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PATAGONIA - Feb 3-20, 2006

PATAGONIA - Feb 3-20, 2006

Travel Journal of Patagonia Trip 2006
 

Feb 3 (Fri)
10:30pm: JFK Departure. As soon as boarding the plane, I zonked out. Thank you very much to Tylenol PM & my old pal Jack D.

Feb 4 (Sat)
12:40pm: Arrived at Santiago, Chile. After 2 hours of immigration BS, we took a taxi straight to the hotel. In the late afternoon we visited the Mercado Central for local sea-food. Restaurant barkers in the market shouted “UNI!, UNI!, UNI!” which means “sea urchin, sea urchin, sea urchin” I guessed they knew that all Japanese like sea urchins. We ordered sea urchin & “sautéed baby eel” which are dishes that belong in an Indiana Jones movie, the sight of which may cause the normal dainty eater to puke uncontrollably. They were actually pretty good but very fishy & I desperately craved some soy sauce.

Feb 5 (Sun)
We started our ½ day SS (Sightseeing) with our guide Johanna & a driver. There was nothing to see in Santiago, except dogs humping in front of the church, but she gave us the best tour she could give given the limited sights to see. At night, we voluntarily did the typical tourist dinner show which was as lame as could be, but to our surprise, the food was pretty good.

Feb 6 (Mon)
Full day SS of Santiago outskirts was conducted by our guide Edmundo who not only spoke 4 languages, but also sang. The first town we visited was called Vina del Mar. It’s a resort for rich folks in Chile and it looked it. We drove through & had lunch at a revolving restaurant over-looking at the bay. Funny thing is that, due to government ordinances, they couldn’t serve ceviche which is a Latin raw fish dish. So, questions came to my mind… Didn’t I just eat plate full of raw sea-urchins yesterday??? Aren’t they coming from the same water??? Are we gonna die tonight??? Sue kept yelling, “FREE CALORIES” and yes, you know what she meant! After lunch, we visited the small/ hilly/ charming town of Valparaiso. The town was named an international heritage or something by UNESCO a few years back. It was a hilly town filled with little houses made of galvanized iron sheets and clay roofs and that was it. We stopped at a little museum of Easter Island on the way back. They have an annual festival on Easter Island right now. Edmundo told us that it’s so packed there that if you go there, you must bring your own food because the restaurants just cannot accommodate all the tourist…there is no food there!

Feb 7 (Tue)
We took a flight at dawn to the gateway of Chilean Patagonia, Punta Arenas. Upon arrival, we had a lunch at a local restaurant where a big stoned-ass drunken Indian harassed everyone except us. Sue didn’t like her lamb dish & swears that she will not eat lamb (which is the main local food) while she is in Patagonia. [It was greasy and too gamey and I DO love lamb!] After lunch, we took a 3 hour bus ride to the town of Puerto Natales. We met 4 older Japanese folks on the bus. Upon arrival, we checked into a small hotel. The smallness of the town, the barren scenery, the cold wind etc., made us feel like we really came to the end of the world.

Feb 8 (Wed)
7:30am. We started a full-day but tour of “Torres del Paine” (Paine Nat’l Park) with the same 4 old Japanese people from yesterday…we’re EVERYWHERE! The scenery in this park can easily be mistaken for Switzerland. (See Photo section on this website.) Snow capped mountains, beautiful lakes, green fields that you can hardly believe that you are looking a nature and not one of those fake photographers backdrops! I was expecting Heidi to pop out any second and Sue kept singing...”the hills are alive”…from The Sound of Music so I guess she got the same impression. The main stop was at Grey Lake where you do 1½ hours of light hiking around the lake with floating blue icebergs. Until this point, I didn’t know that most of the glaciers & icebergs are blue. It’s because they are compounded snow & it works as a prism reflecting sunlight which is violet. Since the human eye cannot perceive red pigment in the sun, violet light appears as blue. Well, at least that’s what our guide said. I told this to Sue but she said that all she heard me say was, “wah, wah, wah, wah, wah wah wah”. (Say like the Charlie Brown voice.)

Feb 9 (Thu)
7:00am. Started a truly full-full-day of SS to Perito Moreno Glacier…Again by bus all the way to the Argentine border in 1 hour followed by an additional 3 hour ride to the quaint little town of El Calafate. Since we were pressed for time, instead of stopping there, we grabbed a lunch box & ran to catch next catamaran boat which took us right in front of the Glacier.

