Once in a Lifetime

It was 3am, and the outside temperature was hovering just above -10°C. For the 100000000000th time since we woke up to catch our 15-hour bus ride out of Ushuaia, I found myself asking Jo… “WHY THE HELL ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN???”

We were heading for El Calafate, and we had a choice between taking the Infernal-Bus-Journey-with-the-Ridiculous-Border-Crossing AGAIN or we could take a two-hour flight (at a more humane time) that would not even require us to go through international customs.

The obvious answer to my rhetorical question is… “Because we are cheapskates”.

It’s easy to convince ourselves we are doing the right thing when we see how much we’ve stretched our travelling cash by taking the “stupider” option, but there is always a part of me that is nagging… “You are on a Once-in-a-Lifetime trip around the world, why are you pinching pennies??”

“Once in a Lifetime”…. it is a phrase I’ve come to hate since the hordes of flyer-waving bridal studios sales staff swarmed us with over-inflated wedding packages when we were planning our wedding all those years ago. #anotherstoryforanotherday

On some level, I do understand that this is probably the only time in my life that I will be travelling like this, (probably) the only time I was going to get married. I would also only be celebrating my 18, 21, 30, 40, (insert-other-culturally-significant-age-here) birthday once. 

However, I also believe that every moment is an opportunity for us to do something that we will only do Once In Our Lifetime.

For example, I only got to write this because I am going to be stuck in a hellishly long bus ride to El Calafate for the only time in my life, just as you choose to read this (and I hope you are) for the only time in your life. (It’s ok if this is not the first time you are reading this… I don’t judge…)

I guess my point is.. outside of the “significant” birthdays, you are only going to be XX years, XX months, XX days, XX hours and XX minutes old once in this lifetime. I think it is easy to lose sight of how precious every moment is if you only focus on those supposed once-in-a-lifetime “milestones”.

At the end of the day, it is a personal choice to make any moment your personal milestone.

For us, we chose to travel. We think it is the lazy man’s way of making almost every waking moment a milestone (without trying exceptionally hard).

But I guess a milestone could be as simple as deciding to spend more time with the people that matter, or as difficult as saying “sorry” because it is stupid to spend time being resentful and angry. It could mean telling someone how much they mean to you. It could also mean standing up for yourself and finally saying “no” to unnecessary drama in your life. Or saying “fuck it” to the opinions of random strangers and just boogie to that catchy tune coming through your earphones right now.

You can choose to be happy, or you can choose to sulk and make every moment as mundane as possible. Truth is, no matter what moment it is, you are almost certainly never, ever going to get it back. Every moment occurs only once in your lifetime.

That is why… after this rant, I think I am going to get immersed in a world with two moons, secret Japanese cults and beautiful assassins in Murakami’s incomprehensible 1000 page monster “1Q84”.

Why? Because I can.

Also… because I think both Jo and I are secretly at least a little masochistic. (Jo had decided to take on the challenge to sleep through the whole bus ride)

Why else would we choose to spend 15 hours in a bus?

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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!

Snow… no… GLACIER boarding

To many people, Ushuaia is a city that invokes a sense of adventure. It attracts the explorers who come forth in the spirit of discovery.

It was the same for us as well.

As we looked for our next snowboarding adventure, we decided to explore the nearby Martial Glacier. We discovered one thing… trying to snowboard down a glacier, no matter how cool it sounds, is a fucking bad idea.

For those of you (like us) who are clueless about what a glacier is… it is basically one solid block of ice. This means that it is VERY slippery… which we thought would make it PERFECT for snowboarding.

Theoretically, this means that we can go very very very fast.

We should have realized that things were not as rosy as it seemed when we arrived at the glacier. Even though the ski passes were half the price compared to the ski resort down the road, there were not a lot of people at the snowboard rental shop.

How could such a fine slope have so little snowboarders?

How could such a fine slope have so little snowboarders?

We disregarded that, decked ourselves out in the fine-looking snowboarding outfit and bought the full day pass for the ski-lift.

Ready to go...

Ready to go…

Then we realized what was wrong…

We forgot that ice is very very very hard, and when it comes to snowboarding, we are very very very amateur-ish, which means we have a strong inclination to fall… a lot.

I swear, the first time the snowboard slipped out from under me and I did a “Three Stooges”-esque backflip, I could feel my entire skeleton vibrate and my brains bang against the front of my skull.

PAINNNNN!!!!

PAINNNNN!!!!

I had just snowboarded about 200 metres.

Jo made it to the 300 metres mark before collapsing in a heap.

Because we didn’t want to die in Argentina, after a grand total of 10 minutes on the slopes, we picked up the snowboards and did the Walk of Shame back up to the ski-lift and took the next lift down the slopes to return our snowboards (that we had on a full day rental).

The ski lift attendants and the snowboard rental guy did not seemed too surprised to see us return so fast. In fact, I might or might not have seen the guys at the ski lift exchange a knowing look and glance at their watches. I am pretty sure some pesos changed hands.

Having already paid for a full-day ski pass (and being a typical Singaporean), I decided we should spend the rest of the day taking the ski lifts up and down the slopes.

Life is happier without that impending sense of doom... yes... we got the ski lift attendant to take this photo for us (the attendant that lost money)

Life is happier without that impending sense of doom… yes… we got the ski lift attendant to take this photo for us (the attendant that lost money)

Ski Lift up the hill

Ski Lift up the hill

Ski lift down... seriously... with views like this, we could do this all day long... and we kinda did

Ski lift down… seriously… with views like this, we could do this all day long… and we kinda did

Oh yeah… other then the fact that we almost died up there (totally not being melodramatic here), Martial Glacier is gorgeous… in a desolate, frozen wasteland kinda way.

I am the King Beyond the Wall

I am the King Beyond the Wall

ushuaia martial glacier hands up

And the Place Beyond the Wall is cooooold

And the Place Beyond the Wall is cooooold

Nothing for miles around

Nothing for miles around

We like that we (almost) had the whole glacier to ourselves.

And what good is having an entire glacier to ourselves if we don’t take some truly ridiculous and horribly camp jumping shots?

Notice how we had to look for the "bald" patch to do these jumping shots? We would've slipped and cracked our skulls if we did this anywhere else. The glacier was THAT slippery

Notice how we had to look for the “bald” patch to do these jumping shots? We would’ve slipped and cracked our skulls if we did this anywhere else. The glacier was THAT slippery

All in… it was not a bad day trip to Martial Glacier. The view was awesome and the scenery was cool… just don’t go there for the snowboarding… if you do, you should probably take a bet with the ski attendants on how long you can last on the slopes.

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