Leaving Ushaia we took a scenic drive along the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton founded in 1886 as the first estancia on Tierra del Fuego and the island´s oldest house - still in use by the current owner, direct descendents from the founders. We were searching for Canadian Beavers (said to be over 400 000 of them) but could not find one. One can collect money for every dead beaver you bring in. Poor sods. Apparently they are in direct competition to the timber companies on the island.
We then headed for Lake Fagnano where we spend 3 nights in a lovely cabañas overlooking the lake with a jacuzzi. We had so much fun in the tub and the kids thought it was the best. We also paid a visit to the La Union Panaderia, famous for its facturas and sweet things and also boasts with a whole lot of photographs on the wall of famous people posing with the owner of the bakery. We went on a tour of the bakery and were able to sample many of the delicacies. Again, the kids thought it was heaven.
Now to leave Tierra del Fuego is not easy, one has to cross the border into Chile again, drive on a dirt road for a very long time, take a ferry across the Magellanic straits and then cross the border again into Argentina. This excercise took almost all day and we ended up having to spend a night in Rio Gallegos, probably the worst town to live in Argentina. This is where the Cristina, the current president of Argentina grew up and was apparantly cleaned up quite a bit since she has been in office.
We left this city very quickly and headed north on Ruta 3 towards Puerto Deseado where the submerged estauary of the Ria Deseado is the drawing card for most tourists. Here one can see rock hopper penguins on one of the closeby islands and there is a wide variety of cormorants, dolphins and whales. It was also here where Darwin arrived on the ‘Beagle’ and said that it was one of the most prolific marine life that he had seen and has not changed since then. We definitely added a few more species to our list and it was a very scenic area.
We then continued onto Rada Tilly, a very small and neat town south of Commodoro Rivadavia, in the heart of the Patagonian oil fields. Here we made contact with a descendant from South Africa, Martin Blackie. Martin and his wife Norma welcomed us into their home and shared wonderful stories of his rich history from when his father (at a very young age) immigrated to Patagonia in the early 1900´s with many other South Africans. They went through a lot of hardship but managed to settle and there are some 20 000 descendents living in the area. We spoke Afrikaans and it was great to hear him speak a perfect Afrikaans containing no slang. We stayed the night camping at the municipal campsite (the weather was getting warmer) and went to a rock concert of Argentina´s famous rock star Bisan Tico (spelling?). The campsite was noisy and our neighbours kept riding their quadbikes till 2am.
Bleary eyed with lack of sleep, we left the next day and drove to Peninsula Valdez, close to Puerto Madryn. It is a Unesco World Heritage site and offers a wide range of wildlife including sea lions, killer whales, elephant seals, penguins and many bird species. The biggest attraction of this 3600sqkm reserve are the southern right whales. They calf in the bay and one have close up views of these majestic mammals. We stayed for a week in the small town of Puerto Piramidez on the peninsula and did various excursions. An interesting attraction was the Salina Grande salt flats which is 42m below sealevel and one of the world’s lowest continental depressions. They used to mine the salt at the turn of the 20th century and shipped the salt from our little village.
We had to drag ourselves away from this little paradise and headed for Las Grutas, a popular seaside village (in season) just south of San Antonio Oeste. The water in the ocean was lovely and warm and the kids were swimming and having fun. We only stayed one night before making our long journey back to Tandil. It felt like returning home and we immediately got back into our old routine of 5 months ago. Fortunately enough we sold Goldilocks to the owners of our apartment, Karina and Marcelo, so within a few days we were back to being pedestrians and taking buses everywhere. We bought bus tickets for Buenos Aires and said goodbye to all our Tandil friends and headed for the big city.
We were fortunate enought to rent an apartment in the microcentre for really cheap through a friend of Diego (thanks again guys!). Very coveniently situated to the sub and home comfy. Online we booked flights to the Iguazu Falls. What a wonderful and spectacular sight. It is now one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and lives up to its name. The whole Missiones region of Argentina is a tropical jungle, very hot and humi and beautiful colorful birds and more variety of mammals. We spent 2 full days inside the Iguazu National Park, on the many walkways and hiking routes viewing the falls from various angles. The best was the Garganta del Diablo where millions of tons of water cascades into a turbulent canyon - jaw dropping! We ended the day with a tranquil boat ride down the Iguazu river and here we saw our first Toucan. We were very excidet as we always dreamt to see this strange jungle bird with a banana like beak.
Our bed & breakfast where we stayed (Iguazu Villa 14) was very comfy and homely and the owners Claudia and Charlie made us feel right at home. The highlight was a swimming pool surrounded by an indigenous garden teeming with humming birds and other bird specias. Emma-Joy spent hours in the pool and we had to drag her out at 9pm and dropped her into her bed. Sadly we said goodbye to Iguazu and headed back to Buenos aires for our last 10 days of our holiday.
We visited many museums including the Evita museum, Carlos Cardel (who made Tango music famous) museum, a museum on participative science for the kids, Camanito Street in the Boca neighbourhood - a very colorful street museum and the heart of the first immigrants and Tango. We also spent a day at the San Telmo antique fair and were marvelled at the diffenent antiques from old comic books, to gas bottles, brass and glasware to clothing from years ago. A favorite outing was a visit to the Japanese Gardens in Palermo (upmarket neighbourhood) with its beautiful koi ponds and manicured trees. Recoleta Cenetry was also an interesting place and we hunted down the tomb of Evita and a few other famous politicians and rich and famous.
We found the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, east of Puerto Madero where we did a long hike around the lagoons and grasslands. Surprisingly we added a few more birds to our list. Puerto Madero is a waterfront complex with prime property, skyscrapers, hotels, restaurants and cafes. We managed to arrange for a babysitter and went to a tango show here at Puerto Madero. It was a fun outing and good to have spent some time without the kids. It was a great introduction to Tango and the history of it. The dancing and music was very good and professional. The next day we took the kids aboard teh Fragata Sarmiento museum ship which sailed around the world 40 times between 1899 and 1938 but was never in a battle. Emma-Joy commented that it was her favourite museum and really interesting.
We used the subway and buses all the time and walked many kilometers. We also found a few play parks for the kids to play on various jungle gyms and mingle with the local kids. We only have a few more days before our flight back to Cape Town the evening of the 11th Dec. We still plan a few outings to the Tigre Delta and the Museum of Cars before wrapping up this wonderful South American experience. While writing this update we enjoyed a mate, ate empanadas, finished off a few spoonfuls of dulce de leche - we will cry for you Argentina!