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Trip Report Ushuaia, Argentina Gateway To Antarctica And More ...

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With an Antarctic trip planned out of Ushuaia, I head down a few days early to check out "El Fin Del Mundo". The End Of The World.

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    USHUAIA ARRIVAL

    I arrive in Ushuaia on Aerolinas Argentina Flight 1872 with no accommodations arranged except for a room at Hotel Las Lengas provided by Quark Expedition as a part of my trip. While this may seem unusual for some it is a normal part of my routine when I travel. I make the assumption that there is always a room available or somewhere to sleep in any city. The difference being the experience and price you will pay in the process.

    I am pleasantly surprise to find free wi-fi available at the airport and this immensely helps my search for nightly accommodations. Using a free booking site I get a good idea of the location and availability of rooms in Ushuaia for the evening. Prices online range from $70 per night to more than $400 per night at local area resorts.

    Having already spent what I consider a small fortune for my trip, I narrow my choices down to the lower end of that price range. Reluctant to book online ($70 per night thru a hotel booking site) without seeing the property I arrange a taxi and head to Hosteria Chalp. It is normally a AR$20 fare into town from the airport but since I have hung around the airport long enough to watch it close, a taxi has to be called from in town to pick me up. This causes me an extra AR$14 a little over US$3.

    I arrive at Hosteria Chalp located at Av. Alem 1839 and immediately get an opportunity to practice my limited Spanish. “Tiene habitaciones anoche?” “Si, matrimonio AR$150”. Having walked down the aisle before I am reluctant to say “I do” but it a heck of a bargain. Had I booked the room online it would have been AR$280 almost six times the price! Ok, I got a little excited, it's more like twice the price. As it turns out I get a room for two nights for US$75.

    My room is clean, well heated, has free wi-fi and breakfast included in the price. Although the hotel has a few quiet spots and great views from the under construction roof top you might become familiar with a loud neighbor's travel plans. For me, I have experienced the same situation in more expensive hotels and always hope for quiet neighbors or good sound insulation when checking in.

    With many hours of daylight here it is easy to lose track of time. It is almost 11pm when I leave Hosteria Chalp for a stroll into town. Crossing the street I follow a dirt road through a small neighborhood where the local rough bunch of canines are checking me out. Before long I am on Magallanes a main street through the town.

    A stop at busy pizzeria and I am having a sampling of empanadas and an Argentinian beer, Quilmes. I am not sure if it is my second Quilmes or forgetting that my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, alright no one's eyes are that big, but I order a “Mozzarella” pizza.

    I am slightly embarrassed when my gigantic and loaded with cheese pizza shows up. I eat a few slices as to not offend the pizza “Godfather” and to show a little respect for the "Family". However, I am now feeling like a cow fish.

    I leave the restaurant about US$10 lighter but with some guilt for ordering so much food. However, it is soon past midnight and a new day has began. I have a fresh start and no more culinary guilt. Back at Hosteria Chalp a full stomach along with a warm clean bed dismisses the need to count sheep.


    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mnKU6rOC1s

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    Sounds like a nice start to your trip...hope the seas are calmer for your adventure to Antartica. Looking forward to reading more! We enjoyed Ushuaia, a bit like the "wild west".

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    A SUNDAY STROLL

    I am awake in time to have a complimentary breakfast at Hosteria Chalp before I set out on a morning stroll to explore Ushuaia.

    Although it is past 10 O'clock in the morning, most of the town still seems to be asleep as I walk towards “El Centro”. Back on Magallanes, I make a brief stop at a memorial honoring war veterans from the Ushuaia area. The memorial is in need of repair but majestic snow cap mountains in the background serves as a nice distraction.

    Panaderia, Panaderia, an alarm is being sounded as my senses perceive a serious threat to my caloric intake for the day. I have discovered by accident, Panaderia Eureka on Don Bosco just south of Magallanes.

    Have I told you how much I love you? Although you are a bit flaky and have a few strawberry freckles, sprinkled with coconut, you drive me crazy! Apparently, the Argentinians have found a delicious way to dress up a croissant and I personally have no objections to it.

