DESTINATIONS CULTURE AGENDA CONNOISSEUR'S GUIDE ALTERNATE ROUTES INSIDER'S VIEW NEWS PHOTO GALLERIES

CHOOSE DESTINATION

Argentina

Alternate RoutesConnoisseur's Guide

CHOOSE AUTHOR

The Land of Shamans. Nishi and Apatani Tribes. Part 1Different India. Different Tribe, Part IIISulfur Crater in MoonlightWomen of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoTierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Argentina

Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent« BACK « TO BEGINNING

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER

Add your e-mail address to receive our monthly news.

WE RECOMMEND:

Jewellery by Artists: From Picasso to Koons, an exhibition organised by the culture and art portal Arterritory.com

Alternate Routes · South America · argentina · Argentina · Irena Frīdenšteina

Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Author: Irena Frīdenšteina0 COMMENTS

Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Why exactly Tierra del Fuego? Already some time ago I started a tradition of giving myself a wonderful birthday gift every year - an amazing journey to some unique spot in the world. It has been a meeting with thousands of flamingos in Kenya or seeing them again in the deserts of India, but this time it was walking with penguins! My trip to South America was planned so that I would reach the end of the world exactly on my birthday. It is a kingdom of strong winds and of penguins. And it is the "end of the world" in a very literal sense, too. Mystic Tierra del Fuego or "Land of Fire" is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of the main island - Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which is shared by two countries - Argentina and Chile, (its total area is 48,100 km²) and a group of islands, including Cape Horn. The largest share of Tierra del Fuego belongs to Chile (61%) and it is a part of Magallanes y la Antartica Chilena region with its capital Punta Arenas. Argentina holds the smaller part of the island (39%) with a capital city Ushuaia.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

In the southern part of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego there is the Beagle Channel that separates the larger main island from various smaller ones, including Hoste and Navarino. In the south-western part of the island there rises the Cordillera Darwin Mountain range with its highest peak 2488 m above sea level. Pampas covering the northern part of Tierra del Fuego are a part of the Magellanic steppe. These lands are used for cattle breeding and sheep farming. Moving further to the north, there are woodlands, lakes and many brooks. The middle part of the island is called the Fuegian Park. It is home to Fuegian foxes, guanacos and some rodents. Tierra del Fuego waters are inhabited by sea lions, penguins, whales and seals. Europeans first discovered the Land of Fire in 1520 by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Approaching the shore, the expedition members spotted smoke and many campfires in the distance. The initial version of the name was the Land of Smoke, yet later it was changed to Land of Fire.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

So, how do you get there? The entire route covers three courtiers (Chile, Argentina and Bolivia) and its planning requires more than a month. It also has to be taken into account that travelling to South America doesn't come cheap - airfares alone reach 780LVL. A suggested itinerary can be Riga-London (Ryanair, Madrid-Buenos Aires (Iberia), Buenos Aires-London (British Airways), London-Riga (Ryanair).

After arrival in the capital of Argentina, I devote a full day to exploration of Buenos Aires famous street art and graffiti, La Boca port area and other popular sightseeing destinations, but already on the next day I am on the plane to Ushuaia. Booking your flight 6 months in advance, it is possible to take a local airline Lade which is comparatively less expensive. My option was a second cheaper one, namely Aerolineas Argentinas (384 USD and duration of the flight 3.5h). Thus the first 3040 km of the entire route are covered by air. Argentinean airlines are known for their nasty habit of frequently changing flight dates and departure times. I was lucky to face that only once, when Aerolineas postponed its flight for one day. It slightly cut the time I had planned to devote to Tierra del Fuego though.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Speaking of practicalities of such a trip, renting a car in Patagonia is not a good idea, as traveling in Tierra del Fuego requires crossing Chilean and Argentinean border. Border formalities are very complicated there, making a combination of a flight and a public bus a more favorable choice. After landing in Ushuaia airport, I have only few hours for sightseeing as already in the afternoon my birthday gift is waiting for me in the port - a trip through the Beagle Channel on a sailboat IF!

