Ushuaia: PED 3 … Skeletons, Penguins, and Parrilla

Not only is our South America cruise over;
so are the pre-expedition days leading to our Antarctic voyage.
It’s time to tell the story of this portion of our winter travels.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015 (Part I)
Ushuaia, Argentina
Temps: Hi 57F (14C) / Lo 43F (6C)

Our third pre-expedition day in Ushuaia dawned with a dusting of fresh snow on the mountains.  Perhaps, it was a good thing we decided not to hike yesterday after all.

We were down to breakfast early — at 6:30a; out the door an hour later to meet up with our tour group at 7:45a.  During the summer months, Marta — a teacher by training — provides transfer and guiding services to passengers coming off the ships calling on the city.  She was heading to work, so she and Jack kindly gave us a ride to the PiraTour kiosk outside the port.

After booking our 2007 expedition in the summer of 2005, I became a voracious reader of all things Antarctic.  One of the books I read was the Uttermost Part of the Earth … written by Lucas Bridges, the son of Thomas Bridges.  Thomas was a missionary credited with not only setting up a successful mission in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, but also compiling the first Yamana-English grammar book and dictionary of some 34,000 words.

In recognition of his work, the Argentinean government gifted Bridges with a large parcel of land — 50,000 acres, to include forests, lakes, mountains, and some 40 islands in the Beagle Channel.  In 1886, Thomas founded Estancia Harberton [Harberton Ranch] on this land.  The story and the ranch had captured my imagination, and I made plans to visit Harberton in December 2006.  Alas, one piece of luggage went astray somewhere between Washington, DC and Buenos Aires, and instead of spending our days sightseeing, we were stuck in town to coordinate the delivery of the bag before we departed on our expedition.

Scanned from a postcard picked up at the estancia.

Fast forward to 2015.  When we found ourselves making plans for a return visit to Fin del Mundo, I knew I wanted to get myself out to Harberton Ranch.  Enter PiraTour and an opportunity to visit the museum at the ranch and the penguin rookery on Isla Martillo.  Perfect!  Initially, we planned to book the tour around the weather, but we ended up taking the only two spots available during our timeframe in Ushuaia.  Which is why a rain-soaked morning found us boarding a bus for the almost two-hour ride out to the ranch.

Green is the color of the day!

Our group of about 40 people was accompanied by two guides — Leonardo and Augustin.  During the drive, they took turns sharing tidbits of information about the region and the ranch.

Did you know, for example, that any Chinese-made electronics you might own may have actually been assembled here in Ushuaia?  Apparently, there’s quite an industry here — with these much sought after jobs paying AR15,000 … a monthly salary that is equal to, and in some cases, better than what someone working in professional services might make in a large city, such as Buenos Aires.

[At today’s official rate of AR$8.5 to $1 USD, that salary is approximately $1,765/month.]

Another tidbit — I mentioned that Ushuaia bills itself as Fin del Mundo — the end of the world.  It does so with the claim that, with a population of 70,000+, it is the largest city in these southerly latitudes.  Not to be outdone, Puerto Williams, on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, and therefore further south than Ushuaia, bills itself as Más allá de Fin del Mundo — beyond the end of the world.  All part of the eternal rivalry between Argentina and Chile ;-)

And do you know what Ushuaia means?  According to the dictionary compiled by Bridges, this Yamana word means the bay that penetrates to the west … perfect description of a place that is situated on the Beagle Channel, which runs in an east-west direction.

The 53-mile (85 km) drive from Ushuaia to Estancia Harberton initially took us on
Route 3.  This main paved highway, which starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska … traverses
north and south America … and ends in Tierra Del Fuego National Park.  Once we
turned off Route 3, we were on an unpaved road for the rest of the way to the ranch.

Back to today’s tour.  Soon after we turned off the main highway — Ruta 3 — to drive the private, unpaved road to the estancia, Augustin explained the colored cards we’d been given when we checked in.  As anticipated, they served to break us into two groups … necessary due to a limit of 20 people being landed at the penguin colony at any one time.  Turns out that we were in the group that visited the museum first.

