Sunday, October 24th; Rio Gallegos to Rio Grande
The southern tip of South America is crisscrossed with the serpentine border between Chile and Argentina. To get from Rio Gallegos, Argentina, to Rio Grande, Argentina, one must enter Chile, cross the Strait of Magellan, then re-enter Argentina.
Each time you leave a country, Immigrations stamps your passport and Customs takes your car entry permit back. A short distance away, the country you are entering has an Immigration office and a Customs office to start the procedure over. So, within a three hour period, we added four stamps to each passport. Try to avoid following a tour bus into this scenario; someone on that bus has a shoe-box full of passports, each of which must be examined and stamped.
The ferry runs on a ninety-minute loop, back and forth across the Strait of Magellan. Somehow, they manage to keep it steady against the wind and current during loading and unloading without using any lines to the shore.
A bird, looking much like an ostrich, roams the fields with the abundant sheep. We found out later it was a Nandu.
Monday, October 25th; Ushuaia At Last
The final leg of our journey south was driven with a light snow falling. Eventually, icy slush covered the road and the temperature dipped to a low of -2 deg C (29F) as we crossed over a low pass.
After 16,500 miles (26,500 km) we drove into Ushuaia, Argentina, billed as the World's Southern-most City. The road goes no farther south.
The Accidental Tourists, thinking ahead this time, popped the cork on a bottle of Chandon Champagne bought a month earlier at the winery in Mendoza. Chilled merely by leaving it in the car, we celebrated the end of our Adventure in the dining room of the Hotel Canal Beagle, looking out over the water.
Tuesday, October 26th
Large, fluffy snowflakes were falling as we drove to the Southernmost Railroad in the World's station west of town. The "Tren del Fin del Mundo" used to carry wood, cut by convicts working off their time, back to Ushuaia when it was primarily a prison. Those days ended long ago, but the steam engine train has been resurrected to serve as a tourist attraction. The snow continued all day, partially covering short tree stumps left from summer cutting and taller ones left when the snow was deep. All the pine trees were dusted with snow, making it a Winter Wonderland.
Wednesday, October 27th
Courtesy of Elsa:
We booked a flight to Puerto Williams the southern-most town (regardless of Ushuaia's claims), from which you are 1000 km from Antarctica. The flight plan has to be filed 24 hours before, to leave at 9 AM. It snowed all day yesterday with -2 grad. Peter got up at 3 AM to look out the window, it looked clear, again at 6 AM and the sky was clear and blue. So after a very tiny croissant (Continental breakfast served here) we drove to the small airport which we can see from our hotel lobby window. We arrived at Aero Club Ushuaia at 8:30 AM.
Somebody showed up at 9 AM and opened the hangar and proceeded to pull out two planes... a Piper Cherokee and a Piper Lance. By the time they got the planes ready, we took off at 9:30 AM. We flew only 5 minutes, landing at the International airport which you could have driven to in 10 minutes, but we flew over water. Got out to do Customs and the pilot had to do a bunch of paper work and we had to pay Airport taxes of $18 and of course wait and wait. After all was finished, it was 10:15 and we had to wait in the plane on the ground until we were cleared by Puerto Williams, Chile, to be allowed to land. We finally took off at 10:50. After a 20 minute flight, with beautifully-covered snowy mountains all around us and Peter flying the plane and a perfect, smooth landing by him it was 11:05. Again we had to do Customs... in a very dead airport with nobody there, only a Citation landing and departing. That took another 30 minutes. When finally all was done, the customs guy took us and the pilot in to town... all of 2200 people, and told us he would see us Friday (planes are only allowed to bring people Monday, Wednesday and Friday), because he was going to a Reunion lunch with the city Mayor. When we protested and said, "We arranged a 20 min. flight here and a 45 minute taxi ride through the town and then a 20 minute flight back again," he called another pilot who was at the airport and asked him to wait for us and take us back.
