Now: Argentina’s End of the World

February 13, 2019, Trip: Argentina
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February 13th, 2019

We continued on the crappy gravel road in Argentina to the city of Rio Grande on the Atlantic Coast – last time we saw the Atlantic was back in July 2017 in northern Colombia.  It’s still very windy here as we are still in Patagonia but the temperature is in the high teen’s C – high 60’s F so much more bearable.

We found a tire repair shop and had the spare fixed.  Unfortunately we also found a small bulge near the rim so this brand new tire (one of the two we bought back in Santiago) will now become our spare.  After grocery shopping we made our was to a YPF gas station for the night.  There is only one actual campground in this city and it does not take larger vehicles.  We will stay in town for at least one more night as we want to get laundry done and we still have two weeks before our cruise.  Rio Grande is not really a tourist stop but for us, it’s a large enough city to stock up before continuing south.  Once again, since we’ve just crossed the border are out of fresh produce, dairy etc.

We are now on the Atlantic Ocean! which we’ve not seen since northern Colombia.  The gas station is located right next to the malecon so we have a view from the rig.

Memorial to Falklands War

Rio Grande’s malecon/boardwalk

The Atlantic Ocean with wind surfers in the distance

You see this sign alot – “The Malvinas are Argentina’s” (Falklands)

In the morning, we noticed a Toyota land cruiser with a pop up roof next to us with Peruvian plates; Josh is from Michigan and his girlfriend, Gricel, is Venezuelan.  He lived in Peru for a couple of years, met her and bought this vehicle to travel in. A few minutes later a Chilean camper van pulled up with an older Australian couple, Pat & John, and the six of us chatted for quite a while.  Our plan was to get laundry done today and maybe camp at a quieter YPF station tonight a bit out of town.  After the others left, we locked up Tigger and went for a walk.  As we are now back in the land of the three hour lunch/siesta, it’s now too late to go to the laundromat.  We went to Subway for lunch and then went back to drive Tigger closer to the laundry.  It opened at 3:30 and we managed to get all our laundry in one machine and less than 75 minutes later it was all done and we made our way to the outskirts of Rio Grande to the gas station.  By now, the winds had increased such that a dust storm was in progress around town and as we left town, the air cleared somewhat but the gas jockey said the winds were now 120 kmh! and we’d be better off sleeping in town as there was no shelter from it out here.  The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was super wicked.  Today, it maybe hit 17 C / mid 60’s F and it felt much better than a few days ago even with the wind.

So back we went and lo and behold, Pat and John were back as they’d been unable to refill their propane tank since the plant closed at 2 pm so they were spending another night.  Just before dinner, Heffalump arrived and after a short chat with them, we went back inside to make and have dinner.

Friday, we thought we’d take a chill day as we are still ahead of schedule so Pat & John and well as Steffi and Joe left but we hung around. It was mostly cloudy and cooler today with scattered showers.

Saturday morning we awoke to beautiful sunny skies and after a hot shower (for 50 cents each!) we hit the road and continued once again, south.  It was pretty windy but the road was paved and the going was good.

Our destination today is another  “the end of the world” – as far south as you can drive in Argentina on the island of Tierra del Fuego.  The drive was quite scenic.  It runs along the Beagle Channel – this is the most southern part of Argentina and the island you see on the other side belong to Chile.

After driving through much grasslands, we reached a mountain range and had to drive through a pass; on the other side the drive was quite scenic before our turnoff:

We made a few stops along the End of the World Road along the Beagle Channel:

 

We pulled into little booth at Estancia Harberton where you don’t have to pay to enter their grounds (now a nature reserve) but they ask that you get a free permit to wild camp on their property.  They also offer tours of the ranch property and a museum of maritime animal bones – we plan to do that tomorrow.  The weather is too good today to spend indoors!

The entire road is about 90 km /55 miles long and in pretty good shape until just before the check in point so we aired down a bit and carried on.  We made it to the “end of the world” but there was no fanfare or even a sign.  There’s a small navy office there and not much else.  BUT: we were at S54.98°!!!!!

the red circle on the right is the Navy Base at the end of the road – not as “exciting” as the End of the Road in Chile we’re afraid

We have now traveled 103,515 km / 64,321 miles since we left Victoria, Canada in June 2014 to this most southern point of Argentina.

The closest two places to camp near there were both occupied so we traveled back up the road to a spot right on the Beagle Channel with foot access to a sandy beach – a rarity around here.    Here we could see cruise ships go past, many, many birds and just kept pinching ourselves to remember where we were!

Shortly after setting up, Josh & Gricel showed up enroute to the end of the road and after they got there, they returned for happy hour. The sun was still shining and it made it warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the view.

Next morning Fran went for a short walk watching birds on the beach while Doug went for a jog.

we took it easy and then while standing outside the rig, Josh, joined us and we saw whales!   Doug had seen a pair of dolphins on his run and Fran saw them while enjoying her morning tea admiring the view.  We weren’t sure what type of either we saw but we saw them.

