Tag Archives: Ushuaia

Aaaand….we’re off!

Tuesday 20 February 2024 – We were Being Called For at 11.00 to start our Antarctic expedition, so we had a relaxed start which mainly involved discovering that the breakfast we had back in Buenos Aires seems – on the unscientific basis of two samples – to be standard. Some fruit, many sorts of pastry and bread. Oh, and liquid yogurt and scrambled egg – not together, I hasten to add. We filled ourselves up, checked out and were duly collected on the dot of 11am by a man with a van, who took us a short distance down to the seafront and a place called Club 1210; normally a bar, but today a holding place for the bags of people such as us who were boarding Hondius.  As we had suspected and I had feared, boarding wasn’t until much later – 16.00 – and so we now had four and a half hours to kill before being allowed on the boat. So we went for a walk. Obviously.

We weren’t at all ambitious in our wandering – coffee was basically the objective, rather than any further cultural enlightenment.  We found the Banana Bar, which provided an approximation to coffee but also some internet, and spent an hour there before deciding we ought to move on. Just around the corner was Parrilla La Estancia, which Google promised was open, so we hied ourselves thither.  Open it was, and, being a parrilla, it had an open fire over which lamb was being cooked (for, we discovered, empanadas) as well as another, more conventional charcoal grill.  It was a bit unfortunate that breakfast had been so recent because neither of us were feeling that hungry; all we wanted really was a salad. And a g&t, of course.

Jane had a couple of empanadas with her salad and I had a chorizo sausage, which was tasty, but more like a conventional English sausage than the chorizo one buys in a UK supermarket. The service was very agreeable, and the price quite reasonable, which made the matter of a tip a bit problematical.  The only US currency we had was 20 dollar bills, which seemed a bit over-generous. The matter solved itself rather neatly, as our waiter asked us where we came from, and when we said England, enthusiastically talked about getting hold of some UK paper money for his son who was collecting foreign currencies.  So we gave him a tenner and he seemed very happy with that.  It might have been an entirely concocted story, but it seemed a decent way forward at the time.

This still left us with some time to kill, so we pottered around the corner – almost everything in Ushuaia is “just around the corner” – to the Museo del Fin del Monde, “Museum of the End of the World”,

which had a few artefacts from significant events in the area, such as the figurehead from the ship Duchess of Albany which was wrecked in the 19th century due to rubbish maps and worse weather.

The museum also had a very considerable collection of stuffed birds of the region. There was a sister building that was part of the museum, an old house, large parts of which had been preserved, and this took us closer to the magic four pm.

There were some Interesting Buildings on view

and I noticed that although the locals disapprove of the current ownership of the Falklands, they appear to b OK with repurposing our London buses.

Our final diversion as we ambled about wasting time was a Feria de Artisanos – a handicraft market, which lived in a slightly ramshackle, erm, shack, but which featured a great variety of sellers and goods, from paintings, through jewellery to woodwork.

This was our final and rather charming diversion before we were able to enter the port and walk up to Hondius.

Where there was a queue to board, of course.

It wasn’t a huge wait and we eventually boarded, got our cabin keys and were able – finally! – to unpack the suitcases we’d been lugging around for the past four days.  One of the nice side-effects of having to reschedule and wait and reschedule and wait for four years was a gradual uptick in the standard of cabin we were offered in return for not demanding a refund. So we had a nice cabin, which seemed to have plenty of room and decent comfort.

After we’d unpacked there were the usual sort sof things to attend that figure as part of every cruise – welcome briefing, compulsory lifeboat evacuation practice, meet the team presentations, that kind of thing, and these gave us the opportunities to grab a decent cup of tea (they have Earl Grey aboard, though not, sadly, Twinings Finest) and chat to a few other passengers, such as Pete and Pete, one from New Zealand and one from Luxembourg, who had first met each other on a trans-Siberian Express when they ended up sharing a cabin. Astonishingly, not only did they share a first name, but a surname as well, which is a statistical outlier if my grasp of statistics is still sound.

