Wednesday, 25 February 2015

0215 Ushuaia 1

23/24/25 Feb 2015

Punctures, computer problems, and penguins !

I have enjoyed a very relaxing break in Ushuaia.  It is quite a fun little town, and if only the weather would behave itself, it could be a lot more enjoyable !  After the initial high winds, we then got a day of sunshine, then a day of rain, then a bit of everything ! But since the camp site has this warm room with a pot belly stove that Sergio the owner keeps burning 24 hours a day, as well as his big kitchen where we are invited to cook out food if  it is too cold / windy / wet outside, it makes it VERY bearable.  Plus we have had a great mix of Overlanders passing through – French, German, Canadian, American, Swiss, which makes for lots of chats round the fire at night. 

The first day was really lazy – Doing a few minor things to the car, laundry, blog, and banking etc.  I didn’t even start the car – Just hung around all day, and thoroughly enjoyed it !

The next day (24th), I went into town and wandered around nearly the whole day.  I found a good exchange rate for cash at one hotel, so took advantage of that.  Bought a few souvenirs and stickers from some of the many tourist shops, and also took my computer tablet in because it keeps shutting itself off for some reason.  It took a while to find a computer repair shop that spoke English, so hoping they can help me.  Found the supermarket and got some stuff – Not too much as I have to go back through (fruit and vegetable pinching) Chile next week.  So stupid – I only have to drive about 50 kms through Chile in order to get out of Tierra del Fuego, but they will still take all my fresh food off me – If they can find it ! 

Ushuaia is a little town, but the shipping docks are in the middle, the cruise ship terminal is in the middle, and there is even a wreck in the middle !!  It is surrounded by snowcapped mountains, and is really quite picturesque – But like Alaska, it has a short life – Lots of people and businesses, especially those that are tourist orientated, shut down in March and won’t open again until October next year. Many of the owners, like those of our camp site, have other jobs and businesses elsewhere, like Buenos Aires, dor the rest of the year. 

I explored lots of travel agents with a view to taking a tour down to Antarctica, and found some really good deals – a $12,000 11 day cruise going for about $5500, leaving on March 5th.  A couple of other big reductions too.  I was very keen to do it,  but got thinking about it over lunch………   And for lunch I went to a food cabin down by the bay – “Ushuaia Frankfurt”.  It had been recommended to me by some Overlanders I met who were heading north, so when I saw it, I had to try it – And it was fantastic !  They do a big fresh roll with a local sausage plus all the trimmings for about $4.00, and it was just so good. Sat in the car enjoying it, while
working out the time and $ it is going to cosy me to get up to Iguazu and then back down to Montevideo by about 21st April.  I also need to get the car serviced in Bueno Aires on the way north.  At the same time I was thinking about my ongoing trip to Europe, and (hopefully) a visit to Iceland, as well as the cost of shipping the car and myself to Europe…….  The long and short of it is that by the time I had finished my delicious lunch, I had decided that Antarctica is off – Not going, and certainly not going by myself.  I would still love to go, but a lot of the trips out of Ushuaia just go over the Antarctic Circle and come back, whereas the ones out of New Zealand go down to the Scott Base and so forth, and seem to offer a lot more.  I will leave that as a reason to return to this part of the world again later !

So, with that decision made, I went back into town and, with the help of advice from my French friends Joel and Brigitte, booked myself on a Penguin tour for tomorrow – One where I can drive myself to the boat departure point 2 hours away, thereby halving the cost. So I did that, and by the time I had done everything I needed, it was time to head back to the camp site.  Got back to the car and found a rear tire was very soft – Not flat, but soft.  So I whipped into the petrol station and topped it up, but knew I had a problem.  The rear tires have been really badly chopped up by all the bad gravel roads over the past few weeks – The fronts not so much, but I had already put my new spares onto the front about 3 weeks ago, so they were OK.  So I really needed to not only get the puncture fixed, but also swap the back tires out for the spares that were in much better condition.

Found out where the local gomeria (tyre places) were in town, and the next morning set off at a leisurely hour to find them.  I had to be at the boat place for the penguins by 3.30 pm, and it was about a 2 hour drive.  When I drove into town at about 11.30 am, the water in the bay was absolutely flat, with no wind blowing for a change, and the reflection of the town and the mountains was perfect, so I dove off onto the dirt beside the road and went down to the water’s edge to join some geese and ducks that were down there, and got some pics.  Then it was on round to Gomeria Chubut who were able to help me straight away.  Once they got the slow leak tyre off, we soon found he offending nail !  So I left that tyre with him, we put the two spares on, and I was on my way soon after noon. 