After chatting for a while, we left promising to meet up at a different campsite and if they weren’t there by 5:30 we’d come looking for them (Josh has been having a few tire issues and didn’t want to get stranded).

We got to the Estancia check in booth and bought tickets for the tour but wanted to have lunch in their restaurant first.

We went to where the tour started and because we preferred a tour in English, we ended up being the only ones who did and got a guide for just the two of us. Camilla, took us through the various buildings, showed us the home which is still lived in by a member of the original Bridges family, one of the three cemeteries and then the small forest on the property where we learned of some of the local trees and saw two huts built to show how they would have looked as made by the indigenous.

It took about an hour and then we did a ten minute tour of the bone museum – but here we learned that we’d probably seen a humpback whale and its calf (as they’d been observed in the channel lately)

and that the dolphins we’d seen were probably Commerson dolphins.

(not our photos)

Thomas Bridges (c. 1842 – 1898) was an Anglican missionary and linguist, the first to set up a successful mission to the indigenous peoples in Tierra del Fuego.

He was found abandoned as a child on a bridge in  Bristol, England, by George Despard, a chaplain  who adopted him and another boy educating them in a private school that he ran. Later, upon being told of the adoption, Thomas “chose for himself the surname Bridges in honor of the meeting place that had saved his life.”

Thomas later accompanied his father to Argentina as a missionary. After an attack by indigenous people, in 1869 Despard left the mission at Keppel Island in the Falkland Islands, to return with his family to England. At the age of 17, Bridges stayed with the mission as its new superintendent. In the late 1860s, he worked to set up a mission near the town of Ushuaia, along the southern shore of Tierra del Fuego Island.

Ordained and married during a trip to Great Britain in 1868-1869, Bridges returned to the Falkland Islands with his wife, Mary Ann Varder who was from Harberton, England (hence the name of the ranch). They settled at the mission at Ushuaia, where four of their six children were born. He continued to work with the indigenous peoples for nearly 20 more years. On Bridges’ retirement from service in 1886, the Argentine government gave him a large grant of land. He became a sheep and cattle rancher.

As a young man, Bridges had learned the indifenous  language of the Yamana and closely studied the culture over his lifetime. Over more than a decade, he compiled a grammar and dictionary in Yamana-English of more than 30,000 words. His son. Lucas, donated the work to the British Library of London in 1930. Part of the dictionary was published in 1933, then consisting only of the Yamana-English portion. That was edited and published commercially in 1987, since reprinted in 2011. An English-Yamana manuscript, dated 1865, was discovered in the British Library by Alfredo Prieto. The two portions have been published together online at the Patagonian Bookshelf website to provide free access.

We drove on to the planned campsite, but no Josh and Gricel.  We waited until 5:45 and then drove back 16 km until we met them headed our way (they said they’d not heard the time we’d mentioned) but at least they had no issues.

Shortly after setting up, we had happy hour in Tigger as it was rather cool and then it began to rain so they returned to their rig to set up before it got much wetter out and make sure they were in a good wind sheltered spot.

Despite rain overnight, Monday was clear, sunny but cool.  We said “hasta luego” and made our way to Ushuaia – the alleged southernmost city in the world.  We had thought about a waterfall hike enroute but the trailhead said private property so we changed our minds.  There was another spot we wanted to hike about 12 kms before town but it was recommended not to do if it had recently rained; since it had rained the past two nights we’ll leave it for now in the hopes of better weather – I know, we are pussies!

We pulled into the first YPF gas station for internet, showers and to spend our first night.  We still have ten days before our cruise.  Josh and Gricel showed up and we chatted while using the Internet and then they left for town.

We spent a rather quiet night for a gas station camp and then when into the city to check it out.  We first stopped at the travel agency we’d booked our cruise with; Fran received her FitBit and we both got a gift bag of goodies from Freestyle Adventures.

We then went for lunch at Hard Rock Ushuaia to celebrate our arrival at the end of the world.  It was a good lunch and surprisingly, not overpriced.

We decided to try and spend the night in a parking lot near the docks where we understood many overlanders camp and meet.  The lot was full so we parked on the street outside and spent a rather noisy night.

At the Tourism Office, you can get a pair of passport stamps:

It was raining this morning and it was cold for us.  We have decided we are not rainy weather hikers so the three hiking areas we wanted to check out were “off our radar” for a few days as the forecast is not good.  We did walk across the street to visit the “Museo Fin del Mundo” (Museum of the end of the world) for about an hour and the accompanying “Casa Antigua”.  We stopped by a monument to unity

And the spot where in 1992 they buried a time capsule to commemorate 500 years since Columbus discovered the Americas and it is set to be opened in 2492.

We then went to pick up groceries and drove back to the YPF station to use the good wifi and there we met Cathy & Derek (whom we’d first met back at the Marble Caves in Chile).  We chatted with them inside while on the internet and they left mid afternoon to go have their celebratory meal for arriving here.  It rained pretty much all day and just felt damp – like we were back in Vancouver or Seattle!

We spent that night at the YPF station and after hot showers (for a dollar!) in the morning, we headed to Tierra Del Fuego National Park as the weather looked pretty good.