The ship is set up as a hotel, so has a hotel manager (William) to run that side of things. But the most interesting presentation was from Pippa, who is the expedition manager. She pointed out that while the hotel guys’ job was to make us comfortable on board, her job was, if at all possible, to get us off the ship, so that we could better experience the environs. Her team consisted of over a dozen people from a bewildering variety of countries and backgrounds, all of whom had developed relevant expertise for Antarctic expeditions – bird life, mammals, geology, geography, history – which promises to make the next three weeks an intensely educational time.

A key thing she stressed was that we were on an expedition ship, and this meant that any itinerary we had in mind was at best approximate and quite possibly a work of fiction, as we were entirely at the mercy of Mother Nature, meaning it might not be possible to visit some places mentioned on the original itinerary map we had been shown.

Or even, as it turns out, the very direction of travel. Pippa showed us that the current weather forecast would have likely rendered it impossible to disembark at the Falklands or South Georgia, our first destinations under plan A. Therefore her plan B was to run the entire cruise the other way round – anticlockwise, starting with Antarctica and finishing with South Georgia and the Falklands.

So the first thing we will have to do, once we clear the Beagle Channel that leads from Ushuaia into the Southern Ocean, is a right turn and a crossing of the infamous Drake Passage, which is notorious for being rough and stormy. This means two full days at sea before we get somewhere near the Antarctic landmass, two days of opportunities to attend lectures, educate ourselves and find out if we are as immune to seasickness as we hope we are.

And that’s the current state of play. We had a quick buffet dinner, encouraged that way by the fact that the bar was closed at the time, and so are now on course to hit open water during the night. Let’s see how that works out….

Day 3 – Ushered through Ushuaia

Monday 19 February 2024 – We were due to be collected at 0800 to be taken to Buenos Aires’s domestic airport for our flight to Ushuaia, so the alarm was a little early, but, hey, we’re travelling; early alarm calls are routine. The hotel breakfast was fancy but otherwise unsatisfactory; we like yoghurt and fruit and wholesome things, whereas what was on offer was elegant but largely pastry-based. No matter; we got some sustenance and a car turned up at 0800 to take us, via a strange and circuitous route, to what felt like a very dodgy entrance to the departures bit of Aeroparque Jorge Newbery – it was surrounded by people who looked like they had no business there, but there was at least the reassuring presence of some people wearing high-vis vests and earpieces to counter any nervousness.

Any nervousness which had been dispelled was immediately rekindled on entering the place. It was a fucking zoo.

It really was difficult to work where one was supposed to go, since absolutely everywhere seemed to start with a queue.  In the end, Jane spotted a desk with no queue marked “Sky Priority” and so we thought we’d blunder up and pretend to be ignorant British tourists, which was frankly not much of a stretch for our acting abilities.  Remarkably, it turned out to be exactly the right place to get us checked in and we were on our way upstairs to the departure gates in very short order.

The departure area was a splendidly calm contrast to the barely-contained stress of all those check-in queues.

We treated ourselves to coffee and then pottered on to security. The journey through the vetting seemed to be going OK until an operative, seeing me about to pick up my backpack, came over and said “yours?”.  When I said yes, he pointed to the tripod strapped to the outside and said something that sounded like “check or discard”.  I didn’t understand and he found an English-speaking colleague who explained that tripods weren’t allowed in cabin baggage as they might be used as weapons, so my options were: take it back downstairs; or discard it.

This was a bit of a facer, frankly. I had travelled to, across and home from the whole of continental North America with a tripod strapped to the very same backpack with nary a murmur from the authorities. Since we appeared to have only about 30 minutes until boarding and I simply couldn’t face the prospect of going back down into the zoo, I was on the point of discarding the thing when another official did what officials are normally trained not to do – he came to the rescue.  The tripod in question is a Joby Gorillapod, which has bendy, rubber-covered legs intended to enable setup wrapped around things or in other oddball circumstances.  As such, he deemed it not to be a weapon. Its status as a non-weapon could be confirmed if we could fit it inside our carry-on rather than strapped to the outside, thus rendering it completely non-dangerous. Fortunately, Jane’s backpack had room and we could carry on with our tripod as carry-on. Blimey, what a carry-on!

The rest of the journey to Ushuaia passed off perfectly uneventfully, except for the service of some undistinguished sandwiches, some adequate biscuits and a drink that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea*.

