Catching Up

We’re in Ushuaia now, staying in one place for three nights for the first time since Buenos Aires. The cruise doesn’t leave until Wednesday, so we can sit around and use the Internet (though not with our own computer since it doesn’t get recharged until then), walk to the local glacier, shop for cheap binoculars, and sleep.

Ushuaia is gorgeous. It’s like Switzerland. Everything we’ve seen so far in Argentina has been almost perfectly flat, except for some small mesas near the petrified wood. Here there’s a large sea inlet and snow-capped peaks on all sides. The town itself is pretty much all souvenir shops and restaurants, and tourists awaiting their cruises. At least we don’t feel quite as out of place.

At some point Ray will likely make several detailed posts with various insightful comments using his notes and stuff he’s already written. But for now, I’ll try to recap what’s happened since our last post. Things have been very closed in the last two weeks — eight out of twelve days have been holidays or weekends.

Probably the highlight of our walking around Buenos Aires was the Museo Xul Solar, an Argentine artist. He made many very colorful paintings, many based on his own versions of astrological symbols, Tarot cards, and other spiritual themes of his own design. He was pals with Jorge Luis Borges.

In Tandil, three hours south of Buenos Aires, we bought several varieties of the local cheese and a salami which it turned out we had to chow down before entering Patagonia due to agricultural quarantining.

In Bahia Blanca, three more hours south, we stopped at the local modern art museum where we met a very friendly artist. He mentioned many places we should go on our trip, and one of them was Balneario El Condor, which is home to a large cliffside parrot colony, and close to a sea lion colony. From there a gravel road continues 140 km or so along the coast, past extensive wild beaches that had very few visitors. We stopped occasionally, and saw treats like a black-necked swan swimming in the ocean, and a desert tortoise on the road.

We spent a night in Puerto Madryn, a dingy little town serving as the gateway to Peninsula Valdes. The next day we entered the peninsula, which has 200 km of gravel roads connecting a few points where you can watch wildlife, including sea lions and elephant seals from a distance. At another point you are just across a little fence from a colony of Magellanic penguins. And along the road, especially late in the day, we saw several guanacos, some rheas, a couple desert foxes, and several Patagonian hares, which look more like dogs. (They have really cute half-black butts.) At one point Ray got out of the car to photograph some cute grass, and a Guardafauna (or in this case guardaflora) truck stopped and said we shouldn’t even stop on the road, let alone get out of the car. It seemed a little hardcore. We set up the tent in the completely packed municipal campground, after having a somewhat fancy dinner at a nearby hotel.

The next day we drove to Trelew, having decided that the Chilean visa for the car just wasn’t going to happen. We took the computer to a cafe with WiFi and weird pizza to make flight reservations jumping the puddle from Rio Gallegos across the Chile portion to Ushuaia, and it was when we got back to the car that we discovered the breakin. It took a few days to formulate the strategies for replacing the power adapter, but it looks like we might end up with two replacements. Nearby, in Gaiman, we saw a whimsical little park full of art made out of trash (flowers made from bottles and cans, etc.) which was quite cute but we were annoyed by the theft and the extremely pervasive mosquitoes, and it was hard to enjoy it. Several hours of driving got us to the kind of ugly oil town of Comodoro Rividavia, where we spent New Year’s Eve, having the cold pizza leftovers for dinner because everything was closed.

Ray suggested going to Puerto Deseado, which wasn’t part of the original plan, but it sounded interesting. We got there in time to go on a boat ride up an estuary. We passed two kinds of dolphins, cruised by cliffside colonies of three different kinds of cormorants, and walked onto an island with 20000 Magellanic penguins. This was thoroughly enjoyable, as was dinner at a restaurant someone directed us to that was open on New Year’s Day. But the real highlight was another boat ride the next day, a six-hour tour taking us to an island featuring not only Magellanic penguins and sea lions, but also a large colony of rockhopper penguins, which are totally punk, with spiky fur on their heads, long yellow eyebrows, and red eyes. Unfortunately, the island also had a large population of skuas which enjoyed flying directly at us. The tour ended early enough that we were able to drive a few hundred km, including 50 km on another gravel road, to get us to a petrified wood monument before it closed. It was quite impressive, featuring many massive trees as much as three meters in diameter, which had become several beautiful colors of stone. We went to the nearby campground, whose delightful elderly hosts made meat and spaghetti for us, and suggested that we roll out our bags in the wind-free dining room instead of in the tent. It was an incredibly long but memorable day.

From there we drove 600 km or so to Rio Gallegos, stopping in Puerto San Julian for some breakfast, blogging, and shopping. Need a sink stopper and can’t speak Spanish? Ask them where their bathroom is, and then show them what you want. The challenge in Rio Gallegos was finding a place we could park the car for two weeks. A fairly nice hotel offered to host it, and hopefully it will be there when we return. There was an intriguing-sounding restaurant there, Laguanacazul, which was as creative as any we’ve been to in San Francisco, with a Patagonian chef and ingredients. The waiter was super-nice, refilling our wine by the glass (all of which was quite good), and giving us some dessert wine with the huge chocolate torte. We’ll try really hard to go back there when we return, even though it seems it will be on a Monday, the day they’re closed. The next morning (i.e. this morning), we went to the airport, which appeared to have one flight, going south to Ushuaia, and then north all the way to Buenos Aires. A surprising number of people got off the plane with us in Ushuaia.

And so now we’re somewhat up to date. We’ll see what happens on the cruise, and perhaps we’ll post from the ship. Otherwise we’ll just save stuff on the nicely charged computer, and post it all when we get back.