The End Of the Road….

Quite literally so...

Quite literally so…

The Pan-America Highway, Ruta No. 3 ended right in the middle of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego –  which was where we found ourselves one VERY windy and rainy morning.

Before we continue, I feel I need to point out that Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego translates directly to “The Land of Fire National Park”. To be honest, we knew nothing about the National Park prior to our visit to Ushuaia (yes… SOMETIMES, we are THAT kinda tourists), but based on the uber cool name alone, we felt that the National Park would be worth a visit (That… and also because Tripadvisor had some nice things to say about the park..)

Did I mention that it was VERY windy and rainy?

Totally not a posed shot

Totally not a posed shot

The first thing we noticed about the park is that we were constantly buffeted by gale force winds. We were at the Southern most point of mainland America. There was nothing to shelter the National Park from the winds coming in from the sea. The winds were so strong that the rain drops that fell on us felt like needles poking at our skin.

Combine this with the almost barren landscape that is synonymous with Patagonia, and I guess they really weren’t joking when they talk about the harsh living conditions. 

"the wild, rain lashed beach of the inhospitable Patagonia"

Or as Darwin calls it… “the wild, rain lashed beach of the inhospitable Patagonia”

However, since this is a National Park, they actually made concessions for sissy tourists like ourselves. There were walking paths throughout the Park and numerous signboards/maps pointing us towards the “correct” direction to go…

Walking the tourist path

Walking the tourist path

Yet, despite the best efforts of the National Park, we still managed to find ourselves wandering on a deer path through the woods.

We are THAT good at getting lost.

Get Lost!

Get Lost!

I swear… at one point, we were bashing through a bunch of shrubbery because we’d run out of road.

But I guess it was because of us getting lost that we managed to see some things that were just off the beaten path.

Like these geese for example. Initially, we were quite amused to always see them in a black/white pair. It was only after we got back that we found out they were ruddy headed geese

Like these geese for example. Initially, we were quite amused to always see them in a black/white pair. It was only after we got back that we found out they were ruddy headed geese

But my favourite sight for the National Park is easily this dam.

ushuaia tierra del fuego beaver dam

It is supposed to be made by beavers that had stowed away on the early ships from North America to Patagonia. It just feels kinda surreal to find something that looks ALMOST man-made in the middle of the woods…and on top of that to discover it was actually made by the elusive beavers. (elusive because we didn’t see any of them)

It was definitely an interesting trek because the scenery changed so often. One minute we would be walking along a snowy river bank, and the next we would be bashing through a barren shrubbery field, and one minute after that we would be meandering through an eerie coniferous forest. The only things that were constant were the piercing Patagonian winds and the gorgeous Andes in the background.

ushuaia tierra del fuego shrub landOf course, after our adventures were done, we had that little issue of finding our way back to civilization. Being the great woodsman that I am, I elected to find our way out of the forest by using an ancient tracking method… following the sound of the motor vehicles.

Of course, given our luck, we found ourselves on the furthest end of the motorway.

The looooong way home

The looooong way home

The long AND very windy road home

The long AND very windy road home

Thinking back, it was actually a bit scary as we really could have gotten ourselves hopelessly lost. But at the end of the day, aside from our sore feet and some partially frozen appendages, we managed to get ourselves a new adventure under our belt.

So… Great Success!

Journeying to the end of the world… wearing a pair of slippers

One of the things about travelling long-term is that after a while, we noticed that we were slowly losing our senses.

The first sense to go was definitely whatever fashion sense we used to have. Initially, this was planned and kinda borne out of necessity. We agreed we should just pack one nice set of “going out” clothes because we didn’t want our pretty stuff ending up in dubious laundromats. But after a period of living out of a backpack, wearing colour-coordinated clothes started taking a backseat to finding something that does not have (too many inconveniently placed) holes in them. Also… we must’ve been quite deluded to think that we would actually go to laundromats.

Fortunately, at this point, the next senses to go were our sense of smell and any sense of shame.

This was essentially the state of mind we were in as we prepared to embark on the 32-hour-long journey from Puerto Madyn to Ushuaia (apparently pronounced ooh shoo ahhhhh ya)

So far removed, even Google don't know how to get there...

