7 Super Shots Photo Game

I recently had the pleasure of contributing a photo to the launch of Hostel Booker’s fun travel photo game which showcased 7 exciting travel photos across 7 categories from 7 different travel bloggers. Now, it’s time for me to dive into my archives and to pull out 7 photos before nominating 5 of my fellow bloggers!  Please enjoy, and let me know which is your personal favorite?

A photo that…takes my breath away

 

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Located about halfway between Croatia’s Capital, Zagreb and the coastal town of Split is Plitvice Lakes National Park. I had the opportunity to visit the day before first snowfall and quickly fell in love. A UNESCO world heritage site, the area is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful national parks. While the main waterfall featured above was impressive, the 6-8 hour hike along the river as a whole was filled with incredible beauty.

A photo that…makes me laugh or smile

 

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

I find penguins hilarious.  They’re odd, inquisitive, horribly awkward on land and generally fairly adorable.  Which is why  I can’t help but grin and chuckle every time I see this photo from a small island in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  Located just a few hundred miles north of Antarctica and in the world’s most southern continental region, Tierra del Fuego is a fascinating land full of amazing wonders and highly entertaining inhabitants.

A photo that…makes me dream

 

A Dog Resting Atop Sharkstooth

Taken in the summer of 2011 this shot is from the back side of Shark’s Tooth Pass in southwestern Colorado deep within the San Juan Mountain Range. Every time I see this photo i’m reminded to dream of new adventures, of new accomplishments, and to close my eyes and remember the wonderful adventures already experienced.

A photo that…makes me think

 

Cherry Blossoms & the Tidal Basin - Washington D.C.

The FDR monument in Washington, DC is one of my favorite monuments in the world. It is powerful, compelling and offers amazing quotes based in great wisdom. I snapped this shot of a random woman in front of one of the quotes during a visit in April 2011.  It always causes me to pause and ask myself – what have I done to help those who need it today?

A photo that…makes my mouth water

Outdoor Market in Dublin - Food

Outdoor markets are one of the things I love most about traveling outside of the US. During a recent visit to Dublin I swung by a wonderful little market square located just outside the heart of Temple Bar. Once I stumbled upon this booth I couldn’t help by sample several of the wildly different offerings – each of which had a strong, delightful taste the memory of which makes my mouth water to this day.

A photo that…tells a story

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

One of the things I love about travel is the opportunity to stumble upon delightful moments that capture the imagination and tie into our inner self. It can be a reminder of our childhood curiosity, simple delight in every-day things, or a sense of wonder at things we would otherwise be blind to. During a trip to Bergen, Norway I was lucky enough to have my camera out during one of these moments as a young boy wandered away from his parents to boldly march up to a doorway that had piqued his curiosity. For me, this shot embodies my perpetual re-connection with my inner child while on the road.

A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

There’s something about this photo that just moves me. It is of a random photographer in-front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Argentina after an all-day glacier trek. Despite being snowed and rained upon for most of the trek the clouds lifted and the rains paused long enough for me to capture this special moment. In particular I like how it conveys that sense of wonder that strikes from time to time – causing even the most committed photographer to lower their camera, pause, and take in the wonderful beauty that surrounds them.

Join the Game

1. Choose 7 of your own photos, one for each of the following categories:

  • A photo that…takes my breath away
  • A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
  • A photo that…makes me dream
  • A photo that…makes me think
  • A photo that…makes my mouth water
  • A photo that…tells a story
  • A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

2. Write a short description for each image.
3. Write somewhere in your blog post: ‘I am taking part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots‘.
4. Tell us you have participated and tweet the hashtag #7SuperShots
5. Nominate 5 other bloggers by including a link to their blog in your post.
We will be retweeting and sharing the best posts from participating bloggers.

Nominations

I would love to see the fantastic photos the following bloggers come up with, so to each of the following I nominate YOU to post your own 7 Super Shots.

Head on over and see the 7 Super Shots guidelines post which features a number of fantastic photos.