    This southern area of Argentina makes many claims to being the end of the world, “El Fin Del Mundo”. If you ever wanted to know how far it is to end of the world then take a hike along San Martin Ave in Ushuaia. Here you can find a marker that will give you the distances to many of the cities around the globe. Bombay, India, 14868km or just about 9300 miles, an easy day walk for you.

    Avenida San Martin is the main street in Ushuaia lined with unique stores and fancy restaurants along with a casino. On a Sunday morning most stores are closed and the town is relatively quite. I notice that even on regular days many businesses are closed from around 1pm until early in the evening.

    Along San Martin you can purchase almost anything you have left at home if you are willing to pay inflated “tourist” prices. Regular prices like less than US$1 for a cold one can still be found at a local grocery store on the west end of San Martin.

    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT1EgyCX4nE

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    USHUAIA WATERFRONT

    Walking down a south inclined street from Avenida San Martin, I find myself along the waterfront. There is a slight chill in the air from a blowing wind but the scenery around me is gorgeous. The city is practically encompassed by towering mountains. Distinct vegetation lines along with snow can be seen on some of them in the background.

    The seas are calm along the waterfront where a grounded tugboat rest secured as a memorial to other ships that have experienced the ocean's rage. Near the shore the water is almost crystal clear as ducks take a morning swim. In the distance, I can see the pier I hope to be sailing from in a few days and continue my stroll in that direction.

    Just before reaching the port I stop at a local gas station and pick up a pair of empanadas and a snack for about AR$9. This time I am smart enough to not try to order a pizza at the same time. In less than five minutes I am at Puerto Ushuaia, “The Most Active Gateway To Antarctica.”

    At Puerto Ushuaia you can find many boat operators that offer tours of Beagle Canal. Most sail three times a day at 0930, 1500 and 1900. For AR$180 plus AR$6 port tax, I sign up for the 1500 (3pm) tour which still gives me a few hours to explore a bit more of Ushuaia. Next, Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia, The Maritime Museum of Ushuaia.

    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFgpE9v1kTA

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    EL PRESIDO MILITAR

    Imagine it is 1896 and you have been convicted of a major crime in Argentina, you might just find yourself here, El Presidio Militiar in Ushuaia.

    Although the merger of the military prison and the jail in Ushuaia did not occur until 1911 by Presidential decree, most of the country's hardened criminals were shipped to this part of Argentina. The first group of convicts arrived by naval ship in January 1896.

    Housed near the coal burning engine room, the prisoners endured miserably hot conditions often breathing in toxic coal dust on their journey south. Some would say inhumane conditions while others believed it was just a part of their punishment.

    One benefit of the prison here was that it lead to the construction of the world's most southern railway in 1911.

    In 1947 the prison was closed and the property transferred to Navy. El Presido Militiar an interesting part of the the history of “El fin del mundo”.

    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk5JVErSmoI

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    MARITIME MUSEUM

    At the west end of El Centro, just a few blocks up from Avenida San Martin you will find the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia. The museum is located on the boundary of the Naval Station in Ushuaia. For a AR$60 (US$15) entrance fee you can spend a few hours exploring the history of the area and learning a bit about Antarctica.

    At first, the fee seems a bit steep but it is valid for a 48 hour period. Finding out that the museum does not receive any government support makes me feel a little better about departing with my dollars.

    The museum occupies two floors on what was formerly a military prison. Entering the museum there are models of the many ships that have navigated the area since it's earlier recorded history. Ferdinand Magellan's, Trinidad (1520) and many others. Magellan was the first European who sighted the land here and called it “Tierra de los Fuegos”, The Land Of Fire.

    Here, I also learn about the Yamana's the original Ushuaia settlers. The Yamana's specialized in making canoes from the bark of large trees which they removed in a delicate process. Using these canoes in search of food, the Yamanas followed the seal population to this area. When the Europeans first arrive here there were over 4,000 Yamana's, today only 1 one pure female Yamana remains.