A journey so long that even Google doesn’t know how to get there…

We figured that since we were gonna be spending a lot of time on the bus, the smartest thing we could do for ourselves was to get as comfortable as possible. We happily packed our warm socks, boots and heavy winter-wear in the backpacks and stuffed those un-laundered packs of stink into the luggage compartment of the bus. We were gonna make ourselves super comfortable, sipping red wine on the toasty bus in our t-shirts, thin jackets and our bathroom-going flipflops, thank you very much.

We were actually pretty smug at first. We were watching the hostile Patagonian landscape pass us by outside. We were in one of those infamously comfortable Argentinian buses, happily watching Robocop 3 (in Spanish), playing yet another game of Bingo and having one too many glasses of red wine.

Probably some of the harshest living conditions around... if you were OUTSIDE

Probably some of the harshest living conditions around… if you were OUTSIDE the bus

I think we kinda forgot that we were journeying TOWARDS the city closest to the South Pole (or as it is known by its less dramatically foreboding nickname, Fin del Mundo – END OF THE WORLD!!!!!)… a journey that would see us go through three-buses-one-boat-transfers, as well as four-custom-post-crossings.

Yup, the first time we realized how stupid we were was when we had to get off the bus very early the next morning to change to another bus in Rio Gallegos… and then we were reminded again when we had to get off THAT bus to go through a veeery long custom check at the Argentinian border… this reminder went on for the entire day when we had to pass through the Chilean Checkpoint, another Chilean Checkpoint and then again through a final Argentinian Checkpoint. Somehow, Chile had (why not?) laid claim to a teeny strip of land on the road between Puerto Madryn to Ushuaia.

The proverbial (and pretty literal) icing on the cake was when we had to swap from the bus to a ferry ride across the Strait of Megallan.

Outside...

Outside…

Ever wonder what it is like to have sub-zero, wintery winds blowing against your very exposed appendages? I will be the first one to say… it doesn’t feel very good at all.

Not feeling the heat... literally

Not feeling the heat… literally

So was it worth it?

We got into Ushuaia around sunset, and I just snapped these shots with Jo’s Samsung phone…

ushuaia sunset lake 2

ushuaia sunset mountain range

ushuaia sunset lake

At that moment… Our trip was starting to look really good.

There was one other little problem…

We had a 2km walk to our hostel in the cold, dark wintery night… and we couldn’t get our boots out of the backpack.

Patagonian Small Towns

Jo and I sort of fell in love with the small town feel of Puerto Piramides when we went there for our ocean safari. And since we had a day to spare in Puerto Madryn before moving all the way to the southern tip of Argentina, we decided to just hop on some buses and explore the nearby townships of Trelew and Gaiman.

What’s there in Trelew and Gaiman? To be honest, if you’d asked us that at the start of the day, we would not have been able to tell you (It’s one of those things that we do without putting too much thought into it… #funpartoftravelling). But we do think it is pretty cool to go to a town that shares a name with one of my favorite authors (author of American Gods and the Sandman series – Neil Trelew).

That’s why we thought it was pretty cool that one of the first things we saw when we arrived in Trelew was…

A DINOSAUR MUSEUM! Yeah… I know we’ve been to one before. But they are kinda friggin cool!

There are dinosaur fossils EVERYWHERE. Is it only me? Or did anyone else ever wonder why they NEED to put all the dinosaurs with the open-mouthed ROOOOAAARR pose?

There are dinosaur fossils EVERYWHERE. Is it only me? Or did anyone else ever wonder why they NEED to put all the dinosaurs in the open-mouthed ROOOOAAARR pose?

Altogether now.... ROOOAAAAAARR!!!

Altogether now…. ROOOAAAAAARR!!!

And the one thing that made this Paleontology Museum different from the one in Cordoba was that we got to be really up close and personal with the fossils.

Dinosaur - to - us size comparison

Dinosaur – to – us size comparison

Apparently, Trelew is really near one of the biggest fossil excavation sites in the world. To this day, there are still active digs going on, and this Paleontology Museum is a key centre to store and restore the fossils. A big bonus for us was that we were able to see real-life Paleontologists at work.

