Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The alien light beam, otherwise known as the sun, appeared a little after 5am this morning. We tried our best to keep sleeping, but it was tough. When we got up at 6:30, the weather had turned nasty, with strong west-to-east wind that created whitecaps all up and down the Beagle Channel, and made us wonder what was in store for the next day when we would board our ship. It was also raining very hard, and the rain was coming down at a 45 degree angle because of all the wind. Because of the weather, we re-thought some of our clothing options. We had been trying out different outerwear during our time in Ushuaia, sort of us a dry run (bad choice of words) for Antarctica. The clothes we were going to try today, however, immediately had some issues. For example, the jacket Justin planned to wear didn't have waterproof zipper pockets, meaning that he wouldn't be able to store his cameras in there, so he nixed it for the jacket from the day before. Also because of the weather, Crystal decided to wear her waterproof boots.

A small bus came and got us at 8:20 - we were the last people on board. We think everyone else boarded back in town, but our hotel had made arrangements to have us picked up at our place. This was to be our guided tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It started, however, as an infomercial for paying additional money to ride the Train to the End of the World (Fin Del Mundo). The lady mentioned a couple of times that she couldn't specifically recommend any attractions, but then told us that if we didn't ride it, we'd just wait on the bus at the end of the train line, waiting for the train to arrive. Perhaps because they pushed so hard, our initial inclination was that this would be a rip-off. That being said, the other option - sitting in the empty bus - didn't sound so good either. But we didn't have enough pesos to pay for our tour, plus the additional amount for the train, so that pretty much settled that.

But then we got to the park, we noted that we could pay for the train ride with a Visa. At this point, we decided to do it. The weather was still poor - it wasn't as windy, but it was still raining pretty good. At the ticket window, however, they had no telephone connection for the Visa, and asked for cash, so we decided to forego the train. For some reason, however, we couldn't get on our bus now, we had to wait until the train left, even though we weren't getting on the train. Not surprisingly, because of the weather, everyone was jammed into the tiny train station, and we decided we'd rather stay out in the rain. So we stood next to the building, getting a little bit of protection, and then tried out our waterproof jackets, pants, and shoes. They all passed the test. Even Crystal's waterproof gloves worked, at least as far as keeping water out (not as far as keeping her hands warm).

The weather got a little better as the trains were leaving, and we boarded the van along with one other couple that didn't want to pay the extra fee. It took us only about 5 minutes to drive to the end of the train line, and we had almost an hour until the train was due. We actually were able to get out of the bus, and in fact there was a path alongside the tracks that we could walk on. At this point we were very happy we didn't board the train, because while the train went about 6 kilometers (4 miles) in one hour, with dozens of other people and glass windows, we could walk that fast with no windows and no other people. By this point, the seasons had changed from winter (when we got up) to spring (when we got to the park) to summer, as it was now sunny with no wind. There were snow-capped mountains and beech forests all around, and we walked around until we got a good vantage point to take photos and video of the train when it came by. There was smoke everywhere, making us wonder even more what people could see out of the windows.

We thought that we were waiting for the second train to come in, but in fact it was the first, so we were late getting back to the bus (especially Justin, who was lagging behind Crystal). Back on the van, we took a short ride over to a lodge by a river feeding the Beagle Channel. The guide told us we could buy food and drink inside the lodge - we were wondering if we were actually going to trek anywhere, or if we were just being sold a bunch of stuff while at the same time paying for the advertisements. At the river, the view was very good, and there were also a bunch of rabbits all around eating the grass. We never went into the lodge, but we also didn't stray far from the van, as we didn't want to be late again. From the river, we headed down a bit until there was a larger lake, Laguna Roca,which we understand is now outdated, and has been replaced by a Yamana (the native indian) name.

Our guide told us a bit about the borders around. We didn't realize that we were basically in the "corner" of Argentina. We knew that the Beagle Channel separated Argentina (north) from Chile (south), and we knew that for the border, the Andes separated Argentina (east) from Chile (west). What we didn't know was that Ushuaia - and particularly the national park - was in the corner where the border curved from being an east-west border to a north-south border, with Ushuaia being in the Northeast quadrant and Chile being in the other 3.

So everywhere we drove around, our guide pointed out "that's in Chile" or "that's in Argentina." From Laguna Roca, we headed to an area where there were some beaver dams. Beavers were introduced about a hundred years ago, but because of different food sources and weather their fur changed color and texture, and killed any chance of starting a fur industry in Patagonia. So the beavers stayed, and multiplied, with neither natural predators nor human predators. So now there are tens of thousands of them, and they're slowly eating all of the trees and making dams, protecting them from the natural predators that they don't even have here.

The last stop actually allowed for some walking. We stopped at Lapataia Bay, which feeds into the Beagle Channel. There were quite a few lookout points, and while the pictures may look nice, they are very deceiving, as the wind was whipping around and making everyone want to get back on the bus. Shortly before we left, we found another lookout point, this one higher, and protected by the hill it was on as well as the surrounding trees. Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay for long, since it was right near the time we needed to be back on board, and we didn't want to be late (again). The drive back was a little windy and stuffy (we were still in our puffy clothes), so we were glad it didn't last much longer than the 30 minutes it took. We dropped off most of our stuff, then headed back into the city center, hoping to get some empanadas. We looked up a place on the internet - our hotel amazingly had wi-fi - and located the address. When we got there, it was a place we had already been, but was not a restaurant, but in fact a gift shop. Frustrated, we went to a nearby parillada, which we had probably walked by about 15 times. It was all-you-can-eat, but did profess to having empanadas. And in fact it did have empanadas, and they (along with the papas fritas) were excellent. The meat was only so-so (not nearly as good as the parillada from two nights earlier), but the empandas and the papas fritas cancelled that out. We drank a bottle of Tempranillo, a type of grape we were not familiar with. It was very dark ruby color, but the taste didn't wow us.

We did a little shopping on Avenida San Martin, then went back to the hotel, took another nap (not nearly so long), and caught up on the diary. Even at 8pm, the wind was still howling - it had been howling for over 12 hours now at our hotel - so we weren't in any hurry to go adventuring outside. Crystal read some more of Endurance, which Justin suggested (demanded?) she read, as it was quite possibly the best book he ever read, and involved Antarctica and South Georgia Island, two of the places we were scheduled to visit. After awhile, we went downstairs to play Scrabble, then sat down for dinner a little after 9pm. Crystal had king crab in a parmesan sauce, Justin had the french onion soup, and for an appetizer we split a large platter of meats and cheeses. After dinner we played a couple more games of Scrabble (we're getting a little better), then went to sleep a little after midnight, and it did seem to be dark this time.