All right, I guess we have to confess. We have led you astray, out of chronological order, ignoring a significantly full day of wonder in our rush to get you to Antarctica. In fact, we had more time than indicated in the beautiful Beagle Channel as we left Chile and moved on. Just so you don’t forget, here is what that last stretch of the inland passage scenery looked like.
When we got closer to shore, the waterfalls off the glaciers were everywhere.
This, in turn, led us to Argentina and the lively city of Ushuaia, generally recognized as the most southerly city in the world, and the end of the Pan American Highway which begins in the northern reaches of Alaska.
Its setting is as dramatic as any we have seen, what with the snow covered mountains rearing up behind town, and this at the equivalent of late June in the Northern Hemisphere. Guess we must be pretty far north for this much snow–or rather south!
While it was founded in 1884 as a primitive frontier outpost and mission to the native inhabitants, given its remote location it soon began to receive convicts from all over Argentina. The ‘prison’ consisted of metal and wooden boxes in which the convicts were roughly housed, but the population soon grew to such a size that the captives were put to work building a proper and rather impressive stone and mortar structure. Today it houses a Maritime Museum, though occasionally one still sees convicts out on the streets in their prison garb.
Those ubiquitous penguins were also out strutting around town, in this case bragging about how far from the rest of the world Ushuaia is.
We also went out on a smaller vessel to check out the large colony of cormorants that occupies an island well within Ushuaia Bay. Now cormorants hold a special place in our hearts since we saw so many in our sailing days and love their underwater abilities as well. When we bought our house in Santa Fe, NM, we seriously considered naming it Casa de Los Cormoranes Perdidos–the House of the Lost Cormorants–since we were sailors so far from the sea. Here, they were in profusion.
Among them, nesting on a cliff, were Rock Cormorants, made special by their red eye makeup.
A little further out in the bay we encountered Sea Lion Heaven, a small island rather covered with the lounging beasts.
We know, all of you San Francisco residents and prior visitors are thinking of Pier 51 with the crowd of bellowing sea lions that long ago took over what were to be marina docks for small craft. But these Argentinian folks were different: Very little bellowing, no strong smell, most everyone just napping on a warm afternoon.
The head man unquestionably was this guy, and obvious is the extra fur around his neck, thus truly suggesting an earthbound lion. The origin of their name finally became clear.
And he did have his responsibilities, most serious of which was tending to a harem of countless females and ensuring that no other male made an approach to any of them. He was truly king with his harem.
From Ushuaia we headed out to Antarctica and then to the Falkland Islands, returning finally to the mainland of Argentina at Puerto Madryn, a pleasant beach town where we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a boardwalk restaurant facing the sea. From there we traveled north to Montevideo, Uruguay for a brief stop as well. We took a city bus tour and we had another nice lunch ashore, but on the whole found the city expensive and rather unimpressive. We later learned that Uruguay is the most expensive country in all of South America.
Finally, after an overnight passage out of the broad Rio de la Plata and back in through the narrow Buenos Aires shipping lane, we arrived and disembarked after our twenty-two day journey around the most southerly part of the planet. Because we had visited Argentina and Buenos Aires before we had a blog, we weren’t too motivated to try to photograph it in any complexity and completeness, and instead focused on some very interesting street art we were led to see. Artful graffiti is revered in Buenos Aires, and is often given featured and dramatic locations, the artists often compensated for what they contribute to the city’s color and interest. Note the passersby for a sense of the scale of these two, both by famous graffiti artists.
The one below was perhaps our favorite of all we saw on the walls of Buenos Aires.
At the end of our tour we were led to this beautiful tree covered avenue containing some of the best of street art in the city, and home to a bar and restaurant which has become the ‘clubhouse’ for the city’s artists. It is simply a wonderful place to hang out.
Inside the walls are covered with art, this one including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and others of American baseball fame.
And upstairs, on the outside patio overlooking the street, the walls are all testament to the vibrancy of this art form in this important South American city.
On our final ship sponsored excursion, we were taken well out of the city to a magnificent horse ranch and had an afternoon of gaucho culture! This included a lunch grilled on probably the largest barbecue we had ever seen, fed by hardwood coals which are removed from the fireplace on the left and shoveled under the meat roasting on the long grill to the right.
The gauchos themselves were recruited to serve us, all wearing wide, coin covered and silver belts,
and each with a rather impressively large dagger tucked into the small of their backs.
At the top of this posting are a few of the horses on this ranch, which all together probably has close to a hundred in number. They were just beautiful against the black of the mud and the green of the fields, and it made even Dave want to take on riding one of them. But he was able to restrain himself and keep his feet on the ground.
Instead, the gauchos mounted their favorite steeds, and attempted to thrust a spike about the size of a toothbrush into a ring about the size of a walnut while riding at top speed. It was exciting, fascinating to watch, and hard to believe when they were actually able to spear one of the rings as they sped by.
When successful, the rider was entitled to a kiss from a spectator, and of course our friend Jeanne, parked in the front row, was an easy and early target. Please note that when she kissed the gaucho, she hugged him so forcefully that he was nearly pulled off his horse!
This was followed by some serious gaucho dancing–not exactly tango, but to that sort of music and with the ropes used by the gauchos as their lassos.
Almost as a post script, when finished in Buenos Aires we took a flight to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, to spend some time with our dear friends and mentors, Uwe and Claudia. They are Germans who shipped their motorhome to Halifax, Canada, then went across to Alaska, came south to tour all of the USA, then went into Mexico, Guatemala and beyond, and yes, finally finished in the parking lot in Ushuaia which is recognized as the end of the Pan American Highway. Below is a photo from our time with them in 2013 in Guatemala when we camped in Dan the Van next to them.
It has to be obvious from their travel adventures why they were have been mentors and an inspiration to us. They met us at the airport and took us off to the campground where they were staying. It is comfortable, owned by a Swiss couple who prepare a delicious dinner every night if you request, and provides everything a camper needs including a couple of bungalows for guests to stay in, as we did. We had about three days of delightful conversation with them, and also made a trip out on Saturday to a local market, largely manned and attended by German speaking Mennonites who have settled there.
Paraguay’s most remote and arid regions were settled in the 1930’s by Mennonites who came to escape prosecution. Through persistent hard work they were able to create viable and prosperous farms, many focused on dairy products.
Our time with Uwe and Claudia marked the end of our South American adventure, as we returned to Asuncion and boarded a flight back to Miami. It was another continent touched and somewhat explored, but probably to be returned to and enjoyed even more fully.