A Travellerspoint blog

El Fin del Mundo

Christmas & New Year at "the end of the world"

overcast 12 °C
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Yet another gruelling 13 hour bus journey was endured by the Bruntons. We weren't going a great distance from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia, but the trip meant a few hours travelling through Chile, so we had the pleasure of 4 border crossings (1 out of Argentina, 1 into Chile, 1 out of Chile and 1 back into Argentina). Lisab was very naughty and tried to smuggle contraband through the border. She was marched into the Chilean customs and interrogated until she handed over her lentils, kidney beans, cardamon pods and cumin seeds. To add insult to injury, she then had to watch as the foodstuff was thrown into a bin and sprayed with disinfectant. The customs lady kindly informed us however, that were we to bring in "broken" dried kidney beans, that would be acceptable, so we now know for future reference.

Beautifully situated on the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia was our destination for Christmas. It had a festive feel, as the mountains were snow topped and the wind was blowing as cold as it does in Rossendale. A trip on the Beagle Channel was one highlight of our stay - particularly because the small boat we sailed on was able to get quite close to the marine life. It also included a walk on Bridges Island to see the wild flowers and archaelogical sites of the Yamana Indians (one of four indigenous groups of natives who once inhabited Tierra del Fuego), and a sail past the lighthouse at the end of the world.

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Bridges Island on the Beagle Channel

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The lighthouse at the "end of the world"

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Sea lions and Cormorants

On boxing day, we went to Estancia Harberton. This is the oldest building on the Island and run by the descendents of the British missionary, Thomas Bridges, who protected the indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego and began to understand their culture and language. During some of the first encounters white men had with the natives, the Yamana were asked what they called the bay upon which they were situated. The natives replied "Tekenika" and thus the white men named it so. Years later, after Thomas Bridges had translated thousands of Yamana words into English, it was discovered that the bay's name actually translates to "I don't understand what you say".

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Estancia Harberton

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Distance sign in Ushuaia

We headed to the bustling port of Punta Arenas, in Chile, for New Year. This time, Lisa sailed through customs, as the lentil police were off duty (she could have smuggled anything through). The streets are very wide and in times past were used for moving the sheep through the town. The buildings here are opulent, a sign of the port's wealthy past and was a base used by many Antarctic explorers (such as Scott and Shackleton). There is also the omnipresence of the South American street dogs, who are disinterested in people (unless you are feeding them) and are quite happy chasing the local cars and bikes up and down the streets. Unfortunately, the bustling port turned into a ghost town come New Years Eve; the Bruntons couldn't even find a pub open! Happy bloody New Year (actually we had a good time in our fab hostel with big flat screen telly, and Andyb's chilean chillie!) As always, we checked out where the locals drink and Lisa was very flattered to be called a "princess" by a local. However, she was less flattered when he called Andyb a "princess" too. It should have been a warning sign, as the man opened the door to the pub, said "welcam en", showed us to a table, then sat down next to us, that we had been befriended by the local drunk.

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Punta Arenas

Re pictures: there will be no photo's of Andyb for the forseeable future. This is due to a (frankly brave) visit to a Chilean hairdresser. Nothing shall be said on the matter, except, "Run Forrest, Run".

Posted by bruntonal 09:04 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

semi-overcast 18 °C
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We left Los Antiguos on the party bus courtesy of Chalten travel (full of incredibly young backpackers, so we felt like the teachers on a school outing). It was a 13 hour journey down ruta 40 (known as La Cuarenta to Argentines) and seems to hold a similar charm to Route 66 in the USA. The beautiful landscapes change slightly on the journey down and with the odd sighting of a guanaco, there was nothing else but the passing of five houses and three cars! Due to the toilet being “out of order” on the bus, toilet facilities were rudimentary; the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere, and the boys claimed the bushes to the left, whilst the girls used the bushes to the right. This meant El Chalten, which was our first stop in Parque Nacional Los Glacieres, was a welcome site, at 11pm. El Chalten is a relatively new town, founded by Argentina, in 1985, by "law number 1771/85". This was to establish a base and so to discourage continuing land disputes with Chile (as it is near to the border). Its name means "smoking mountain" in Tehuelche speak (referring to Fitz Roy often being surrounded by a swirl of cloud at its summit). El Chalten also happens to be an excellent base for trekking in the surrounding mountains of the Southern Andes.

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After a days rest, finding our feet around town, we booked a glacier trek. We woke at 3:30am to howling gales and persistent rain, and felt certain that the tour would be cancelled, so we were a little surprised and perturbed when, at 7:00am (weather hadn't changed) the guide said we would be setting off for the mountains! It took 2 hours of walking to reach the first base camp, and receive a welcome cup of hot coffee, before deciding if the weather would permit us to continue on to the glacier. The howling gales had ceased, but the persistant drizzle hadn't! So, off we went to trek for a further 2 hours to reach the glacier. Part of the journey involved crossing the Rio Fitz Roy on a pulley system (we had to be harnessed to a caribina/ropes and pull ourselves upside down across the river).