By the way... the town has no hotel yet, one is being built and will open in December in time for their big season. Back at the airport after a 30 minute drive for $20, it is now 11:55 and of course nobody is there but the pilot waiting for us. The Customs guys are on their way from the dock, he said, and after 35 minutes waiting, in which they could have come back and forth 10 times, two people showed up. They had such a paper mart with the pilots paper, I inquired "if they had ever done this before" as you could clearly see he was frustrated, too, with their lack of knowledge. After another $16 in Airport taxes, we took off at 12:55 PM in the 6 seat Piper Lance and, of course, landed again at the International Airport to do Customs back into Argentina. But no one was there... as it turns out, the same guys work the boat docks too, and had to be called to come here, which took 55 minutes. With growling stomachs, we watched through the glass at everyone in the airport eating lunch!!! Again, 5 minute flight back to the first airport, landing at 2:05 PM!!!
Royally frustrated and $260.00 ($US) poorer, we raced to lunch in town.
Having carefully scanned the Ushuaia Radio Club web-site without discovering where it was, I walked to the tourist office in town and asked a young lady how to find it. She whipped out a city map and, without hesitation, put a small dot on it. Less than a mile away along the waterfront, I walked to it in 15 minutes. Naturally, no one was there, but their sign indicated that a frequency of 146.52 MHz was used for local communications. I walked back to the hotel and fired up the radio in the Jeep. Not really expecting much while the car was in the basement parking garage, I was quite surprised when LU8XP came right back with a strong signal. Cosme indicated he would like to get together, so he drove to the hotel, picked me up and took me to the club station for a tour, then to his home for a chance to see his own station. Hamsters always treat each other well.
Thursday, October 28th
The last stretch of the Andes, which we followed south all the way from Ecuador, topped with snow, outlining the Beagle Channel under a brilliant sun, gave Ushuaia a glorious setting as it disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
Punta Arenas was too far to make in one day, so we returned to the "Posada De Los Sauces" hotel in Rio Grande.
Friday, October 29th
Our original plan was to take the ferry from Porvenir to Punta Arenas. I checked to make sure the 3:30 PM departure was not fully booked, only to find there was no ferry on Friday. This forced us to take the ferry to Punta Delgada instead, adding 160 km to the trip. From the previous trip, we knew the ferry left at 10:40 AM, so we zoomed over the gravel road as fast as we dared, arriving 5 minutes before it departed.
While we waited for the ferry,a pregnant cat wandered over to the car, looking for a hand-out. Elsa held up some cheese and the cat jumped straight up to take it from her hand. It wasn't long before two others showed up for the feast, which ended when the ferry loading started.
We wandered around Punta Arenas looking at the hotel choices listed in the guide-book and settled on the Los Navagantes, not listed.
Moncho, the air-traffic controller we met in Rio Gallegos, declining our invitation to be treated for the evening, picked us up our hotel at 8:30 PM and took us to his house for a delicious crab dinner at 10:00 PM, standard dinner time for Chileans.
Saturday, October 30th; Penguins at last...
On Moncho's advice, we headed for the Pengineria at Seno Otway. Leaving the paved road 25 km north of town, a sign said it was 25 km farther. At the presumed end of the road, another sign said it was 10 km more. Good information is hard to get, no matter how simple the question. The road did end, eventually, at the point where you are separated from 6,000 pesos ($10 US) and a chance to walk one more kilometer. The Magellanic Penguin sits on its eggs during late October and early November, so all 10,000 birds in the colony were in their burrows, doing what they were supposed to do. Occasionally, a white penguin head poked up out of the ground and looked around before disappearing in the hole again. A few penguins, shirking their family obligations, frolicked on the beach, in and out of the water. We saw, at most, 20 penguins before returning to Punta Arenas.
Many frisky little lambs, appearing to be learning to walk and run, follow their mothers around the pastures. Spring is definitely coming soon.