It started to rain as soon as we got to the pier & kept on going throughout our boat ride. Perito Moreno Glacier is one m’frickin’ big ass ice block. And when a tiny piece of it falls down into the water, the whole air shakes & vibrates with a thunderous, eardrum pounding, crashing noise. I thought our neighborhood factory was bad. I‘m glad that I don’t live next to this. After the boat ride, we moved onto the vista point where it was, once again…filled with elderly Japanese folks. On the way back, we stopped only 30 minutes at El Carafate because the Chilean border closes at 10 pm. We arrived back at our hotel at 11 pm. Wheeww! It was a long day!!!

Feb 10 (Fri)
We took a local bus back to Punta Arenas in the morning. We had yummy lunch of a giant cheese burger & hotdog. I decided to go sea kayaking. I’ve never done real sea kayaking before so, I was very excited about this opportunity. Disappointingly, I was only allowed to go around inside of a little bay checking out local fishing boats loading crabs onto the dock. ( But I was glad that I didn’t insist Sue to come along…she would have freaked at having to put on a clammy, nasty wet suit which is not her best look, AND in a room where anyone could see in! She would have killed me!)

That night, we went to a very nice local sea food restaurant and stopped at a very chic club to finish my nightly drinking ritual. On the way back to the hotel, out of an alcohol- induced impulse, I hugged the foot of the Indian statue in the public square which local legend says will bring a fortune. Sue told me the next day that it was more like I was having sex with it, so if the legend is correct, I might hit a real jackpot soon.

Feb 11 (Sat)
Boarding our cruise ship didn’t start until 6 pm. So, we walked and we walked and we walked around and around the town. And when Sue decided to relax on the park bench and read for the rest of the afternoon, I decided to do additional SS by myself & ended up seeing an historical museum & quite a fancy cemetery. After having delicious local sweets with cappuccino, we boarded our cruise boat for next 5 days, M/N MARE AUSTRALIS.

Feb 12 (Sun)
MARE AUSTRALIS is a small cruise boat with 63 cabins. But it’s cozy & the cabin was surprisingly spacious & bright with a huge window vs. just a porthole. Passengers were mostly retired older folks from all over the world. I noticed in this trip that there were three different types of tourists around here. One are kids with back-packs & trekking shoes, the other are old folks in polyester a white socks and sandals and, well, Japanese. Not many people know where Patagonia is. Most of people I talked with before I left U.S. thought I was going to a clothing store. Anyway, the day started with a small island in the area called Ainsworth Bay. One thing nice about this cruise is that this company somehow got an exclusive permit to cruise some isolated channels. So anywhere we went, there were no other cruise boats nor other tourists. We landed on this deserted island and the first thing we saw were giant elephant seals on the beach. These seals were GIGANTIC! And they couldn’t careless about us clicking shutters, and rolling videos at them. They were sleeping on the beach for the whole summer season, and nothing was going to interrupt that. Once in a while, they raised their heads and looked at us sleepily, yawned, scratched themselves with their front flippers and went right back to sleep. We did 2 hours of light hiking in the island looking at waterfalls, glaciers, birds, beaver dams etc. When we returned to the beach, there was a table with hot chocolate & scotch with glacier ice waiting for us. I realized that I really like people waiting for me with a drink at the end of hiking. In the afternoon we took the dinghy to visit Magellan penguin colony and returned soaking wet to our cabin because the seas were a bit rough that day.

Feb 13 (Mon)
We had a few lectures about local history & nature in the morning. We have been seeing penguins, seals, dolphins around the boat, but today, we saw 3 killer orca whales pass us by. In the afternoon, we went to a glacier called the Pia glacier. We sat on the rock beach in front of it & saw them drop into the water bit by bit with roaring crashing sounds. In the late afternoon, we entered a channel called “Avenue of Glaciers”. We sat on a table in the bar looking out the big terrace window seeing the magnificent glaciers passes in front of our eyes. This being one of a high-lights of the cruise, they made some nice efforts to make us enjoy the moment to its fullest. Each glacier is named after the country which discovered it. There was the French Glacier, Italian Glacier etc, and when we pass by each glacier, they played music of that country & served matching appetizers & drinks (brie and champagne, mini-pizzas and red wine). It was truly spectacular view outside and it was warm & cozy inside. By the time we passed through the avenue of glaciers, I was pretty plastered along with some other fellow passengers. Our newly found friends Mark & Nicky who shared our dinner table and who equally enjoyed the day. After several additional glasses of wine over dinner, we partied on till way past my bed time.

