Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Saturday and Sunday, February 25th and 26th: Homeward bound.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the Kaikén and then turned in our key before saying goodbye to Mate. I wished I could explain to him why we had to leave without him.
We stopped on our way out to look out over the Garibaldi Pass once once more.
One of the things I was most struck by is how few people we encountered in our time here. I know it is a remote place and difficult to get to, but it was just so incredibly beautiful in the Southern Andes.
And then it was back down into Ushuaia. Driving in Argentina (and probably all of South America) is pretty free-form, especially in cities. Lanes aren't really marked and people merge aggressively.  I have to give my husband props here for mastering it quickly. I drove once just for the experience, but otherwise I was happy to turn the driving over to him.
We picked up some coffees in town and sat by the bay for a while, watching the clouds moving across the sky over the harbor.
Dolphin gulls, petrels, albatrosses, and other shorebirds were everywhere.
Big cruise ships line up along the docks with new ones pulling in every day. I have to admit, I'm not a cruise person. I chafe at the restraints of the schedule and the crowds.
I tried many times to capture a petrel doing its walking-on-water trick, but that photo eluded me. They look unassuming, but are impressively big birds in flight.
Finally it was time to get to the rental car office and turn in our keys. We had to maneuver around this mysterious big bag of extra sidewalk on the sidewalk.
And walk around one last pack of wolves on our way to the taxi line.
Then we headed out of Ushuaia by taxi,  flew to Buenos Aires, and had an impossibly long bus ride from the domestic airport to the international one. Unfortunately my camera was packed away because the ride took us through slums that looked too broken-down to be believed. Buildings missing roofs or walls housed large families. We got to the airport too late to be allowed to buy wine in the duty-free shop. But we feared we might miss our flight completely, so we were glad just to get there.
We flew out of Buenos Aires after dark, for a long overnight flight to the States, then had a five hour layover in Atlanta. Another short flight, a shuttle to parking and then more than 24 hours after we left Ushuaia, we were back at our house. As we were heading home, I was already dreaming about where we might go in the coming years.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Friday, February 24th, Addendum: Mate.

Every where you go in Argentina, you see people drinking mate, also called yerba mate. Pronounced MAH-tay, it's an indigenous herbal tea originally drunk from a hollowed out gourd called a guampa and a cane with a filter called a bombilla. These days the mate cups are also made in other materials and the bombillas are either metal or latex. We asked Augustín and Santiago, our penguin guides, about the mate we'd seen being passed around and they explained that it's a communal drink and the ritual involves pouring hot water over the tea leaves, drinking the liquid through the bombilla and then adding more water and passing it to the next person. We ordered some when we returned to port at Ramos Generales. The first couple of rounds are very, very bitter and then it mellows to taste more like unsweetened green tea.
We also asked Augustín his advice on where we might buy a mate set. He told us to avoid the tourist shops and instead go to a grocery store. We checked the shops first to price them but the bigger problem was all of them said Fin del Mundo or Ushuaia or Tierra del Fuego on them. No. We wanted one that didn't look like a tacky souvenir. In the grocery store next to the modern latex versions were cute little gourd guampas covered in decorated leather. The bombilla was metal. Much nicer and a fraction of the cost of the souvenir versions. We also bought a couple of packages of mate to bring home.
We followed Augustín's advice when we got home and filled it with boiling water and let it cure overnight. This picture was from the first time we made a cup at home.
So when we met the little tan dog in Tolhuin, Mate seemed like a natural choice as a name for such a social creature. Sociable and also happy and energetic. As he walked with us, he stopped to chase the cows in the field, staying just out of reach of their horns.
Then he went to investigate the pond that fed into Lago Fagnano.
Mate quickly noticed the ducks in the pond.
And in he went, sending them quacking off across the water.
He dried himself off by rolling in a clump of grass and then had a wrestling match with a discarded car floor mat he found.
Then it was time for fetch! One piece of driftwood after another, the game just didn't get old for him.
He accompanied us all the way back to our cabin and looked sad when we got in our car to go into town to get picnic supplies. I expected to see him running back home along the lake path, but couldn't spot him. Until we drove back and saw him waiting patiently at our cabin door. Oops! We parked the car behind the lodge to hide it and snuck around back to have our picnic in peace.
