January 11, 2006 GMT
2nd Jan 2006 - Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

I forget, but generally taking life easy and not doing a great deal, other than looking into excursions by boat to see penguins as we've failed to date.


Tuesday 3rd January 2006

Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

The site quietened down after New Year but unfortunately there were some unwelcome arrivals from our perspective. A large German 'Hotel Bus' truck full of folk towing a three level dormer thing and a Exodus truck, small group adventure travel it said on the bus Chris suggested our version must be 'insignificant group travel' by comparison. Anyway that meant the kitchen was busy, and the eating area overtaken rather spoiling the ambience we had enjoyed over the near past week.

Wednesday 4th January 2006

Ushuaia - Harverton Estation

Mileage - 88 kms

After rain in night at least the morning was dry. The German lot were up early, a little later the Exodus lot too making the place far from quite and the toilets and kitchen were taking a hammering which seemed a bit unfair on all the campers but must be very useful for the site owners I guess. We were glad to be leaving with those things on site. Martin says he's seen the German 'rolling hotel' everywhere even including the Sahara, bit of bummer when you think you've got away from it all..

The slow process of packing began, always a lot slower after camping as just about everything is off the bike. Been camped for quite a while now so at least we've got more into the routine, but we've been on site here for quite a while. Making a trawl round the site we said our goodbyes and headed out for fuel. It would be a fair hike down to the end of the road, back, and on to the next fuel supply on route.

The road to Harverton Estasion was a little way back out from town which gave us the ability to relive some of the great forest and mountain views we'd had on arrival. The dirt road 'J' branched off after about 45kms and we found a nice running surface, but occasional mud which was still wet from the previous rain, and being often in shade from trees caution was the order of the day. Wet mud is akin to sand when riding two up - difficult. Anyway there wasn’t much, just an occasional patch of slime that would make the bike skittish and us nervous.

There was no rush though so progress was safe and steady, still 25-30mph anyway. The scenery was lovely with dense woods of deciduous trees and obvious sighs of beaver activity along the slow flowing meandering rivers.

We stopped after a while and were admiring the dams etc creating the mini lagoons when an arrow-head of ripples signified the owner was home. A beaver was paddling around without a care in the world! Nice to see. I think the beavers are an introduced species, but no real idea, just nice to see.


Harberton.JPG

Approaching Harberton


We had to get to the Estancia Harberton for 3pm for the boat so no rush. The place is still run by the descendents of Thomas Bridges a British missionary who protected the indigeous peoples here. It's the oldest estancia on the island and is set in a very nice spot. White walled and red roofed corrugated building nestle by the water side with flower meadows all around, a genuinely pretty place, even with grey clouds and rain blowing in, all very Scottish again

We were an hour early so it was into the tearoom for some sustenance. Home made cakes were the order of the day as it was a little early for the lunch menu. It was nice to discover that though the place is far from the road, and regular services, the prices were fair. An omelet for a quid, or the Te Complete for £2.50. That was my choice and for that I got a couple of pieces of toast and a great selection of home-made jams, some home made biscuits and a piece of cake along with the obvious tea. All very nice too.

I don't think we were wrong in our belief that half the folk there were the descendants of the original owner as the kids were so obviously English looking, and the guy walking around in the dungarees was I would thing his great grand son.

Our boat was a small Zodiac type inflatable and would take a max of 15. We were very lucky...it was just the 5 of us plus the driver and the guide (herself one of the descendant family) we were looking less lucky with the weather as it was chucking down intermittently. As it turned out we cleared the wet and entered dry sunshine before the island.

Maya had said, half joking I think, can I have a go, to the boats pilot, and he said yes, and just handed over the wheel and sat down! Even though maya couldn't see over the cover of the boat the pilot showed no concern and simply said head that way and left her to it. Bev also had a go, and being even more vertically challenged had no idea where the island was.

Our only sighting in advance of the island was a distant Albatross but what we had come to see was before us, a beach full of penguins. We drifted onto the shingle and carefully and slowly slipped off the boat and on to the island.

The penguins (Megellanic) were not at all concerned and simply stood, slightly sleepy, all around. We moved slowly so as to not cause to much interruption further up the beach towards the nesting area. Not before we'd seen a few Snipe at much closer range than I've ever seen in the UK. The animals here don't have a fear on humans as they see so few.


magellanic beach.JPG

Magellanic beach


The sounds (we'll ignore the smells) were magical, just like on television (as if that weren't real eh?) As they had there young only about a month ago I'd expected them to be much smaller and fluffier than they were, in reality almost the size of the parent birds. The nests are in shallow burrows, but most o the chicks were above ground and huddling near their parents. Two seemed average though a few solitary children.


with young.JPG

Magellanic with young


The walk was fenced but you got very close to the birds as they are quite unconcerned by humans due to having little contact and therefore no fear, and are a bit inquisitive also. No worries of needing some 600mm mirror lens to get good close ups. Most birds seemed either to have just woken, or be ready for bed, eyes half closing and looking as comical as you'd expect.

After a good walk around the nesting area we went back to the beach to wait for the boat and sit amongst the birds there. Interesting to watch them splashing in the waves and then getting back on land and the water falling off as if they'd never been in the water.

There was no real rush to move us on and it was a relaxed pace and an all road enjoyable trip. we saw other birds as well such as Skuas and the Snipe and several other smaller brightly marked birds that I couldn't identify, perhaps on return.

For 130 pesos or £26 each it was expensive, but worth it we all agreed.

The ride back was fine, a few penguins out to sea, but otherwise straight forward til back on land, and obviously back to tea room for more cakes.