Like I said... kinda cool...

Like I said… kinda cool…

Of course, there is more to Trelew than dinosaurs… To us, it feels like one of those towns where everyone knows everyone else. The main drag is along four perpendicular streets and beside the odd Starbucks and McPancho (NOT a real thing) outlet, the rest of the shops are Mom & Pop establishments… We kinda felt like we were in Stars Hollow on the set of Gilmore Girls.

Small town with a quaint town hall

Small town with a quaint town hall

with a charming train station...

with a charming train station…

with its own non working train... at least not in real life. We can still imagine the train chugging along

that comes with its own non-working train… at least it is not working in real life – like that has stopped us before…

As for Gaiman… It is a half hour bus ride away from Trelew. According to the various write-ups, Gaiman is supposed to be a quaint little Welsh town on the Argentinian countryside. While we did see a lot of signs pointing out how Welsh the different places are…

A Welsh garden.

A Welsh garden.

A sign advertising the Welsh town of Gaiman

Welsh Culture Town

Another sign with the Welsh coat of arms

Welsh farm with Welsh coat of arms… yes, the color Green is a very prominent theme in the town… wait… isn’t that Irish?

But to be honest, it was a little too… “small town” for us…. Apparently, we do have a limit to how small a town is before it loses its charms (Population of Trelew: 100,000, Population of Gaiman: 6,000).

We are City Folks.

The most fun we had in Gaiman? Sniggering at a giant robot playground where kids slide out of the robot’s bazooka boobs…

A dose of Awesomeness

A dose of Awesomeness

We are childish that way…

Whales… on a Beach!

We did it!

Our first MAJOR expenditure for this trip – an excursion to the Peninsula Valdes.

The highlight? To get up close and personal with the Southern Right Whales… although we were promised PROBABLE sightings of elephant seals, orcas, dolphins, penguins, rheas, and vicuñas (it’s ok… I didn’t really know what the last two were either)… IF we are lucky…

We probably should have been a bit more wary about the number of disclaimers the tour agency placed before we bought the tour package.(More on this in the next post…)

The day started off well enough. We left (VERY) early in the morning to catch the sunrise along Playa Doradillo. Any bitching we might have wanted to do about waking up at 530 in the morning was wiped away the moment we stepped off the tour van and onto the playa (beach).

Without trying too hard, we counted at least 12 whales along the beach front and they all seemed to be having a (hur hur) whale of a time frolicking and making silly leaps out of the water. According to our guide, that is the whale’s way of playing and communicating.

Fuuuuuuuuckkkkkk.....

Wanna know what is running through our minds? Literally “Fuuuuuuuuckkkkkk…..”

It’s quite unbelievable how close the whales were to the shoreline.

Whales and the shoreline

Whales and the shoreline

We were able to capture shots like this even with my lousy camera that only has a 3.5x zoom

We were able to capture shots like this even with my lousy camera that only has a 3.5x zoom

We were able to see seagulls trying to land on the whales to feed on the whale fat/blubber/micro organisms living on the skin on the whales. And after a while, the whales would invariably use various methods to flick them off like a grumpy old man fanning off pesky flies. Then the seagulls would try to land on them again and again… it was strangely mesmerizing to watch.

One for the Birds

One for the Birds

The thing about Peninsula Valdes is that it’s an outcrop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a gulf (the Golfo Nuevo) which acts as a shelter of calm in the midst of the choppy and predator-filled Atlantic Ocean.

This creates a perfect place for the Southern Right Whale to mate and rear their calves. Incidentally, this also created the perfect place to be if you are forced to wake up at 530 in the morning…

Couldn't have asked for a better sunrise

Couldn’t have asked for a better sunrise

There are museums and there are Museums…

If you have been reading this blog long enough, you’d know that I am not the biggest fan of museums… especially those of the arty farty variety. And ever since the awesome dinosaur museum in Cordoba, I’ve kinda been in two minds about museums of “natural history”.