The Danish Animal House! Photos From A Day at the Copenhagen Zoo

Copenhagen Zoo Mother Cat

In my effort to round out my Copenhagen introductory experience I quickly realized that the Copenhagen Zoo was a must visit.  With a reputation for being one of the best zoos in Europe it boasted stellar review after stellar review online. Eager to try and catch the 1PM feeding I pulled up the zoo’s website, glanced at a map and set off.  Unfortunately the trip to Fasanvej St. station (which I felt was the closest and easiest walk to the Zoo) took slightly longer than expected….and then I goofed. Instead of heading south, I accidentally began heading north and didn’t realize my mistake until I’d gone 3 or 4 blocks.   At which time 1PM was 5 minutes away and a light rain had begun to fall.  No longer on a strict timetable I ducked into a corner kebab shop and ordered lunch hoping the rain would pass in the 20 or so minutes it would take me to eat.

Copenhagen Zoo Tower

It didn’t and unfortunately it may have even picked up slightly.  But, un-perturbed I stepped out into the light rain and began backtracking towards the station before blazing a new southerly path.  The rain was relatively light and left me damp but lacked sufficient strength to send me running for cover. If anything it added a slight skip to my step as I found myself humming Singing in the Rain and splashing my way through a beautiful, sprawling palatial garden. After getting slightly lost I stumbled onto an open viewing area where the park opened up onto the back side of the zoo’s Elephant enclosure. In place of the high walls you’d expect blocking out non-paying visitors there was a low electric fence, moat, and railing.  From there it was only a matter of a few turns before I found myself standing in front of the Zoo’s entrance.

Copenhagen Zoo

Then I faced a small quandary. It was still raining, gray and showed no sign of letting up.  But, that’s how the weather had been the previous three days, and each time after an hour or so the clouds broke, the rain stopped, and the weather transitioned into beautiful afternoons.  I had the entire afternoon to wait it out, was reading my Dad’s book and had little desire to rush, so I opted to risk the 140 DKK ($28 USD) entrance fee and went for it. Once inside I quickly found my way to one of the Zoo’s small cafe’s where I secured a quiet corner table and began reading. Before long the rain stopped, clouds broke, and as one the animals and I left our dry hiding spaces to enjoy the sunshine and fresh, crisp, clean post storm air.

Copenhagen Zoo

After a quick stop in the Flamingo enclosure I found my way to the Lion’s den.  To my absolute delight the entire pride was out and active wandering the enclosure, playfully relaxing and from time to time babysitting the pack of small cubs.

Copenhagen Zoo

I couldn’t believe my luck.  Not only were all of the lions out and active, the enclosure itself was extremely conducive to viewing them with the usual close up cement walls with smeared and fogged up glass windows only taking up a small portion of the viewing area. The rest consisted of a large, long, and open railing wrapping around 1/3 of the habitat. With the lions out and about it offered an incredible view.  It was hands down the best chance I’ve had to view lions – normally in Phoenix and the other Zoo’s I’ve been in the view has consisted of little more than furry lion’s paws sticking out of the grass, or a long tail dangling from one of the enclosure’s small caves.

Copenhagen Zoo Monkey

From there it was on to the monkey enclosures where most of the monkeys were relaxing, nibbling on food and enjoying the sun’s warmth. You’ll note that the little guy in the image above seemed to have it all figured out.  What better way to spend an afternoon than outside taking a nap in the sun?

Copenhagen Zoo Sunbather

Speaking of sunbathing, even this turtle in one of the internal butterfly and bird enclosures seemed to have it all figured out. Stuck inside? Can’t enjoy the sunlight? No bother – bring the sunlight to you! Personally though, I have a hunch he’s going to have a pretty difficult time getting a tan through that shell, it’s probably a smudge stronger than SPF 45.

Copenhagen Zoo

Attached to the butterfly enclosure was a large dark hallway lined with individually lit frog, insect and snake aquariums.  One of the largest served as home to a small army of brightly covered jungle frogs. While no doubt terribly poisonous to touch, their rich colors and vibrant markings make them some of the most attractive amphibians I’ve ever seen in person.