    Besides local history there are also other interesting exhibits about Antarctica and marine activity in the area. The museum houses a replica of the original “El Fin del Mundo” lighthouse which is quite different than I expected a lighthouse to be. Originally situated on an island far southeast of here, sailors often complained about it's ineffectiveness in helping them navigate the area. The sailor's case is further made buy the numerous ship wrecks that have occurred in the treacherous waters surrounding the lighthouse. Apparently, it's beacon was less visible than stated.

    The lighthouse was destroyed in a storm and never replaced. Now, a “Tourist Lighthouse” has been constructed in Beagle Canal and it is known as “The End Of The World” lighthouse.

    Learning more about the area at the museum becomes a nice way to spend a few hours in Ushuaia. The US$15 admission fee becomes worth it to me, after all. Dollars well spent.

    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENplpoqtyS0

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    THE BEAGLE CANAL

    It is 2:45pm and a small group is gathering just outside of el Puerto Ushuaia. As the numbers grow, I begin to see a few people I recognize from earlier in the day. Soon there is about fourteen of us signing documents outside of Navegacion Canal Beagle clearing the way for us to begin an afternoon tour.

    Having earlier randomly chosen Navegacion Canal Beagle from the numerous other tour operators along the waterfront, I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of people that have shown up. When I first signed up about 3 hours ago there were only about four people on the list for the tour. This initially had caused me concern that the tour maybe canceled. While I would have other options, I was attracted to Navegacion because of the limited number of passengers that would be on board their boats. Only a maximum of only twelve passengers per boat.

    Our numbers have reached 14 and the crew begins to do some calculations. My name is called, “Don” and I am separated with a group of just four other passengers. Interestingly, the day before I sat behind two of the passengers on my flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia.

    In about twenty minutes five of us are on the “Yate Tango” maneuvering away from the dock with a crew of two. The waters are a bit chopped but we are already excited because their have been reports of whale sightings in the harbor.

    We are no more than ten minutes into the tour when a column of water sprays into the air. This elevates the excitement on board. The AR$186 (US$45) cost of the tour has already been worth it. The ocean sprays the side of the boat as it accelerates to the area of the vertical momentary waterfall. We then drift silently hoping for another sighting, looking in all directions with our cameras ready.

    A huge white form cap appear to the right side of the boat then something dark gray in color rises to the surface and then becomes more defined as hump. A v-shaped points skyward then disappears. Smiles and excitement remains just a bit longer as the whale descends to depths that we would never know. These magnificent mammals can remain submerged up to 45 minutes. We have been fortunate to sight one this afternoon.

    Our next stop is at Faro Les Eclaireurs, the new “End Of The World Lighthouse”. This area of the Beagle Canal has a dismal history of ship wrecks and scanning the area the reason can be easily seen in daylight. Numerous rocks peak just above the surface but no doubt dissappear when the tide rises. Waiting to claim the uninitated that navigate the area without due diligence or proper equipment and guidance.

    Just to the south of the lighthouse a small colony of birds can be seen nesting on another small island before we leave the area for nearby Isla de los Lobos. Sea Lion Island.


    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfChvM_5eQM

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    SEA LION AND BIRD ISLAND


    As a part of tour of Beagle Canal we make a “figuratively speaking” stop at Sea Lion and Bird Island. Using his well practiced skills, our Captain maneuvers the “Yate Tango” within mere feet of the rocky slope of the islands.

    This allows us to get great views of the colonies of sea lions basking in the sun. Here, a huge alpha male watches over his harem while rejected males and females form small communities of their own.

    In one area of the rocky slopes fresh blood stains show evidence of a recent confrontation.

    On Bird Island several different species of birds are gathered, enjoying the great outdoors on a pleasant afternoon. We are told that there are some birds present that migrate over 800 miles to Antarctica from here, non-stop. Nature and it's ecosystem can be so fascinating, almost to the point of a Ripley's believe or not moment.

    With a pair of binoculars we can spot some nesting birds while others walk around the colony as if shopping in a mall. They are oblivious to our presence and it makes them more interesting to watch. Just birds, doing what birds do best, being birds.