On the one hand…. DINOSAURS…. on the other… walking amongst the carcasses make me feel like I should be in a black tuxedo and that there should be someone chanting Buddhist mantras in the background.

But we figured that while we were in Puerto Madryn, we should do some “research” about the infamous Southern Right Whales before we go on the (SUPER EXPENSIVE) ocean safari to Peninsula Valdes.

And that’s the whole reason why we took a (very short) bus ride to the Provincial Museum of Natural Science and Oceanography. (Somehow I don’t think museum curators are the best people to come up with “snazzy” names)

I think this whale had been out in the sun for too long... Outside the entrance of the museum. Puerto Madryn has so many Southern Right Whales that they just leave them lying around everywhere...

I think this whale had been in the sun for too long… Outside the entrance of the museum. They have so many Southern Right Whales in Puerto Madryn that they just leave them lying around everywhere…

The main focus of the museum is, of course, on the “stars” of Puerto Madryn – the Southern Right Whales. For as long as people remember, these magnificent creatures have been calling at Puerto Madryn during their mating/birthing season. This provided marine biologists with a lot of opportunities to study these leviathans up close and do very thorough research on their habits and behavior. The museum is where they present the findings of their research to the public in simple-to-understand terms…. or at least I think that’s what they are trying to do… most of the displays were in Spanish and we couldn’t understand them…

Cool trivia... Jo's mouth involuntarily opens whenever she sees any pictures of whales... more to follow...

Cool trivia… Jo’s mouth involuntarily opens whenever she sees picture of whales… 

The "mouth" of an exhibit showing what it is like to journey through the insides of a Southern Right Whale... Very biblical... but what fascinated me more was that I didn't know the way the Southern Right Whales zhng their mouth... ah beng style

The “mouth” of an exhibit showing what it is like to journey through the insides of a Southern Right Whale… Very biblical… but what fascinated me more was that I didn’t know the way the Southern Right Whales zhng their mouth… ah beng style

The Southern Right Whale in relation to other marine mammals...

The Southern Right Whale in relation to other marine mammals…

Of course, beside the Southern Right Whales, other parts of the museum has extensive features on the other celebrity wildlife that frequent Peninsula Valdes (just around the corner from Puerto Madryn) such as elephant seals, penguins, seals and orcas….

orcas and elephant seals

These exhibits including one particularly disturbing video of how orcas “hunt” baby seals for food. *SPOILER ALERT*: they beach themselves so they can swallow the newborn seals. Other techniques include flinging the baby seals into the air and catching it in their mouths… gruesomely impressively.

*DISTURBING IMAGES AHEAD*

How about them apples? Images from the Museum

Putting the Killer in Killer whales? Images from the Puerto Madryn Provincial Museum of Natural Science and Oceanography

What we really like though, is that outside of the rather “heavy” scientific facts (again, we are still guessing here, because we don’t understand Spanish that well), there is a very strong and consistent message about conservation and preservation throughout the museum. It was obvious enough that even non Spanish speakers like ourselves cannot help but be knocked (hard) on the head by them.

At least... we THINK they look like pieces about conservation and preservation

At least… we THINK they look like pieces about conservation and preservation

Hands down, my favourite in the whole museum.  A photo shoot with children posing with fantasy/steampunk-esques props made out of recycled material

Hands down, my favourite in the whole museum. A photo shoot of children posing with fantasy/steampunk-esques props made out of recycled material. We forgot to note down the photographer responsible for this AWESOME series, so if anyone reading this can point out the artist to us, we would love to credit him/her

And the best part of all this? After the 2 hour or so browsing through the exhibits (it’d probably take a Spanish speaker twice as long), we were treated to a panoramic view of the Puerto Madryn basin where TONNES of Southern Right Whales (I just realized I kinda mean that quite literally… hur hur) frolic/wave/flip.jump in the sea…

Now... THAT's a panoramic view

Now… THAT’s a panoramic view

Pretty cool place to watch the (almost) sunset... (we still needed to catch the last bus back to town)

Pretty cool place to watch the (almost) sunset… (we still needed to catch the last bus back to town)

Truly spectacular!