Copenhagen Zoo

A little further down the hall, however, was this lovely couple.  Closer to what one might expect these guys possessed a certain dinosaur esq look struck quite the pose. Quite the couple, relaxing and enjoying their vibrantly colored flower bed.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on to the Chimpanzee enclosure which was completely inside and housed a surprisingly large chimpanzee population including grown males, females and young children.  I’m always torn on Zoos. On the one hand I love them for the opportunity to see amazing creatures up close and for the opportunity they present to protect endangered, injured, or domesticated animals. On the other hand – well, this photo sums it up pretty perfectly. There’s the sad sense of the jailhouse blues seeing some of the animals locked away in man-made enclosures.

Copenhagen Zoo

After winding my way out of the Chimpanzee enclosure I found myself entering another building.  This one, it turned out, was actually the back side of the outdoor monkey enclosures I had visited earlier and offered a mixture of in-door extensions of the enclosures as well as several smaller, entirely indoor areas for some of the smaller and incredibly adorable monkeys.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on over to the Tiger enclosure where three of the large cats were relaxing and enjoying the sun…until, that is, this little guy woke up from his nap and got a bit bored.

Copenhagen Zoo Tiger

After a hearty yawn – at least I’m hoping that’s what it was – and a bit of stretching he did what any good natured cat would do.  Decided to stalk prey.

Copenhagen Zoo

On massive padded paws he slowly stalked his way towards his sleeping cage-mate…inching forward slowly….then eventually pouncing on his sleeping target who was, as you might imagine, not entirely thrilled at rude awakening. Oh, and have no fear. The above photo is completely innocent.

Copenhagen Zoo

The unamused cage mate quickly woke up and let his (or her) general disapproval be known – though you can tell by the provocateur’s ears that he was still finding the reaction absolutely entertaining.

Copenhagen Zoo

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever ambushed a friend or family member in their sleep knows, while hysterical to watch, they do tend to be a bit grumpy after. This was no exception, but after a quick chiding the two collapsed to the dirt and returned to their lazy afternoon lounging, no worse for wear.

Copenhagen Zoo

Around the corner I quickly came face to face with the Leopard enclosure. As with the rest of the spaces in the Zoo I was shocked at how many animals the enclosure was home to as I counted four, possibly five leopards in their sprawling and thickly shaded cage.  Seeing the animals in such a social environment, many with young children or nurslings in tow really gave me a lot of added respect for the Copenhagen Zoo team and their approach.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located just around the corner from the leopards was a small otter enclosure.  These three goofballs had found the perfect perch for staring at passing tourists, often at eye level.  Their playful antics as they huddled, drying off in the sun’s warmth reminded me of the three stooges and one of their comedy routines.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was up, past two lounging red pandas to the sea lion enclosure. Not to be outdone by the otters the sea lion enclosure was in the midst of a feeding/show when I arrived. After barking on command, shaking hands, waving, and a plethora of other adorable tricks the sea lion’s trainers would send them off to one of the corners before calling over a new performer.

Copenhagen Zoo

The sea lions were extremely responsive, playful, and as you’ll note in the image above quite talented. On more than one occasion I was surprised to see them leap out of the water to touch nose to suspended ball, or trainer’s finger tips.

Copenhagen Zoo

As the sea lions performed, the penguins in the partially attached enclosure immediately next to them fought for attention. Several forming small groups before waddling their way in front of each other where they proceeded to honk and peck at each other. Who knew that penguins rolled in gangs when imprisoned in the big house? From there it was on past a small pack of beautiful wolves enjoying mottled shade and into the bear section of the Zoo.

Copenhagen Zoo

There I was immediately greeted by this goofy little guy who spent the majority of his time lounging in the pool, looking guilty and playing with toys while his mother and two younger brothers wandered the enclosure causing trouble.

