Volcanoes, Lakes, Patagonia & More

Old Mar 1st, 2018, 08:00 AM
  #41  
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Punta Arenas

Day 15
Another long days drive but we really appreciated the paved roads! Stopped for good coffee and lemon meringue pie at The Coffee Maker, Puerto Natales, located with a view of the sound.

We had trouble finding our hotel, La Yegua Loca, again thanks to an incorrect Google Maps. As we are getting older, I really need to check out ease of parking and luggage….this hotel is located high on a hill next to the Mirador, and we were lucky to find street parking below. Someone did assist us carrying the luggage up the steep steps, but when we checked out we were told that we’d have to do it ourselves as no one was available.

It was a quirky hotel with a gaucho, antique store type decor. We booked a wonderful room, Le Presebrera, that was large, charming and had a private balcony that looked out over the colorful rooftops out to the Strait of Magellan. The decor featured a lot of natural woods, woolen throws and a plate of homemade cookies.

We walked down to town looking for some art and craft shops and were disappointed. We decided to eat at the hotel, for the convenience of not moving our car or braving a windy walk uphill. The dining room had received good reviews but we found it just OK. It was a very tight space, with heavy wooden tables close together and a large group seated behind us added to the din. I had a scallop chupe dish, a rich stew that wasn’t great, and DH had a lamb shank that was just O K too. The bed, however, was very comfortable.

Day 16:
Breakfast, which had to be ordered the night before, was disappointing. We set off to see the town before we had to return the car and check in for our Ventus Austalis cruise to Tierra del Fuego.

Museo Regional Braun Menendez was an old wool baron’s mansion that’s been preserved with it’s over-the-top European furniture, tapestries, chandeliers and marble fireplaces. The lady loved gilt. The stained glass windows were beautiful. Also inside is a small ethnographic museum of the area.
Then drove out to the Municipal Cemetary noted for some lavish tombs as well as more modest graves all shaded by pruned cypress trees lining the pathways.

Australis had an odd check in procedure where we could arrive between 1 and 3 to check in your bags, then you don’t return to board the ship until 6pm. We had a tough time finding the check in (thanks to Google Maps showing it in a different place) then returned the car to Hertz without incident.

We walked to La Cuisine and had an excellent lunch of Guanaco stew (had to try it despite their cuteness)…tasted like lean and tender pot roast and an excellent King Crab appetizer and profiteroles.

Killed time in the Naval Museum where we could cat-nap off our wine during a documentary showing the rescue of Shakleton’s men. Hit one last shop and finally found something…a copper, bronze and lapis lazuli necklace. There really isn’t a lot to see and do in this town.

Next, Ventus Australis cruise Note: since tax prep beckons, it might be a few days until I can continue.
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Old Mar 1st, 2018, 03:09 PM
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Our gaucho themed room at La Yegua Loca


View of The Strait of Magellan and rooftops from balcony.


Palacio Sara Braun now a Hotel


Tomb at Municipal Cemetery
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 07:22 AM
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Patagonia: Ventus Australis Cruise

Day 16…night
The Australis cruise line operates two identical expedition ships, the Ventus and the Stella, through Patagonia’s most southern waters plying the fjords of Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. The Ventus is brand new, just coming online in early January, 2018, and holds 210 guests. I think we had about 140 on this sailing at the end of January with 60 crew members. We chose the 4 night itinerary from Punta Arenas, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina. You could also do the 3 night reverse itinerary or combine them. If you want to visit this spectacular landscape of glaciers, mountains and churning sea, this is really your only option.

6pm was the magic hour to finally board the ship. The boarding area had a number of craft booths so you could grab that last souvenir from Chile. You had to wait for a bus to drive you out to the ship, which took about 4 buses to load. Upon boarding, we were shown immediately to our lovely cabin, #327, (AAA Superior Double category) which featured a huge floor-to-ceiling picture window, king bed with nautical style reading lamps and one leather chair, ottoman and wood desk with large round wood & brass mirror. The decor was nautical with blue carpeting and neutrals, leather, brass and wood. If you picked a room on the lowest deck, the window was a bit smaller. The bathroom was adequate with a corner shower, single sink and toilet.

After ensuring our luggage was there, we all went to the 5th floor deck Darwin Lounge for a safety briefing. You didn’t need to wear your life jackets. English speakers were in this lounge and Spanish speakers met on the 4th floor lounge. Welcome Pisco Sours, or whatever you wanted, were handed out. By the time we got there, all the tables were taken and we saw that there were appetizer plates on each. When DH asked about how to get one from the bartender, he was shrugged off and said they were only on the tables. We only wanted something to nibble on, chips or nuts, and saw they next night that they did have these.

