Pantagonia

Trip Start Feb 18, 2008
1
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Trip End Mar 07, 2008


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, February 29, 2008

Land sweet land. We arrived in Ushuaia Argentina and through the first line on shore around 7 a.m. Ushuaia (pronounced [u'swaia]) is the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego, and claims to be the world's southernmost city. It is located on the southern coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego in a wide bay, guarded on the north by the Martial mountain range and on the south by the Beagle Channel. Its population in 1999 was estimated at 57,300.




As we disembarked we passed all of the catamarans waiting for tourist to board them. Most of them had the same name painted on the side that the buses in Stanley so we are assuming that they are part of the Princess Excursions. Wow a totally antiseptic way to see the sights without ever having to experience the culture, language or people of the country. Certainly not our way of doing things. We wandered past the small building that was the port authority into a hive of tour salesmen and taxi drivers. With a simple no gracias we passed the crowds and crossed the street to a tourist information center. It looked closed from the exterior, it was a very new building and we paused before trying the door. Inside the woman behind the counter helped us with a list of boats that take people out to see the seals. We scanned the list and found the Barracuda. It was the cheapest tour so that is the name that we looked for when we went out to the booths outside. The Barracuda had a very simple booth and inside a woman took our credit cards to pay for our trip.

She had a little trouble with the cards. That was when she told us that there was only one cable coming into Ushuaia that held all of their phone lines, computer lines everything. She said that had a tendency to hold up things. We headed across the street and back through the port authority. 

The Barracuda was at the end of a rickety old dock made of wood. The planks rattled as we headed out. At the end was our boat was walking along the pier watching the boats stationed on one side. Resting among the modern catamarans, the Barracuda, a picturesque boat from other times, was waiting for us. Danilo Clement was by the handrail inviting us to go inside the boat, where it was warmer than on deck. We declined and headed up on top for a beautiful view of Ushuaia and our cruise ship as we departed from the dock.

Our boat was built in 1950 by the Argentinian Fluvial Fleet. It was appointed for navigation along the Paraná River and, once the state-owned company was closed, it passed onto the private hands of a private company called Navidelta to sail across the Buenos Aires delta. But by 1975, she was purchased by don Vicente Pantín, who brought the boat up to Ushuaia.

It was the first watercraft in the southern city to take tourists across the channel. Today, after 30 years, it keeps sailing along the same route, under the command of Danilo, who used to be a sailor in the Barracuda in the days of Pantín. Clement modernized all the navigation equipment but he made an effort to preserve every single detail which printed their particular charm on the boat, especially in the dining-room with its lamps made of brass and its wooden benches.

What a great choice! We headed out into the beagle channel and the first island that we slowed down for was covered in birds called Imperial shags and South American sea lions. While the catamarans had to keep a safe distance our little barracuda got right next to the rocks. We were feet away from the sea lions. Though they are the cutest little animals they stink like week old fish. Of course that was part of the experience. We stopped at several islands and saw a few different types of seals. 

Video of the sea lions of Ushuaia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bvXj2iWUA4

The whole family seemed to be running the operation the two year old daughter of the crew tottered down the interior of the boat and acknowledged me with a confident Ola'. One of the crew, a lovely young woman that spoke only Spanish, tried to ask us something but we didn't understand. We thought she was offering to take our picture... It was only later that we realized that she was offering a chance to see the bridge... We did get a lovely photo of the 4 of us due to our own ignorance. Cory and I later were invited again to the bridge. We got it this time and were impressed to be brought into the sanctuary of the captains bridge.



The Barracuda advanced across the sea towards the Southwest towards the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, nestled inside the archipelago bearing the same name. Due to its location, this is he southernmost Argentinian lighthouse.
Our tour continued towards Isla de los Lobos (Sea Lions' Island) dwelled by these mammals. It took all of 3 hours to complete the tour and was so well worth the cost. If I came back a millionaire I would still take the Barracuda instead of the more expensive and more sterile catamarans. 




Upon arrival back we tried to find a ATM. We found a bank on the corner and luckily there were English translations. We pulled out some Argentinian Pesos knowing that we would be able to use what ever was left over in Buenos Aires at the end of our trip. Across the street was the restaurant Moustacchios. They had a grilled lamb in the window. We chose this as our lunch. It was a fantastic choice! All of the boys ordered tenderloin but I chose the Lamb. The lamb was so good that my eyes rolled back in my head. It was covered in a mushroom and pea sauce that was to die for. The boys loved their steaks that were 2 inches thick and cut like butter. We paired it all with an Argentinian wine. Wow! Best meal so far.




After that it was back to the boat. We would have liked to have more time in Ushuaia but with the Cruises you have to be back on board by a certain time. Our ship left dock at 4:28. As we were getting ready for dinner we got a excited call from Paulie. We were slower than he was about getting ready and was on the promonade. We were in the Beagle channel passing the Avenue of the Glaciers. I sent Cory ahead with the camera. I hurried getting ready and was glad that I did. The Glaciers were fantastic. Beautiful, Majestic towers of blue and white.
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