Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 210: The Big Five-O

After waiting around in the cold, early in the morning, we were off on our way to Patagonia and Chile. Fearing the notorious Chilean customs, we hurriedly ate the last of our leftovers: cheese, and salami. Erin also surprised Craig with a little bottle of champagne to celebrate visiting his 50th country!

Welcome to Chile! The bus stand at the border crossing
sold Hamburgers and Ponchos...

Shortly after the border we reached the Magellan Strait where we would disembark and make the short crossing by ferry. We sat on the warm sand as a cool wind gusted around us. The crossing was bumpy but provided nice views. Once back on the bus we passed the time watching movies as the flat, arid land rolled along beside us. By the time we reached Puerto Natales, it was nearly midnight. We navigated the deserted, dark streets and found our hostel. Then we turned around and went back out, thanking the heavens that there was still a restaurant open at the late hour.

Chile is kindly helping to fill the spaces around and on top of the Reunion stamps.

Days 207-209: To the End of the Earth

We took Day 207 to rest our muscles and get some planning done. We needed to book ahead some accommodation and buses, and everything takes longer when your internet likes to cut in and out. Thankfully, we had the Olympics on in the background in our hostel common room, and we were able to watch Canada rake in a few more medals! We checked again for another beautiful sunset, but were starting to realize how fortunate we'd been our first evening here.

We woke early on Day 208 to catch our bus into the National Park. It seemed like our luck had run out; the sky was grey overhead and the ground wet from a recent drizzle. We threw an extra layer in our backpacks, worried that we'd worn out our welcome with the good weather. In the end, the day turned out to be just as clear, sunny, and warm as the rest. You can see our pictures change from overcast to a stunningly blue sky as the day progressed.

Tierra del Fuego National Park encompasses a great area of land in the southern tip of South America. Most of the park is off-limits to allow nature to take its course, but a small section is set aside for hiking and camping. We'd mapped out a full-day hike along the Beagle Channel past the bays Ensenada and Lapataia.

The trail followed the shore at first, offering plentiful views across the bay, as well as many places to stop on the rocky beaches to let the crowds that arrived on our bus slowly pass us. Once we had firmly established ourselves at the back of the pack, we were able to enjoy the startling changes in our surroundings and the starkness of the windswept range in peace.

As the trail bounced its way over rocky outcroppings, we caught up with the pack of tourists ahead of us who we had tried to give a healthy headstart to. At a splendid viewpoint, we once again tried to find a quiet place to ourselves, so we walked down the beach to a small point. As we unpacked our lunch we noticed a hawk(?) was standing roughly 10 feet from us. It would walk around and seemed to be young and possibly used to getting food from tourists. We protected our food and tried to hide the fact that we were eating. The hawk seemed content to just watch us and wait. Then another couple, from either Canada or the US, crashed our spot and promptly began feeding the hawk. After a quick verbal scolding from Craig, we were back on our way.

We climbed higher, then passed by a peat moss bog before we turned towards a smaller island. The trail hugged the shoreline and we spotted many waterfowl. We were treated to a palette quite different than most of our hikes so far this year, the earthy greens and browns being replaced by many shades of grey and blue, accentuated by orange lichen. 

To finish off, we circled around the edge of the bay and met up with the end of the R3, the highway that takes you from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. We walked the extra couple of kms to be as far south as you can (legally) be on the continent.

We ended up with an extra day in Ushuaia, because there aren't any buses out on a Monday, so we again used it to relax, figure out a few onward plans, and chat with fellow travellers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 206: Ushuaia

For Valentine's Day we enjoyed the beautiful 17 degree weather by hiking up one of the hills that surrounds Ushuaia. This gave us a nice sense of the town and great views of the bay it sits on.

This hike is one that you can do from town for free. We opted to save our knee joints by taking a taxi the 7.5 km from our hostel to the base of the mountain, which is used in winter as a ski hill. There's an option to take the chair lift the first third of the way up, but we saved our pennies and started hiking instead, which included a lovely walk along a bubbling river with a few cute bridges crossing back and forth. Coming from the Rocky Mountains, it wasn't an overly strenuous walk, and you certainly weren't alone (with frequent glimpses of the chair lift above), but it was nice enough.