Ushuaia - Chaos and Charm

However surprising it may seem, the weather is lovely - the sun is shining and there is only slight wind. No signs of threatening weather conditions I had read about, like strong winds hampering air traffic or fast changing weather conditions when you can experience all four seasons in one day. It all seems like a special birthday treat!

I had made arrangements for staying overnight at the house of a local architect - a place she had designed herself. It is a nice alternative to hotels, which are quite expensive there - a true found, I would say! A room costs 38 LVL, and the lady of the house, Silvia, is a very hospitable person. She speaks foreign languages and can advise what to see and what to do in Ushuaia (www.lacasaenushuaia.com).

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

The city has developed quite chaotically over the time, but nevertheless it has its own unique charm and opulent colors typical to Southern America. Prevailingly wooden houses are painted in all the colors imaginable. Thanks to tourism, its population has considerably grown and reaches approximately 59.000 people. Wages are higher there, and people from nearby towns and villages are flowing there in search of better jobs. Ushuaia is a touristic centre of Tierra del Fuego. Tourism is rapidly developing, new hotels are built every year and the city is growing. The main economic activities in this area are fishing, natural gas and oil extraction, as well as sheep farming and ecotourism.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

There is a busy port in Ushuaia with ships leaving for Antarctic. In fact, any adventurous traveler can get to the Kingdom of Ice from there for a relatively low price. Those who have several weeks in their disposal spend their time in leisurely activities, such as exploration of Tierra del Fuego National park, waiting for some cheaper last minute offers for traveling about 1000 km to Antarctica. An advance ticket at a travel agency may cost from 7000 USD up to a steep price of 70.000USD. Prices can depend on several factors - available services, a cabin type, a total number of days, etc., yet most importantly, the number of times it is planned to go ashore. I recommend doing some thorough research before you travel. There are cargo ships delivering goods to Antarctica bases, and it might be possible to get on board and join their crew. It is a much cheaper option (around 4000 USD), yet conditions are quite modes, too, in that case.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Travelling aboard of a gigantic tourism cruise ship can offer an entirely different experience and prices can differ enormously, depending on range of services. Routes are very different, too, for example, including Falkland Islands and South Georgia, with millions of penguins dwelling there. A cruise to Antarctic Peninsula or around Cape Horn offer tracing footsteps of legendary explorers and their voyages. There is a multitude of possibilities! There is also a chance to view Antarctica from above, too, taking an air tour, but in that case you would miss a meeting with penguins - the world's funniest and friendliest birds ever!

Over 30.000 people visit Antarctica every year during its summer months, majority departing from Ushuaia port. The number of people that a ship is allowed to bring ashore at any one time is limited, and therefore many tourists are sightseeing from aboard. Likelihood that you will have a chance of stepping ashore in Antarctica is greater if you travel on a smaller ship.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

It's highly advisable to travel to Tierra del Fuego during the summer season (October - March) when the average night temperatures are 0°C - +5°C, but in daytime +5°C -+15°C. The highest registered summer temperature is +29°C, but the lowest in winter -28°C. Wind in Antarctica can reach 160 km/h and usually there are only 32 windless days every year. If you would decide to go to Tierra del Fuego during habitual vacation time in June, July or August, the Land of Fire will meet you with snow, severe winds and perhaps a chance to ski, but definitely no chance for trekking through the gorgeous Tiera Del Fuego National Park. A travel to Antarctica is possible only in summer months.
It is 3 pm now, and I am in the port now. It's time to go for a trip through the Beagle Channel. It can be done in three different ways - by a private yacht, a tourism catamaran (with up to 130 people on board) or by a sailboat IF, which belongs to captain Hector Mansalve (a tour operator Tres Marias Excursiones, www.tresmariasweb.com).

