11.30.2007 - 11.30.2007
Today had us more tired than any jet lag could cause. Our wakeup call was at 3:45 a.m. so we could eat breakfast and get on the bus by 5:00 a.m. The bus took us to the smaller Buenos Aires airport for our three hour flight to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. On the plane, a fellow from the Norwegian government's environmental agency sat with us. It's his job to monitor the environmental practices of Norwegian ships in Antarctica. (While on the job, he will spend the next 3 weeks on our ship, the sister ship M/S Fram, and one more smaller exploration ship...nice!) The flight was uneventful except for some substantial turbulence just before landing.
At the airport, we transferred to a bus (after "ooh-ing and aah-ing" at all the mountains that surrounded us) that toured us through part of the city of Ushuaia, and then carried us out to *Terra del Fuego National Park (also called Ushuaia National Park by the locals.)
What a beautiful place. Surrounding us were beautiful, snow-capped mountains, lots of beach trees and other greenery - and thanks to good weather - plenty of blue sky. We took several hikes, including one that took us down to the end of the Pan-American highway where a sign states that from that spot, it is 17484 km (10,937 miles) to the other end of the western hemisphere land mass in Alaska. If you're up for a long road trip, this is the place to start!
Terra del Fuego is the largest island at the end of South America. We saw quite a few birds that are native to the area and evidence of many animals who are not. For example, rabbits are everywhere. North American fox and mink were introduced in order to control the rabbit population. North America beaver were also brought in and have flourished to the point of becoming pests. It was all quite interesting.
From the park we were shuttle back to town. There was time for some souvenir shopping before heading to the ship. Once on board, we checked in and went to our cabin. We've been treated to a bit of an upgrade, from a 2nd deck room with a porthole to a 6th deck room with a large window (that is partially obstructed by a life boat...but that's OK). There were the mandatory safety drills and then a late buffet dinner. Now that we've joined other groups and individuals on the ship, we find we are with a lot of Germans and Norwegians.
The ship is very nice and well kept. With only about 300 people on board, we should get to know almost everyone. But for now, with our sea sickness patches behind our ears, we're ready to crawl into our bunks and call it a night.
- The Land of Fire: It is the forbidding image of Tierra del Fuego that paradoxically lures travelers to the southernmost tip of South America. The name "land of fire" was given by the Spanish explorer Magellan, who saw mysterious flames in the darkness when first passing the island. What he saw were the many fires of the natives living on the island. For centuries afterwards, Tierra del Fuego was feared by sailors for the powerful Antarctic winds that blew their ships towards the area's jagged rocks.