    I am glad this place is for the birds.


    Slideshow:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EQxmL7bkYQ

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    Treesa,

    Did you get to spend much time in Ushuaia? I almost took a regular cruise ship out of BA to explore this part of the world but opted for a trip straight to Antarctica from Ushuaia. I am glad I did.

    Lots more meanderings to come, hope my sharing brings back some great memories for you :)

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    BRIDGE ISLAND

    Continuing my tour of Beagle Canal, a natural sheltered waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, we make a stop on Bridge Island. Docking we are joined by our sister tour ship, Yate Che.

    Since we are no longer on the boats that are limited to twelve passengers, I am under the impression that we will be doing a group activity as others have gathered near a rocky beachfront. A humorous gentle scolding and I am pulled back into my original fold. Each group will take turns hiking to a vista point that will give us 360 degree views of the area.

    The weather although a bit windy is so beautiful that we are looking forward to it. During our climb we are given good lessons about the vegetation and plant life on the island. At a “calafate” plant we are told that it is a fruit one must try but at the right time. Locals use it in all types of foods including ice cream. Legend has it that if you eat “calafate” you will always come back to Patagonia. However, you must choose the right time to eat it. At the wrong time of the year you will just come back to the bathroom!

    One piece of the landscape that looks like a rock covered with moss is actually a plant. When rubbed it almost smells like Pine-sol.

    Next, we get a comical history lesson about “Yamana Viagra”. A plant with let's just say flowers with an interesting shape that when touched drips with a sap as sweet as honey. Minutes later and we are sampling wild berries that are like miniature tart apples. In a matter of a few feet we have sampled nature's No. 19, Sweet & Sour but without broccoli.

    The short hiking here is amazing not only for the view but the interesting footing beneath us. The path has a spongy carpet feel to it and I wonder aloud the reason for it. It seems the ground here stays relatively cold which affects the decomposition of tree and plant life. The roots only partially decomposed and never becomes compacted soil. Picking up a layer of top soil it crumbles in my hand and blows away in the wind.

    With the view that I am enjoying from the top of Bridge Island combined with my earlier whale sightings this tour has now been twice, if not more worth the money. I am not sure if other tours offer similar outings but Navegacion Canal Beagle earns a 5 Star recommendation.

    Photos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN6qzHUsSfM

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    Thanks, DMB. Yes, we only had about 8 or 9 hours in Ushuaia. Could have stayed a week exploring the area. Perhaps one day we can return but in the meantime lots of other places to explore. Hope you'll get some sunny skies pretty soon.

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    YAMANA LIFE ON BRIDGE ISLAND

    Back near our original starting point we are drawn to the remains of a sheltered hole in the ground within a few feet of the beachfront. Here, we are given stories that may be just a little different than the history books. One point I found interesting was the fact that women did most of the fishing. This sheltered hole overlooking a small beachfront is believed to have been home to a Yamana family one of the native settlers of the area.

    Despite the cold weather in the area, the Yamanas lived practically without clothing. With an increased lung capacity, their higher than normal body temperature help them to cope in winter. Animal oils was also smeared on their skin for protection.

    With homes that were not properly ventilated, Yamana's often had permanent red eye due to the high level of carbon dioxide produced while heating their homes. Too bad Visine had not yet been invented. When European missionaries arrived in the area they felt sorry for these poor, naked, red-eye people and went about “civilizing” them.

    Treating fevers that did not exist, providing medications and clothing where not necessary. Unfortunately, many of the Yamanas died in the process of being civilized. The missionaries found about 4,000 of them when they arrived, today only one pure female Yamana remains in the area.

    Not only are we given a history lesson, a brief demonstration shows us how some of the local Yamana jewel was made. An enriching experience draws to a close as we cast off from Bridge Island and sail for Ushuaia.

    A glimpse of another bird colony and we are offered coffee, tea, hot chocolate or beer inside the warm cabin of the “Yate Tango”. I and a few others decide to add a sampling or two of a local beer to our fantastic tour experience. Salud!