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

I have opted for the later one, yet a reservation has to be done well in advance as there are only 8-10 places on board. A price of 35 LVL for about 4 to 5 h trip seems very reasonable, too. A catamaran cruise would cost less, but only the sailboat IF gives a chance of visiting H Island and getting ashore. Travelling with a small group feels much better and allows taking pictures without hustling. Approaching Isla de los Lobos, you can capture sea lions and cormorants.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Wind that is very mild when we set off grows stronger as we proceed, and finally there is enough wind to fill the sails. Then the sun hides behind clouds, and wind grows stronger still. Be sure to wear proper clothes when travelling to Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. Jeans wouldn't suffice there at all! You would need Windstopper type clothing and to have be able to shed or put on more layers according to quickly changing weather conditions. Thermal underwear is highly recommendable, too, and good trekking boots are a must! I cannot imagine what would have I done on the yacht without a cap and gloves when wind was picking up on our way back and water splashing onto the deck. It is good to have waterproof clothes, too!

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

A cabin can certainly provide a very good shelter, but then again you miss all the charm of sailing. I have to mention that Ushuaia has a very favorable geographical position. Mountains greater than 1000 m are surrounding the area near the Beagle Channel, making a very good protection from winds that here can reach 100 km/h or more. The Beagle Channel is about 240 km long and about 5 km wide. Although it is navigable by large ships, they still prefer safer routes, like the Drake Passage and the Strait of Magellan.

A hydrographic survey of Tierra del Fuego was carried out under Captain Pringle Stokes between 1826 and 1830. The survey ship was named HMS Beagle. When the captain committed suicide, the command was taken over by Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy. Charles Darwin was on board, too, during one of his expeditions.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

H Island and Naked Yaghan Nation

Getting ashore at H Island isn't easy at all. The boat is moored at the steep and rocky shore to some old rubber tires. Climbing up along the sheer rock, holding onto the rope, can be quite risky and challenging. It's a small island and one hour is perfectly enough to see its unique Arctic nature and to watch the birds there.

We walk along a narrow path one after another, trying not to trample down any plants. It's summertime, and the island is in full bloom. There are white, red, blue and yellow blossoms while moss and other vegetation glistens in all the shades of green!

One of the plants resembles a bright green, moss-covered rock, but when rubbed, it smells like carrots. Something similar can be seen in the Bolivian Altiplano, just there they are bigger and of various shapes.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

It is possible to watch cormorants on the island and to see their nests close up. They feed on fish and there are up to 40 species of these birds in the world, but the ones living here are Magellan Cormorants or Rock Shags.

The Yaghan, the indigenous people of the Southern Cone, also used to come to this island in former days. They came over in boats. It was a great refuge from elements, as rocks provided shelter from cold winds. It's a gift of nature that tides occur four times in 24 hours, bringing plenty of wood ashore. Scantily clad Yaghan people were able to use it for bonfires to warm themselves.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Tierra del Fuego indigenous people are Selk'nam Indians or Ona. They arrived here approximately 10.500 years ago, but their southern neighbors - Yaghan or Yamana (English - Fuegians) tribe settled in the area of current Ushuaia. In 1870 British missionaries arrived in Tierra del Fuego. They were surprised to see that Yaghan people in spite of harsh weather conditions, sharp winds and bitter cold are almost naked. Charles Darwin has said that they were the lowest form of humanity on earth. Thomas Bridge, in his turn, had a deep respect for their culture - he learned Yaghan language and compiled a Yaghan-English dictionary. Yaghan people had lived there undisturbed for 7000 years without any contact with the outer world. The gold rush of the 19th century brought numerous fortune-hunters, and in 1884 Ushuaia was founded.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

Missionaries tried to change the way of life of local people and to literally dress them, but it did no good to them. Yaghan people suffered from the presence of new arrivals and their abusive, violent behavior. People were also wiped out by diseases that foreigners brought along since they had no immunity against them. Farmers who had settled there promised bounties to hunters for corpses of Selk'nam people. It was a real genocide against Selk'nams. Captain Robert FitzRoy even kidnapped four Yamana people, including an adolescent whom he named Jemmy Button and took them back to England to demonstrate like wild animals. One of them died shortly after his arrival. After 15 months and consistent criticism in his address, FitzRoy finally took Yamans back to their native country. Yaghans are now completely extinct and their language has disappeared along with them.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