Feb 14 (Tue)
This morning, we were leaving the protected waters of the channel & going into the tip of famous Southern Ocean where 40 knots wind blow and where waves can rise as high as 30 feet. I got up at 4 am when I started to feel the waves. When I got out to the deck, I was surprised to see Mark standing there taking pictures in the dark. The wind I felt was nothing I ever experienced before in my life. I had to hang on to the rails so that I wouldn’t be blown away. But in spite of all the bitterly cold fierce wind, the water surface was surprisingly calm. I imagined myself being on my sail boat going through here on my around the world circumnavigation and I said NAHHH…

Around 6:30 am, we arrived at the Cape Horn. We planned to land there with our dinghies but the plan was cancelled due to the strong winds. All the disappointed passengers clicked their cameras from the deck to capture scenery at the end of the world.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at the Southern most village of Puerto Williams. This is where you see the last human population at the end of this side of the world, beyond here was nothing but icebergs & penguins. We were given 3 hours to roam around freely.

Aside from rows of small houses for the Chilean Naval soldiers, there was nothing there…NOTHING…3 hours of NOTHING!

The only touristy thing was a small village of native Indians & a very small museum which you can finish in 30 seconds. But I thought that if you looked at them with a different perspective and realize that everything around there is the “southern most” thing, you could appreciate them a little more. So I took a picture of the southern most trees, the southern most drug store, the southern most dog peeing on the southern most bushes, and then I went back to my ship. It was our last night on the ship so there was a champagne reception and more drinking continued while we crossed the Argentine border and arrived at the town of Ushuaia sometime in the middle of night.

Feb 15 (Wed)
We disembarked after breakfast and were escorted by a local guide to our hotel. Ushuaia is the southernmost town on the Argentina side. It is charming, touristy and thank God, much bigger than Puerto Williams. We walked around town the whole day checking into museums & gift shops etc,… There are 3 museums in town. The biggest one is “ Maritime Museum” which used to be a prison. There are all kinds of souvenirs in the area related to this prison and we realized how the prison & the inmates were an integral part of regional history. The most famous museum is “Muse del Fin del Mundo” (the end of the world museum) which we found rather boring & left after taking a couple shots of stuffed seagulls. The 3 rd museum we visited was “ Yamana Indian Museum” which was somewhat interesting because of this unusual tribe of which there are only 71 surviving members in the world. (There is no pure blood Yamana anymore. The last one died last year.- Oh, well…) Here are some facts about Yamana Indians to add in your totally useless knowledge bank or for your next game of Trivial Pursuit:

  1. The word “ Patagonia” means “Big Foot” (Pata-foot, Gonia-big). When Magellan came to this region, he saw big footed Indians. So, they named the region as that.
  2. Yamana lived almost totally naked in the freezing weather covering their skin with grease. This is because it’s so rainy throughout the year that rain soaked wet clothes were more problematic for them. (They also shaved skin so that it would not collect moistures.)
  3. Their life span was about as long as the lifespan of Westerners who found them…not very long!
  4. They lived in tents made with branches, leaves, hides & slept on the ground.
  5. They were hunters & fishermen. Their canoes had a fire going on inside the boat. But starting a fire was one of the most difficult tasks in the windy, wet, freezing weather. So, they had an official fire starting expert in their tribe.
  6. Legend says that once women ruled the tribe & one day men killed all the women except young girls (big surprise there!) to regain the power…obviously power over their wives who must have been ruling the roost!

Feb 16 (Thu)
In the morning we started yet another 1/2day SS tour of “ Tierra del Fuego (Land of fire) Nat’l Park”. It was named this because when Magellan arrived here he saw fires made by Indians on top of the hills. The tour began with a ride on “El Tren del Fin del Mundo (End of the world train)”. This was a charming, bright red steam driven locomotive running through the park on the track originally built by prisoners. After a 2 hour rain ride, we took our tour bus to go around the park getting out at one point for a really easy hike through the woods. It is much like our tour of Torres del Paine except less green and the scenery was more desolate & barren because the beavers literally chewed the place down.