A few minutes later, he came happily bounding over the fence, wagging his tail. He'd found us! Fun game! He settled down to watch us eat (and yes, we did share), and then got sleepy.
Soon he was sacked out in the sun while we read.
At one point he ran off to do a little exploring, but returned within minutes.
We went back a little later in the day, after we'd gone off for a drive, to sit outside and have a glass of wine. A group of hikers came down the hillside near us and we looked up to see Mate had gone with them. When he saw us, he peeled off and joyfully tried to push into our laps.
And then, when I had fallen asleep myself, he lay down to nap with me.
Mate stayed outside our cabin all night long and was there when we packed up and left the next day. I knew it wasn't possible to bring the sweet little dog back home with us, but I sure wish we could have.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Friday, February 24th: Tolhuin.

We woke up to a glorious day. From our bed at the Kaikén, we could see the lake and hear the waves hitting the shore. It was sunny and warm with a light breeze that morning.
After a fuller breakfast than the other places (warm medialuna, toast with butter and peach jam, cheese, fruit cocktail, jam cookies and coffee), we decided to walk down to Lake Fagnano.
Lago Fagnano is about 400 square miles, a small part of which is in Chile. There, on the Western end, it empties into the Straits of Magellan through the Río Azopardo. It was formed by glaciers and lies along a fault zone, where the plate movement created a basin. The lake water is almost 20 inches higher on one side, as if the lake is held in a slanted bowl.
I collected up some sea glass and smooth rocks as we walked. I found two heart-shaped rocks to add to one I'd found in Ireland.
The lake was originally called Khami, a Selk'nam name meaning "large waters." It was later renamed in honor of Monsignor José Fagnano, the first apostolic manager of the area.
Yep, waded in again. It was very cold, but not as bad as the glacial run-off of Martial or the icy Antarctic waters of the Beagle Channel.
At the end was a playground made entirely from recycled materials. Both times that we saw this place, there were kids playing in it. The "Hain" referenced in the sign was the initiation ritual of the indigenous people.
The Selk'nam or Ona (people of the north) were a tribe related to the Yánama further south. They were nomadic hunters who had lived on the land for some ten thousand years before being systematically destroyed by European ranchers. The government supported the genocide, and offered bounties for killing Selk'nam people. Every time I hear a story like this, I feel despair for humanity.
In addition to the recycled playground, the Hain del Lago Khami also has bark tents for camping, a museum, a bar, and all kinds of odd sculptures. Although it doesn't personally appeal, I could see staying there with kids.
We met this friendly wolf pup along the way who was to become our constant companion during the visit. More on him in the next post.
There were wildflowers everywhere, many in autumnal shades.
I also picked up several small pieces of driftwood I intend to incorporate into my garden. I actually wondered if there would be a snag when we went through customs, but it wasn't a problem.
Un árbol bandera. I'd thought the flag trees only grew on mountain tops, but I guess that happens wherever wind consistently blows from one direction.
The Río Turbio (muddy or cloudy river) is one of the many rivers that feed into Lake Fagnano.
All told, we walked about 5 or 6 miles along the eastern coast.
I could not find out what this plant was, but I thought the subdued colors were just gorgeous.
We made another run to Tolhuin and passed this horse with a sheepskin guacho's saddle.
Tolhuin is a Selk'nam word that means "like a heart." It only has a population of about 2000 people.
Of course, we had to revisit the Pandería la Unión.
This time we were here to collect some lunch, having spotted the rack of empañadas the day before.
A shaggy wolf guarded the door to the bakery, but did not even lift its head when we exited.
Six chicken and vegetarian empañadas (two pollo frite, two pollo al horno with egg, and two verdura) and four sweet pastries, for a total of $11! We ate on the grounds of the Kaikén overlooking the lake.
In Tolhuin, we'd also picked up a huge bottle of beer. It's not that we wanted a bottle that big, but it was our only choice. It was that or Budweiser. The wonderful craft beers we had in Ushuaia were not to be found.
We sat on the grass after lunch, reading
and staring at the lake.