The ship departed at 8pm and dinner was at 8:15 in the 1st Deck Dining Room where again, they assigned you to a table based on language. We were sat at a table for 6 and met our table mates, an interesting couple from Australia. The other two never showed up. I really didn’t like this arrangement because we sat with the same couple for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 4 nights. While we enjoyed talking with them, we do like meeting a variety of people and this wasn’t conducive to that. The food and wine for every meal was good. The dress code was decidedly casual…the first night especially, most people wore what they’d had on all day.

During the night, the ship crossed the Strait of Magellan and entered the Whiteside Channel between Dawson Island and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. Slept well.

Last edited by barefootbeach; Mar 5th, 2018 at 07:53 AM.
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 07:42 AM
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Ventus Australis arriving in Punta Arenas


Stateroom on Tierra del Fuego Deck (#3)
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 10:01 AM
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Nice window! The Navimag ferry I took from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt also loaded the luggage in the morning and the passengers late afternoon. I don't actually remember a safety briefing....
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 11:53 AM
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That 5 hour difference in check in and boarding would've been a problem had it been raining. Then a pain to walk around city.
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 11:56 AM
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Day 17….Ainsworth Bay & Tucker’s Islets

A buffet breakfast is served from 8-9am each day. Daily excursions are divided into two groups based on Challenging or Normal Difficulty and again by language. We always pick the easiest option.

After 9am, we don our lifejackets and carefully board the rolling Zodiacs. Perched on the seat, clinging to a rope for dear life with one hand and DH’s leg with the other, wearing waterproof hiking boots, pants, jacket, gloves and hat, we set off for Ainsworth Bay. You have to either tuck your camera behind your life vest, or better yet, stuff it in a ziplock bag because you do occasionally get sprayed with ocean. This morning is cloudy, drizzly and cool and we’re let off with a dry landing. With our guide, we set off on a coastal walk along the edge of a stream, a peat bog and a beaver’s habitat to a waterfall and moss cover rock face tucked deep inside a sub-polar forest. Our guide discusses flora and fauna, (how the introduced beavers and mink hurt the ecosystem) and it is lovely even with the monochromatic vista of sea, sky and mountains. DH spotted a fox carrying a mouse in his mouth.

Back for lunch at 1pm and the second excursion, to Tucker’s Islets to see the Magellanic penguins, is divided into 3 times from 3:15 to 5:30. The first group was lucky because the sun actually came out. When we went, it had turned blustery and rainy which made viewing them not that pleasant and quick. Our zodiac had run aground off the penguin’s beach, but was pulled out by a fellow zodiac’s rope. There also were a lot of king cormorants to observe.

A documentary film was shown after dinner for entertainment. It was rough sleeping in the middle of the night as we sailed around the western end of Tierra del Fuego into the open Pacific ocean before entering the Ballenero (Whaleboat)n Channel.
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 12:31 PM
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Tiny people dwarfed by Ainsworth Bay.


Mossy forest on coastal walk.



Magellanic penguins
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Old Mar 5th, 2018, 12:38 PM
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Ainsworth Bay


Dueling zodiacs to Tucker's Islets


Magellanic penguins
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Old Mar 6th, 2018, 06:25 AM
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Day 18: Pia Fjord/Glacier & Glacier Alley

Cruising up the NW arm of the Beagle Channel until early afternoon, we had a lecture on Tierra del Fuego and the Bridge was open to tour. After lunch, entered Pia Fjord and boarded Zodiacs for the Pia Glacier to hike to a panoramic view. Again, we opted for the moderate hike, but as I struggled to scramble up the slippery, wet volcanic rock, aided in part by occasional ropes to hold onto, I realized I didn’t have the balance for this trek. Besides DH, who's MY rock, a crew member was very solicitous in helping me back down. I didn’t mind much as it wasn’t very pretty under the gloomy skies.

Today the wind was blowing so hard you couldn’t go out on deck. I had wished this ship had some jacuzzi’s on the top deck, but I can see from a safety standpoint that wouldn’t work. At one point the rain pelted the ship so hard you couldn’t see out of the windows.

