Monday, December 15, 2008
We awoke a little before 6am to brilliant sunshine pouring through our window. We shot out of bed, wondering what this alien light beam was. We think we shot up faster even than when the earthquake hit in Hawaii and the painting above our headboard fell and almost decapitated us.
It was just the sun, which was a a nice change, but would have been nice after 6am, not before it. Justin couldn't stay asleep, so he got up, while Crystal tried to go back to sleep. Justin's waterproof clothes making noise as he jostled around didn't help in this endeavor.
Justin took a walk down to the waterfront, about a 5-10 minute walk from our hotel. It was very quiet down there, but there were a fair number of birds down at the beach, including upland geese, oystercatchers, some dolphin gulls (ground) and kelp gulls (air). They seem to have been feeding - we figured out later that this was high tide, so maybe the higher water caused some bugs or something to come out. The weather was deceptively nice. Although it was sunny and there was no wind, it was still very cold. On the way back, Justin spotted a couple of Caracara, a bird we had seen in Torres Del Paine as well as in the Pantanal. There were two birds, and they appear to have had a nest atop one of the beech trees.
Back at the hotel, we had breakfast, which was very nice. There were fruits, as well as cereals, hot food, and cold meats and cheeses. After breakfast, we took a taxi to the base area for the Martial Glacier. We had tried to sign up for an organized tour, but since we got in on a Sunday there was no one to take our call. So instead, we figured we would just try to walk there without a guide - it didn't look too tough. There was a little issue with us telling the taxi driver where to go - he thought we wanted to drive into town, and only when we were in town did we finally speak well enough Spanish to tell him we wanted to go to the glacier.
We got to the base area (a ski resort) at 9:40. The chairlifts were supposed to open at 9:30, but they weren't, and there was just a long line of people waiting in what had now become rainy weather. We looked at the map, and saw that the chairlift took passengers 1.1 km up the hill, and figured that we could just walk that, rather than wait for the place to open. The walk was pretty nice, right alongside a nice stream (no doubt glacial runoff), through a beech forest. As we neared the top of the chairlift, a guy went by on an ATV, no doubt to turn on the chairlift from the top. So we ended up having a head start on everyone else who was still waiting at the bottom.
Above the chairlift, there was a well-defined path heading up to the glacier, still more or less following the stream, and in fact crossing it a couple of times. We came upon a big chunk of snow ice that had a giant curve carved into it. Presumably the steam had eroded the snow on one of its curved portions. The walk was uphill, but gradual. Then, after about 30 minutes (past the chairlift), the path turned to the left and became quite a bit steeper. There was a fair amount of small rocks and gravel, but for the most part the hiking was still fairly easy. We couldn't really tell when we were getting to the top, because the glacier was covered in snow, making the snow drifts look the same as the glacier itself. There were certain areas - not sure whether part of the glacier or not - where the stream was going underneath the snow, eroding it from underneath. We figured we were at the top when the road ended at a particularly large patch of snow. Whether this was the glacier or not we're not sure, so we'll just assume it was. We got a couple of photos for prosperity, then headed down.
Somehow, we got a little off course on the way down. We weren't having any issues at first, so we didn't really notice. After awhile, however, it became apparent that we were simply trying to find a decent way down, rather than following any predefined course. We both slipped a little here and there, but fortunately nothing worse than some bruises and mud stains. We did find a small cave, which provided a little shelter - enough to get a photo of Ushuaia, which itself seemed to be in the sun. We found the actual path at some point, and then veered ourselves over towards it, fortunately without incident. Looking back, we weren't sure how we got down. But from this point, the rest of the walk back was uneventful, and the weather was decent to good. It was quite good in the city, as the dark gray city from the day before now was bright, with the Beagle Channel being incredibly blue.
When we got back to the bottom of the chairlift (or the bottom of the ski run), there was a taxi driver just arriving, and asked us if we needed a ride into town. The timing could not have been better. Once in the city, we wandered around searching for a restaurant with empanadas. We figured this would be easy, since they were all over Buenos Aires, and we thought Argentina was sort of known for them. But all up and down the main drag, none of the restaurants' menus had them. After awhile we got tired of looking, and also got very hungry, so we just picked the closest place that looked decent, which happened to be a Tante Sara - but not the one we ate at the day before. Justin had a steak, Crystal had a steak sandwich (and a Quilmes Cristal), and we both had papas fritas. We were stuffed and tired when we left, and back at the hotel we laid down for a short nap.
We woke up 3-4 hours later, wondering why we had slept for so long. We were a little concerned that we had jet lag, and our bodies' clocks were still screwed up. In theory, switching to Argentine time should be fairly easy, as everything in Argentina happens about 3-4 hours later than in California - lunch, dinner, the time people go to sleep, etc. Anyway, it was now 7:30, we were groggy from our long naps, we weren't remotely hungry, so we decided to just take a walk down to the waterfront. The weather was still okay, with it getting cold every time the wind picked up. It was a much lower tide than when Justin was here earlier in the morning, and many of the birds were on a "sandbar" a little ways out from the shore. There was also a lone duck on a rock, just looking around.
On the way back, we noted some cool looking mountains that had previously been shrouded in clouds. We also noted how bright most of the housing was in Ushuaia - maybe that's their way of coping with the constant cold and rain. The houses really stand out considering that basically all of the surrounding trees are a deep green color - a mix of evergreen beech and deciduous beech. At about 9pm, we decided it might be a good time to start thinking about dinner. We opted for the lazy route, and just ate at the restaurant in the hotel. Reading through the menu, we found out that Sebastian, one of the two proprietors, used to be the banquet chef at a Marriott in Buenos Aires, which explained why all of his cooking was so good. Crystal got an onion soup that was very good - not nearly as salty as most. For the main course, Crystal got the lomo (beef tenderloin) and Justin got the lamb. Both were very good. We split a bottle of Malbec, which was also good. For dessert, Crystal had some crepes, which were good. We finished dinner after 11pm, and it was still light out. The sun was gone, but it was dusky outside to the west, and some of the clouds were still lit up. Crystal went to sleep shortly after this, but Justin couldn't fall asleep yet. He crashed a little after 1, at which point it was still a little light outside.