Copenhagen Zoo

While mom waited for dinner, and kept an eye on things from an interesting perch in the middle of the structure, two of her cubs entertained them selves as boys will…

Copenhagen Zoo

…in a playful, clumsy, and utterly adorable bear face-off. Nose to nose. Paw to paw. Standing as tall as they could they’d grapple before one would break away, racing a large circle around the enclosure before pausing to have at it once again.

Copenhagen Zoo

As time drifted by and I watched them play they eventually all gathered to wait while one of the zoo keepers rustled around behind the enclosure. Though it looked more like they were taking standing and walking lessons than waiting for anything in particular.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located a stones throw away from the brown bear family was the polar bear enclosure which serves as home for two large, gorgeous polar bears.

Copenhagen Zoo

Full of character one was kind enough to pose for me briefly, striking a classic pose which you might recognize from music videos and malls all over America.  After a quick pose he turned, sticking his tongue out at me and looking generally pleased with himself.

Copenhagen Zoo

As I’m sure you may have noticed by now, it seemed like every one was in the best of moods. Both animals and humans alike.  After watching him mime for the camera a bit more and shooting several more shots I set off past the leopard seal enclosure and towards the tunnel which winds under a road and into the second half of the park.

Copenhagen Zoo

The second half of the park is home to a number of animals, including this gorgeous and slightly ferocious mother caracal which you may recall from the start of this entry.  Let me tell you, few things stand out in my memory quite like making eye contact with her, perhaps 8 inches away from each other, face to face, as she stood on top of a barrel and expressed her annoyance with  my proximity to her little ones. After snapping two quick shots I respected her wishes and backed off giving her a bit of space.

Copenhagen Zoo

Her two little ones were adorable kittens with captivating eyes and pure, adorable, kitten innocence. They found their way to the floor to ceiling glass and playfully rolled around attacking small bugs, sticks of grass, and anything that happened to be in range, which included attempts – despite the class – to nibble on a few small children’s fingers and my camera strap.

Copenhagen Zoo

The far side of the Zoo contained a large giraffe family, several hippos, birds, zebras and to my surprise a large petting zoo and domestic exhibit including highland horses, several cows, pigs and chickens.

Copenhagen Zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo was absolutely incredible. I was blown away by the layout, the treatment of the animals, their general energy, and the magnificent way the day turned out. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better day at the Zoo. I’m absolutely thrilled with how my gamble turned out and hope to revisit to zoo again sometime soon. I already miss all of my new furry, feathered and scaled friends!

The photos in this post were shot on a Canon Powershot G11. Learn more about it and the Canon G12 here.

4,000 Penguins and the End of the Earth

My shoes made a soft squishing noise as I stepped off the paved path and onto a narrow band of muddy earth which wound its way between the road and a small set of kiosks along Ushuaia’s main pier.  The morning was crisp, partly cloudy and smelled fresh.  The air prickled my skin and teased at a refreshing day.  The sky over the Beagle Channel of Darwinian fame was gorgeous and set the perfect backdrop for the day’s adventure.

I’d be using Pira Tours which is somewhat expensive but it is the only group that has rights and access to actually disembark on Martillo Island where the penguin colonies are located. Eager to begin the adventure, I tracked down the 16 person mini-bus that would transport us out to the Harberton Estate where we’d catch a zodiac out to a small island located in the middle of the Beagle Channel.

Countryside - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The drive east along the coast was a beautiful one.  The first 1/3 was on pavement and wound through snow-capped mountains with lush but rugged vegetation on either side of the road.  The trees were green and moss-covered with foliage and moss serving as a dense carpet below.  Despite the lush verdant colors everything maintained a hearty look that hinted at the harshness of winter and the brutal nature of the landscape.

Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Our first stop – well, more of a pause really – was near the 2/3 mark. We’d wound through rich forest and along the base of tundra-esque valleys before eventually bursting out of the underbrush and returning to the coast. The scenery had been fascinating. I noticed recent work had been done on the road and there were whole stands of trees that had been blown over or literally snapped in half.  I’d later learn that the damage had happened a mere 3 days previous during an incredible micro-burst.  Yikes!

Our first pause was along a stone beach covered in horseshoe muscle shells, urchin bodies and other small, vibrantly colored seashells.  The view looked out over an old fish smoking/drying stand at the Beagle Channel and the Chilean coastline to the south.  The water was clear, fresh, and rich with life. It made for a grand start.

Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Eager to continue along our way we re-boarded and watched as the forest gave way to open grassy areas, small bogs with gnarly, protruding, sun-bleached branches, and a rugged mixture of hearty trees that stood valiantly with snarled branches and a perpetual tilt as if trying to shrug off the wind.

Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the Harberton Estate – a fun little cluster of buildings with an old dock, a few animals and several boats. There we were introduced to our guide – a perky gal in her late 20s/early 30s whose face was decorated almost completely by a birthmark.  Her wide smile and a twinkle in her eyes oozed character and hinted that she’d be every bit the spunky guide  a trip out to spend time with penguins demanded. We boarded the hard-bottomed zodiac and let out a collective sigh of relief when we noticed that a plastic wind cabin had been installed to protect us from the cold weather.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The boat ride was fairly quick and smooth.  The water was calm and largely protected from the harsher conditions one might expect. Eventually, we killed the motor and slowly floated in towards a black pebble beach dotted with thousands of tiny white and black feathered bodies.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

One by one we awkwardly slid over the side of the zodiac’s rubber bow and down onto the beach. There we paused and took in the incredible world we’d arrived in.  The island serves as home to a colony of some 4,000 Magellanic Penguins for 6 months of the year and another permanent colony of some 50 Gentoo Penguins who reside there year round.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

I’d opted to use Pira Tours because the island has a cap which only allows around 40 visitors a day.  Based on the advice received at the hostel, Pira Tours is the only group in the region with the rights to disembark passengers onto the island. Standing on the beach I knew my choice had been worthwhile.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As we paused and collected ourselves our guide explained the ground rules.  No chasing, feeding or touching the penguins.  Stay within the driftwood outlines which have been laid out. Don’t wander off.  Watch where you step and make sure you don’t collapse a penguin burrow. Easy enough right?

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Our first stop after the main beach was the Gentoo Penguin Colony.   This smaller, permanent colony was located in the middle of the island in a flat space and offered a cluster of small craters built up into nests by the birds.  A smaller and better established colony, the surrounding grass had been ground to dirt. The penguins stood with backs to the wind relaxing and periodically running some small errand or another.  Larger and more colorful than the Magellanic penguins they have a more recognizable look which one might readily identify as a staple of animated films.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As we continued to make our way across the island I couldn’t help but pause and relish the view.  At times it struck me as unique.  Others moments I had to pinch myself and remember that I was at the southern-most continental point in the world…not the northern-most.  The landscape could have easily been confused for a bay, mountains and island in the far north and reminded me of my time spent in Alaska above the Arctic Circle.

Penguin Nest on the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Unlike the Gentoos who built their nests above ground, the Magellanic penguins opt to dig small burrows.  The island is covered in small holes, most of which have at least one baby penguin inside.  The babies were adorable, fluffy little creatures that hunkered down in their holes for safety and relaxed under careful parental eyes.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The island’s penguins have two primary predators.  The first are the large hawk-like Skua pictured above with two young hatchlings.  These birds will raid penguin nests for eggs if the opportunity presents itself but don’t offer a significant threat to the birds once hatched.  The other main predators, though far less common on the island, are elephant seals.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The Magellanic penguins are highly social creatures which can be seen in their general behavior.  It was not uncommon to see a couple out strolling along the coast, or through the grass.  I couldn’t help but chuckle and think they looked like human couples out for a stroll while dressed in their winter finery. I’ll admit the mountains, bay, tress and beach made for quite the romantic backdrop.

