16 March 2012

Tierra del Fuego!

The journey to Tierra del Fuego began with a 7:30am pick up at our Hostel. This is our third (and final) tour with Laguna Azul, and each time we have experienced a different driver and vehicle. This time we are in a mini-bus and are accompanied by a bilingual tour guide. On our other tours we simply had our Spanish-speaking drivers cum tour guide.
We drove to the port (same port as yesterday for the penguins) and then boarded the ferry. The ferry is modern, much more so than yesterday! The seats are comfortable and reclinable. It has lifeboats for 50 .... I'm guessing we have about 75 on board, so the odds are good in an emergency! The ferry traveled between Punta Arenas and Porvenir. The 'cruise' lasted about 2 hours.

Once in Porvenir we visited the Provincial Museum of Tierra del Fuego. This museum's collection was a mishmash of artifacts. It began with an exhibit on the Selk'nam, the indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego. The exhibit showed their tools, canoes and guanaco-fur clothing. However, the most interesting part for me was seeing photos of them in ceremonial costume / body paint.

The exhibits continued on into modern times, showing the lives of early settlers and those who came hoping to find gold. It moved into more modern life by exhibiting ancient cameras and telephones. Additionally there was a display case with native wild animals that had been preserved: baby seal, penguins, birds, foxes, rabbits and more. One of the foxes had a rabbit in it's mouth, which I found a bit disturbing. In this other section of the museum, two exhibits really stood out to me: a complete Elephant Seal skeleton and about 30 bottles/containers that were found in a pharmacy Pre-1900's.

Then we walked over to the town square, where there was a monument. One side of it showed a scene of the sun rising (or setting for that matter) over a field of sheep, and the other side showed the Selk'Nam people. I asked our tour guide about the significance of the monument - as there were no signs on it or nearby to it. Our guide impressed me greatly with his knowledge when he answered "I don't know it's just a monument."

Then we drove about 2 hours on a bumpy dirt road. The ride was rough, but the scenery amazing. The ground was sandy and dry, yellow scrubs dotted with bits of green, but the horizon was always a deep blue. Sometimes the blue was from the water, other times it was the mountains in the distance, other times the blue-grey of rain clouds and sometimes all three. As we drove we saw wildlife: Guanacos and numerous large birds.
The driver explained many things about the landscape, wildlife and Patagonia. Our guide did a great job of badly translating just a smidgen of what the driver said. the area was so desolate, we rarely saw houses or other vehicles. In the back of my mind was the ever-present thought that I do NOT want to break-down or run out of has here!
After about two hours we arrived ... in the middle of nowhere.... At the Parque Pingüino Rey! We were excited to get to see King Penguins! After debriefing, we were told to walk up to a line of rocks, but not to cross it until the park guide joined us. Taking pictures from this line was brutal. The wind blew through my four layers with ease, and the penguins were still a fair distance away. There were less than 25 of them, a bit disappointing as compared to the thousands from yesterday.

After a while, the park guide came out, but with some professional photographers who had arrived just after us, and it seemed he was not headed to us. Sooo our all-knowing trip guide leads us in the direction of the beach, saying maybe there would be more penguins down there. We came to a roughly assembled bridge over a stream of rapidly flowing, icy cold water. Calling the structure a bridge was an overstatement, it was simply some trees that had been split and nailed to posts unevenly. Walking across the structure was unnerving. If one fell in, the possibility of hypothermia was real. But we all made it across and walked along the beach, until we ended up behind the penguins. This was not at all appreciated by the park guide who gestured at our guide to bring us back. As we headed back, the wind picked up and it began to spit. I was sure I was going to be blown off the bridge, but again we all (amazingly) made it!

Luckily the park guide did not just send us away! Rather he took us over the lines and closer to the penguins. We did not get as close as we did at Isla Magdalena, but we were closer than before. King Penguins are taller than Magellanic ones. I was not close enough to know for sure, but I would estimate them to be knee-height on me. They had long, pointy, orange and black beaks. Several of them had babies. We learned that the babies grow to full adult size in their first year. The adults were black and white, with bits of orange, a very distinct coloration. The babies however were a medium brown color. The penguins gathered on a 'cliff' over a river of water, but one penguin stood alone on the other side, away from the group. The park guide explained that her baby had died because it went in the water. Thus she was apart from the group.
The penguins did not chatter as much as the ones yesterday, but when they made a noise, it sounded like a baby crying.

