Patagonia Ushuaia

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

I’ve been to Patagonia before, and it’s still as impressive as ever. Yet even though I get nearly the same impression from it now that I did the first time, I still envy anyone who has yet to lay eyes on this region. There’s nothing like the first time. I guess if I was going to get amnesia, the one positive about it would be that I could experience so many things again for the first time. It would almost be like living two lifetimes, and Patagonia would be at the top of the list (though I wouldn’t remember my list of course, the only small kink in my amnesia plan; maybe I should write a list down somewhere, haha).

From the pristine water covering the lakes and lagoons, to the majestic glaciers, towering mountains, treacherous fjords, and blazing deserts, it’s like the ecosystems of the entire world are jammed into this one small area. This time in Patagonia I would be accompanied by an old friend, Laguna, and later by my wife and infant daughter.

First up was meeting up with Laguna at the Buenos Aires airport for a flight to Ushuaia. The flight was about 4 hours, bringing us down between the peaks of Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world. Despite being the furthest southern city in the world, and envisioning a cold and dreary place, Ushuaia was anything but. It was only later that I found out even as the southernmost city, it’s all that far removed from the equator. A much higher percentage of cities rest further north of the equator than Ushuaia sits south of it. This is of course due to the land masses, which only stretch so far south, while in the north they spread out from east to west just south of the arctic. In reality Ushuaia has a very temperate climate, relatively stable year-round, and felt like an odd mixture of frontier and tourist town, with a touch of modern sentiment.

El Calafate

El Calafate

After a couple of days spent in the city and around the bay, it was time for us to head out. We were going to rent a car and drive up north. I’m not typically one for buses while travelling, preferring the more adventurous car route, so even though there were buses heading where we were, that simply wouldn’t do. In a car it feels like you’re on an adventure, in a bus it just feels like you’re a tourist. We stopped at the northern tip of the island, Rio Grande, and was very much an industrial city. We stayed here for a night and continued on into Chile, crossing the Straits of Magellen by ferry to Punta Arenas. It was funny that after telling many Chileans that I had just returned from Ushuaia, they became vehement that Punta Arenas was actually the southernmost city in the world. I’m not entirely sure why they feel this way, but it seems pretty obvious that they’re mistaken. For whatever reason they don’t consider Ushuaia a real town, when it seemed to me that it certainly was, with schools, hospitals, an airport, and all the trappings. Punta Arenas was nice though, even if the citizens were a little wonky. The many coloured roofs of the city give it a great air. We even spied a few horse drawn carts, very rare in our part of the world.

We stayed here for a couple days, changing in our old rental car (which we had brought with us aboard the ferry in case you were wondering), and picking up a larger and more outdoorsy type vehicle for what lay ahead. From here we travelled through Argentina briefly to Calafate, where I would pick up my wife and daughter. Laguna then departed, as he would catch a plane from here back to Buenos Aires.

On the road to Torres del Paine

On the road to Torres del Paine

Family now united, we set off for Los Glaciers National Park, checking out some beautiful glacier formations in the region, most notably the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a massive wall of ice stretching in every direction. The next day we drove a few hours to the small town of El Chalten. The large 4×4 I had picked up was certainly coming in handy, as hiking through difficult trails was not really an option for us with our daughter in tow. The 4×4 allowed us the luxury to bypass some of the hiking and still reach the sights we wanted to.

From here we headed off to the massive Torres del Paine National Park. We drove around the park for three days, admiring the many breathtaking sights, and were it not for the fact that we had to be in Punta Arenas on that third day to catch our cruise ship departure, we likely could’ve spent even more time in the area.

We left at mid-morning on that third day, and reached Punta Arenas by noon. We returned the car rental with much praise for its performance and boarded the Stella Australis, for a five day cruise, which would end back in Ushuaia.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia

Stella Australis is a great liner, and while we were worried that our daughter might suffer from seasickness, this didn’t happen. We crossed numerous fjords and islands on our trip, and the journey through Glacier Alley was something else. It was very windy and cold on deck, but it was totally worth it to be out there, breathing in the air and seeing the wonderful sights. I’d definitely recommend to others taking this trip that you dress warmly, so you don’t have an excuse to stay indoors.

A short detour on the trip took us to the Cape Horn National Park, where we spent a morning looking around the area. You could even see the tip of Antarctica from here, a place I would love to take my family one day, once my daughter is older. Of course, it may very well be that we’ll return to Patagonia first.