    Photos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK1forY9LvM

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    CAR RENTAL

    Returning from a fantastic tour of Beagle Canal, I make some inquires about a rental car for tomorrow. I find myself at Cinco Estrellas (5 Star) Rent A Car on 9 de Julio 128 where I can get a car for AR$230 a day, about US$60. My plan is to visit the National Park and some other areas around Ushuaia and be able to do so at my own pace.

    The admission to the National Park is AR$65 about US$16. However, I am told that there is free access to the park before 8am or after 10pm. Apparently, this is when the toll booth is unattended. Although I am not one to get much worms, I make this a part of my plan to visit the National Park about 25km outside of the city. This requires me to pick up the rental car this evening which turns out to be no problem.

    A light rain is falling as I walk back into town. The rain does not last long as it was a blow off from the clouds in the surrounding mountains. The town sits in a seaside valley where the weather is greatly influenced by the nearby mountains.

    Checking out my car I am made aware of one interesting local traffic rule in the city, traffic going up or down a hill has the right of way. It now makes sense why there are not to many stop signs around town. I wonder if this system would work in San Francisco?

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    LOCAL CUISINE

    On the way back to Hosteria Chalp I stop at a local “Take A Way” restaurant that is filling the air with the mouth watering sweet scent of an outdoor barbeque grill. My eyes are growing as I order a “sampling” of chicken, beef and vegetables. I don't think my translation of “sampling” or “pequeno” worked really well or they were looking at the size of my eyes as I ended up with some huge portions. For about US$10, I have enough food to feed a small army.

    Back in my room, the feasting begins. The grilled chicken is moist with a sweet orange flavor that should put the “Colonel” on notice. He now has some “finger lickin” competition from “El Fin Del Mundo.”

    The beef turns out to be a little of a disappointment as it is not as tender as I would expect. The skin has a flavorful salty sweet taste but with the texture of beef jerky. The vegetables are a pickled mix of carrots, cauliflower, peppers and from what I can gather other local vegetables. Somewhere in the combination there are pieces of a melon type fruit.

    A Calafate Ale, Cerveza Austral makes sure my meats and vegetables reach their temporary destination. I fall asleep trying to determine how I can keep my eyes from growing as big as my stomach.

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    MARTIAL GLACIER

    With short nights, daylight comes creeping through my window too early for me to welcome it. The comfort of a warm bed adds to my resistance and it is well pass 8am before I barely rise. My plans for an early morning “free” entrance to the National Park are crushed.

    I must check out of Hosteria Chalp and do so after a nice steaming shower that puts some “shine” into my morning. It is about 11am as I am packing up my rental car while rearranging in my head possible plans for the day. Outside there is a noticeable change in the wind and temperature from yesterday. A light snow with huge wet flakes soon begins to fall and a gray fog reduces the visibility considerably.

    I briefly enjoy the moment and then take refuge inside my “Ka”. Uncertain of the effect of this weather on driving conditions, I patiently wait for the snow shower to end. I gladly accept the sun's return and set out for Martial Glacier. A short drive through town and I am climbing a twisting road lined on both sides with lush green vegetation.

    A clear view of towering mountains against a now bright blue sky opens up before me. Here is where the hundred dollar a night and up resorts are located in Ushuaia. Rounding a curve, I don't know if it is because I am hypnotized by the scenery or if there is a local mountain driving law I am unaware of but I come within inches of a taxi racing down the hill. Obviously, he has seen the scenery here too often to be captivated by it.

    Parked at the base of a ski resort I begin my hike to Martial Glacier already with an elevated view of Ushuaia behind me. Encountering a couple of hikers on the way down, “Hola's” are exchanged then I inquiry about the length of the hike to the glacier. “Dos horas”, two hours. Maybe not too bad except it begins with a rather steep rocky climb. From another hiker I learn the glacier is not all that visible today.

    Already, it seems to me that no matter the length of time or the conditions at the glacier the journey will be worthwhile. I am sure it is a combination of the spectacular scenery, smooth faced towering mountains on both sides, brilliant white snow cap jagged ones in front of me along with the altitude that literally takes my breath away.

