Attention all Soccer Moms …

Ushuaia, Argentina

… Today we learned what Land Rovers are supposed to actually be used for during another excursion with Canal Fun. Our guide, Atú, picked us up a little after 9 a.m. in a legit Land Rover Defender for our trip to Fagnano Lake. Burt snagged shotgun, which was clutch, while the backseat was split between me, a Canadian father-daughter combo recently back from Antarctica, a loaded couple from Costa Rica and a solo traveler from Bulgaria.

dsc_0376

We followed RN3 and then turned onto a dirt road close to Lake Escondido. The Rover dropped us off and we hiked down to the shores of this isolated (and desolate) body of water.

dsc_0376

dsc_0376

Atú picked us up and we continued for another 30 minutes before banging a right onto what could not fairly be called a road — it was more a clearing. He put the Land Rover into low gear and started hauling it through the woods. We stopped at a clearing to take in the views and pretend we were badass.

dsc_0376

dsc_0376

Twisting and turning through the deep mud, we made our way down to the shores of Lake Fagnano where it was time for a car wash. Waves, generated by the strong winds, crashed into this beast of a vehicle.

dsc_0376

dsc_0376

Just as we arrived, the sky, dotted with streaks of clouds, turned a brilliant shade of blue. It was perfect weather for our short walk along the windy banks of the lake to our lunch spot.

dsc_0376

dsc_0376

At the refugio, a simple tin building with stunning views, we had some Malbec while Atú fired up the asado and seasoned our steaks.

dsc_0376

dsc_0376

After our meal, we had the Canadian student (who claimed to have taken 1,800 photos in one day) snap a photo of us surfing in the wind.

dsc_0376

We made our way back through a 1,000-year-old beech forest and then walked back to the Rover. The trip back to Ushuaia was quiet. We had some time to nap and pack before an Italian dinner at Pizza & Pasta 137 — the pizza was surprisingly decent, don’t ask about the Caesar salad.

Our flight to Punta Arenas, Chile leaves tomorrow at 3:15 p.m.

Advertisements

The oldest estancia in Patagonia

Ushuaia, Argentina

Estancia Harberton is the legendary ranch founded by Thomas Bridges and his family in 1886, making it the oldest in this area. It is a scenic and beautiful place with an enchanting history; we made it our first destination in Ushuaia on an excursion this morning with Canal Fun.

After an 8:15 a.m. pick-up, we made our way along National Road 3 — which runs not just the length of Argentina but is also the final leg of the Pan-American Highway, which originates in Fairbanks, Alaska — while chatting with others and sipping maté. After about 45 minutes, we turned off of RN3 and onto RC-J, one of the many gravel roads used here in Patagonia. By around 10 a.m. we had arrived at the estancia.

Once inside, our multi-activity tour kicked off with rafting on the Beagle Channel. We geared up in rubber boots, waterproof pants and life jackets and looked even more hardcore than usual.

dsc_0234

The sky, which had been overcast, cleared as we slowly made our way down the estuary. We rowed in unison as Martín, our guide, steered us — we spent much of the time talking with the other well-traveled folks in our boat, including a couple from Switzerland, another from the Netherlands and a college student studying abroad in Buenos Aires.

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

An hour later, we hit the shore and carried our raft across a beach littered with petrified trees. On the other side, the wind had picked up, turning our leisurely paddle into a sweat-inducing workout.

dsc_0235

Our next stop was the grounds of the famed Harberton Ranch, where we had lunch waiting. Afterward, we walked around, taking in the scenic backdrop.

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

We boarded a zodiac for a short ride to Isla Martillo (Hammer Island), which is home to the only penguin colony in the Beagle. The ranch has granted exclusive access to Canal Fun, and fewer than 80 tourists are allowed to visit on any given day. We felt lucky to find ourselves so close to these magnificent little creatures.

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

Afterward, the zodiac dropped us off on Gable Island, a largely untouched part of Patagonia. We trekked for several hours and found a lookout toward Puerto Williams, which is the southernmost town in Chile. And all along, we could not have asked for better weather.

dsc_0235

dsc_0235

The boat picked us up and we returned to Ushuaia. Our bus ride back was complete with the tunes of Rod Stewart and Aerosmith (bonus!). Macondo recommended Kuar for dinner, a nice spot overlooking the Channel. The seafood salad included some king crab; my salmon was cooked to perfection; Burt would have liked the cod more had he been able to finish it (disappointing).

