Tag Archives | Antarctica

Ushuaia: The End of the World

There are few places on the planet like Ushuaia.   It is one of those places you don’t accidentally end up visiting.  It is a village of beginnings and endings.  

Perched on the southern tip of Argentina, Ushuaia claims the title of the southern most city on the earth.  It is often called the “fin del Mundo” (end of the earth).  Tourism provides the lifeblood of the village.  Ushuaia and her sister city Punta Arenas, Chile, are key departure points for tourist, scientific and activist departures to Antarctica.  

Port of Ushuaia

Ushuaia is far from just a transit port.  It is a beautiful and interesting area all on its own.  The backdrop for the city are dramatic peaks, dense forests, and alpine lakes.  The Beagle Channel marks the southern border of the city.  The dramatic scenery attracted the eye of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarriu who shot his famed film, The Revenant, here in 2015.  Even an ill fated edition of Top Gear was filmed here (until they were run out of the city for making references to the Falkland War.)

According to tradition, the word Ushuaia comes from the Yaghan language: ush and waia (“bay” or “cove”) and means “deep bay”.  This name is very fitting.  Its port hosts expedition ships with flags from around the globe.  

A Storied History

The city was founded by British explorers and settled by missionaries.  It was later converted into a penal colony that housed the worst of the worst offenders due to the fact that escape was impossibly dangerous.  The prison was done away with by President Peron in the late 1940s.  The rough edges of the city’s former residents remain.  Plucky year round residents face harsh winters of isolation.

Instead of a place to avoid, the city now attracts flocks of Northface and Helly Hansen clad wanderers.  Wide-eyed and well-healed journey men and women crowd the many eateries along the port docks.  High tourist season runs October to March during the southern summer.  Hotels of every level of hospitality dot the front of the mountain range that plays host to the city.

The Fin del Mundo!

Getting There

The city sports a sizable international airport.  With connections to major hubs like Buenos Aires, Rio, and many other key South American cities, getting there has become much more easier.   Do be aware, the city sits smack dab between a cold and warm ocean.  This causes turbulence on the water and in the air.  The video below was taken on our flight.  It was bumpy!  There are a fleet of taxis that ferry folks from the airport to downtown or to lodging.  We also used Uber, which was very affordable. 

Getting There the Hard Way

As you begin to spend some time in Ushuaia you start to notice the abundance of long distance road bikes and converted VW and sprinter vans.  Ushuaia is the southern terminus of the Great Pan-American Highway.  Brave motorists begin north in Alaska and take the epic journey that crosses the equator and delivers them to the end of the road literally in Ushuaia. 

The Stories

Ushuaia is not a center of learning and art; nor is it a place of culture and refinement.  It is a place of stories.  Whether you are sitting in a pub or eating empanadas overlooking the bay, conversation is king.  Skilled waitstaff speak the basics of dozens of languages.  Spanish, English, and German seem to be the most common in our limited experience.  There is a kaleidoscope of different backgrounds and nationalities.  

During our visit, a Greenpeace frigate was docked at harbor, two oil tankers and a half a dozen expedition boats headed across the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica.  This made for a wide array of viewpoints at dinner.  This clash of ideas is what makes Ushuia magical.  Pull up a chair and join the scrum!

Chile Border Crossing

There are numerous day trips you can take to see southern Patagonia.  Ushuaia is the perfect launching point for these excursions.   We will highlight one.  A very special one.  We took the Hito XXIV trail into Chile.  It took us the morning to hike in and out.  It was one of the best hikes I have ever done.  The beauty of the alpine lake, and the waterfalls along the trail were stunning.   If you are country collectors like us, this is an easy one to add to your collection with minimal effort.  There is a lodge at the trailhead that has excellent cheesecake.

Hito XXIV Hike to Chile

An Ode to Ushuaia

Few cities in this world have left an impression like Ushuaia.  It is a unique place.  It is a beautiful place.  But most importantly, it has a soul that is made up of all those that congregate on her steps as they conclude or begin their journey of self discovery.  

The city’s motto is:  Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything.  I have found this to be true.

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10 Steps to Antarctica

We often hear about our travels, ”what a trip of a lifetime”.   

But this trip was different.

This one was special. 

Antarctica.

Antarctica!

In a previous post, I shared how meaningful going to Antartica was because it was a lifetime goal set by a kid in rural Idaho. Back in high school, I (Mike) set the audacious goal to set foot on all seven continents and swim in the seven seas.  I saved the hardest, most expensive, and most difficult one for last.  This post is intended for two groups of people: 1) Those of you who are planning your trip there and 2) Those that chose not to go, but want to see some cool penguin pics.  I do need to give a shout out to some of the bloggers who inspired and coached me on this adventure:  Adventurous Kate  and iAmAileen They give good advice, follow them.

This is the first of a few posts about my adventure.