    I make momentary stops under the warming sun to be awed and inspired as I allow my breathing to return to normal. Reaching a ski chair platform, the terrain flattens a little as water from fresh melting snow cascades over smooth pebbles and giant rocks. The sound is relaxing.

    Pass the ski chair area an “easy” climb is made through a wooden area where the path is muddy from recent rains. This path does have a low grade with natural and man made steps to help you along the way. Exiting the wooded area puts me in a wide open valley. The mountains seem so close that I can reach out and touch them. However, I must make a slight descent and cross a stream to continue on.

    Now in an elevated deep valley I have even better views of Ushuaia and the port area below. I watch for a moment while a westerly storm blankets the city with an afternoon rain shower. Here there are blue skies with the sun attempting to warm the chilled air.

    As I continue my hike the terrain becomes more treacherous and the way less defined. The path to the glacier makes a steep ascent and I can see “ants” moving around on the distant slopes. Soon finding good footing becomes a matter of choosing careful steps. At some points, only a blunt rock may save you if you slip and fall. With the higher altitude comes more awe inspiring views that I use as an opportunity to catch my breathe.

    Around each corner and over each hill I think I am getting closer to my destination but it seems to keep moving further away. Others more equipped and able pass me by as I find myself having to take in more awe inspiring views.

    I am not sure of my altitude but I don't think I have ever hiked this high before in such mountainous terrain. At the point that the terrain becomes uncomfortable for me, I reach my personal summit but never the glacier. Seeing the glacier would have been the “icing on the cake” but I am more than satisfied just having a few crumbs.

    Looking down I realize my initial descent will be just as challenging as my ascent. Fortunately, others are climbing up and I will have an idea of where a good trail might be. At certain points, I take side steps like a horse on the loose gravel beneath my feet. Eventually, I am sitting by a stream reflecting how fortunate I am to have enjoyed an afternoon mountain hiking in Argentina.

    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XFSs9T03rs

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    TREN DEL FIN DEL MUNDO

    Having spent the morning in quest of reaching Martial Glacier and falling short, I set out on a drive to explore a bit more of Ushuaia. Leaving Martial Glacier, I find Highway 3 headed to Parque National.

    The black top road soon turns into one that is compact gravel. The mountains surrounding the city are on my right and in the distance the Ushuaia's coastline on the left. The early morning and afternoon showers are long gone and nothing remains except sunshine and clear blue skies.

    Although I have no plans to be taken for a ride, I stop at Tren Del Fin Del Mundo. I had been warned earlier that the train is not worthwhile and I now tend to agree. The train makes a semi-circle loop towards the National Park (which is an additional AR$65 entrance fee) and provides views that you can get on your own. The train fee ranges from AR$130-300 about US$32-75.

    Inside the main building there is a gift and coffee shop. There are also some historical artifacts on display which are interesting. Like a few other venues here much is made of “El Fin del Mundo” and the train ride is no exception.

    Just down the road from Tren Del Fin Del Mundo is the entrance to Parque National. Unfortunately, only pesos are accepted at the entrance toll booth. With just dollars in my pocket, I make a u-turn and head back into town.

    I am later told it is better to visit the park as a part of a small tour group if you are short on time. Most tours are AR$130-160 and I believe include the park's entrance fee.

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    EAST MEETS WEST

    It is the afternoon before I sail to Antarctica and a prearranged room awaits me at Hotel Las Lengas which is on my way back into town. Slight detours through the western neighborhoods of Ushuaia for sightseeing and I eventually end up there.

    My room is a shared double and my as yet unknown roommate has already checked in. I make my way to Room 203 and immediately feel like I have under packed for my trip. There are two large suitcases in the room along with a computer and a fair amount of camera equipment. Peter, returns to the room and introductions are made. I can tell I am going to like hanging out with this guy from the former GDR, East Germany.