How Yaghan people were able to survive in so difficult weather conditions with scanty or no clothes at all? They kept warm by getting close around fires that they burned wherever they could, even in their boats. They used rock formations to shelter themselves from wind and used to cover themselves in animal grease. They also had significantly higher metabolisms than any average contemporary human and had slightly higher body temperature than we do. Their usual resting position was a deep squatting position, which helped to conserve heat. They sat in such position even maneuvering their boats.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

The Yaghan were nomads who traveled by canoes between islands, but their chief hunting weapon was a harpoon. Their canoes boats or "anan" were constructed from three large pieces of bark. There was nothing more valuable in their possession than canoes - their life literally depended on them. The men were hunting sea lions and fishing while the women dove into freezing cold water to collect shellfish. They lived on guanaco, sea lion and bird meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and crustaceans. They also built something like tents from grass and branches for sleeping at night.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

There were two important initiation rites that were held by the Yaghans - for young men and for women: Chiejaus and Kina. The Chiejaus was something like a school for youngsters to acquire tribal customs, norms and knowledge, as well as the roles of adults in the community. The basic principle was that the interests and wellbeing of the community comes first, and only then those of an individual. The Chiejaus could last for several months. It took place only when there was enough food gathered for a large number of people, so they wouldn't feel any lack while learning. Kina, in its turn, was a special ceremony for men. People danced a lot during both ceremonies. The bodies of men who had undergone initiation were lavishly and brightly painted and they wore masks made of tree bark and leather. These ceremonies used to be truly magnificent! Even nowadays ceremonial motifs of Tierra del Fuego native inhabitants are used in contemporary art of Chile and Argentina.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Internet

Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins

After visiting the island and already on our way back, we stop to watch cormorants and sea lions on Isla de los Lobos. The captain warns us that we are about to feel the real aroma of nature. And indeed, as we come closer to the island, we start feeling strong odor of urine. Evidently, hygiene is not a topic in the sea lions' residence. Some are growling at each other, some are starting a brawl, but others slumber lazily, paying no attention to those fights.

Chilled to the bone, we return on the shore, and it's time for a meal. We'd like to find out what is typical food in the Fire Land. Unfortunately only very expensive restaurants are available in the city center with mostly French fries and meat in their menu. There are no options for vegetarians like me, and I have to do with some side dish of greens and potatoes. Eventually, the best food for me in Ushuaia turns out to be Italian pizza made in a real stone oven, savored along with Chilean white wine. My birthday meal this time is tinted in Italian-Chilean tones! On the next morning we set off to visit penguins. It is the main and the most sought-after tour in Ushuaia and therefore has to be booked well in advance. Only the agency Piratour has exclusive rights to organize such tours (www.piratour.com.ar).

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

When I first contact the agency, they require making an advance payment, which serves as a security that I really intend to visit those funny and amazing creatures. Without such arrangements, there is a great risk that groups are already booked full. There are four groups gathered every day with 20 people per group, twice a day - at 8:00 am and at 2:30 pm. Price of an excursion is 95 USD, duration - 6 hours. From a meeting place in the city centre we are taken to the historical site of Estancia Harberton in minivans, and the distance of 85 km is covered in almost 2 hours. Entrance fee to the territory and the museum costs additional 60 AR$. The only way to get to Martillo Island and to walk among penguins is from Harberton Estancia. A motor boat crosses the channel in 15 minutes, and we are on the island.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

On our way to Harberton Estanicia, we stop to see the leng trees - a typical feature of Tierra del Fuego landscape. They are all bent to one side, reminding of the strong winds of this area.

