On the road again
27.12.2011 - 28.12.2011 14 °C
We awoke this morning to pack our bags to head off and finally leave Ushuaia. Before leaving we took a catamaran ride around the Beagle Channel for 3 hours. It was lovely and relaxing and we stopped several times to look at the views and see the wildlife.
The Beagle Channel is a strait separating islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, in extreme southern South America. It separates the island of Tierra del Fuego from other smaller islands. Its eastern portion is part of the border between Chile and Argentina but the western part is completely within Chile. The west end is the Darwin Sound and the east end is Nueva Island.
The Beagle Channel, the Straits of Magellan to the north, and the open ocean Drake Passage to the south are the three navigable passages around South America between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The Beagle Channel and the Straits of Magellan are both very narrow passages which severely limit the size and types of ships that can safely use them; hence, most commercial shipping is done through the Drake Passage.
The Beagle Channel is about 240 kilometres long and is about 5 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. It was named after Charles Darwin’s ship the HMS Beagle.
Our first stop was a little island that was covered in Arctic Terns. These birds fly as well as glide through the air. It was amazing as upon our approach the air was thick with these beautiful birds.
We then sailed on to Sea Lion Island which was covered in Sea Lions and Imperial Cormorants. The seal pups were very playful both in the water and on the rocks.
We could have sat and watched the Cormorant chicks for ages but unfortunately had to move on.
We also visited an island with Rock Cormorants where we saw mothers feeding their babies.
Our final stop was at the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse which stands at the northeastern most islet of the five or more Les Eclaireurs islets. The lighthouse is built from bricks and is 10 metres high and 3 metres wide at the base. It is painted red and white. The lighthouse is still in operation, is remote controlled, automated, uninhabited and guards the sea entrance to Ushuaia. It is probably the most photographed lighthouse in South America.
Once back in Ushuaia we got on board our new home for the next month our beloved Esmerelda. She is a big green truck that will get us to Santiago. Stay tuned for a photo.
We were headed for the Argentinian/Chile border at San Sebastian. The land was very barren once out of Ushuaia. There were several large estancias (ranches) with sheep and cattle.
The border was very remote and is not used very much. Along the way we went through Rio Grande and Tolhuin where there is a 24 hour a day bakery which was spectacular. We stocked up on empanadas. The Argentinian border was fairly quick. We then drove through no man’s land for 10 kilometres on very rough road. The Chile border was much slower and they searched our truck and put our bags through x-ray. We then had another 2 hour drive on dirt to our home for the night at Cerro Sombrero. There were lots of roaming Guanaco along the way; they are related to the llama family. Around 9pm we finally stopped and had dinner.
We headed off fairly early this morning to get to the ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan. It took about an hour to get there and there was a big queue. Tony our sneaky driver went in to a shorter queue so we managed to get on the next ferry that came along. The wind was blowing a gale and the seas were quite rough.
We loaded the truck on the ferry and about 20 minutes later we were on mainland South America again. Once again the land was quite barren with sheep and Lesser Rheas roaming everywhere.
We stopped on the way to Punta Arenas at a deserted estancia called Estancia San Gregorio. Estancia San Gregorio is a relic of the 19th-century Menéndez wool empire in Chilean Patagonia. San Gregorio reached its peak between 1910 and 1930 producing wool, mutton, hides, and tallow.
Nearby there are corroding skeletons of the British clipper Ambassador and the steamer Amadeo, which adorn its beachfront on the Strait of Magellan.
We arrived in Punta Arenas around 1pm. Back to where we had started a month ago (Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Antarctica, Ushuaia, Punta Arenus). It was very different to our first visit. The winds were howling and some roads had been blocked off as roofs had blown off. We made it to the Plaza Hotel on the main street right near the main square. We decided to go for a walk and were blown off our feet; we have never been in winds like it. I was worried that we would be decapitated by flying sheets of iron. We were meant to visit the penguin colony this afternoon but I suspect all the penguins had been blown away by the winds. We are planning on visiting the penguins tommorow morning (if they have not been blown away).
We will give you another update in a couple of days - no wi-fi at Torres del Paine.