After paying the park entry fee (about $12) that allows you to stay in the park three days and camp free for two nights, we headed to our first hike – Pampa Alto where we would get to a good viewpoint.  The hike was much drier than we expected and we enjoyed a good walk in the outdoors.

Next we drove to the end of the park road to see the views across Lapataia Bay towards the Beagle Channel and possibly some birds; we saw the former but there was not much of the latter.

We did a very short hike to see some beaver dams but unfortunately no beavers; apparently about 50 Canadian beavers were brought here in the 19th century in the hopes of using them for their pelts but the demand for beaver pelts fell but the number of beavers grew.  There have been times where there are bounties on their little heads to help get rid of them; they make the local streams toxic with their waste and their dead bodies when they pass on so we’ve been told not to drink any stream water.

We made our way in the early afternoon to the Visitor’s Centre where they also have a decent restaurant so we enjoyed a lunch of empanadas before taking another short walk past the Centre to a lake.

Upon returning to the parking lot, we made our way to a campsite right next to a creek and relaxed for the afternoon and had a very quiet night without any precipitation for a change.

Next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we drove back towards the entrance and took the turn off to Ensenada Zaratiegui which is the southern most post office in Argentina.

passport stamp from here

Argentina also “claims” a piece of Antarctica and call this area the geographic centre of the country.

it was still fairly nice out so we made our way across Ushuaia to a hike we’d read about to a small lake that changes colour over the course of the day, weather dependent of course.  The information we had said to try and do it when it has rained too much so since had a complete day of dry with sunshine we decided to tackle it.

The hike started through the woods with some muddy sections which for the most part were avoidable.

Next was a peat bog section with a partly sunken boardwalk.

Then we were back in the woods after which we came out at a huge peat bog section that appeared uncrossable.

Doug found us a way around/through as best as possible but we still got our feet quite wet and mucky.  You come out at a pretty glacial stream

And then follow along side the stream to the lake.

We had some snacks and since the weather was turning (a few snow flakes actually fell), we turned a back.  The hike is about 5 km / 3 mi each way.  We found some actual trail markers on the way back through the bog and it was a bit shorter and although still muddy, a little less wet.

Upon returning to the parking lot there was an industrious bunch of guys with a “parilla” (BBQ) set up selling sausages in a bun so we partook – they were yummy.

It was now mid afternoon and we decided we needed a place to wash/clean our muddy hiking shoes and pants.  There was a free riverside camp halfway back to town so we went there and made use of the river.  There were several tenters on the other side of the river but we stayed on our side since the ground looked more level.  There was a bit of partying going on over there that night but we managed fine.

Next morning, we did some reorganizing and culling of our storage bins and made our way back into the city of Ushuaia.  Being a Saturday we felt we might have a better chance of getting a good parking spot at the lot downtown on the waterfront and we were right.  There were a couple of other rigs here but no one outside.

We went for a walk to find a place Christine had told us about where they offered a “free Antarctica experience”.  The young lady at the Tourist Office told us it was right next door and there would be a clock outside telling us when the next tour was available.

Lucky for us, it was in five minutes!  There was one other woman waiting and then a young man from Spain joined us before the doors opened.  The female guide gave a talk all in Spanish (but she spoke softly and in real Spain Spanish which means different pronunciations) so we did not understand much.  After a short video about some of the famous explorers of the 7th Continent, we were taken into a room for the virtual reality tour.  After strapping in.

The “experience was about five minutes long and then you can have your photo taken and emailed to you

We made our way to find an Irish pub for lunch but it was closed so we found a bakery/café/restaurant recommended on iOverlander and went for sandwiches; we brought back a few pastries for later too.

Ushuaia is a major cruise ship port and not only for Antarctica cruises; the big ones come here too:

Sunday morning after video chatting with Josh and the grand kids, we went to the YPF to have a hot shower, air up the tires, fill our water tank and get gas before using their good WiFi.  It turned our their air machine was not working so we did not get gas but did do everything else before returning downtown, parking and getting a few groceries to last until our cruise on Thursday.

We returned to the downtown lot near the pier for three more nights, enjoying the mostly sunny Sunday/Monday, trying to stay warm Tuesday/Wednesday – the winds really picked up Tuesday am and it was rather icy feeling.  We didn’t do a great deal; the usual walking, online, Spanish, reading.

We’ve watched many a cruise ship come and go; some of the small Antarctica ones and at least one a day of the really large ones.  You can feel it in town if there are many cruise ships in; more tourist buses, people walking etc.

Tuesday morning Doug ventured off in the strong wind/rain to drop off our laundry a few blocks away and we had dentist appointments for teeth cleaning.  Fran also had her chipped baby tooth repaired – all for less than $100.

Wednesday after picking up our outdoor gear from the travel agency, we left the downtown lot to return to the YPF to shower, gas up, fill water tanks, dump etc. before packing.  Here we met a young German couple, Flo and Alina, whom we chatted with for a good while before they headed into the city.

 

WE ARE SUPER EXCITED!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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