Late night, we met up with some friends from earlier in the day at Dublin, one of the few bars in town. It seemed like everyone was there – we even bumped into Daniella, our guide from the cruise yesterday. It was a late night but when we left, Irish tunes were still being belted from the pub. Apparently, Ushuaia has a happening nightlife.

Who would have known?

Bienvenido al Fin del Mundo

Ushuaia, Argentina

There was some misunderstanding and our wake up call never came this morning. Instead, we were woken by the sound of the blaring horn of our shuttle bus, which was ready to take us to the airport for our 9:40 a.m. Lan flight to Ushuaia.

As we rushed to get our bags together, the friendly guys at the front desk offered to take us in their white Ford pickup truck, circa 1965. We happily obliged, threw our bags into the back and enjoyed the stylish ride. At the airport, we checked in without any problems, made our way to the gate and were airborne more or less on schedule.

It was another beautiful day — and the hour-long ride was smooth and offered some unreal views of the estancias that fill this largely undeveloped part of Patagonia. Wheels were down at about 11 a.m. in Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city on Earth — the acclaimed End of the World (“Fin del Mundo”) — and the capital of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), the island that forms the tip of Patagonia.

Ushuaia is a surprisingly bustling place, and after waiting far too long for our bags, we made our way to Macondo House, a small and modern boutique hotel with commanding views of the Beagle Channel.

dsc_0029
dsc_0029
dsc_0029

We set our bags down and walked two blocks to San Martín, the main drag in town. Burt bought some new trekking pants; my search for a new hat was also successful at another of this city’s many outdoor stores. We both now officially love gear and continue to build our collections.

I’d read about Ramos Generales, a quirky French bakery dating back to 1906, so we headed there for lunch. We had some delicious sandwiches on fresh baguettes, local Cape Horn microbrews and a small selection of handmade chocolates.

Properly fueled, we walked down to the port to sign up for a cruise of the Beagle Channel, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Our first choice was the Tres Marias, a complete junker of a fishing boat that we thought had plenty of character — if nothing else. Unfortunately, rough seas were keeping the good ‘ol TM in port, so we went with our second option: the Yate Kams. We set off at 3 p.m. under partly sunny skies and moderate winds, as Ushuaia slowly faded into the distance.

dsc_0029
dsc_0029

Our first stop was Isla de los Lobos, where a huge colony of sea lions live. There were hundreds perched on the rocks, basking in the sun, slithering around and barking. The highlight was this absolutely gigantic male, who sat surrounded by females and occasionally growled at them.

dsc_0029
dsc_0029
dsc_0029
dsc_0029

We weren’t sure anything could top the Monster Sea Lion but thought it might be possible. So we stayed on the upper deck as the boat cruised to Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, built in 1919 and the real symbol of Ushuaia.

dsc_0029
dsc_0029

Leaving the lighthouse, we passed by an island of king and imperial cormorants (which, from a distance, looked like penguins).

dsc_0029
dsc_0029

After a short trek on Bridges Island, where archaeological remains of the indigenous Yamanas people can still be seen, we got back on board, had a maté (an Argentine tea that is truly a national pastime) and made our way to mainland.

dsc_0029

At the hotel, we showered up before heading for dinner at Maria Lola, a stylish restaurant with great views. We split a delicious and fresh order of fried calamari; my steak was cooked perfectly and Burt liked his seafood risotto. Dessert was ice cream made with berries from the el calafate plant. It is said that those who eat el calafate will return to Patagonia.

Let’s hope that this is the case.

Tres Luises, dos Javieres y un Juan

El Calafate, Argentina

In venture capital, we have a term for start-up companies with a promising, yet highly limited product or service — they’re called one-trick ponies. If El Calafate were a new venture, it would clearly fall into this category. But what a one-trick pony it would be.

Our wake-up call came at 6:30 a.m. this morning. Still groggy after a whiskey nightcap with some well-traveled Brits at the hotel bar, we opened our shutters to a sun that was just starting to break across the horizon. Rebelde had a simple breakfast, just some café con leche and a croissant, before the bus picked us up for our trip to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier.