    Here's Peter:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yviU-iefQ2I


    At 6:30pm we head down stairs for our pre-trip briefing and then agree to meet up in town for dinner at 9pm. Since neither one of us is all that familiar with downtown Ushuaia I suggest (with an ulterior motive) the “only” Irish Bar in town on San Martin as our meeting point. Peter suggests the intersection of San Martin and 9 de Julio near the rental car office as a backup.

    Returning my car a few minutes early, I have time for another walk around this quaint town then peek into the Irish Bar looking for Peter before stepping inside next door at a Panaderia. Rows and rows of my new love are waiting for me. AR$4 and three of us have a nice reunion. Still a bit flaky but glazed and sprinkled with coconut. How can I not be in love?

    9pm comes and still no Peter. I wait a few more minutes then retrace my steps down San Martin. “Peter, Peter”, I call from a distance as I see him standing somewhat confused near the intersection of 9 de Julio. Looking up 9 de Julio the reason for Peter's confusion becomes clear. There's an Irish Bar on 9 de Julio and Peter was told by a local it was also the “only” Irish Bar in town.

    I am glad the cold war is over because I don't think neither Peter or I would be good spies. Did you say Checkpoint Charlie or Bravo?

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    DINING IN USHUAIA

    A successful rendezvous with my temporary roommate, Peter, and we are headed down Avenida St. Martin discussing dinner options. Although the Irish Bar was our original meeting point it is quickly discarded as an option. We are in search of good local fare.

    The aroma flowing from some restaurants along the Avenida makes this challenging but we soon narrow down our choices. Window shopping, we spot an open charcoal pit grill surrounded by various meats including full split animals dripping with flavorful juices. That seals the deal for us.

    At the corner of Avenida San Martin and Gdor Gogoy we step into a very crowded and busy RM Moustaccho. Although filled primarily with tourists this is an almost foolproof sign that we are in for a good dining experience.

    A few minutes wait and we are soon perusing the wine list. For me, the choice is easy. Not red or white, I want almost the finest bottle of “Vino del Fin del Mundo”.

    For AR$32 per bottle, Postales Del Fin Del Mundo from Patagonia, Argentina fits the bill. Peter also wants a bottle of water.

    He asks, “Is with gas, OK?” For his benefit, I agree as I usually have no need for additional gas. I guess it's a European thing.

    For starters Peter has a salad and I select an order of small fried fish. My order of small fried fish turns into a plate piled mile high with a large portion of a “sardine” type fish with lemon wedges. No way I am going to eat all of them and a main course as well. Adding lemon juice, I fish one of them from my plate, then another, then another as I start having vision problems, again!

    Our main courses arrive, a steak for Peter with potatoes, a mix meat skewer for me with vegetables and “papas fritas”. Good conversation, trying to solve the world's problems while sipping the finest “Vino del Fin del Mundo” and we are enjoying ourselves at Moustaccho.

    In my peripheral vision I notice what I perceive to be a few men in black and white watching us from a distance. Focusing on the situation, I quickly realize that the restaurant is completely emptied of customers except for two guys. One from Germany, one from America.

    AR$250, about US$60 including tips and we “politely kick” ourselves out of Moustaccho after a nice dining experience.

    It's past 11:30pm as we begin our walk back to Hotel Las Lengas. While we are both excited about sailing for Antarctica tomorrow afternoon, Peter's enthusiasm is raising an eye brow.

    “Don, we must get up early tomorrow. The Ioffe arrives between 6 and 7am, I want pictures”. It is already almost tomorrow and I am certainly not a morning person but if this team is going to work like Starsky and Hutch or Gin and Tonic then I must compromise.

    We finally arrive back at Hotel Las Lengas. More conversations and some logistic planning for our early morning operation, it's almost 2am!

    Good night Peter, Good night Don Boy.


    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHRFH_hjBBM

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    OPERATION IOFFE

    Surprising myself, I am up at 6am for Operation Ioffe. No coffee and donuts for this crack team of covert operators. Checking our equipment, we take a few test shots from the grassy knoll outside our hotel and decide that being closer is going to be better.

