Next morning we were up at five a.m. and after breakfast we drove an hour and a half to see the sea elephants. They were at the bottom of a very steep cliff, which we had to descend in order to get good pictures of them on the shore. At the top of the cliff where we left the bus, the wind was blowing a constant 60 to
65 mph, and continued to do so all day, where ever we went. We had to lean into the wind to walk or even just to stand. We were told that those were very unusual conditions for summer. Winter, yes. Summer, no. The actual problem was that Patagonia had stayed beneath the oceans for so many eons that the entire region is basically silt and sand. When the wind is blowing at 65 mph, staying on your feet in one thing. Keeping the sand and grit out of your eyes, teeth, hair and lungs is quite another.
Arriving at our lunch stop, the restaurant looked like a bad joke from the outside but they were serving the most wonderful meals to perhaps 80 patrons, inside. I had the fish dinner with a truly delicious sauce and a squid salad, with
tentacles about three inches long. Quite good!
After lunch, another long dull drive to see the sea lions, basking in the sun on ledges of a cliff, with the ocean spray washing over them. The wind persisted. Another long boring drive to a rookery to see flamingos. As a nature lover, I was in my element, however.
Perhaps the greatest thrill of this trip, and one of my most memorable experiences came the day our tour guide got us going early enough to be the first tourists to visit the Magellan Penguins at Punta Tomba. Our tour guide said there were a million in the colony, and we walked among them, alone, for about 20 or 30 minutes before the other tourists arrived. The largest of these little penguins don't even come up to your knees, and there are so many you have to pay attention so you don't step on them. Most of the adults were making their way down to the ocean to look for food for their chicks and the chicks were making a quacking type of noise, which is probably how the parents are able to find their way back to them. However, the truly awesome part of all this is the enormous number of them...as far as the eye can see..
Now, Ushuaia was, to me, just another name on the map, at the very tip of South America. Little did I know I would fall in love with Ushuaia and even entertain thoughts of retirement there, until I realized that they do not see the sun for about three months during the winter. As we flew into the little airport, I was surprised to see the topography was a series of islands, presumably mountain tops, and that one little town, Ushuaia, stretching out along the shore. It sort of reminded me of what Hong Kong must have looked like before people began inhabiting it. The town is built on the side of a mountain that drops right down into the bay and the houses are very tiny but, oh so charming. Many of the miniature houses have flower boxes beneath the shuttered windows, and gardens in their front yards, some enclosed by picket fencing. Cute, cute, cute!
Our rustic but elegant hotel was halfway up the mountain, overlooking the town and the bay. It reminded me of a five star ski lodge...a lot of beautiful wooden beams. Ushuaia is only about 100 years old but, they say it is growing fast, now, becoming a tourist
Mecca. I believe it. Our view from the hotel, with the little islands popping out of the bay, was so
beautiful and seine, I actually considered just staying there and letting the group go on
without me the next day.