the bay and enjoying the views of Ushuaia. Our first stop was at Bridges Island where you can get off the boat. There are still remnants of the indigenous inhabitants of the Tierra del Fuego Island, the Yamana with massive concheros (shell deposits). We then hiked to a viewpoint near the western end of the island along a path of flora with hundreds of seabirds wheeling in the air, to get a different view of the channel. Facing west, you can see Chile on the left and Argentina on the right. Straight ahead Antarctica is only 600 miles away. One plant in particular which grows in profusion is the cushion plant. Cushion plants look like large solid clumps of moss, but are actually a plant. They grow at a rate of approximately 1 millimeter per year which made some of the plants we hiked past a few hundred years old based on their size. Next stop: Isla de los PĆ”jaros (Bird Island). Here we were able to observe hundreds of birds including Fullman and Giant petrels and the Magellan and Imperial Cormorants which look remarkably like penguins until they flap their wings and fly. We then continued on to Isla de los Lobos, where there are sea lions on just about every surface of rock and in the water. The boat circled the island for about 20 minutes which gave plenty of time to watch the sea lions push each other around trying to find a more comfortable piece of rock! Our final stop was the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse (French for “The Enlighteners”). Standing on a small island in an archipelago of the same name, it has signaled to ships in the Beagle Channel since 1920. The lighthouse guarding the sea entrance to Ushuaia is still in operation but now it is remote-controlled, automated, uninhabited and not open to the public. Powered by solar panels, the light emitted can be seen up to 8.5 miles away. The red and white windowless lighthouse is topped by black housing the lantern and is 33 feet (10 meters) high. Probably the most photographed lighthouse in South America, it is a spectacular sight. It was then time to head back, through the beautiful glacial waters and past the massive mountains of the southern end of the Andes and the reigning silence emphasizes the impression that you might be truly at the end of the world. An amazing experience.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.

Just a few miles from Ushuaia, is the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. The national park was established in 1960 to protect the area of the southern tip of the Andes from Lake Fagnano to the coast on the Beagle Channel. For us, a visit is a must because in the park is the actual true end of the Pan American highway. Two young Americans, Dan and Brian want to go into the park to hike and camp for a couple of nights and ask us for a ride. They are from Connecticut and are travelling by hitch-hiking and buses. “No problem” we tell them but also warn them that we are not early starters and probably won’t leave until noon or so. Since they plan on spending two or three days in the park that is ok with them plus they want to save money and the buses are expensive. The drive to the park is along an unpaved gravel road and the landscape is abrupt and sharp as a result of glaciations during the earth’s earlier eras. Here, the Andes are a series of mountain chains divided by deep valleys with lakes, rivers, peat bogs and forest. After entering, we followed the signs to Lake Roca, one of the glacial lakes and the beginning of several hiking trails. The hiking is magnificent following the spectacular coastline to lakes, mountains and glaciers with trails that wind past shrubs, bushes and trees that the almost constant wind has bent into odd angles. There is also a camping area but you have to pay extra to stay at this particular site. There are others which are free with the park admission and Dan and Brian plan at staying at one of those. They are also planning on doing the most strenuous of the hikes, the Cerro Guanaco Trail leading up to the summit of the mountain. We say our goodbyes and Tom and I settle on an easier trail leading to the lake. The park preserves the sense of being at the end of the world with paths that wind around the spongy masses of ancient peat bogs. A characteristic feature of a Fuegian (fiord-like) landscape, peat bogs are accumulated masses of dead plants, mosses, reeds and grasses that have built up over the centuries in damp valley bottoms and ooze ice-cold water. They add to the feeling of being in an area marked by the process of earth through time, very Jurassic-park like. After a visit to the Visitors Center to warm up and read about the indigenous Yamana and Ona tribes who inhabited the area before the Europeans arrived, we drove the short distance to the head of the trail leading to Lapataia Bay. you can stand at the end of route 3, the Pan American Highway, now little more than a dirt trail and imagine the long line that connects you to Alaska. Wilderness and nature surrounds you. Facing one direction are the sharp, jagged, snow capped, granite peaks of the Andes. Turn the other way is the Beagle Channel (named after Darwin’s ship “The Beagle”), the waterway that leads to Drake’s Passage and Antarctica. As we walk to the very furthest point we gaze out over the channel. We are truly at the very end. Only water and Antarctica lie ahead. As we slowly turn, we see the Andes. We will eventually have to cross them but for now we are content to gaze around us and dwell on the fact that we got here. It is remote and beautiful and we realize how fortunate we are to be able to have had the time to get here and spirit to accomplish it. May the road to Alaska be as thrilling.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ushuaia

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Yes, it still has the title even though technically Puerto Williams (a small settlement in Chile) is further south. It is located in a wide bay on the southernmost coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego. Bordered in the north by the Martial mountain range (an extension of the Andes) and in the south by the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia vibrates with anticipation and exhilaration. The combination of travelers who have journeyed the Pan American Highway and have come through the wilds of Patagonia make for a city where nearly everyone you meet is on an epic, once in a lifetime adventure. But it is not some small outpost with fur trappers and the oil speculators have more modern equipment. Now, the city at the end of the world is linked to Buenos Aires by daily flights and by cruise ships with regular stops in the port. It is a combination of modern tourism with duty-free shopping and superb restaurants, Klondike-style boomtown and the gateway to one of the world’s last great wilderness, Antarctica. Our campground “La Pista del Andino” is nestled in the Andes beneath the Martial Glacier to the west of the city. It was the first ski resort in town as is evident by the now defunct and inoperable chairlift and the grass covered ski slope. Now, it is a beautiful, well maintained campground and meeting place, welcoming adventurers on bicycle, motorcycle, car or motorhome. During the day, it is quiet with most people either out sightseeing in the national park, taking boat trips on the Beagle Channel or hiking the many trails leading into the Andes and to the glacier. In the evening, the communal room, which is cozily heated by a wood burning stove and looks out over the town and the Beagle Channel is filled with the excited chatter of campers from numerous countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, Australia, Canada, the United States, a couple with their three children from Israel, with everyone relaxed and contented. Like us they have made it. Like us they will stay a while and gather memories of their visit to the southernmost city in the world.