WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU REACH TIERRA DEL FUEGO
After reading reviews about Ushuaia, we weren’t exactly painted the beautiful picture of Patagonia that you imagine when you think of El Chalten, El Calafate or Torres del Paine. Generally, people know that Ushuaia is a resort town in Argentina, the capital of Tierro del Fuego, and the gateway to Antarctica for cruise ships. However, it usually isn't 'all the rave' that people talk about when discussing the jaw-dropping Patagonia scenery.
Even in knowing all of this, I had always hoped to make it to Ushuaia ever since I studied abroad in Argentina back in 2011. Since we had already been to the northern tip of South America when we started our trip in Colombia, Ryan was totally up for reaching the southernmost tip and checking out Ushuaia after our time in Torres del Paine. While we were planning this trip, I decided it would be a great idea for my parents to meet us there! Knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it back to the States for the holidays, I begged and pleaded my parents to meet us in Ushuaia right after New Years Day for a week. They finally agreed (even though it was probably the farthest point I could have asked them to travel). Nonetheless, I was so pumped!
THE UNEXPECTED WHILE TRAVELING
Ryan and I decided to arrive in Ushuaia a few days earlier than my parents' arrival date. A day after Ryan and I got there, my mom called me with unexpected news. The day before their flight to South America, my dad realized his passport was expired. It would take another 4-5 days for him to even apply for a new one, so he wouldn’t be coming to Ushuaia anymore. I was totally devastated. I had been so excited for months to spend time with my parents and wasn’t expecting this curveball at all. Honestly, what are the odds that he would realize one day before flying out? Ryan kept encouraging me to keep an open mind and see how God might use this situation to bring about other unknown blessings. Turns out, there was some good news from the conversation! Even though my dad couldn’t make it, my mom still planned to make the trek anyway (a ten hour flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires then another four hour flight to Ushuaia)! I am forever grateful for my mom keeping this commitment and joining us even though my dad couldn't make it.
THE EVEN MORE UNEXPECTED
Knowing my mom wouldn’t be arriving for another two days, Ryan and I decided to go camping for two nights before she got there. On our way to go pick up camping food from the store, we heard familiar contemporary Christian music playing from a nearby church. Knowing this would start our day off right, Ryan and I decided to go into the church and sing a few songs before heading out on our camping trip. Little did we know how impactful stepping into that little church would be for us that day. We were welcomed with open arms (and lots of hugging) and loved so openly that we ended up staying an extra night in town to spend New Years Eve with all of the people we met through this incredible church. It’s an experience Ryan and I will never forget and are so thankful for everyone we met!
WHY DO WE PLAN ANYTHING?
After a mellow New Years Eve, Ryan and I decided to go on a hike that Ryan had previously researched. We knew that we need to take a taxi to bring us to the trailhead. In the midst of trying to explain this to our guesthouse host, our explanation got lost in translation. Our hostess and her husband suggested a closer hike within walking distance to town. Her husband was even kind enough to drop us off at the trailhead so we didn’t get lost trying to find the trailhead. Even though this wasn’t the hike we had planned, at this point, we were just going with it. We were looking at this whole experience as God’s plan and flowing with whatever he wanted to reveal to us.
We had an amazing time hiking to this small, yet beautiful lagoon up in the mountains. While strolling through a eucalyptus tree forest, stopping at several stunning view points of the city, and eventually reaching snow at the top of the mountain, we were so amazed by this entire trail. We imagined that we were going to just hitch a tent beside the lagoon, however, there wasn't any level or soft surface to put a tent on. Again, this just goes to show how much we just needed to surrender any of our expectations or plans for our camping trip. While making our way down the mountain, small snow flurries starting to flutter all around us, and glisten in the sunlight. It was one of those is this real life? moments as we stood there gazing up at the mountains surrounding us. We ended up finding the perfect camping spot near the start of the trail in a quiet, protected forest.
WHAT ELSE WE REALLY LOVED IN USHUAIA
Surprisingly, we did a good amount of hiking when my mom was here. The first day with her we spent the day hiking and venturing up the mountain to Glacier Martial. We hiked all the way from town in the sun, rain, and snow to reach a viewpoint of the glacier. Although we couldn’t see the glacier because of the inclement weather, we had a blast charging this hike with mom as we caught up on all things life. We also loved stopping in La Cabana Casa del Te and warmed ourselves up with hands down the best mocha Ryan and I have had in South America. Mom ordered us the most amazing platter of sweets with a decadent chocolate cake, croissants, brownies, bread with dulce de leche. It was so so good, but I think we were all in a chocolate food coma afterward. Totally worth it, by the way!
[Side note: The transportation (buses and taxis) are crazy expensive in this region. So, you can either hitchhike if you have the time and leisure to do so or you can rent a car for the day. Since we were limited on time, we ended up renting a car for 24 hours. We rented it by 3pm and drove to Laguna Esmerelda. The following day, we started early and explored around the National Park until 2:30pm and returned the car by 3pm that same day. This was a perfect way to save money and make the most out of our time with the car rental.]
We enjoyed this hike, as well. Granted, it was super muddy. I hate mud for some reason. I can hang with the best of them, but when it comes to sinking down into mud, it’s like I am cringing every second. I thought this was going to be my worst nightmare, but it wasn’t so bad. Mom, Ryan, and I were able to trapeze through the forest to avoid most of the sinkholes and ended up loving this hike. We were that the lagoon only looks blue on a sunny day, but this is not true! It was one of the most stunning blue lagoons that we've seen in Patagonia.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
The second day of our car rental, we woke up early and headed straight to the National Park. We paid roughly US$17, but we were told that if you wake up before the park opens, admission is free. We enjoyed a shorter hike to a waterfall and soaked up the views at Lago Roca and Bahia Lapataia. After checking out some laid back trails, Mom suggested that we hike Cerro Guanaca (the most difficult hike in the park). I know, she’s a champ! We started this hike and were able to enjoy some of the higher viewpoints, but we didn’t have enough time to reach the top because we needed to return our rental car. However, I would definitely recommend this trail if you have the time and stamina to hike this steep climb.
Sailboat Tour to Penguin Island
Usually, Ryan and I avoid paying loads of money on tours. However, one thing I really wanted to do before I left Patagonia was to see penguins. So, we asked around at various tourist offices to discover all of the different opportunities. We all agreed on a sailboat tour to Penguin Island with a company called Paludine, instead of going on one of the larger catamaran boats with 200+ tourists. It ended up being a total of eight of us on the sailboat, which was perfect for a laid back sailing trip along the Beagle Channel. We paid about ten dollars more for this intimate experience compared to the bigger boats, but it was worth it. The sailboat was able to creep up so close to the penguins, and we even saw a large colony of sea lions with the biggest male sea lion I have ever seen in my life!
Kickin’ It with My Mom
After looking back on our time spent in Ushuaia, by far my favorite part was being able to share this experience with my mom. Ryan and I kept saying over and over what a blessing it was that God sent her to spend that special week with us. She came in with such a positive attitude about everything. Mom never complained once about the difficult hikes or how unplanned everything was or even about the meals Ryan and I cooked (we try, we really do). She was so open to experiencing anything and guided us with so much clarity in conversations about big decisions coming up for us. I feel like my mom and Ryan got to really know each other way better through all the time and deep conversations we had while hiking or simply cooking up delicious breakfasts together. She even beat us at our own card game (that we introduced to her that same week)! I couldn’t have asked for a better week in Ushuaia. God led us in all the right ways and revealed all of the blessings that He had been waiting to show us.