Glacier Grey

Today we went to Lago Grey and saw glacier grey.  We saw a bunch of icebergs. We evan had to walk on a huge sand bar to get to the boat. My favorite part was geting to pick out a few rocks to play with. I thought it (the boat trip) was boring.

-La Nina Curiosa

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A Hike in Torres del Paine

I’m finding it rather hard to draft a blog about jaw-dropping scenery. This experience definitely lends itself more to photos, though even the photos really don’t do justice to the stunning landscape. (This is particularly true since we stupidly decided not to bring our real camera and are just using the iphone camera instead…bad call!)

In any case, this place is as impressive as everyone says it is. But it has taken me two days of driving around to realize why it’s not quite as I imagined it would be. I think I pictured Patagonia to have more dense snowcapped mountains, clustered together in a long line of peaks with a lot of gray rock and snow. Instead, the big draw here is the ‘Paine massif’ with the famous Torres at the center. These peaks are made up of several different kinds of rock, and when the sun shines on them (as it has been for the last several days!), it has an amazing variety of color – white, light gray, slate gray, tan, and a reddish brown. They jut up from this high, dry plain, which is much more arid in many places than I’d imagined – there really aren’t many trees, which I guess makes sense given the climate. And the lakes are such different colors – from intense cobalt blue to turquoise/gray.

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The biggest surprise, however, is the weather. Everyone I spoke with before this trip who had been to Torres del Paine warned me about the cold and wind. One person even suggested we should stay for at least a week, because in 4 days you might not even see the towers due to the clouds. So we feel incredibly lucky to be having super sunny weather, bright blue skies, and very mild wind for the most part. (Though I understand Lago Grey is MUCH windier – we’ll see tomorrow!)

Noah and I are adjusting to this new reality of planning outdoor activities that the girls will enjoy. This involves seeking out waterfalls near the road, short hikes to impressive view points, and every boat ride the park has to offer.

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We watch the never-ending stream of backpackers (doing the so-called “W” circuit) hiking by, with unabashed envy, reminiscing about our own backpacking adventures not so long ago… The trekkers are here in droves, hiking by day, presumably partying by night, since they all stay in these cool refugios (with happy hour specials!!) spaced out perfectly along the trail. Part of me thinks – oh well, we’ll come back and do this trek together when the girls are older…but that’s probably a pipe dream. Who gets to come here twice??!!

Lest you think we are wallowing in self-pity, this is fortunately not the case. Here is the big news: all four of us did a solid 2-hour hike together yesterday, with very little complaining (including during an extremely windy section where I thought we might lose Cassidy to el viento!) Over the course of two hours, we only had 3 or 4 water breaks, two chocolate breaks and 2 stops (ida y vuelta) to make some fresh mud next to a lovely mountain stream. It was a lovely hike (photos below), and it gave us serious hope for the future. SUCCESS!!!!

La Portavoz

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Check Horseback Riding Off the List (Phew)

This morning we drove to the north of the park to visit a waterfall and then Laguna Azul. The girls and Noah played and picnicked by the lake while I took a jaunt up the hill to the Mirador. Another stunning view – it’s cool seeing the towers from so many different angles.

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In the afternoon, the girls and I did the much-anticipated (and requested) horseback ride, while lucky Noah did a super intense hike/run up to the Mirador de Las Torres. The horseback ride was pretty much what I expected…hot, dusty, smelly, and ego-bruising (I am NOT good with horses). An hour was about 55 minutes too long for me. Isn’t it amazing what we do for our kids?

I’m not sure if my horse was lazy or – as gaucho Miguel wisely suggested – the horse could tell that I didn’t know what I was doing. In any case, he kept dragging behind, plodding along, stopping to munch on grass, etc. Miguel told me to kick him in the ribs, assuring me that it wouldn’t hurt the horse. OK, but it did hurt me — a shooting pain in the shins. Was I doing something wrong?