Penguin Nest Under the Stairs - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As we neared the central part of the island, we came upon a small wooden staircase which had been constructed to ease our way up onto a large grass field.  Proving that even in nature some animals are more entrepreneurial than others, several penguins had burrowed out hollow spaces underneath the stairs allowing them well-protected nests.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The grassy area served as the primary nesting ground for the Magellanic penguins.  They would take advantage of the large clumps of grass and burrow under them, or near them, while using the grass to block the wind, visibility and to reinforce their burrows.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As we walked along the small dirt path it was difficult to avoid recently dug penguin burrows and not uncommon to suddenly become aware of them as they moved mere inches away from your feet.  Overall they were fairly apathetic about our presence and only spent a moment here or there to evaluate us with unblinking eyes before returning to their daily activities.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

From there it was back down to the coast where we paused and watched the few penguins braving the windward side of the island go about their business.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Low and flat, the island is ringed by gnarled driftwood which adds a wild, natural, rugged feel to the environment.  The penguins themselves don’t make much of it, other than winding their way through the bleached wood as a castle’s defender might make his way through bulwarks and small defenses.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Once back on the leeward side of the island, I was once again taken by just how many penguins there were and how different each looked.  As I sat down and silently began to snap photos I noticed that one of the younger Gentoo penguins had ventured down and was intermingling with the Magellanics.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As I sat and enjoyed the tranquility of it all, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been transported to another world.  This was the stuff of movies, of legends and of tall tales.  A rare experience and one I was privileged to enjoy.  I sat and relaxed and soaked in as much as I could.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

…and then I was shaken from musings by the crunch of webbed feet on rocks as my young, colorful friend waddled his way towards me.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Curious, he made a casual circle down towards me, leveraging the slight incline from the hill to accelerate his haphazard waddle.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Then as quickly as he’d begun my way, he switched directions and began to backtrack. If I didn’t know better he was playing the role of a runway model.

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

He’d pause to stare, and made sure that he was never out of sight. Though on a pebbled beach, that’s not exactly a challenging undertaking.

Penguin with Woman - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Eventually he’d opt to make another quick drive-by.  This time he decided to head down and take a close look at one of the women on the trip.  In truth it was hard to know who was watching whom.  He seemed to derive every bit of the enjoyment watching us, that we found watching him.

Windswept Tree - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

As our hour on the island wound to a close we let out a lament-filled sigh and then re-boarded the boat.  Before long we were back on our bus and well on our way back to Ushuaia, but not before we paused for a few quick photos at the flag tree.  It is one of a series of profoundly stubborn trees that have braved fierce winds and grown to embrace them.  Shaped by the winds, they’ve naturally grown into wild shapes that mirror blown grass.

Sleeping Tree - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Even those that failed to survive the winds have continued on, adapting to what came their way. In truth, I’d almost say that the tree pictured above has not only survived the wind’s hash thrashing, but embraced it and thrived.

Windswept Trees - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

From there it was back to Ushuaia where we disembarked and made our way back to our respective hostels and hotels, but not before a few of us paused at a local restaurant for a delicious Bife de Chorizo (Argentinian steak).

Total cost for the tour? 285 Pesos or about 70 USD.  Expensive as far as day tours go, but worth every penny.