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Once we saw site of the glacier, the drizzle didn't seem to matter. We had a fabulous 2 hours trekking on the glacier, which being our first time was quite difficult to get the hang of. One important technique is to lean backward and bend your legs slightly when walking down a glacier; we mastered this after Lisa suggested doing "a Mrs Overall impression". Much fun was had pretending to carry a tray, hunching our shoulders, bending our legs and talking in a brummie accent! Even though the weather wasn't kind to us, and we couldn't see the surrounding mountains, it was well worth the effort of 12 hours trekking, and was an unforgettable day.

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Us walking on Glacier Torre

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Other people walking on Glacier Torre!

After another day's rest, Andyb set the alarm for 05:00am sharp, so that we could catch the sunrise on Fitz Roy and surrounding mountains. Mr B was on a mission, and the 50 minute leisurely trek up a hill to catch the phemomenon known as "amanecer de fuego" actually turned into a 15 minute sprint to the top. These are the resulting pictures.
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"Sunrise of fire"

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Fitz Roy at sunrise

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The infamous Cerro Torre. This mountain is technically very difficult to climb (not that we tried!) and many experienced climbers have died in the attempt, one being (the Austrian) Toni Egger. The top of the mountain is almost permanently covered in thick ice and blasted by 200km winds; not for fair weather trekkers like us.

Not satisfied with waking up Mrs B at 05:00am, after a prompt 06:45am breakfast, we set off for a 10 hour round trip to the base of Fitz Roy. This time we were rewarded with beautiful blue skies and a very strong sun (perfect day for Lisa to forget the sunscreen - she still has a VERY red nose - very apt for Christmas!!) We both agree that this is one of the best days that we have had on our (year long) holiday so far. The views were picture postcard, and along the way we spotted the spring flowers and active bird life. Lisa even went for a sneaky wee in the bushes and also saw a little bunny rabbit.
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Laguna de los Tres

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The view we were rewarded with after a 4 hour trek: Fitz Roy and friends, flanked by Laguna de los Tres and (to the left) Laguna Sucia. Above that is Glacier Rio Blanco.

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Close up of Fitz Roy, expertly taken by Lisab

Snap, Crackle and Pop!!! then a BANG!

After a lovely 4 days in El Chalten, we headed off to El Calafate, the Southern end of the park. This town is bigger and much more touristic, as well as expensive. However, it is the base for the impressive Perito Moreno glacier, which we went to see in the afternoon. This was a good choice, as apparently it is much more active later in the day. Great pieces of ice fall off the glacier and crash into the lake, making it sound like cannon fire. However, the best bit is when chunks of ice are freed from underneath the water, and these sizzle and splash to the surface. This makes it feel like an explosion is taking place under the lake. Although an attempt was made to capture this, you get no pre warning before this happens, as obviously light travels faster than sound. So, you'll just have to make do with our account, and a couple of photo's.

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Perito Moreno Glacier

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Posted by bruntonal 10:57 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cueva de las Manos

sunny 26 °C

We booked a tour with Guanacondor company in Perito Moreno to the world heritage site of Cueva de las Manos. Situated in a spectacular canyon (which was created by the Rio Pinturas during the Jurassic period), the cave paintings have survived for over 9300 years, but some are merely 7000 years old. Approaching from the north (as we were) requires a 2 kilometre trek down the steep gorge and into the canyon floor, before climbing up to the caves. The scenery along this trail is very dramatic, and our tour guide pointed out different flora & fauna local to the area, making the journey down as enjoyable as the actual cave visit. The paintings were explained to us by another guide; some are of hunting scenes, but most are of hands, hence the name of the site. These paintings are mainly negatives of left hands, with the odd right hand thrown in. The hand paintings were created by the use of mineral pigments, mixed with saliva and blown from their mouth over their hands. Amongst the many hand paintings, a three fingered and six fingered hand can be seen. The guide explained that this was probably as a result of marrying within the family - sounds like a town not many miles away from Rawtenstall - in a northerly direction!

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The cave is to the right of Lisa's head. Andyb is chewing (not being grumpy)

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Spot the in - breds

Posted by bruntonal 13:01 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Things you didn't know about Andyb

(Lisa's secret film footage)

sunny 22 °C
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Posted by bruntonal 12:58 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

How old?

sunny 27 °C
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Wandering the streets of Gaiman, we came across a children's playground. Lisa "can I go on the slide, can I, can I?", Andyb "of course you can, knock yourself out, love". Upshot was a very sore coccyx. As Lisa limped away, we noticed the big bold sign on the side of the slide which said "for 6-16 year olds only"...serves her right for defying the park laws of Argentina.

Posted by bruntonal 12:55 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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