After Sierra accidentally dropped her reins on the ground twice in the first 10 minutes, our guide decided to attach his horse to hers – probably a good idea. After that, she was happy as a clam, and finished the ride asking to go again soon. Meanwhile, Cassidy was intrigued at first, but definitely bored and dragging by the end. I was really proud of her for sticking it out for over an hour…also pleased that she won’t be begging to go again any time soon. [Would that have anything to do with the fact that her horse’s name was Lice? Not kidding!!]

-La Portavoz

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My Longest Hike

I am on a boat!  The lake was really blue!  When we got across the lake we took a more-than-two hour hike.  I haven’t ever gone on a longer one!  The hike went up over the lake (Lago Pehoe) in Torres del Paine.  I felt tired, hungry and proud.  I felt proud because I climbed up a hill.

-La Nina Curiosa

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Sleepless in El Calafate

The last 16 hours (journey from Ushuaia to El Calafate, first night here) have introduced several more ‘character-building experiences’ (as my mom would call them).

Here’s a short list:

  • Seriously sleep-deprived Sierra refusing to stand with us in line to board our plane in Ushuaia, and then giving me the silent treatment on the plane since she wanted to sit next to Daddy
  • An extremely curt Mario Andretti taxi driver from the airport – yowsers – this place is definitely not as chill as Ushuaia
  • After arriving in El Calafate, long walk to hot restaurant with slow service and two tired, hungry kids
  • Dude next door to our hotel trying to start his piece-of-crap-no-muffler car, over and over, between 3 and 5am this morning. Boy am I tired…
  • Being told to take the long route to drive to Torres del Paine, which is supposedly better-traveled and fully paved, but adds an hour to our drive!
  • Learning that El Calafate has no self-service laundromats – we are going to be one smelly crew in Torres del Paine…

On the bright side, the weather is gorgeous – much warmer than I expected – and the drive from El Calafate to Torres del Paine (Chile) is rather amazing so far. Very few cars, absolutely no towns – just ranches. I would call this the altiplano, though not sure if that’s the technical term. It’s a high, arid plain, with small scrubby bushes and snow-capped mountains framing the horizon. The sky looks absolutely enormous. We have seen a lot of sheep, quite a few mangy guanaco (local llamas), and one awkward rhea (local ostrich).

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Another great thing: Sierra and Cassidy’s creative play continues to impress. Here’s a quick list of the games they have come up with in each location, always with immense enthusiasm:

  • Buenos Aires: magic-infused play with the small plastic ‘my little ponies’ (SO glad we brought these) and unicorns. Listening to the names makes me chuckle every time – Orange Pie, Pinkie Pie, Glitter sparkle, Princess Celestia, Apple Bloom, Sweetiebelle…etc etc
  • Ushuaia: Pet rocks with names and personalities; a ‘school’ game with their crayons, each of which is assigned a partner; making clothes and beach toys out of paper for Freckles and Peach (stuffies)
  • El Calafate: Puppet show with their loveys, followed by a production of the musical Annie by their ponies (who apparently excel at chorus)

The girls played games with their ponies for HOURS today in the backseat – they only watched one video, and didn’t even beg for another. Truly amazing when you consider how our drives to Tahoe usually go…they do seem to be in a different mode here. And doing a lot of sister bonding, which is very fun to see.

In any case, Sierra has been quite excited about crossing the border into Chile – I wonder if she found the border crossing as anti-climatic as I did (?) Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the peaks of Torres del Paine – and get out of this car!!

La Portavoz

 

 

Penguins!

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Today we went to see the penguins. What delightful creatures!

It started with an hour and a half bus ride on which we learned a bit about the history of Ushuaia, about their ski areas, and about their invasive beaver problem. We arrived at the estancia, which was across the Beagle Channel from Puerto Williams, Chile (the southernmost town in the world). We got into the covered zodiac boat and scooted out into the channel to the island. We landed on Isla Martilla and climbed off the boat. We were immediately amongst the penguins. And the wind, a very strong cold wind. There was a roped off walkway and our guide Laura (nicknamed Crazy Horse!) kept us all in line and at least a meter or two from the penguins.