Luckily, the weather improved as we cruised through Glacier Alley, where a number of impressive glaciers named after European countries flowed down from the Darwin Mountain Range on the northern shore. Staff served appetizers or drinks representative of each country as we passed by.
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Old Mar 6th, 2018, 06:36 AM
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Glacier Alley waterfall


Pia Glacier


Glacier Alley

Last edited by barefootbeach; Mar 6th, 2018 at 06:38 AM.
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Old Mar 6th, 2018, 01:49 PM
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Day 19: Cape Horn & Wulaia Bay
Part of the archipelago that makes up Cape Horn National Park, Cabo de Hornos is a sheer 1394 ft. high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent Drake Passage. The 7am departure to Cape Horn had everyone dressed and ready to go. We’d been warned during the presentation yesterday that if the winds or swells were too high for a safe Zodiac landing, the excursion would be cancelled. And, it was, to the disappointment of many. I had already decided climbing all those steps straight up in the usual windy conditions would not be fun so stayed in bed through the wake up announcement. But, I did scurry out to the deck to get photos of the Isla Hornos Monument, the negative space forming an albatross, to commemorate all the lost seamen.

To make up for this, the Captain decided to sail round the Cape, which resulted in a rollicking, wild ride. The rest of the morning was spent viewing a documentary on Shackleton and hearing about the aboriginal people before our excursion to Wulaia Bay.

In late afternoon we go ashore at Wulaia Bay, a scenic spot that had been the site of one of the largest Yamana aboriginal settlements. The sun was a welcome sight as we took an easy hike through a Magellanic forest for a panoramic viewpoint of the bay. Afterwards, you could explore a small, ethnographic museum that also housed the Barrel Post Office, where you can pick up a postcard from your country and mail it when you return like the old sailors used to do. You can also drop off a postcard and hope someone will do the same.

All in all, this cruise was a unique way to explore the beautiful landscape in comfort and safety. The crew did a great job, the lectures were interesting and the food was good.

Next: El Calafate, Argentina and Perito Moreno glacier.
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Old Mar 6th, 2018, 02:06 PM
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The excursion crew


The Cape Horn Monument


Cruising outside Cape Horn


Zodiac drivers at play


Wulaia Bay


Expedition artistry on our bed
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Old Mar 7th, 2018, 01:16 PM
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Thanks for the report.

(For one I wish I could have viewed the full sized photos, hope that they fix that issue).
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Old Mar 7th, 2018, 01:21 PM
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thanks mlgb...I think you and Thursdays are the only ones reading this! just hope someone finds something useful in it.
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Old Mar 7th, 2018, 02:05 PM
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Day 20: El Calafate at Eolo Hotel
We disembark easily at Ushuaia, Argentina, and I wish I had added a night to explore this city as it’s more scenic than Punta Arenas. Got a taxi to the airport for our flight to El Calafate, where we’re met by the transfer to Eolo Hotel, part of the Relais & Chateaux group, located between El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park.

Eolo, meaning God of the Wind, is a destination onto itself. The hotel is set in the middle of a huge, 10,000 acre estancia surrounded by open steppes, two lakes and the cordillera. Photos really don’t do it justice. The hotel is built in a simple, historic style… a square around a central courtyard used as an escape from the ever-present wind. You could use this as an oasis of calm or partake in one of the activities offered by the hotel: horseback riding, trekking, mountain biking,4 wheel drive up to the mountain top, but the prime reason people come here is to visit the massive Perito Moreno glacier located about an hour away. That excursion is arranged but not carried out by the hotel.

As a Relais & Chateaux, gastronomy is part of it’s mission. Here, I’d say it fell a bit short as some dishes fell short of the mark although generally the meals were very good. While meals, airport transfers and some activities were included in the hefty rate, wine and mixed drinks were not although for that price they should have been.

The 17 rooms either have a view of the mountains or of the lakes…you couldn’t miss with either. Our second room, #16, had a beautiful view of the mountains with cows grazing below our window. Cozy sitting areas with large windows, sofas, games and books were scattered around the property. Also, a swimming pool, saunas and an excellent masseuse. Wonderful place to unwind and absorb the peaceful surroundings.
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Old Mar 7th, 2018, 04:12 PM
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Eolo, Patagonia's Spirit


Lago Argentino from Eolo's Dining Room


Cows and Cordillera room view


Blue Moon welcomes us
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Old Mar 7th, 2018, 04:13 PM
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mlgb, I tried using a Medium size for photos...don't know what happened with the cows. Is that better?
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Old Mar 8th, 2018, 10:00 AM
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Barefootbeach: What a wonderful trip report. Thank you. I'm starting to research a vacation to this area one year from now and found your comments extraordinarily helpful. Did you do all the planning and booking yourself or did you go through an agency or tour company?
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Old Mar 8th, 2018, 01:17 PM
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Michguy...so happy you're finding it helpful. I did do all the planning, research and booking for this trip, except for actually booking the Australis 4 nt cruise. I used an agency for that. I used Fodors, The Rough Guide, Moon, DK Eyewitness Travel & Lonely Planet guidebooks, as well as whatever magazine articles I could dig up, and TripAdvisor....and of course, this Forum is always invaluable.
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