    Not much of the town is awake as we stroll down to the waterfront. It is chilly and we will both be glad when the sun gets higher in the southern sky. Against a gray seascape our target appears as a small white box in the distance. I fire off some long distance shots and don't like the results.

    I think we are going to have to use a multi shot approach if this is going to be a successful mission. We are also going to need some video but I don't think our footage is going to make us famous. It seems the ship is hardly moving but it slowly grows bigger and bigger.

    We click away and then change our positions as the Akademik Ioffe berths in Ushuaia. I think our multi shot approach has worked. I wonder how long it will take others to figure out that there was a second camera.

    We now have about an hour and a half before we must check out. Peter needs to take a “dulche” (shower) and I need to make plans for the rest of the day. I head to Puerto Ushuaia, Peter back to the hotel.


    Photos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwckhmmUCQw

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    LAST DAY IN USHUAIA

    A AR$12 cab ride back to Hotel Las Lengas and my one bag is carried to the lobby for delivery to Cabin 314 on the Ioeffe. Unfortunately, Peter and I will not be sharing the same cabin on the ship. However, Operation Antarctica will soon begin and nothing will come between us.

    What is Peter without Pan, Cake without Ice Cream, Ebony without Ivory?

    After a shower, we begin our last minute packing and preparation for crossing the Drake Passage later this evening. Peter has some medication “a patch” that he thinks I should try. Why not?


    Preparing For The Drake Passage:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvwG08IBHmI


    Our preparation done, we head downstairs for a nice free breakfast. Here the lounge gives us nice views of Ushuaia's waterfront. A delicious sampling of cakes, pastries, fruits, juices and hot tea but sadly no empanadas. We both have some time to get caught up on e-mails.

    Afterward, we browse the Drake Passage weather at: http://www.passageweather.com/.

    Our novice analysis tells us our crossing will not be too bad. We are seeing more greens than orange or reds.

    Cautioned the night before to bring any fragile and important items like beer, wine or whiskey in our carry on bags, a stop is planned at the local grocery store on our way to the port. There are no typical cruise ship restrictions or searches during the boarding process.


    Walk To Akademik Ioffe:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coZzkoTM0ho


    At the local grocery store Peter and I take turns watching each other backpacks outside the store as we shop for our personal preferences. With smiling faces and building excitement our backpacks are a little heavier as we continue making steps to our rendezvous point.

    “Don, must we turn here?”

    “No, it is one more block then down the hill from Avenida St. Martin.” This is where our fellow passengers have gathered as a group of buses patiently wait to take us to the Akademik Ioffe.

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    A BRUSH WITH ANTARCTICA HISTORY

    The Akademik Ioffe sits in the background as we arrive at our meeting point just to the west of the port entrance. It's around 3:20pm and we still have about a half an hour before the buses will leave for the ship.

    This gives me a few minutes to bond with Adrien de Gerlache and a bit of Antarctica history. In December 1897, Gerlache, a Belgian Polar Explorer sailed from Ushuaia and was the first expedition to winter over in Antarctica.

    More Antarctica history is available at nearby Museo Territorial but there is just not enough time. I have another mission to accomplish. Not sure about how we will pass our free time at sea, I make an inquiry about card games available on the ship and get an uncertain answer.

    Still with about 20 minutes to spare I leave the waiting area in search of playing cards which become a challenge to find. At several stores there are local decks with 40 or 50 cards but not 52. Unfortunately, I do not have time to learn new games with them.

    I have already lined up some potential victims (students) to teach “Spades”. On Avenida San Martin I get lucky and find a set of regular playing cards.

    Next time I will remember to bring my own and save about three bucks!

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    SAILING FROM USHUAIA

    With our passports and for some return flight documents collected by Quark personnel we begin boarding buses. I am another step closer to fulfilling a dream.

    Like Adrien de Gerlache did over 100 years ago, I am on my way to The Blue Continent. This brings an excitement that even now as I write about gives me goose bumps.

    I am like a kid going on my first school field trip, not quite sure what is out there but I know I am going to have a lot of fun.

    Don't cry for me Ushuaia, I am on my way to Antarctica!


    Video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4XvJObSobQ

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