We had signed up for the “Big Ice” tour with Hielo y Aventura, which I’d read was well worth the steep AR$520 price tag. The hour-long trip to the park entrance brought us past desolate estancias, ranches long used for raising sheep. We paid the entrance fee and then made our way for our first look at Perito Moreno, which is 260 square kilometers in size. A series of nearly empty catwalks provided a tremendous introduction.

dsc_0035
dsc_0029

We watched as huge hunks of ice calved off the glacier face and splashed down into the Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). The serene rumbling — truly witnessing Mother Nature at work — begged for a moment of contemplation.

dsc_0043

The bus took us down to the port of Bajo de las Sombras, where a boat whisked us across the Rico Arm. Seeing the glacier from the water provided us with a whole new appreciation for its tremendous size — heights of 110 meters at some points — and made our tour boats look like toys. Can you spot the one below?

dsc_0123
dsc_0051

We were met at the shore, brought up to a base camp and introduced to our six guides: Luis, Luis, Luis, Javier, Javier and Juan. “Tres Luises, dos Javieres y un Juan,” Burt said. “That’s original.” The team then outfitted us with harnesses and gave us pairs of crampons before we began our trek, passing waterfalls and wild flowers, onto the moraine, the edge of the glacier.

dsc_0071

After about 45-minutes, it was time to tie on our crampons and begin the 4-hour ice trek. They provided amazing stability and allowed for easy movement across the otherwise slippery surface.

dsc_0075
dsc_0077

Our destination was the glacier’s center. Under absolutely beautiful skies, we passed deep crevasses, jagged ice peaks frozen in time and unbelievably blue lagoons — one of which offered an opportunity to fill up my CamelBak with clear, freezing cold and delicious glacial water.

dsc_0077
dsc_0077
dsc_0077
dsc_0077

Toward the end of the trek, we stopped at a 100-meter deep gorge where a tremendous river of runoff flowed. On belay, we all (Burt included) got a near-death peak over the edge.

dsc_0077
dsc_0077

Feet starting to ache, we made our way back to the moraine, removed the crampons and walked back to the base camp. Back on the boat, we got a final look at the truly massive Perito Moreno, before clinking back whiskeys with hunks of glacier ice floating in them.

dsc_0077

The day was not without its mishaps. My poor Kangol hat was whipped out to sea shortly after this picture was taken (may it RIP). Burt also forecasted some intense foot soreness from an afternoon with the crampons. And, my not reapplying sunscreen (sorry Grandma), coupled with wearing sunglasses on the ice, would result in some serious raccoon eyes. But still, it was well worth it.

Back at Rebelde, we had some down time before dinner at another parrilla, Mi Viejo. There were Patagonian lambs of barbecue roasting in the front window — it worked on bringing us in. The meat was tender and we were more than overjoyed when the cap of our saltshaker fell off while spicing up our fries. More salt, no problem!

Burt claimed that the best part of the lamb was its cheeks, which was gladly ceded to him. “Tasty, me gustan,” he said, chomping down on them. But we couldn’t linger long. Our flight to Ushuaia was early the next day and we still had to pack.

In Patagonia

El Calafate, Argentina

My commuter flight from Raleigh to Atlanta was packed with briefcase-toting businessmen. My subsequent flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires was filled with Japanese tourists and Christian missionaries, one of which sat behind me and proceeded to spend most of the 10-hour journey attempting to proselytize his seatmate. The food was mediocre and my plan to finally watch Slumdog Millionaire was dashed when it quickly came to my attention that Delta doesn’t have personal entertainment centers on its international flights. Guess you get what you pay for — although Air France proved in December that great service at reasonable fares does exist. Maybe only in France?

The trip’s saving grace was the emergency exit aisle seat that was somehow assigned to me. Maybe it was a miracle granted from the missionaries — I’m not sure — although it’s amazing what an additional 6 inches of legroom did on a 5,200-mile overnight trip.

Wheels were down in Buenos at around 7:45 a.m. My last experience at this airport was a complete nightmare; after arriving 2.5 hours early, we nearly missed our flight due to lines at the security checkpoint. Wanting to avoid this, it was a hustle to Terminal A to check-in, and then a healthy walk back to Terminal B, where the flight was departing from. My ticket said boarding would start at 9:25 a.m. The security checkpoint didn’t open until 10:25 a.m. Needless to say, we had a delayed departure — but at least we got out before Aerolineas Argentinas was nationalized.