After about three and a half hours we arrived at Ushuaia. It was clear that this was not a major international air transport hub from the baggage collection area.

A couple of minutes after we arrived by the carousel, the belt started and a quite remarkable thing happened.

My bag was first off the plane!

Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I’m rejoicing, here.  It means that I’ve used up my lifetime quota of swift baggage delivery and it will never happen again! However, it was very satisfying for a few seconds there.

As usual with Sunvil’s excellent organisation, someone was there to meet us.  She wasn’t quite up to speed with the details of our itinerary, but got us delivered to a car, which got us delivered to our hotel. The car reminded us that we had come a long way from the Big City, as its seating had seen many, many better days and it had cardboard squares as its interior mats. This latter, though, makes sense if much of the time your likely passengers are wearing heavy boots because there’s a lot of snow and ice around.

Our hotel, the Cilene del Fuego, is a modern and rather funky building

in which our “room” was more of a family suite – two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one of which featured a very modern, Japanese-style loo with a heated seat and technology to burnish one’s post-visit bottom) and a kitchen. It also had great views over downtown Ushuaia.

It was barely mid-afternoon by this point, giving us a good opportunity to spend a little more time walking round the town than we had six years previously.  So we went for a walk. Obviously.

All the way round our walk, we were struck by the similarities between here, Iceland and some of the remoter towns we’d visited in Canada – colourful constructions,

street art

quirky corners

and dodgy pavements. It was often safer to walk in the road because the pavements were chewed up by, we assume, years of freezing, thawing, snow and ice and were seriously trappy for the unwary pedestrian.

For me, it was quite strange; walking along, I was often sure I was in Reykjavik and it jarred when I saw or heard Spanish – a slightly surreal experience.

We walked along by the seafront and the port, where in places the barrier rails have been rather nicely decorated,

and where you can walk past the hulk of the tugboat St. Christopher,

which has a bizarre and incomprehensible back story. Originally HMS Justice and built in America, it is still a mystery to me as to why one would rename a sunken and abandoned hulk after the patron saint of travellers.

Given that Ushuaia considers itself the capital of Las Islas Malvinas (!), it’s also inevitable to pass references to the war of some 40 years ago.

After all that walking, we needed to find a late lunch and so we blundered about until we happened upon Kuar,

unfortunately just in the interregnum between serving lunch and starting dinner.  With only 40 minutes or so to wait until the kitchen re-opened, it seemed a good idea to just take a drink and so we did, adding a local gin, Oid Mortales, to our repertoire as seasoned, nay pickled, gin drinkers. Its name comes from the “Argentinian” National Anthem, as it happens.

We eventually got some empenadas and salads which were only slightly affected by the fact that the kitchen had run out of lettuce.  All in all, it was a genial, if slightly eccentric, experience.

As we headed back to the hotel, our final action was to aim to recreate a photo that I’d taken on our previous visit here, for comparison purposes.  Here is how they look, side by side, now (left) and then (right).

This, then, was our time in Ushuaia – slightly more than the hour or so we had to wander about six years ago, and enough, particularly added to the places we’ve been and the sights we’ve seen since, to make us look more fondly on the place.

Tomorrow sees the start of the main chunk of this trip, as we embark on M/V Hondius to explore the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these pages about the early stages and you’ll stay with us over the next weeks. I’ll publish what I can as and when technology connects me to the internet to share our progress.

  • Hat tip to Douglas Adams, HHGG#1

In transit – 1: Ushuaia – El Calafate – Bariloche

20th – 22nd March 2018

After the several days of not packing and unpacking, we then had a burst of moving about and staying for very short periods in places.

We disembarked from Ventus Australis in Ushuaia, which is the capital city of the region, which means the island of Tierra del Fuego and the other islands that make up the region of Tierra del Fuego. And possibly the Malvinas as well – there’s a war memorial to the fallen of the Falklands war there.

We only had an hour or so to wander around Ushuaia. so we just walked along its main street (named after the liberator, San Martin). It’s a pleasant place – the buildings are often colourful and attractive


and there’s a dramatic backdrop of mountains.