There are lots of wind-broken trees in forests, yet trees have yet another enemy - beavers. Tierra del Fuego is literally infested by them. Only fifty beavers were brought there in 1946, but as they have no natural enemies, their population have increased, reaching a stunning number of 200 000 by now. They threaten forests in the entire Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. In the Land of Fire alone beavers have occupied about 16 million hectares of land, and the once so beautiful forests are now completely devastated, as if bulldozers had crushed them down. It's a catastrophic situation that threatens the entire ecosystem, and both Chilean and Argentinean scientists and governments are very concerned about how to revive forests and how to deal with ferocious beavers. Some beavers have already been spotted in Chile, which means that they somehow manage to traverse the Strait of Magellan.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent
Photos from Interenet

Now back to penguins! An alternative option to see penguins is to take a catamaran tour. It stops for a few minutes near the shore, allowing observing penguins, yet there is no chance of getting ashore and having a more personal penguin experience. A question arises whether it's not disturbing for penguins that so many people are coming to the island every day? The sanctuary staff takes a good care of its inhabitants. Penguins are carefully observed, and it has been concluded that the presence of people doesn't do any harm to them. They are quite inquiring, in fact, and are coming closer and curiously eying the visitors. If you move around slowly, try to half squat or even sit down on the ground, penguins would come closer and speak to you in their own peculiar language.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

A number of visitors on the island is limited to maximum 80 people per day and walking around is allowed only in restricted areas. Nesting zones, both in grass and caves, are marked off with ropes, so that people wouldn't accidentally step on eggs. Yet the trails are very close - only a very short distance off the nesting places. Penguins are very friendly and brave birds, and there are two species of penguins living on Martillo Island - Magellanic and Gentoo penguins.
Magellanic ones are medium-size penguins that grow to be the average of 61-76 cm tall and weigh between 2.7 and 6.5 kg. The males are a bit larger than the females, but otherwise there are tiny differences. Adults have black backs and white abdomens, and there are two black bands between the head and the breast. Chicks have grey-blue backs.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Penguins can live up to 25 years in the wild. In the breeding season, they gather at the coasts of Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands, but have been spotted also in Brazil at the coast of Rio de Janeiro. These penguins travel in large flocks when hunting for food. In the breading season they build their nest very close to each other with approximately 20 nests per 100 m². Two eggs are laid, and incubation lasts for 39-42 days. It's a task that the parents share in 10-15 day shifts. The chicks are cared for by both parents for 29 days and they are fed every two to three days. Normally, both are raised, though occasionally only one chick is raised. They use the same nest also next year. These penguins mate with the same partner year after year and are able to recognize their mates through their call alone.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Millions of these penguins still live on the coasts of Argentina and Chile, but the species is classified as a "threatened species". It is due to the vulnerability of large breeding colonies to oil spills that kill 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles every year. Another factor is the decline of fish populations. Their natural enemies are predators, such as sea lions, whales and giant petrels, which prey on the chicks. Climate change has displaced fish populations, so penguins must swim about 40 km from the shore for fish. As the penguins are swimming all that extra distance, it takes more time and their mates are sitting on a nest without food.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Nevertheless their greatest enemies are humans. Oil and diesel fuel that leak from ships spoil their feathers and they are not able to stay in cold water any more. Stuck ashore without food they die from starvation and intoxication. During the cold months they migrate up to 3000 km to shores of Brazil, where the water is warmer. Magellanic Penguins feed on fish and squid. All the penguins have black back as this dark color absorbs more warmth from the sun, allowing to increase the body temperature for a couple of degrees. Penguins usually flock with their backs towards the sun, too, preserve more heat.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Other inhabitants of Martillo Island are Gentoo penguins. They are the third largest species of penguin after the Emperor Penguin and the King Penguin. Adult Gentoos reach a height of 51 to 90 cm. Males have a maximum weight of about 8.5 kg before molting, and a minimum weight of about 4.9 kg before mating. For females it's respectively 8.2 kg before molting and a minimum weight of about 4.5 kg while they take care of kids in the nest. The Ggentoo penguins are recognized by the white stripe across the top of their head, their bright orange bills and pale pinkish webbed feet. These penguins breed on many sub-Antarctic islands, for example, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Kerguelen Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula and elsewhere. Breading colonies settle in the areas that are free from ice. Two eggs are laid, both weighing around 500 g. The parents share incubation duties, and the eggs hatch after 34 to 36 days. The chicks remain in the nests for about 30 days after hatching. They go out to sea only in about 80 to 100 days. The Gentoos live mainly on crustaceans with little fish in their diet. Their enemies are sea lions, seals and whales. There are about 3000 penguin nests on Martillo Island with only 35 breeding pairs of the Gentoos. They are quite a rarity in South America. They arrive on the island in September and leave it in April.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Hundreds of penguins are awaiting us on the island. The guide asks us to move slowly, squat down and wait until little local folks themselves start to approach us. During the excursion, he tells a lot about penguins. Not a single person in the world could remain indifferent, seeing these birds - they instantly make you smile! Penguins are chatting among themselves and making a wild rumpus. Our group has no chance to go down the steps that lead downhill as there is a penguin sitting in a stately posture and has no intention whatsoever to move aside. Even though these guys are short, they are self-confident enough! They know that it's their territory and no one is going to harm them.

