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

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