Welcome to Estancia Harberton … we still have a ways to go, however.

As the name Museo Acatushún de Aves y Mamíferos Marinos [Acatushún Museum of Birds and Marine Mammals] implies, the facility houses a large collection of skeletal remains from southern hemisphere birds and marine mammals — about 2,300 birds and 2,700 mammals.

Acatushún, as we’re given to understand by Julieta, one of the volunteers,
is a Yamana word, but no one knows what it actually means.

Julieta first explained the origins of the museum, which includes a lab where volunteers such as herself clean and study the skeletal remains for several months each year in return for room and board.  She talked about how this part of the land juts out into the water to trap dead marine mammals carried on the currents — including some species that are not even endemic to the region.  She then took us around the museum, and discussed the characteristics of the various skeletal remains on display.

False Killer Whale (top) is the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family.
Orca (often referred to as Killer Whale) is also part of the same family.
[The skeleton of the Orca is on the floor under the mural depiction.]

Southern Sea Lion (top left) and Leopard Seal (center).

Left: Juliet shows us how wide a leopard seal is able to open its jaw.

Center & Right: Lower jaw of a young male sperm whale from San Sebastian Bay (1980).
The sperm whale (aka cachalot) is the largest member of the toothed whales.
The fine oil in their enormous heads was the major reason why whalers
went after them between 1800-1970.  They are now a protected species.

King penguins are the second largest of the surviving species of penguins.
While they mostly breed in the subantarctic islands between 45° S and 55° S,
the northern reach of their habitat does include Tierra del Fuego.

Our museum tour includes the laboratory where skeletal remains are cleaned and studied.

Skeletal remains in the backyard of the museum, …

… which overlooks an arm of Canal Beagle.

By the time we were back outside again, it was time to hop on the bus for the short ride to the pier.  Here we had about 15 minutes to use the facilities and check out the teahouse while we waited for the first group to return from their visit to the penguin colony.  I opted to wander around; Mui went into the teahouse and came back with a couple of ginger cookies to snack on during the bus ride back to Ushuaia.

Looking across the bay from the pier.

Images of the ranch house and the estancia — from perspectives not available to us today.
(The teahouse is in the building on the right; the family home is on the left.)

Images of the ranch house and the estancia — from our perspective today.

As you might imagine, I have many, many, many photos from the pingüinera [penguin colony].  So, I’ll share one photo, and leave the story of this portion of the tour to another blog post.

Oh, OK ... here's another photo ... but that's it for now!  And only so you can see that we visited yet another Magellanic Penguin colony … but that wasn’t all that we saw.  No; no hints.  You’ll just have to wait for the next post to read the story.

On the way back to Ushuaia, the bus stopped briefly for us to photograph the Arboles Bandera [Flag Trees].  These trees are so named for their uni-directional growth pattern, which, like flags, show the direction from which the winds blow in this part of the world.  Unfortunately, the weather — which had cleared up so nicely for our visit to the penguin reserve — had once again turned to rain, so we hopped off, took a quick shot of the trees, and hopped back in before we got soaked.

From sunshine and patchy blue skies where we board the bus at the estancia, …

… to overcast and rain where we stop to photograph the “Flag Trees” …

… to more sunshine and patchy blue skies once we get back on Route 3 back to Ushuaia.

Back in Ushuaia, we headed to Chiko, a restaurant recommended to us as a place where the locals eat.  We weren’t steered wrong; the place was hopping.  A simple eatery, the restaurant specializes in Chilean cuisine.  What it lacked in ambiance, it made up for in spades with the food.

It was too crowded to take any decent photos of the interior,
so I’m relying on photos from the restaurant’s website.

“Order seafood,” we had been told, so that’s what we did.  Mui got a crab ceviche; I had a perfectly grilled salmon, served with a delicious corn mash.  We washed it all down with a liter-bottle of Quilmes, which we shared.  The tiramisu was decent — have had better, but it was a good wrap up for the meal.

Quilmes to wash down the crab ceviche and grilled salmon with corn mash;
and a tiramisu to wrap up our meal.