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Finally it is time to go home! Most definitely, it has been a memorable meeting. After returning in Ushuaia, I had planned to do some sightseeing around the city on a bike, but unfortunately I do not feel so well. Evidently, a chilly tour of the previous day along the Beagle Channel has left some impact - my feet are freezing and I feel somewhat ill. At 7:30 in the morning next day I am waiting for a bus in the city centre, opposite the Bus-Sur office. There is no bus terminal in Ushuaia and it's important to find out at what time and from where the bus is departing. Getting a ticket is rather tricky, too. I have done my homework and explored, which bus company I should take from Ushuaia, and after a lengthy exchange of e-mails with the bus company Bus Sur they finally allow me to buy a ticket in advance. Bus Sur sends me an invoice and I make my payment via paypal. Upon arrival in Ushuaia, I have to exchange a ticket printout to a real ticket at the Bus Sur office (www.info@bus-sur.cl). The question is - do you really have to do all that it in advance? Yes, if you wish to leave Ushuaia according to your travel schedule. I went through many internet travel forums with people sharing their experience on the subject, and it turned out that some of them were not able to leave the city for a week or so because buses were booked full. It can happen that air tickets are not available either or there are unfavorable weather conditions, and people have to spend at the end of the world more time than they had planned!

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Next 14 hours (almost 800 km for 75 USD) pass by on the way to Puerto Natales in south of Chile. I have a plan to go to Torres Del Paine National Park from there. The area along the road is scarcely populated with only few villages. The bus makes a stop at a local eatery at approximately halfway, so that travelers could have a bite. They offer only home-made bread with meat, like some sort of hamburgers, so again I have to leave with empty stomach. We cross Argentina-Chile border at Paso San Sebastian. The border control is very serious - they are checking everything. It's prohibited to take dairy products and seeds across the border, and there are special forms to be filed out. When reading "seeds", I imagined small packages of various seeds. Very wrong! Evidently vegetables and fruits are not allowed either, since they confiscate my tomatoes and someone else has to give away apples. They do not apply any fine this time, but I overhear people talking that it highly depend on each separate case and the mood of border-guards. They are authorized to collect up to 200 USD for a tomato, harmlessly packed next to your breakfast sandwich. So be sure to eat up everything in Argentina!

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

As we arrive at Bahia Azul port to take a ferry to Punta Delgada town, the wind is so strong that we can barely stand up. The bus is driven on board along with other vehicles, while people can spend their time in a special passenger room, in warmth and savor some hot dog type sandwiches!

Foto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy ContinentFoto: Tierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

From Punta Delgada we continue our way. There is vacant landscape of Patagonia behind the window - just steppes stretching away into the distance, a farm here and there and thousands of sheep. There are hardly any trees and people are planting cypresses around their homes, to shelter them from wind. Our destination is Punta Arenas, and therefore we have to change buses. The next bus takes us to Puerto Natales where we stay over at a cozy hostel Yaganhouse (yagan-house.minihostels.com).

Please read about Patagonia in my next article.

Follow this link to see all the photos of Irēna Frīdenšteina: picasaweb.google.com/mazins1

SHARE:
Facebook Twitter

 

Your comments

Unfortunately there are no comments yet.

Your name:

Time of visit:

Your comment: