A Walk on the Wild Side

There is no doubt that Patagonia offers anything less than stellar experiences for nature lovers of all levels. From mountains to wildlife, Patagonia has it all. Over the last couple of weeks we experienced some incredible views form mountain tops and from the icebergs on the water. It wasn’t until we got to Ushuaia when I felt we were able to experience the animals this amazing region had to offer.

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Unlike the mountainous areas we had been exploring recently, Ushuaia was full of marine life. Birds of all species flew above us despite being in town. Despite the relentlessness cold wind, you could still hear the seals that were calling offshore.

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Jamie and I decided our two priorities would be to visit Valle de Lobos (a winter dog sled resort) and Estancia Harberton (aka wild penguin island). Nothing brings out the 10-year-old girl in me like encountering wildlife. Whether it’s the Disney-raised Pochahontas personality in me or the part that secretly (not so secretly) hopes that Jurassic Park could be real, I LOVE animals. There is something calming, humbling, and mysterious about them.

Let’s start with the penguins, because… PENGUINO!

Wild Penguins

When it comes to activities in Ushuaia, you will hear over and over ahead to go on the penguin tour. Turns out, there are several penguin tours. We decided to go with Piratour to embark on our adventure. While many tour companies offer up close views of the penguin island, Piratour is the only one that allowed you to disembark the boat and explore the island, giving you a chance to see the penguins up close.

To be completely honest, I was not entirely sold at first. Seeing penguins had not been high on my list and the penguin tour was a hefty price ($175). I almost didn’t go, but I am so glad that I did because it was AMAZING. I mean look at my face…I could NOT stop squealing.

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The tour starts out with a bus ride out to Estancia Haberton, the first farm to be established in 1886 in Tierra del Fuego. It remains to be privately owned by the grandchildren of it’s original founder, Thomas Bridges.

After a brief tour, we boarded a small but sturdy speedboat out to Martillo Island, where the penguin rookery is. Now, the reason why all the other penguin tour groups are not allowed onto the island, is because Isla Martillo is a part of Estancia Haberton, such as remains to be private property. How did Piratours come to be so lucky? Well turns out one of the owners of Piratours (or employees) is in a serious relationship with one of the grandsons of Thomas Bridges. So turns out, they are the only ones that are allowed to set foot on the island. Keeping it all in the family I suppose. Family drama aside, it is such a unique experience, I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of it. The family is all about preserving the history and wildlife of the land, most of the property remains part of a nature reserve therefore they allow two tours a day (20 people each) to explore the island so as not to complete disrupt the balance.

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Isla Martillo, is a small island, but within its 625 meters (just over a third of a mile), it is home to over 1000 nests of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. The guides were knowledgeable and friendly, training us on how to stay a safe distance from the penguins and move around them. While we moved as a group they allowed us to move around freely in a small portion of the island. We were limited to an hour of time on the island but it surprisingly went by slowly.

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This colony of penguins return to the island year after year to lay eggs and we were JUST in time. Two nests had newly hatched baby penguins that were just days old. And oh my gosh was it cute.

It's hard to see but the baby penguin is in there!

It’s hard to see but the baby penguin is in there!

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There was even one lone Emperor penguin! Our guide said he must have taken a wrong turn at some point but keeps returnign to the island. Penguins mate for life and they only mate with their own species, I can’t help but feel bad for the penguin who probably wonders why no one looks like him…talk about being an outsider in the dating scene.

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While the ropes are meant to keep people on walking paths, the penguins didn’t always abide to them. Some just set in the middle of the walkway minding their own business. There was a lot more silent squeals from me.

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Saying bye to the penguins was so hard! I just wanted to pick one up and put it in my bag. I have no idea what I would do with it, but I imagine maybe Lily would like a friend. And I could have a penguin friend. 🙂

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I think what made this experience so special for me was the fact that I’m not used to seeing people interact with penguins. The only time I ever seen people next to penguins were either at the zoo (even then they look depressingly isolated) or on the Discovery Channel. I felt like we were environmentalists studying penguin habits for a segment of Planet Earth. 🙂

Dog Sleds

It didn’t occur to me that since we were visiting during Patagonia’s spring, that were wouldn’t be any snow in the mountains and dog sledding would probably be out of the question. Unfortunately for us we also happened to decide to visit Valle de Lobos on a day they were closed. Luckily for us, someone was available to talk with us about the work they do there.

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Valle de Lobos is located about 18km outside of Ushuaia in the mountains. Owned by Gato Curuchet, the first south american man to win the Iditarod in Alaska. The Iditarod is a long standing dog sled race in Alaska that covers 1000 miles. Valle de Lobos is a winter resort that continues to trains sled dogs where kids compete as well as offering other winter activities.

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The dogs were not husky looking as one usually imagines snow dogs to be, but they were still beautiful. Their eyes were wild and they were hardly your friendly domesticated pup.

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It would have been great to see the dogs in action, but another trip for another time. It was still a great chance to snuggle with some great dogs! Watch the video Jamie made of our trip here:

Argentina – Lakes District and Ushuaia – 2014 from The Hoods on Vimeo.

 

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