To walk off our lunch — at least a little bit of it — we strolled back to Casa Los Tulipanes.  The rain was kind enough to hold off until we made it inside ;-))

A rainbow comes out to cheer us after a rainy afternoon.

Our day was far from over, however.  After a quiet afternoon of processing videos and culling photos from our visit to the penguin colony, we had a most excellent dinner … compliments of Jack and Marta.

All you have to do is see the big parrilla [grill] he built in the kitchen to know what one of Jack’s favorite pastimes is — barbecuing.  He had asked if we wanted to have asado [barbecue; traditionally a variety of meats] for dinner one night while we were here, explaining that he charged AR$250/person (~ $18.50) as meat is now so expensive.  Of course, we jumped at the invitation.

Jack’s Parrilla — you think he likes to barbecue or what ;-)

Trust me when I say that what we paid was more than worth what we received — a great home-style dining experience with our hosts.  Joining us at the table was an Italian couple — Francesca and Stefano — touring Argentina on their honeymoon.  They arrived yesterday and are staying a few days in the other room Jack and Marta rent out.

Left: Mui wants an apron just like Jack’s.
Right: marta and Mui in the kitchen — having too much fun by the looks of it.

Stefano & Francesca, and our hosts — we enjoy their company at dinner.

There was much camaraderie, and laughter flowed as freely as the Argentinean wine Jack served to accompany the chorizo, chicken, tenderloin, and rib meat he grilled to perfection … even over-grilling my portion since I like my meat ‘killed’ — he didn’t cringe too much at the desecration ;-)   Accompanying the meal were small plates with the makings of a ‘salad-our-way’.  And dessert was a chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream patty with a dulce de leche center.  Can you say stuffed?  We certainly were.

A wonderful meal … shared camaraderie … can’t ask for more.

What a great end to a great day!

I haven’t forgotten the promised post about the pingüinera — with many, many penguin photos.  Sit tight … it’s coming right up.

Ushuaia: PED 2 … Strolling About Town Redux

Not only is our South America cruise over;
so are the pre-expedition days leading to our Antarctic voyage.
It’s time to tell the story of this portion of our winter travels.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Ushuaia, Argentina
Temps: Hi 50F (10C) / Lo 41F (5C)

Overcast … rain … sunshine; overcast … rain … sunshine; start the cycle over again.

Sound familiar?  Yes, that’s how I described the weather yesterday.  On PED 2 — our second pre-expedition day in Ushuia — Mother Nature added a stiff breeze, which made today feel much colder.

Horses grazing in the valley by the path we follow to walk into town.

We left the house after breakfast with plans to do one of three hikes.  One look at the clouds over the mountains, however, changed our minds — no sense getting caught in rain or snow on the trail.  Instead, we decided to walk across town to the neighborhood where we stayed in December 2006.  That plan fell by the wayside, too.  Mui was feeling drained and didn’t feel like walking far — he suspects a sinus or ear infection; will seek out a doctor if he doesn’t feel better by tomorrow.

This is where we would have been walking along Canal Beagle had Mui not been feeling poorly!

So, what did we do?  We took it easy again.  We wandered around areas of the city we had not been through, ducking into the church that we had neglected to check out on previous visits.  Then we headed down to the waterfront for lunch.

Peeking into a storefront where a variety of meats are being grilled
for an asado [barbecue] lunch — not for us; not today at least.

Mui and I both find penguin friends in town — king penguins, I think, or …
maybe they are supposed to be emperors.  Either way, they may lose their
way and end up in Ushuaia, but neither species is resident in these waters.

As usual, I can’t resist clicking the shutter when I come across a tile mural.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Merced — Church of Our Lady of Mercy
This church is said to be the southernmost Catholic Church in the world.
The stained glass window (left) depicts Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina;
it is a memorial tribute to the 1,300 people who were shipwrecked aboard the
Monte Cervantes when it sank in January 1930 with only one casualty — the captain.

The nativity scene from Christmas is still on display in the lobby of the church.