What follows is the 10 simple (not really) steps to prep for this grand adventure.

Step 1) Save up lots of money.  I saved five years for this adventure (Birthdays, Christmas, Father’s Day, basically anytime I could con Luci into giving me money instead of a present for a holiday).  Costs are below:

$7,800 per person Oceanwide double cabin. Discovery and Learning Voyage (10 day, 9 nights). MV Hondius

$3,200 Delta Airlines (Delta comfort) BOI-EZE

$700  Aerolineas Argentinas AEP to Ushuaia

$125 transfer between EZE and AEP

Step 2) Search the right cruise for you.  There are two types of cruises to Antarctica, ones that let you land on the continent, and those that let you wave to the penguins as you sail by.  Current international regulations limit the number of passengers that can be on a ship and make a landing.  Big cruise ships are not welcome.  You will need to board an “expedition ship” to make the crossing if you want terra firma.  There are roughly a dozen different cruise lines that offer the trips.  Prices range from $3,800 to $50,000.

Step 3) Timing is everything.  Due to weather conditions, Drake Passage crossings can only be made in the months of October to March.  The crossing is notoriously “bumpy”.  Shoulder season prices are cheaper, with good reason.  As the saying goes, “The Drake Shake or the Drake Lake”.  We (my friend and I) were very lucky to get the latter.  We made our trek in late December.  Saving money by cutting corners on timing is not recommended.

Dress warm!

Step 4) Packing and Prep.  This trip was like none other.  As we were staying in Buenos Aires for a couple days after our trip, we had to pack for two completely different seasons.  It goes without saying that it is cold in Antarctica. A visit to the peninsula is unlikely to produces -40 versus Buenos Aires that is one hot town during summer.

It was cold and windy during our visit to #7.  It is best to dress in layers, with a water and wind proof shell.  You will need gloves, thick socks and a warm hat.  I used Helly Hansen sailing gear and was glad I did.  They specialize in clothing that keeps you warm and dry on the water.  I highly recommend. and sunblock are also highly recommended to deal with the reflection of snow and ice.  I didn’t wear sunblock and ended up sunburned.  You will also need a swimsuit!  Stay tuned on that!  Most, if not all ships, provide footwear for visiting the continent.  This is a function of preventing invasive plants and from being transported to this pristine environment. 

A word or two about camera gear.  I went with our Cannon DSLR with two lens (50 and a 250).  Spend as much as you can afford on a lens.  It will make all the difference.  I kinda wish I would have gone with the longer lens. But most of my pictures I took using my iphone. Some of my best pics were on my phone.  Crazy huh?

Step 5) Go see the doctor. I went to my local travel clinic to get all the seasickness meds money can buy.  Read more on this step in our previous post. The Drugs of Antarctica.

Step 6) Board the plane!  Our flight originated in my hometown of Boise, Idaho.  I had layovers in Salt Lake City and Atlanta.   Download those books and podcasts!  The flight from Atlanta ATL to Buenos Aires EZE was roughly 10 hours.  I took the overnight flight, which really helped with the jet lag.

Step 7) Transfer and board the other plane!  Flights to the two major ports (Ushuaia and Puerto Arenas) that have ships going to Antarctica leave out of a different airport in Buenos Aires.  The transfer takes roughly an hour, but can be up to 3 hours depending on traffic.  Leave plenty of time for this transfer including getting through customs in EZE.  We spent three hours in line to get through customs.  Rumor is there was a strike that day, but I cannot confirm.  Just follow my advice, leave plenty of time. 

Step 8) Enjoy Ushuaia.  Ushuaia is unlike any place I have ever been.  It is nicknamed the “Fin Del Mundo” — The end of the world.  You have an eclectic mix of folks there.  Some just finished their trans north and south America journeys, there’s a bunch of trust fund millennials, or a herd of hard core travelers seeking to board the boat to get #7,  while you also meet adventure junkies just seeking to explore.  We were never short on conversation topics as we dined with others.

Go and take your picture by the Fin Del Mundo sign!  This was particularly special to me as one of my good friends who ran the JourneyWoman blog, who has since passed away, posed at the same place.  I miss her.  She was an inspiration to so many. Evelyn Hannon is my hero. We wish Carolyn Ray well as she fills those shoes!

Step 9) The morning of departure, you must bring your luggage to your cruise company’s headquarters.  Luggage must be loaded by the ship’s crew. You can board with your hand luggage, no problem.  Don’t forget, you will need your passport as you go to board, don’t leave it in your luggage!

Step 10) Savor every second.  Yes, this truly is a trip of a lifetime.  The things you will see: the ice, the water, the animals and the terrain are unlike anything you will ever see again.  The follow adventures are fascinating, the crew and expedition leaders are an intriguing bunch. 

The final part of this is to take that first step up the gangway to adventure. 

Boy Voyage!

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