Rock Bottom

· by wendy · argentina

From Ushuaia

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Some things just aren’t strange anymore. For example, it seemed normal enough that our bus out of El Calafate left at 3 in the morning and it was the only option. So, after our glacier hike, we hung out at our hostel until about 2:30 a.m. and then headed over to the bus station. What was strange about this trip was that we had to cross the Argentine border into Chile, only to cross back a few hours later. Also, our bus rode a ferry across the Strait of Magellan. (welcome back words from geography class!) Many passport stamps later, we finally reached the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina (pronounced Ooh-shwhy-uh).

As you have heard me mention many times, getting to the bottom of the world is not cheap and it’s not just the transportation. It’s the activities, too. I guess they figure you’ve come so far already. One day we were all set to do an inexpensive activity such as hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Good thing we realized beforehand that it was going to cost us $60. That was a bit much for walking around a park. No thanks. Besides, we had something else to do that was going to be even more costly. You see, going to the bottom of the world wasn’t just for bragging rights. We also had to see some penguins!

The tour started with a ride to Harberton Ranch where we were first taken through a marine mammal museum. We’re not ones for museums, usually. But, this one was pretty cool because it was about animals and was part of the tour anyway. The skeletons were ginormous!

These animals get washed up on the beach and die. 1 A whole bunch of messy (smelly) disgusting processes later, they end up as exhibits for people like us. We got to see where they clean the bones and prepare the animal. There happened to be a dead bottle nosed dolphin decaying in the water during our visit. YUMMY.

After the museum we were sent off on a boat to Martillo Island where the penguin colony resides. We had signed up for the one and only show in town that would let us on the island with the penguins. The other tours simply pull up really close and you snap your photos from the boat. We’re glad we didn’t do that because we were able to get really close to the penguins. When our boat pulled up, we were ready jump out to greet the hundreds, maybe thousands of Magellanic penguins. Not so fast. Our guide, at first, was very particular on how we acted around the penguins. We were instructed to crouch down low whenever possible, to stay in a certain area and have hushed voices.

It’s funny that the rules only lasted for about 10 minutes of our hour and a half visit to the island. Our guide got fed up with us lingering too long on the beach and belched out “Come on people! One foot in front of the other, left, right, left, right, one, two, one, two….”. So much for hushed voices. They didn’t tell us what we’d be doing on the island, so we were soaking in as much as we could. Little did we know we’d get to see more.

When we were taken around the corner, lo and behold there were other penguins. Shocker, right? Well it sort of was because there was one lonely King penguin, similar to the Emperor penguins in Happy Feet or March of the Penguins. He got lost somehow and ended up on this island all alone. He’s supposed to be in Antarctica or the Georgia Islands. Can you see him standing there?

He’s also surrounded by Gentoo penguins. It’s hard to tell but they’re the ones with the orange beaks and feet. There’s one squawking to the left and slightly higher than the “king”. Dusty liked those in particular because some geek “Linux operating system” bares the same name. Nerd alert!

After observing the King and Gentoos we carried on into the island a bit. Goodbye all suggestions of crouching and staying on the path. The penguins were on our territory now! Some of them had made their homes on the trail making it tricky to get around. I don’t know if penguins will peck you but I wasn’t trying to find out.

Penguins made coming to the bottom of the earth worth it. Did you know there aren’t penguins in the Northern Hemisphere? Did you know the furthest north they go is the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador? I didn’t. I felt stupid for not knowing such important information.

So, after 2 weeks in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, it was time to trade in the winter coats for warmer weather gear. The bottom of the earth was worth it. It and penguins were now crossed off the list. Next stop, Buenos Aires!


Pira Tours
Tour Cost: $285 ARS or $70 USD each
Island Entry Fee: $40 ARS or $10 USD each
Includes: Transport to/from Ushuaia, entry to musuem, boat ride to/from island, tour on island
Dusty’s Review: Score (1-10, 10 being awesome): Penguins=10, Cost=7, Angry Tour Guide=5

1 Our tour guide at the museum told us of a particular whale species of which I cannot recall the name. Anyway, there is a leader that leads the group to wherever they are going. The rest follow blindly. If the leader gets a parasite in their ear, they cannot effectively navigate the waters and end up running aground. If this happens, the rest of the group follows suit and are beached as well. They all die together. Sick stuff.

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