We had brought all the cold weather gear we had in Argentina, except we unfortunately forgot Cassidy’s hat and gloves. The wind was so strong that it was difficult to keep Cassidy’s hoods on and she struggled to keep warm. Her hands were especially cold. She toughed it out for the full hour+ on the island – I was proud of both girls.

There were the three types of penguins: Magellanic, King and Gentoo. Many were in or around their burrows. There were quite a few juveniles who had been born a couple months before and were still partly fuzzy. They were a very curious lot, with many popping out of their burrows to look at us or even waddling right up to our group to check us out.

It’s hard to articulate why penguins are so alluring, but this really was a special outing!

More videos to come – they just take a while to edit and upload.

After the boat trip back and some hot chocolate, we got an hour long lecture and tour of the sea animal (seal, sea lion, whale) research station and museum.  Sierra was extremely engaged during the whole tour, absorbing it all like a sponge – La Nina Curiosa!  BIMG_0063BIMG_0061imageBIMG_0058BIMG_0057

The girls snoozed on the bus ride back.  Fantastic day all around!IMG_3024

-el Gordito

Penguins Everywhere!

Today I went to see penguins.  There were a LOT of them.  They were on a island called isla Martilla (mar-ti-ja) near Ushuaia. We (me and Cassidy) were cold but excited!  I went with a tour guide (who’s nick name was Crazy Horse) and my family.

-La Nina Curiosa

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Los Pinguinos…and Charles Darwin

Today was the day we got to see penguins in the wild!! It was super cool, and the girls really enjoyed it, especially Sierra. It was amazing to see the babies in their burrows and get so incredibly close to these funny creatures. They really do seem so smart and curious. It was extremely cold and windy on the island, which was quite a struggle for Cassidy. She started begging to go back to the boat after we had been on the island for 15 minutes. But somehow we made it to the end of the hour, and it was worth it for sure.

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The drive there and back was also pretty spectacular…and remote. It’s amazing how undeveloped this whole region is, and how recent the development that does exist is. I guess the Argentinian government started making a conscious effort to ‘settle’ Tierra del Fuego (to ensure its control of this territory) only in the early 1900s. And it wasn’t until the 1980s that they started giving economic incentives to factories to relocate to Ushuaia.

The launch point for Isla Martilla (where the penguins live) is Estancia Haberton, the oldest ranch in Tierrra del Fuego. It’s a beautiful setting – I wonder what it would be like to stay here overnight?  Their chocolate cake was definitely a highlight for Cassidy 🙂

Anyway, the day after the penguin visit I had the bright idea to let the girls watch the movie March of the Penguins. In retrospect (given the number of tears) this was perhaps a mistake. Or maybe not — is this as a good an age as any to learn the brutal reality of the animal food chain? Hmmm…I do find it rather fitting that Sierra and Cassidy learned about natural selection in sight of the Beagle Channel (named after the SMS Beagle of Charles Darwin fame)!

La Portavoz

The White Cadillac at the End of the World

I love Ushuaia’s dramatic setting, but sadly the town itself has touristy prices and a bit of a tourist trap vibe. And yesterday we learned the hard way why most people here do the over-priced package tours.

We had decided to rent a car for the day so we could drive into Tierra del Fuego National Park ourselves, vs. going with a tour outfit. To start with, this car looked nothing like your typical rental car. It was a white Chevy Corsa, circa 2005 perhaps? Manual everything, missing some hub caps, but at least it had seatbelts and only a small crack in the wind shield. We dubbed it the white Cadillac and happily went on our way.

The trouble started when we decided to split up – me with the girls to ride into the national park on the touristy Tren del Fin del Mundo, and Noah off to get supplies for a picnic lunch, and then meet us at the station where the train ended. The train was fun, and went through a gorgeous green valley, pictured below.