My disappointment of not spending any time in Buenos Aires was erased as we began our final approach into El Calafate. Jagged snow-capped mountains sat majestically at the end of sprawling and desolate plains. Majestic blue glacial lakes spotted the landscape. And, as indicated by the bumpy ride down, the Patagonian winds were certainly blowing.

A 30-minute shuttle brought me from the airport to Patagonia Rebelde, our base for the next two nights. It’s a relatively new hosteria — part hostel, part hotel, part B&B — that was built and furnished in such a way that it looks like a remnant of last century.

dsc_0014
dsc_0009
dsc_0011

Our room, #254, was small and simple, with sweeping views of the surrounding plains and Lago Argentino in the backdrop.

dsc_0006
dsc_0008
dsc_0007

Burt arrived about an hour later (burned to a crisp from his stay in Iguazu and having lost his bank card — again) and we set out to explore this small town, which has an alpine-village feel. The main road, Avenida Libertador, is lined with restaurants, bars and stores selling outdoor wear.

dsc_0015

We had a couple of beers at a café while a local musician jammed out and the sun showed no signs of setting — during summer, it doesn’t until after 10 p.m., if not later.

dsc_0019

We headed back to Rebelde, showered up and set out for dinner at Casimiro Bigua Parilla, what looked like the most upscale and trendy spot in town. We ordered a big salad, two medium-rare rib-eye steaks and a side order of Spanish fries, spiced with garlic. Washed down with a bottle of malbec from Mendoza, it could not have gotten much better.

Exhausted from the 7,000 mile, 24-hour journey down here, we headed back to the hotel. Earlier in the day, I’d been reading Bruce Chatwin’s epic novel, In Patagonia. And, drifting off to sleep with stray dogs barking in the distance, one poignant paragraph came to mind.

“Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness,” he writes. “From its discovery it had the effect on the imagination something like the Moon, but in my opinion more powerful.”

Packing for Patagonia

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Planning a trip to the End of the World was relatively simple. As for packing, that’s a whole other story.

This afternoon, I’m leaving on a two-week journey into the heart of Patagonia — one of the world’s last, great, untouched frontiers. It is a harsh, wild and stark place. After connecting through Atlanta and Buenos Aires, I’ll meet Burt in El Calafate, Argentina, home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, before making my way further south to Ushuaia, which is the acclaimed southernmost city in the world. After a couple of days of exploring Tierra del Fuego, hiking in the National Park and kayaking the Beagle Channel, we’ll hop on a short flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. From there, we’ll join up with Cascada Expediciones, named one of the best adventure travel companies by National Geographic, for a 7-night trek along the classic “W” route in Torres del Paine National Park, during which time we’ll base out of EcoCamp. This will be followed by an exhausting return trip to the States, via Santiago and Atlanta, that will take upward of 24 hours. I’m scheduled back at RDU at 8:50 a.m. on March 10.

The extreme weather in the remote lands of Patagonia has made packing for this trip more than complicated. The area’s vastness, coupled with its proximity to the Antarctic, subjects the region to highly unpredictable weather patterns. Although we’ll be there toward the end of South America’s summer, temperatures can still range from the low-30s to mid-70s. Snow is not uncommon. And then there is the wind, with gusts topping out at 80 mph. Couple all of this with stringent weight restrictions for internal flights, and you start to see how important a Patagonia packing list really is.

After plenty of research (both online and at several outdoor stores) as well as conversations with friends who had recently visisted, I’ve come up with a list of essentials. It’s comprised of high-quality, layered, versatile clothing that will allow me to easily adapt to nearly any climate. What’s with all the Patagonia gear, you say? Simply put, they make some of the best clothing, are strongly committed to the environment and had a great sale last month. Plus, you can’t go wrong wearing Patagonia in Patagonia. At least I hope not.

Here’s what’s going on my back:

And this is what it all looks like.

dsc_0001

Stuffed into Eagle Creek Compressions Sacs makes it much more manageable.

dsc_0002

And then, finally, a shot of it all shoved into my new (but recycled!) Osprey React Backpack and my travel standby North Face Backtrack 70 (readers of this blog will recognize it from my trip around the world in 80 days).

dsc_0003

Next stop: Patagonia!