I've decided I definitely need to add some lupines to my yard.
I find bodies of water mesmerizing. Oceans, lakes, rivers, waterfalls - doesn't matter. All send me into a reverie.
Walking back to our cabin to retrieve our car, I noticed this little shed at the bottom of an insanely steep and rickety-looking staircase. It was chained off and for once, I decided to just respect that rule.
We drove up into the Andes to one of the many areas absolutely devastated by the over-abundance of beavers. 50 beavers were brought over from Canada in 1946 by some very short-sighted folks in the government who figured they'd make a killing on beaver pelts. The beavers had other ideas and started reproducing at an alarming rate and taking over the countryside. Not a wise move, Juan Perón.
There was a huge beaver lodge was in the middle of one small pond we found on our drive. Unconvinced that they would remain nocturnal if provoked, my husband called up his old high school baseball skills and lobbed rocks at the lodge, trying to rouse them. If they even noticed, they did not emerge.
First the El Commandante sighting in Ushuaia, now the reminder of Che up in the Andes.
We got out at Laguna Aguas Blancas and hiked through the woods to get to a part of the lake that was away from a small group of noisy campers. But their music was inescapable, and we headed back down to a quieter part of the mountain. For the life of me, I don't know why people can't just enjoy the music of nature.
Back to another beaver pond. The original 50 beavers have now become over 200,000 of the destructive critters, who seem to be on a mission to dam up every creek possible. The beaver ponds may be serene and beautiful, but they represent millions of dollars in damage. Not only have large areas of the Patagonia forests been destroyed, but the beavers chew down trees planted as windbreaks on farms, cause floods that wash out bridges, create mud bogs that trap sheep and disrupt trout migration.
"The trash does not come back alone - keep the paper in your pocket." I liked the happy face on this conscientious backpacker. And I sure wish all hikers would obey this one. It grieves me to see trash on a trail. Although personally, I think "pack it in, pack it out" is catchier.
We hiked a steep, rocky trail up the Cerro Jeujepen, a hill that was important to the Selk'nam, to get a panoramic view of Tolhuin and the lake.
I believe this sign is warning you not to embark with family or friends on an adventure that is risky or results in a certain death, and suggests you be accompanied by professional guides. That seemed a little overboard to me - we didn't need a guide to tell us not to stand too close to the edge. Or at least I didn't. I don't know what gets into men, but I finally said, "If you don't stop that and you end up falling down the mountain, I will keep walking and never look back." I think it's the testosterone. My sons also make a point of pretending to do risky things just to freak me out.
An industrious beaver can take down a 100-200 year old tree in just a few days. While some North American tree species can grow back after being gnawed on or flooded, most Patagonia trees just die. The dams create bogs that kill off even the trees that haven't been chewed on. We seem to be slow learners when it comes to importing non-native species.
When the Argentine government imported the Canadian beavers, what they neglected to do was also to import the wolves, bears, lynxes and wolverines that keep Canada's beaver population in check. And in Patagonia, they have no natural predators. But the government has a plan, involving another North American import: hunters. With the support of the UN and environmental groups, a massive cull is planned to begin this month starting with one pilot watershed area and then expanding as they work out the bugs. Why use North American hunters? Apparently an earlier bounty program didn't work because local people didn't want to trek into the wilderness where beavers are the biggest problem. Since even a single breeding pair could repopulate the entire archipelago, the long-range plan is total eradication. Beavers are cute and it is not their fault they were brought in, but the entire Patagonia ecosystem hangs in the balance.
We returned to our cabin to grab a bottle of Malbec we had stashed and sat outside for a while watching the lake.
Our room was the left side of the cabin.
I was thankful that all the hotels had tubs and plenty of hot water.
We ate again at a window table of the Kaikén's restaurant. Since this was our last dinner, we started with an appetizer of Roman style squid rings. The menu did not explain what constituted "Roman style." For entrees, salmón grille with a creamy lemon sauce over barley risotto and vegetables, and grilled chicken with mashed pumpkin. We chose a bottle of Uxmal Malbec.
I hated to see the sun go down on our last night in Tierra del Fuego. The next day, we'd be heading back to Ushuaia.