We were set on camping wild so checked for info. As long as you register it's free and they'll let you know the best places (only two 'official' spots on the Haverton land. The facilities are nothing other than a space, so you have to bring everything in, so we'd shopped fit for two nights. Also you need to be able to filter the river water and create your own toilet facilities. There are always people who abuse the facilities and when we got to the site there were bags of rubbish people had left which is bad. There was a good area to camp and an area to light a fire with collected wood. Christina and hockim that had been at the Canoe Club were in the cafe and were camped with us.

We soon had everything sorted and a good meal on the way and a fire to share with everyone for the evening. A wonderful night in the sticks around the fire to finish off.


Thursday 5th January 2006

Harverton Estation to Moat

Mileage - 108 kms

The sun rises early here, by 04.30, though luckily we were able to sleep past that, not by 08.45 though when the sun was bearing down creating a miniature oven in the tent.

Great day all things considered, little cloud and still. After sampling the delights of the trowel dug toilet - no facilities here other than ground and river water - and a very professional job to, even a branch seat. Somewhat exposed though, not so much privacy so lucky there was no-one but us here, and only Alec up and already away on an early morning ramble. Thought I'd share that nougat of wild camping with you.

After a slow warm up in the sun we were joined by Alec who had come across a fox lair along his walk. We decided that sounded a good thing to see so the three of us set out for a peek.

A short way from the campsite and river in a secluded wooded area we got our first sight. Maybe 30m away stood bolt upright and not taking an eye off us. Managed to get to within about 10m before it said 'thanks alot ' and hightailed off, but not before giving a feel weird eagle like shrieks of warning. Quite magical.

The day continued leisurely until we decided to head out on the road and continue down the 'J' to the end at Moat Estasion. If anything the weather had improved by the time we left.

The road was pretty good, but not to wide and you had to ensure caution on the bends as there just might be some traffic. Some of the views were spectacular as the road climbed high above the coast and bays.

The end of the road was about 50kms from the camping and was marked by a small coastguard station, but basically a hut. So that was truly the most southerly road on the continent, rather than the Ruta 3 with the sign everyone sees. (for all the difference it makes, not worried about ticking the boxes)

The routine journey was exceptional. The three bikes set off separately as we would all have different ideas on places to stop.

Andy and Maya were stopped at a lovely bay, a little further Alex (we set of last) with his own bay, and then a little further we found one of our own.

We stopped to drink in the view and scan the sea and shore for interest. Alec pulled up and recounted an encounter he had just had on the beach. He's stopped to take a picture of a tree stump, and low and behold in front of him - right in front of him, a Mink appeared with a large fish hanging either side out of it's mouth. He had snapped a shot, a great one, and was just showing us when I noticed three Dolphins in the bay. The day was just getting better minute by minute. We rode a little further down the road to get a bit nearer to the dolphins and sat watching for an age.


dol fins.JPG

Dolphins


Next Andy and Maya pulled up and shared their bit of naturalism with us. What had they seen ? A Penguin ! What a day. It wasn't a Magellan either so it sounded worth further investigation. Three overland vehicles with Swiss plates turned up just then, one of which had been at the Canoe Club when we were, so it was 'Happy New Year' all round.

After a bit of a socialise we and Alec set off back the two miles to where Andy and Maya had seen the penguin. A bit of a search and we found the spot. as promised a solitary rather sleepy looking Penguin was stood eyes half closed back to the beach...odd.


king penguin.JPG

King penguin


It was very easy to walk up quite close with no concern at all from the penguin, in fact he could have cared less. A fit of preening and a snooze seemed to all he had booked for the afternoon. One thing became abundantly clear....this was not a penguin we had seen before. He had orange head flashes and a red or orange beak (I forget now) and black feet...that was the give away, definitely not a Gentoo, they had red (I think) feet. So, it was in fact we're almost certain and Emperor Penguin...which is odd....as they certainly shouldn't be here, they're Antarctic dwellers. Lot bigger than the Magellanic Penguins too, so not easily mistaken.


Gentoo.JPG

Gentoo


Well it certainly was here, for whatever reason, whether ostracized and forced out, lost, or on holiday. A very strange and fantastically welcome surprise. We stayed a while and got some cracking shots before the Swiss turned up and we left in order not too crowd the fellah too much

You'd have thought that would be it for the day but we still had some treats in store, the late afternoon sun gave us fantastic views back the way we'd come and further along the road Andy and Maya were watching what certainly looked like an Otter paddling it's way down the coast. Close up it looked like an Otter, just a little too snub nosed and too large, but I don't know what else it could be. Black Backed Gulls were enjoying mobbing it as it swam along though so it must have been an unwelcome guest in the area.

Back at the camp site in time for tea and it was all hands to task again to get everything ready. Food to be cooked, water to be pumped and filtered, firewood to be collected, each to their task it was easy to accomplish. The water filter we brought, an MSR one seems to have gone up the swanny on second use, but assume it will be easily resolvable, handy thing to carry when camping like this. More disastrous was my thermarest sleeping mat, came back to discover it looked like a mole had come up under it-in fact it's blown. So now there is a six inch deep cushion across half the width, exactly in middle width and length wise, cracking. Why don't these things happen at home were you have the 10 guarantee and a supplier rather than when you have 4 months 'proper' use ahead ?

Martin & had turned up too, swelling out number on the site. the only folk here luckily, nice to have it to ourselves again.


Posted by Simon McCarthy at January 11, 2006 06:32 PM GMT
 


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