After returning from the tour, I walked to the marina to check out the sail boats. When I walked into the dockage area, I saw a submarine docked among the sailboats. But, as I walked closer to the ship, I realized that it was a humongous steel monster of a sail boat. It really looked like something Captain Nemo would construct to go 20,000 leagues under the sea except that it had 2 huge masts sticking out of it. I never seen anything like it before and I knew I would never see anything like it again. I took some pictures and got their website address to check it out later. (It’s www.taraexpeditions.org if you’re interested). It once belonged to a world record sailor who was killed by pirates and this was not too long ago.

At night we met up with our friends Mark & Nicky for a dinner. Everything in Ushuaia was cheaper than anywhere in Chile. It is because 1) Generally, things are cheaper in Argentina and 2) Ushuaia is a tax free zone. Our dinner tab with 2 bottles of wine, and literally all you can eat Argentina steaks, lamb, sausage, pork came to about $15 per person with tip. We ate ourselves sick.

If you like cold climate, good meals & wine & wish to live cheaply, this town is not a bad choice. After dinner, we stopped at local café to finish another bottle of wine & said goodbye to our new friends who were scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires next day.

Feb 17 (Fri)
We started the 2 hour Beagle Channel cruise in the morning visiting a seal island and several bird islands. There was yet another Japanese tour group of elderly on the boat. They just arrived yesterday after a 36 hour flight. They must have really wanted to come here. After the cruise & a quick lunch, I left Sue at the hotel & took off to go sea kayaking again. A nice guy named Danny was going to be my guide/instructor for my first serious sea kayaking venture. At first I thought it was rather expensive for $130.00 USD for a half day of kayaking but it turned out that it was full day & was one of the most interesting experiences I had on my trip. Instead of going to the regular tourist route, we went to rather isolated archipelago along the borderline of Chile. Unlike a big tourist boat, you could get right on the island shores with the kayak. Our kayak was about 20 ft. and had two seats. There were two major things I didn’t know about kayaking 1) it has an adjustable rudder to control the direction and 2) it can go as fast as 6 knots. (My sail boat only goes 5 knots with full motor.) Actually, I experienced 2) above when Danny told me that we are going into the area with a fast adverse current. He told me to go as fast as I can for next 15 minutes. As we were going, I saw 40 ft. sail boat motoring to the same direction. From my experience, I knew that the sail boat was going about 6-7 knots, and we were going side by side with them. After passing through the critical area, the sail boat turned around and came to us to tell us how fast we were going.

I thought I’ve got to get one of these kayaks when I return home. I arrived back to hotel at 8:30 pm with soar arms & back.

Feb 18 (Sat)
Yesterday when I was kayaking, I met a scuba diving boat. I didn’t know that I could scuba in this freezing water. (Dry suits really work I guess.) I tried to squeeze a dive in the morning, but sadly, they just couldn’t do it in the morning. So we went out shopping for gifts using the last of our Argentina Pesos. (Actually, most of places in Ushuaia took credit cards & they also took US Dollars) We left Ushuaia 3:50 pm with Lan Chile airline & arrived back to Santiago at 10 pm.

Feb 19 (Sun)
Mark told us that there is a huge outside market across the river in Santiago downtown. I woke up early in the morning to take a look. It was gigantic local market & people were unloading crate after crate of vegetables, fruits, flowers, etc,. Around noon, after making arrangements with hotel for late check-out, we took a taxi to a folk gift village of Los Dominicos. It was a maze of little shops with local souvenir items. We bought a beautiful wood sculpture and took a taxi back to the fish market for our last meal in Chile.

I discovered that the sea food restaurants do have soy-sauce from my guide book but I didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. So my wisdom-filled wife suggested that we go to supermarket to find out. Armed with this knowledge, ( it is called “Salsa de Soya” FYI.) we went to the biggest restaurant in the fish market but unfortunately, no sea-urchins that day. Typical of my life story… we ordered some other fish dishes, poured Salsa de Soya on them and finished our last Chilean meal. (Actually, I also had to try obscenely big “Lomit’s sandwich” which seems to be a local favorite, before we went back to hotel which literally made Sue sick to watch me eat…it was as big as my head…have you seen my head?) We left Santiago at 9:15 pm with red-eyes to JFK.

Feb 20 (Mon)
We arrived back to JFK at 7:20 am with full of great memories & sore backs from a long flight.

 

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