The local standards of wiring seem a little alarming to European eyes (this was an example from Punta Arenas, but not untypical of the South American wiring we saw pretty much everywhere):


Ushuaia is something of a centre for skiers and snowboarders – the mountains can be reached in under an hour, and so I can imagine it draws a goodly winter sports crowd in the season.

After our short ramble around, it was time to depart for El Calafate, which would be the staging post for an excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see separate post). We thus had an afternoon to wander round this much smaller, but very charming little town. Like Ushuaia, many of the buildings make great use of colour.

The sun was shining, which helped, but there was a very pleasant vibe here. I think the town is very much a tourist centre, and this gives it a laid-back feel which I enjoyed.

I particularly liked the way this public phone service is presented.

The town’s founders, back some 130 years or so, planted poplar and willow trees, which makes it very green. I should imagine that the abundance of trees is a wonderful boon for the local dogs, of which there seem to be many and whose hobbies also seem to include chasing cars and barking a lot at each other at night.

The town has several parks which also add to the overall charm.


Mind you, this one near our hotel was called the Parque Manuel Belgrano, so that gave us a score of two names with uncomfortable UK overtones in just the one day.

Our hotel was called the “Esplendor”. Unlike the Singular, it didn’t quite match up to the pretensions of its name. It did all the basics well (good food, comfortable beds – surprising given how lumpy the pillows were – and obliging service). I guess it was probably cool a few years ago, but decor based around plastic elk horns is no longer edgy, and the woollen knitted lampshades are bizarre to my eyes rather than charming. Some of the decor is a bit faded and in need of a refresh. But, hey, we slept well there and persistent searching revealed enough electric points to charge phones and cameras, so these complaints tend a bit towards nit picking.

We had a great insight into the Argentinian preference for a carnivorous diet when we ate one evening at a very good restaurant called Mako. After what seemed like a rather gruff reception, the service turned out to be very friendly. To accompany the inevitable (and delicious) Malbec, chosen, with help, from a great long list, we ordered a plate of grilled meat that was advertised on the menu as being for two people. My religion forbids me from sharing a photo of it, but it could easily have fed a family of four. Here’s the nearest I can permit to a photo of food, which is the barbecue being operated in the window (something we saw in other restaurants as well).

The “Calafate” in the town’s name, by the way, is the name of a bush, which produces a berry that has many uses – for jam, for ice cream, for beer, for a liqueur which, added to a Pisco Sour, transforms it into a Calafate Sour. It’s a spiky bush. Sorry, but the berry season has passed, so I can only show you thorns and leaves.

After our short stay in El Calafate, the next stop was in San Carlos de Bariloche, to give us another staging post before the next big segment of our odyssey.

It’s an hour-and-three-quarters on an aeroplane to get to Bariloche, and this journey started from the small but perfectly-formed El Calafate airport (perfect, except the WiFi wasn’t working, but otherwise nicely organised with charging points for the mobiles, cafés and helpful signs telling you what facilities were available airside).

We never got to see Bariloche itself, except in the passing rain, but it looks like an interesting city, with a Swiss-German architectural heritage, funiculars to take you up a steep hillside, and vast numbers of hotels by the lake. It seems to be a year-round city, with skiing faclities just 20km away for the Winter, and lots of lake-based things like fishing an attraction for the Summer.

Our destination lay some 25km to the west of Bariloche, at the swanky Llao Llao hotel. “Llao Llao” is pronounced “zsow-zsow” (with the “zs” as in Zsa Zsa Gabor) and is the aboriginal name for the Indian Bread fungus which affects the local version of Beech trees. For those who have followed this blog, you’ll have seen a picture from our condor hike about a week ago.

We arrived yesterday in torrential rain and howling wind. Today the rain has gone so revealing a decent view from our hotel over lake Moreno.


The rain may have gone, but the wind still howled. Nevertheless, we went for a walk which, by reason of missing a turn, became a 10-mile hike on to a trail that involved a 350-metre ascent. However, the view from the top was quite nice

Panorama - View from Cerro Llao Llao


and on the way we saw a lapwing

a brown caracara

and ended up with a nice view of the Llao Llao Hotel to finish off the walk.

The next stage of our journey is another transit to take us on towards a more major segment, which is a visit to Easter Island.