Tierra del Fuego, which I assume everyone knows is Spanish for “Land of Fire,” is an archipelago, or chain of islands, which is the southernmost tip of South America. This “Land of Fire” is true wilderness: one of the few remaining places in the world where you can still find places never touched by man. We took a flight to Ushuaia, the main city in the region.
When we land, the wind is immediately apparent. It almost blows over some of the smallest people in our party. Immediately we head out the the Martial glacier. This amazing glacier flows slowly to the sea. The ice crystals are a deep, beautiful blue. We take our sea kayaks and paddle to a safe distance. After several photos, we hear a loud roar. A portion of the glacier crumbles into the ocean water. This is only a infinitesimal piece of the glacier weighs probably around a few hundred tons. These glaciers carve through the land, creating valleys and ridges.
After we get back, we head out into Tierra del Fuego National Park. By the time we get there, it is already noon. We set up a base camp and head out into the wilderness.
The forests here are largely Magellanic subpolar, which include conifers and some deciduous broadleaved trees. Mosses lichens and low-lying grasses cover most of the ground. As we begin our hike, we see the Torres del Paine in the distance. Do not worry, we will get there eventually. We can hardly hear ourselves think over the loud winds. Everywhere we look, there is nothing but forest and scrub-land in pristine form. Off in the distance, we see a group of guanaco. These relatives of the llama are often used for wool because of their more pleasant temperament. We must be downwind of them, otherwise, they would be off. After a few minutes of watching them chew grasses through our binoculars, they walk off. Soon after, we see the Pudu, the world’s smallest deer: they only stand about 1 foot at the shoulder. They must have been depending on the guanaco for alerting them of predators. Seeing the guanaco walk off, they follow slowly, grazing lazily as they go. We pass a small creek, which is now in full force after spring melt. In the water, we hear familiar sounds. The cry of otters. They play gleefuly in the rushing water as we watch. Their happiness seems to permeates everyone’s freezing layers.
It is getting late. Here the nights are cold. There is simply no way we can go further for that matter, this stream crossing our path. We must get back to camp lest get stuck out in the wind-swept scrub-land. On our route back, we look back and see a number of Andean Condors. These goliath birds have a wingspan of 3 meters! They circle in the evening sky. Perhaps a puma caught one of the Pudu we saw earlier and they are waiting to get their shot at the carrion. If we see one of those, we will be truly blessed. One can live his or her whole life here and see one once or twice. These enigmatic creatures are true masters of their land. Tomorrow we head out toward the Torres del Paine, then Mount Fitz Roy, and then Cape Horn.