Looking In Towards the Glacier

Looking Out Towards Town and the Beagle Channel
At the top, we by-passed the chalet with a restaurant and reasonable views, and continued on another kilometer to a fork in the path. Here, almost everyone was heading deeper into the valley to reach the glacier. We, on the other hand, turned right and followed a boot-beaten trail back out towards town. We passed only a few hikers and found ourselves a nice picnic spot at the end of the trail with sweeping views across the town. Our lunch of choritzo, cheese, olives, and wine was the perfect way to celebrate Valentine's Day (and our 3.5 anniversary)!

After the hike, we took a few hours to relax at our hostel while catching up on the Olympics we'd missed that day. We ducked out after dinner to see if there was another spectacular sunset, but it was quite cloudy, and the wind had picked up, so the views weren't quite as good. We took a few minutes to enjoy it all the same.

Erin was excited that Ushuaia is filled with lupins, just like Prince Edward Island, back home. We were impressed with how full the blooms were considering how cold it gets each night.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Days 204 & 205: From 40 to 4

Our flight to Ushuaia was disappointingly mainly over water. But as we started our descent, the land unfolded beneath us with snow-capped mountains, deep valleys, glittering lakes, and rivers so meandering they appeared Escherian in design. We did a pass over Ushuaia from high above before circling around and swooping past all the ships preparing for expeditions to Antarctica on our final approach. We were landing at the 'End of the World', as Ushuaia likes to refer to itself. (For a more detailed view of where we have been so far, click here)

We stepped off the plane to a chilly breeze and a scene that looked like a Rocky Mountain postcard, with the addition of the ocean's shore. Even the airport was a cute lodge-style building with views of the surrounding mountains. The town has been liberally sprinkled with outdoorsy stores, cafes, duty free shops, steak houses, and travel agencies.

Our hostel opened up into a large shared kitchen with a wooden peaked roof, situated on the street corner. You could see the water from one side, and the mountains up the street from the other. Our dormmates again seemed quite tranquil, which we were thankful for, and after a lengthy grocery shop (most of our time spent in line), and a hearty dinner, we headed to bed. Erin was serenaded to sleep by a chorus of arrhythmic, tone-deaf snores, forever putting her off the concept of polyandry.

We kept our first full day relatively low-key, knowing we had lots of time ahead of us. We strolled the streets and the waterfront area, and got high enough up to get a gorgeous look at the harbour from above. It felt nice to be in sweaters and shoes after so many sweltering days up North!

The day ended with the most dramatic sunset either of us have ever seen. Thanks to our location, at the very tip of South America, the sun rises and sets in slow motion. The sky slowly changed from yellow, to orange, to pink, to purple, like an artist casually blending his watercolour paints. We ran back and forth to either side of the road we were on, never quite happy to admire the side we were looking at, as they were both so stunning. It was Craig who exclaimed that the full moon was rising up behind the mountain range, aglow in a wash of pink. We needn't say anymore, really...the pictures speak for themselves.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 204: Uruguyan Experiences

For our final morning, we gathered our belongings and walked down to the harbourfront bus station. It was a nice cheap ride to the doors of the sleek, modern airport, and it gave us some time to reflect on our experiences in Uruguay.

In general, we encountered friendly people, with a more laid-back attitude than the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Everyone in Uruguay seems addicted to matte tea, and they carry around Thermoses and mugs of it. At the Gaucho Museum, they even had a display of interesting matte cups.

The towns had beautiful Spanish architecture, and it didn't hurt that we hugged the coast the entire time and toured around two lovely waterfront cities. In between was scenic, though it was sad to see that there wasn't any wilderness left. Again, we have to note that we saw a small slice of the country, so we can't speak for its interior. All we know is that the flooding that followed us was visible on the bus, and made for a minefield of murderous mosquitoes. The Uruguayan mosquitoes seems to have a weird beak-like pincer that causes a painful bite, and a welt-like aftermath.

