So, what is Patagonia? We had a vague notion about it being somewhere in Argentina. As it turns out, Patagonia occupies about the bottom half of the country. It is almost entirely flat and almost no one lives there except for a few cities along the coasts. Not much can live there. Here are the pictures from our week in Patagonia. Tierra del Fuego, at the very southern end of South America, is not really like the rest of Patagonia, but those pictures are here as well.
Here is what most of Patagonia looks like. Some also has small shrubs and small ponds. We would go to sleep on the bus with it looking like this and then wake up to exactly the same thing. Sometimes it has sheep on it.
In Patagonia, they have guanacos, which are related to the llama. They are all wild--these just happen to be behind a sheep fence. They are one of the few native animals. I would compare them to deer in most parts of the US because you often see big groups of them grazing.
We went to Valdes Penninsula in the northern part of Patagonia. It has much wildlife, but especially the Right Whale. It is apparently called that because it was the right whale to kill in the whaling days. It would float to the surface and tasted good with lots of blubber. Now it is protected and doing well.
They have barnacles that also house small crabs all over them. Different whales are identified by the shape of these barnacles. This is its mouth, though hard to tell. They have these huge teeth-like things called ballenes that filter krill from the water. However, they don't really eat when they are in this location--they come to mate and have babies, then go back south to eat.
Also on the Penninsula are elephant seals. These are the biggest seals in the world and can reach almost 10,000 pounds. That's right--the size of a minivan. We were there when the males were fighting for territory and could see some smaller ones that were wounded. This one was resting on the beach.
These animals are called maras or Patagonian cavies. They are like massive guinea pigs. They live in pairs and burrow into the ground.
And penguins! Penguins only come here to breed and it is just the beginning of breeding season, so we only saw a few. The males come first and find nest sites. This is a recent arrival who looked happy with his nest. It was way up the hill, safe from the seals and orcas.
All aboard the Patagonian Express! A part of Patagonia was home to Welsh settlers in the 1800s and early 1900s. They brought with them all things Welsh and built trains to ship salt and other items among the Welsh towns. We assume the graffiti is more recent.
This was one of the first Welsh homes in the area. Very cozy inside. Most of the Welsh left and went to Canada in the 1900s, but there are still some Welsh descendents left and they still teach Welsh classes in some places.
Passing through the city of Rio Gallegos, we saw this boat rather far from the ocean. We assume a huge wave brought it on land. Given how little was in this city, shipwrecks are likely the only way the city adds to the population.
Here we are crossing the Straits of Magellan on a ferry to Tierra del Fuego. Very interesting to think about Magellan doing it 500 years ago. It was fairly cold at this point and we saw some penguins fishing.
Tierra del Fuego consists of hills and mountains, unlike the rest of Patagonia. It gets cold in the winter, but not that cold. It rarely goes below 20 degrees and it doesn't get much above 70 in the summer. We are here right at the end of winter and it stays around freezing. Here is a great shot that Tara took from the bus on the way south.
We went to Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city in the world and a beautiful city. (It has been built up in the last 20 years so that Argentina has more people in the area because Argentina and Chile have argued over the borders. This is a common trend in Argentina. They also have monuments to the Falklands, which they still claim despite losing a war over them. They also claim much of Antarctica.) We have done a good amount of hiking in the snow. After hiking to see the Martial Glacier (which we did not realize would be covered with snow and not actually possible to see) we built a lovely snow man. No trees around, so no arms. Sadly, this was the first snow man Tara had ever made.
We took a chair lift up and down part of the hike because the trail was closed. Tara had also never been on a chair lift, so it was a day of firsts for her. I had never been on a chair lift with such nice views, though.
After hiking to see the glacier, we hiked through Tierra del Fuego National Park. Some lovely views and lots of mud. The hike was really great until it started sleeting. The weather here can change from sun to rain to snow and back again very quickly.
Not much grows down here. Most of the area is what is called peat bog, which is a bit like a swamp. Nothing decomposes because of the cold. Only a few types of trees grow here and then a lot of moss grows. Here you can see the moss and lichens growing on the trees. Note the lack of snow at the just slightly lower altitude.
These geese are the most common birds here. They live in pairs and the male and female are completely different colors. We think the white one is the male, but aren't sure.
There are also several types of woodpeckers. I took this while searching for beavers, which we never saw. Beavers were imported to try to start a fur industry. Unfortunately, it does not get as cold here as in Canada, so the beavers don't grow a very thick fur. So, the furs can't be used for much, but the beavers have done a lot of damage to the ecosystem, creating big lakes that kill all the trees.
We went snowshoeing for several miles with a group. Here is Tara about to enter the woods with her snowshoes. The forest was beautiful with the new snow on the trees. By the time we finished the hike, all the snow on the trees had melted.
This is a large waterfall that apparently freezes during the winter, but it is now warm enough during the days that snow has started to melt and the waterfall has started to run again. It is interesting snowshoeing through the forest at this time of year because you often realize that you are hiking over a creek or river that is flowing under the snow.
Us together in a valley on our snowshoe trip. This picture will allow my family to note that I am wearing a coat. I told Tara the other day that when I put on my coat it made my sleeves go up. She informed me that this is common when wearing a coat and that I may need to hold my sleeves while putting on the coat, and that I would know that if I ever wore a coat. One more reason not to wear a coat.
After showshoeing, we went for a dog sled ride. We didn't actually get to drive the sled, but it was still fun. We also learned that the sled stops anytime one of the dogs has to go to the bathroom, which turns out to be a lot. Hadn't ever thought about that.
That wraps up Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. Expect more snow and mountains in coming posts. We now begin our trip back north. Let's hope it is as good as the trip south.