Leaving Ushuaia there is currently a police check on all vehicles leaving – Some deal about a terrorism scare a week or so ago, I believe – So that held me up for 10 minutes, although when it came to my turn, and saw I was me and RHD, he just waved me through !  Obviously Australians aren’t the suspects for whatever they are searching !  It was then off down the road and I was looking for signs to Estancia Harberton.  Never did see a sign, so the next thing I knew I was crossing this pass, and I thought ”there’s no way the turning is this far !”  Did a U turn, and found the turning w-a-y back – Whoopsadaisy – Good job I had left plenty of time to get there !  It was then some 40 kms down this (quite good) dirt road and really quite a pleasant drive, but right out in the middle of NOWHERE !!  Wooden / corrugated iron shacks held together with binder twine with rusting cars on the grass outside seemed to be the order of the day – Beautiful countryside, but way past the black stump !!

Then I arrived at Estancia Harberton, and this is so different it’s not true.  A Thomas Bridges came out from Devon in the 1800’s as a refrigeration engineer, to fix a new plant in Punta Arenas.  Long story short, he had to rebuild it completely, and then went on to build another one in Rio Grande – Both places I have been to in the last week or so, so quite local.  Then he met a girl, fell in
love and stayed – And built Estancia Harberton.  Today it is not only a working sheep farm, but also a tourist centre, and the old building have been developed as a working showpiece.  In addition their Estancia, they have a “whale museum” which is an operating research centre where they collect whale and dolphin and penguin carcasses and analyse them, on an ongoing basis.

I was a bit early so I had some lunch in their restaurant – Was OK, and helped to pass the time of day.  Then I went for a wander through the grounds – Lots of old buildings, old workshops, but still a working vegetable garden and everthing else that makes a working property.  Then the bus arrived from Ushuaia with the other “penguin tour” people aboard – Couple of Russians, some Americans, and the rest were Argentinian, I think.  About 20 altogether.  So we got in the big zodiac, and went the 10 minutes to Martillo Island where the penguins are.  These are Magellanic Penguins, they only next on this island, and the tour company I went with are the only ones allowed to land on the island.  Many other tours circle the island, but none of them can land. 

So we get off – And are right in amongst the penguins !  They are swimming around, coming up onto the beach – and coming up to us as if to say “What are you guys doing here ?”  Our presence didn’t faze them in the slightest.    Then we notice 2 King Penguins – The bigger ones with the yellow markings on their head and throat that we had seen last week at that other place in Chile.  What are they doing here ?  Even the guide is mystified – These two have apparently
been here all summer, and whether they are lost, or just decided to move, no one knows.  But it is funny to watch them – They keep to themselves, don’t mix with the Magellanic penguins, and just sit up the end of the beach !  

After a while on the main beach we moved slowly across the island to the nesting area, and this is where all the “babies” are now.  But most of them are almost fully grown by now – They just
have a lot of fluffy baby feathers still to get rid of, and look really messy with half baby feathers and hald adult plumage.  We pass some skua’s that steal eggs and baby penguins from their nests if left unattended, but now the babies are big enough that this is no longer an issue for them.  The Magellanic penguins nest in burrows, but in the middle of their nesting area is a white (guano) covered area and there are about 20 (slightly larger) Gentoo penguins that are also “visitors” to the island, but in this case regular ones – But they don’t use burrows, they incubate their eggs between their legs and stay on the surface.  The “white” area is theirs, and apparently they don’t stray from it (except to go to the sea), and the Magellanic penguins don’t go in their area.

We spent half an hour or more wandering around the nesting area before we slowly wandered back to the beach and our waiting boat.  The penguins lie on the path, and wander around just as if we were not there – It was most enjoyable, and very relaxing as we were not hurried along by the guide. A very pleasant afternoon.   Once we were back at the Estancia Harberton, we went up to their “Tea House” where we warmed up with tea and cakes.  I read all the family information on the walls, and it was truly fascinating.  Then, I started talking to one chap, and he turned out to be the grandson of Thomas Bridge, and although he had lived here all his life, he spoke English with a Devon twang !!  To talk with him at the end of the day made it all the more special.

After our tea, we moved up to the museum, and this is in fact more a field research laboratory specialising in the local whales, dolphins and penguins, as well as the local bird life. They have young staff who live on site and they collect the remains of animals washed up, analyse them, and study them.  I won’t even start to go into some of the details, except to say that I hadn’t realised before how closely related some whales, some dolphins, and some sea lions really are. Once they get down to scientific similarities, it seems some of them are very alike.  The end of a great afternoon.

I then drove the 2 hours back to Ushuaia, and by the time I got there at almost 8 pm, I wasn't in the mood for cooking !  So it was back to the Ushuaia Frankfurt for a different type of sausage, and I took it back to the camp site and ate it in front of the pot belly stove, washed down by some local Ushuaia dark beer.   A most enjoyable and interesting day.     

Pics are here :-

No comments:

Post a Comment