Built in the US and transferred to the Royal Navy under Lend-Lease, HMS Justice was renamed
St Christopher when it was sold into commercial service in 1947.  She was one of several vessels
that worked to rescue the passengers of Monte Cervantes (mentioned above).  After suffering
engine trouble and rudder damage, she was laid up in Ushuaia, where she remains grounded.

Kelp Geese — the female has darker coloring, which ensures that she blends in
with the landscape when she is sitting on the nest.  They migrate along the
coast of South America to find kelp, which makes up 100% of their diet.

No kelp for us; thank you very much.  Instead, we took a friend’s suggestion and went to Tia Elvira for lunch.  Mui won’t agree with me that the food was good — salty, but good.  That’s because our overall impression of the dining experience was soured by the hostess who rudely told us to go sit at a table for two and not a four-top.  Small place, so I can understand why she wanted to save the table for a larger party, even though the place was empty at the time.  Her attitude was really unacceptable, though, and we should have left then and there — would  probably have been the recipient of the same sarcastic “hasta la vista” she called out after a threesome decided to go elsewhere when she ignored them for several minutes and left them standing in the doorway.  We stayed — only because our friend had touted the food as being very good.  I’m afraid this is one restaurant we won’t be returning to or recommending.

We’re smiling because we took the photos before our encounter with the hostess.
Tia Elvira gets a thumbs down from us on TripAdvisor for the rude attitude
of the hostess — the food was good, however … salty, but good.

After lunch, we went our separate ways for a while.  Mui went to check one last camera shop to see if they had a GoPro battery charger; I headed to the Museo del Fin del Mundo.  The plan was to meet at the museum and walk back to the B&B from there.  Turns out that I didn’t have enough pesos in my pocket for the admission — AR$90 (~ $12.50) for non-Argentineans.  And my USD currency was in a wallet in Mui’s backpack.  Ooops!  Before I realized I lacked the means to go into the museum, I did wander through the open-air exhibit in the side yard — the wrought iron gate was open — so, I at least got to see a few artifacts.

This dugout canoe, hollowed out from a tree trunk, was found in the Black Lagoon, located
in the Lapataia area of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  It’s thought to have been made by
the early lumberjacks of the Ovando River sawmills.  The carts in the back were used by
the inmates of the local prison to transport logs from the forests of Tierra del Fuego.

While in the yard, my eye was caught by a series of murals painted by Cany Soto and Rodrigo Crespo.  The murals, part of a series of ‘snapshots of life’ entitled History in Color, tell the story of the Yamana people, the arrival of the first white settlers, and the founding of Ushuaia as a penal colony.

Nave Extraña — Strange Ship

El Rapto — Abduction

Allen Gardiner pursued by the Yamana.
Gardiner was a British Royal Navy Officer and Missionary; he first visited Tierra del Fuego in 1842.

Náufragos — Shipwrecked

Familia recién llegada — Family of New Arrivals

Presos — Prisoners
In 1896, the Ushuaia prison received its first convicts — mainly re-offenders and dangerous
criminals, and some political prisoners as well.  In addition to other work the prisoners did,
they provided manual labor, collecting firewood from the forests of Tierra del Fuego.

It didn’t take me long to finish up in the museum yard.  Then I waited, and waited, and waited.  No Mui.  It started raining; I found sanctuary just inside the museum entrance.  Still no Mui.  Finally, an hour later, I spotted him scurrying down the sidewalk.  Turns out that there are two museums by the same name and he was waiting for me at the other one ;-)  By this time, I was ready to just call it a day.  So we skipped the museum, grabbed a cab since it was still raining, and returned to Casa Los Tulipanes.

Sculptures by Father Jose Ellero, a Salesian Pastor, at a plaza on the waterfront.

Left: Statue of Don Bosco with two boys and a girl.  The sculptor describes Don Bosco
as having his feet firmly planted in the deep south, while he gazes north.

Right: An homage to Ceferino Namuncurá, a Mapuche saint.

Was today a great day?  Not really, it was a good day, though … even with so many things we started out to do going crossways.  It happens — c’est la vie … or I should say, así es la vida … we are in Argentina after all.  Tomorrow will be a better day.