Judging by the sign outside our hostel, we feel that it's a forward-thinking country, but we weren't exactly sure what this was trying to say. After rain delays, we were hopeful that we'd get to see the Carnival parades, but it disappointingly didn't happen. Montevideo is supposed to have the next best celebration after Brazil.

In the end, it was still a great decision to come to Uruguay, for the chance to see a different country, meet its people, and stock up on American dollars, which you can withdraw at bank machines. If you've been following the Argentine economy at all lately, you'll know that it's been quite unstable, and citizens need special permits to withdraw dollars, so they're always in high demand. We're hoping we can make up a little bit of the money we've lost this year thanks to our own diving dollar.

One positive thing we heard about Uruguay is its leadership. Their president, José Mujica, is a real role model in terms of living the non-lavish lifestyle. To read more, visit:

We arrived at the airport in time to see our rookie Canadians skate their long program. We were so dedicated that we were actually summoned over the loudspeaker to the gate because we were down at the other where the tvs were. Amazingly, the flight to Buenos Aires was so short that we arrived just in time to see our favourites midway through their program. We strained our necks to still be able to see the tvs from our gate this time, and boarded the plane last on our way to Ushuaia.

Day 203: Uruguyan Culture

Retracing our steps from the first day, but in less of a hurry, we headed back towards the harbour. We enjoyed seeing the old part of town alive; it's amazing what a little bit of human activity can do to brighten up crumbling ancient buildings. We stumbled across the Museum of Beaux-Arts while admiring one of the most beautiful buildings in town. We'd been peaking in over the fence trying to get a shot of the white grand piano, not realizing that we could walk in the front door and stand next to it for free. (It looked just as elegant up close!).


After subcoming to the heat and turning towards home, the weather matched our feelings and the skies started to open up. We made it just in time, and cooled down our room by opening our Juliet balcony to let the stormy breeze in. With it came some rain, unfortunately, but we appreciated the slight temperature drop all the same.

We attempted to stream the pairs short program, and laughed hysterically over the announcers' obsession with American snowboarder Shaun White. The personal disappointed was audible in their betrayed cries as he fell onto the halfpipe. We finally admitted that we weren't going to find any recaps of different events starring Canadians, and headed to bed.

Day 202: Burgers and Brahms

On our second day in the Uruguyan capital, we walked up the main street in search of cheaper parilla. Unfortunately, we were a little early and nothing was open, but we did discover a nice, if unoriginal, handicraft market. We next found a restaurant showing the Olympics with some sidewalk seating next to the Montevidean love fountain for our first meal of the day.

We continued on, passing first the Parc des Ingenerios (the Engineer Park) and were confused by the diverse decorations (notice the war-time statue in the background, behind these colourful people). After some thinking, we deduced these were part-time additions to the plaza in honour of Carnaval, that we'd missed the week before.

On our way towards home, we visited the Gaucho Museum. Gauchos are Latin American cowboys, except way tougher than their American equivalents; they are also known for losing in the first round of March Madness as the mascot of UC Santa Barbara.

The building housing the museum was just as much of a draw as the splendid Uruguayan art exhibits and steampunk cowboy gear, as the exquisite colonial décor spiralled up multiple staircases. On the way home, we picked up some chorizo (BBQ sausage on a bun) mid-stride as we rushed to catch the medal runs for the Men's Moguls. Looking for things to fill out the rest of the day, Erin found the Teatro Solis. For $3, we could take a tour of the old theatre. After a quick internet search Craig found that the National Philharmonic Orchestra was to give a rare free performance that very evening in the theatre. Having saved $6, we bought another TWO bottles of wine and prepared ourselves for the concert.


The line was long when we arrived but they were able to squeeze us into a corner of a balcony. We were treated to seven of Brahms' waltzes, Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice, and something that we both recognized and loved but could not hear/remember the name of. We took the opportunity of rising to our feet for a standing ovation at the end to squeak through towards the exit and were able to file out before the massive crowd.