YouTube Video

After about another two hours of driving, we stopped at Cerro Sombrero, the petroleum mining capital of Tierra del Fuego. There we saw a monument as well as a chess set that had pieces representing the oil industry. But the best two attractions in my most humblest of opinions were the public bathrooms and the supermarket!

On the way home, we crossed the straights once more, this crossing a shorter journey of about 30 minutes. Then we just drove and drove, arriving in Punta Arenas around 22:00. A nice day, but not a tour that I'd be eager to repeat.

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Location:Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Torres del Paine

Our trip to Torres del Paine began at 6:00am, when Laguna Azul tour company collected us from our hostel. We drove for nearly 2 hours until the guide stopped to show us the beginning of the end of the Andes .... Aka the Patagonian Andes. Truth be told that first stop came rapidly as I slept most of the trip up to this point.

About an hour later we arrived in Puerto Natales. To get there we had driven through the narrowest part of Chile. In Puerto Natales, we stopped at The last watering hole of our trip, a gas station. Then we drove just outside of town to the water. There we saw the hand and the Milodón statue. The latter will become clear momentarily, but the hand was ever clear. When I asked our guide about the hand, he couldn't tell me what it stood for or why it was there, only that there were several of them. In Chile.

About 15 minutes later we arrived at Cueva del Milodón, the Milodon's cave. This cave, carved out by water, was discovered in 1895 by Herman Eberhard, a German. Eberhard not only found the cave, but in it he found a fully preserved specimen of the ice age, a Milodón. Today tourists can follow a path into the cave, which is constantly reshaping itself via water erosion, and to a semi-cheesy fiberglass replica of the Milodón that Everhard found.

We continued on our way to Torres del Paine. The view was amazing, we began to see glacial mountains and blue waters. The drive became more and more like a roller coaster ride. Twists, turns, ups and downs....we put our lives in the (capable?) hands of our driver.
Before reaching the official park entrance we drove over Lago Porteño. This lake is a fisherman's dream, full of salmon and trout.
Then we drove on to Lago del Torro. This is the largest lake in the area. Our driver told us that the other name for this lake is Lago Maravilloso. The water of the lake came from two sources: Glacier Grey and Rio Paine. The main section of the lake was as blue as the Caribbean, but where the glacial water entered, the water was a green-grey color. This water carried bits of sediment from the mountain.

And then we entered the park. In Chile, it is typical to have a separate price for foreigners. In Santiago last summer some of the museums were free for foreigners, but the parks here are a different story. For example, at the Milodón's cave, a Chilean paid 400 CHP (about 1 USD) and we paid 3000CHP (about 6 USD). At Torres del Paine the cost for a Chilean was 4000 CHP (8USD) but for a foreigner it was 15,000 CHP (30 USD)! But it was truly worth every Peso!

Our first stop in the park was Lago Grey / Grey Glacier. The short hike 1,5 hours with lots of stops for photos) began by walking over a suspension bridge. The bridge shook and moved wildly as we walked over it. Fun!

Then we walked along the beach. There were some floating icebergs that had broken off the glacier. Some bits of ice broke off of those and floated to shore. The icebergs themselves were so blue in color, translucent and beautiful. It was said that the blue on the Argentinean flag was meant to represent the colors of the icebergs. We continued our hike across the beach to a lookout point on the hill. Throughout the hike the sun was shining and the temperature was warm, but the wind blew with amazing force and strength that one expended tons of energy just walking.

YouTube Video

After Lago Grey we drove to a few other places in the park, stopping to take in the breathtaking views. Each of the lakes around the park varied in color... grey, green, blue and black - they were all amazing. Our next big stop and short hike was to the waterfall at Lago Serrano. The waterfall was beautiful! In the spray of the waterfall, mixing with the sun was a perfect rainbow.