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To understand what happened next, you have to appreciate that everything in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego – and all around these parts for that matter – seems to be branded ‘end of the world.’ So Noah apparently had ‘endings’ in his head and was persuaded that the train station where we would disembark was at the ‘end of the road’ (where Route 3 ends, famously the last stretch of road on the South American continent.)

So, Noah drove all the way to the end of the road (30 minutes into the park), before realizing that the train ‘station’ was just inside the park entrance. (It is a VERY slow-moving train).  Meanwhile, as Noah drove to the end of the road and back again, I stood with the girls on the side of Route 3 for nearly an hour, trying to fight back a growing sense of panic and remain calm. I couldn’t imagine how he could have missed the pick-up spot, as there were at least 4 huge tour buses and several taxis waiting to pick up passengers. I started imagining the worst…and I had no way to call him, as I had our only Argentina cell phone.

In any case, I was immensely relieved when Noah finally arrived, somewhat sheepishly admitting that he hadn’t looked at the park map when he decided to drive to the end of the road. I wish the story turned rosier from here, but I’m afraid there is yet another twist. After a nice – but chilly – walk around a lake and brief stop for snacks, we returned to the white Cadillac to find the battery completely dead. (Lights left on perhaps?) There is no cell phone signal within the park, so our phone was useless. And after chatting with several sympathetic tour guides in the parking lot, I quickly learned that Argentines do not carry jumper cables in their trunks. (But boy are these people nice – at one point four men offered to push the car through pot holes and puddles while Noah tried to start it!)

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And so it was that I learned a great new vocabulary word in Spanish: la guardaparque = park rangers. I was able to get the kind senor at the confiteria to radio the guardaparque, who arrived a mere 45 minutes later. However, they were unable to revive the Cadillac with their jumper cables, so we were left stranded at the confiteria for another 90 minutes until the next colectivo (public bus) arrived. I’ll spare you the details, but we basically abandoned the car and made it back to our hotel approximately 7 hours after the ill-fated trip to the end-of-the-road at the end-of-the-world had begun. And boy did we feel like rookie travelers at that point…

Fortunately, the girls had amused themselves for hours by finding some new pet rocks, which over the course of the day had developed names, ages, and personalities. End of the world or not, rocks are rocks, and kids will be kids. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of our girls as I was yesterday, when they stayed calm, good-natured, and even laughing throughout this entire experience. Wow – are these MY kids???

La Portavoz

Easy going in Ushuaia

We decided to lay low in Ushuaia today, as the kids had not gotten enough sleep. The girls engaged in imaginative play in our room and headed out to the playground in the backyard (where the kids of the owner play).
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We went into town for lunch in a cafe. On the way back, we had the taxi driver take us up to the hill above town so we could ride up the chair lift. Apparently it doesn’t run anymore – the perils of a 2014 guide book – but the weather was sunny and it was an okay view out over town.
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After lunch, I got out for my first run of the trip. Apparently everybody runs to the airport here. I assume it is because the airport access road is paved so you don’t choke on dust every time a car goes by. I went there as well but on the way back I opted for the rocky beach of the Beagle Channel (as in the HMS Beagle that carried Mr. Darwin here in the 1830s).
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The weather changes fast here. It started pouring rain on my way back – very refreshing.

In the evening, I took a taxi into town (10 minutes, ~100 pesos) to pick up the rental car. Weather changed again!
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We drove to a great restaurant on the other side of town (Kuar) that had a lovely view and great food. Cassidy fell asleep on the way there. When we finally woke her for dinner she was extremely grumpy (again). With me as el Gordito and Linda as our spokeswoman (La Potravoz), there was talk of Cassidy as Senorita Fiesty Pants and Sierra as La Nina Curiosa. Cassidy took serious umbrage but Sierra’s has stuck.

-el Gordito