Argentina & Antarctica
I’m sorry this post has been long in coming — for some reason the paying jobs had to take priority over the blog, silly but true — but I hope it’s worth the wait!
For decades, I’ve spoken of Antarctica as the crazy dream destination, exotic and fascinating and unlike anything else you can just hop in a car or plane and go to visit. In 2009, the Antarctic Treaty signatories agreed to update restrictions on tourism — a concept I understand and endorse, because we’ve seen what unchecked and unregulated tourists can do to places less fragile than Antarctica, and yet I decided that if I were going to go, I should do it.
So two years ago I booked a cruise to Antarctica. And then in February, we went.
“But Laura! You’re always going on about being environmentally conscious, and how can a cruise ship be a good idea in such an environment?”
Hey, good question! But consider this math: If ten boats go into a scenic lagoon each carrying ten people, you’ve got ten boats’ worth of noise, pollution, crowding, etc. If one hundred people go in on one boat, you have a larger boat which does produce more pollution — but much less than ten smaller boats. So fewer larger groups can actually offer less impact than more smaller groups.
This is the case with destinations such as the Galápagos Islands, which limit the number of visitors each year. While smaller boats advertise lower impact per boat, the real key to consider is impact per visitor.
I am not prepared to argue that small boats are irresponsible. But in places where minimal impact is desired, I think it’s fair to say that a larger tour group is something to consider rather than multiple small groups.
So I booked with Celebrity Cruises and packed my bags.
Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego
I’ve posted previously about Iguazú Falls, so I’ll start here with our stop in Ushuaia, the southernmost city on the planet. It sits on the Beagle Channel, named for the ship which carried Darwin here.
Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fire — originally called the Land of Smoke for all the natives’ cookfires, but that sounded much less impressive back in Europe) is the southernmost part of Argentina. I had originally planned to go into the national park there to hike (and thus was absolutely over-geared for a longer, more solitary outing), but we were talked into an alternate hike to a glacial lake, Laguna Esmeralda.
We hiked through forest and then across one of the largest peat bogs in South America toward the mountains. The ground was gloriously springy and make delightful squish, squelck sounds as you walked. Areas were dangerously soft, and there were places where you had to use boards or branches to pass through, as the peat was knee-deep.
How do I know the depth so exactly? Because on the way back, we encountered a bit of a traffic jam with a lot of hikers all trying to use the same poles across a deep spot in both directions. I thought I’d be clever and go another route, since I could see another single pole a little way off.
It’s wobbly going, on a 4″ wide pole in squishy terrain, but I have decent balance and I’d felt pretty good on the narrow beams all day. My pack was centered and tight, so it wouldn’t shift, so everything was fine except — oh, except my camera, slung around one shoulder and thus well off center when it swung with my movement on a wiggly pole. It pulled me over and I began to flail my arms for recovery.
Only, it’s not my camera. I’d borrowed it from my sister Alena, so smashing it into a mess of peat would be bad, and I didn’t want to lose it so early in the trip. All this went through my mind in that time dilation which occurs in certain crises, and I made the decision to sacrifice my foot to save my torso and camera in case I couldn’t recover.
My leg went in to my knee, and I pulled out my bare sock.
Well, drat. Now how was I going to retrieve my hiking shoe without filling it full of peat?
My friend Mark watched the whole thing and took the absolutely appropriate action of snapping a documentary photo. (Then he came to offer me a steadying hand while I replaced my hiking boot on the wobbly pole.)
Overall, it was a nice hike, if a bit more crowded than I’d hoped. I’m sure the national park would have been more isolated, but it also was a longer drive and an entrance fee. This scenery was nice, too.
We had a friendly taxi driver, but one awkward moment occurred when someone mentioned the Falklands. “You mean Las Malvinas?” he corrected, in Spanish. There are even metal road signs reminding drivers that Las Malvinas son argentinas; if Argentina had won the war, the islands would be part of Tierra del Fuego. “But let’s not talk about that,” he continued with a smile. “Let’s just enjoy the day.” So we did.
Let’s Take A Break
Oh, I just looked at what I have written to follow, and I’ll break a server if I try to make this a single post. Hey, guys, just like The Hobbit, this post is now a series! But I promise, no silly love triangles to negate all the characterization achievement of previous canon. Tune in next time for Cape Horn!