On our way out of the park we finally saw some wildlife of the park. Throughout the day, we had seen birds of all shapes and sizes; but on our way out we saw guanacos and ostrich. Guanacos look a lot like Llamas. Later, outside of the park we also saw rabbits.

Our final stop on our way out of the park we saw the Torres for which the park was named. Truth be told, seeing them from a distance was a bit anti-climatic. I hope one day to return and really hike throughout the park and see them closer.

Then we drove back to Puerto Natales, traced our route back to the gas station and then onwards to Punta Arenas. We arrived back at our hostel at nearly 23:00. A long day, but an enjoyable one!

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Location:Patagonia, Chile

15 March 2012

March of the Penguins

Today started with uncertainty on the penguin front. We found out that the ferry might not go, because enough tickets hadn't been sold. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 3:00pm. At 1:00pm we found out that we were in luck and the ferry WAS going! I must admit to being amazed that the ferry actually went - there was no more than 30 of us on board!
The journey across the Straights of Magellan to Magdalena Island was sunny and windy. It was warm in the sun and bitingly cold in the wind. The journey inboard lasted two hours each way, but time went by quickly.

The trip to the island was for the purpose of seeing penguins, but I got a bonus included that I didn't expect - dolphins swimming next to the ship!

Finally we arrived at the island. The penguins were smaller than I thought they would be. These penguins, Magellanic Penguins, are no taller than mid-calf to lower knee on me. They are migratory and spend their summers here. They are currently molting and feathers were blowing everywhere.

On the island, rules were very stringent:
- visitors have one hour only
- no food or drink (even water) is allowed
- do not stray from the marked path
- do not touch the birds or disrupt them in any fashion

The penguins were incredible. Some were boldly out in the open, posing for visitors, marching across our path and making loud noises (mating calls?). Others lay sleeping on the ground, groomed each other or just flat out ignored us. Some stood in their holes and others curled up deep in their holes - snuggled tightly against the wind. Some swam in the frigid water, others strutted along the shores.
The hour on the island passed by in seconds. I loved every minute of it!

One penguin tried to board our ferry and travel to Punta Arenas in style, sadly he was denied boarding and sent back off the boat:

And a bit of penguin video fun....

YouTube Video

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Location:Isla Magdalenas, Chile

13 March 2012

In the center of it all

Take a look at this map of Chile... Now think of the answer to the following question:
"Where is the geographic center of Chile?"

Map of Chile here: http://www.mapsofworld.com/save_image.php?id=http://www.mapsofworld.com/chile/maps/chile-political-map.jpg

Let me guess.....you answered somewhere around Santiago - maybe a bit north of that ....right?

Actually, that would be absolutely wrong!

We often forget that Chile has a claim to part of Antartica. That means that the geographic center is actually much further south ... South of Punta Arenas near the Strait of Magellan. It's just a bit north of Fuerte Bulnes and inland of Puerto Hambre.
If these places aren't ringing any bells take a look here:

As this point is marked, we stopped at it today on the way back from Fuerte Bulnes.

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Location:Angamos,Punta Arenas,Chile

Anyone have an ark I can borrow?

Punta Arenas averages about 2 inches a month - rain that is. BUT about every twenty years the rains come, the river overflows and the town floods. The last documented flood: 1990. The most recent: March 12, 2012. I'll let the pictures of Punta Arenas today (March 13, 2012) do the rest of the talking.....

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Location:Angamos,Punta Arenas,Chile

Taste of Chile

Im a bit behind on blog posts, but here we are to recap about the cooking class....
My Mom and I took this class, it was my birthday present. Also in our class was a couple from New York and a German girl. Our chef instructor was a Hungarian-Chilean.
We cooks a lot of delicious Chilean foods. My only complaint - the spicy stuff was not was not spicy enough for me. There was sooo much food that I felt like I might never eat again!
We cooked:
Matchas Parmesanas
Tomato salad
Pastel de
Platanos with Palm Tree Honey (those I didn't eat)
Pisco Sour

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Location:Valparaiso, Chile