Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Antarctic Trip: Ushuaia, Argentina: December 5-7, 2016

Bridges Island in the Bridges Archipelago of the Beagle Channel
In early November we read an article in the Sacramento Bee's travel section offering what seemed to be a large discount on a cruise to Antarctica. The deal was for the cruise south/fly north departure on December 7. Another deciding factor was that Dan who has a December birthday could finally have a summer birthday. We jumped on it and about one month later we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, to hook up with the ship.

Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world. There is at least one town in Chile (Puerto Williams) that is marginally more south, but as Argentina says, "es un pueblo no una cuidad". Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentine state of Tierra del Fuego.

We expected summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but it is cold and rainy here. We met a young man at the grocery store who told us cold, rainy, and gray is typical summer weather in Ushuaia. He was born in Ushuaia and he liked the weather. He went to school in Buenos Aires where he found the weather too hot. December in Ushuaia was looking much like July in Iceland and not our definition of summer weather. Fortunately, Dan's birthday is later in December and we still hope to enjoy much warmer weather by then.

Taking advantage of our early arrival we booked a couple of tours out of Ushuaia. The first tour (Canoero Catamaranes) was a boat ride out into Beagle Channel. The Beagle Channel, which runs through the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, is a 149-mile (240-km) navigable passageway. The eastern portion (where we were) forms the border between Argentina and Chile.

Cormorants on Isla de Los Pajaros (Bird island) with the Ushuaia airport runway in the distance.
The boat stopped briefly at Bridges Island so we could get a better view of the surrounding mountains.

Sea Lions on Isla de los Lobos (Sea Lions Island) 

Bridges Island 

Faro Les Eclaireur (The Iluminator's Lighthouse) in Beagle Channel 
View of the Tourist Pier and beyond in Ushuaia
The second afternoon Piratours took us via bus 90km to Martillo Island (AKA penguin island). 

Called "Flag" trees because of the way the constant wind shapes them.
Along the way we visited the Museo Acatashun de Aves y Mamiferos Marinos (Museum of Birds and Sea Mammals). The museum collects all the bones that wash up or are found along the long shoreline. The bones are reassembled and the bird/mammal is identified. 

Whale bones

Ranch Cat
Just beyond the museum, we stopped at Harberton Ranch (founded in 1886 by Thomas Bridges) to board a small boat to Martillo Island to see penguins. This island did indeed have penguins. Most were nesting. It is estimated that there are around 1000 nests in the rookery. We saw three types: Magellanic, Gentoo, and one single King.

Magellanic Penguins

Gentoo Penguins (Pygocelis Papua) nesting and one King Penguin standing
This is the only colony of gentoo penguins in South America. Normally, they nest in Antarctica.

Magellanic Penguins are black or black brown with white stripes

Magellanic Penguins nest in burrows

Magellanic Penguins are very curious

Skuas, predator birds, nest quite near the penguin nests/burrows to take advantage of penguin inattentiveness. If the Skua sees an opening, it flies in to grab a penguin egg or chick. When this happens, the penguins stand there looking so sadly helpless at their loss. Both Magellanic and Gentoo penguins lay two eggs each year. The King lays one egg every two years.

Brown Skua

Ushuaia had wonderful food and wine choices. We overdosed on meat at La Estancia, an Argentine Barbecue Restaurant. At the restaurant El Viejo Marino we more moderately shared a dish of king crab smothered in a rich parmesan cheese sauce.

Then, we boarded the Sea Adventurer expedition ship on the afternoon of December 7. Let the cruising begin!!!

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