Unlocking Ushuaia’s Secrets – The Portal to Tierra del Fuego

A Rainstorm - Ushuaia, Argentina

The first few days of my Argentina trip had been spent exploring Buenos Aires, socializing, dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the reality that I was back on the road.   For me, it was the southern city of Ushuaia where I mentally perceived my Argentinian adventure as truly beginning. I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that the city was the departure base for the majority of the Antarctica tours, it was home to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, and  it was my best shot at seeing penguins. Beyond that, I’d heard mixed things. Chief among them was that the town and region were disappointing; that I shouldn’t set aside much time for the area, and my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Downtown Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After exploring Ushuaia, El Chalten, and El Calafate, I can definitely tell where and why people might think the above about Ushuaia.  Based on my experiences, I found Ushuaia worth the stop…with a caveat that your level of enjoyment while in Ushuaia seems to depend on where in your trip you see it.  The city of Ushuaia is a launchpad destination.  It is a city nestled between majestic, snow-capped mountains situated alongside the Beagle Channel of Darwinian fame. With a booming population and nearly 60,000 residents, the city is one of the largest in the region.  Yet, despite that, the tourist section of the city stands alone, nestled along the port and on the side of the mountains, it feels more like a town of 5,000.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The flight south is fairly unremarkable, until that is, you go to land in the city.  Located in the midst of the channel on a long, flat peninsula the airport is surrounded by large mountain ranges which still cling to snowy cloaks even in the midst of the Argentinian summer. As our plane drifted, dropped, and jumped through the clouds on a turbulent approach, I was awestruck by the view out the window.  We weren’t just making a typical approach, we were flying through a large valley and surrounded by/flying over snow-covered mountains.  It was spectacular and left me grinning as my mind immediately imagined that famous snow/ramp scene from the James Bond movies.  What also struck me was the minute or two which it lasted. Usually landings happen so quickly that you don’t really get anything more than a quick view of the surrounding area. That wasn’t the case with Ushuaia which was a true delight.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The airport is new, modern, and in excellent shape.  Fairly small, it’s built for cold weather and as such offers a lot of amenities that many smaller airports might gloss over.  There is a cost, however, as both Ushuaia and El Calafate airports are managed by “London Supply” and charge an exit tax for the use of the airport which is NOT covered in your ticket price. The tax is around $8 USD.

Ushuaia Bay - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After a quick 7 minute cab ride (around 23 pesos) I found myself at the front door of the Freestyle Hostel.  The hostel had a nice layout, clean/modern facilities, and a great location just north of the docks. The staff was friendly, helpful and playful once they decided they liked you but tended to be a bit abrasive and sarcastic on first blush.  My room offered a great view out over the harbor, was warm despite the cold weather, and fairly comfortable.

The Local Pub in Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Before long I’d settled in, snagged a hearty nap, and was set to explore.  Based on a recommendation and drink coupon from the hostel, I headed down (quite literally) the street to the Dublin Pub. A great little pub, it serves as the premier watering hole for travelers in Ushuaia. The place was packed, served a mixture of beers, and was limited to two local options on tap…Red or Black.  Both of which were delightful.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with a twitter contact who I’d recently learned was also traveling through Ushuaia.  Brendan authors the blog Brendan’s Adventures and has been on the road for over a year.  A full time travel blogger he’s done a wonderful job executing a dream that most only talk about. Definitely take a minute to check out his blog and to look him up on twitter at @Brendanvanson.

We chatted travel, adventures, antics, women, and business projects off and on over the remainder of my stay in Ushuaia. Brendan has a wealth of travel experiences and wonderful insights into travel, people, and the ancillary benefits and challenges of being on the road.

Perhaps the most comical of our adventures was an attempt to shoot the lunar eclipse on the evening of my second day.  Both eager for the chance to snap what we hoped would be incredible photos of a rare lunar eclipse over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, we camped out in the Dublin Pub until 3:30AM when it closed keeping a careful eye on the night sky and watching for the moon.  We’d researched the eclipse and found a mixture of data which suggested that it would be visible from our vantage point sometime in the early morning.  Unfortunately, it was also right around the time of the summer solstice which made for the shortest nights of the year.

As 3:30 morphed into 4AM and the sun began to rise we let out a collective harrumph, warmed our hands, and admitted defeat.   As it turned out the combination of a mere 3 hours of darkness and large mountain range in the way meant that the Moon never showed its pale face.  Was it ever visible?  It’s hard to know, but as far as we could tel, day won out over night totally obscuring any chance of seeing the moon.

City Streets - Ushuaia, Argentina

The final adventure of note within the city of Ushuaia itself was culinary.  After a wonderful day spent exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park, I re-connected with three of the people I’d met on the bus/during the hike.  Starved from a long day’s exhaustion and a tiny lunch we opted to try one of the city’s all you can eat buffets. They boasted a wealth of meat options with a large in-house grill as well as a wide variety of other seafood and delicious morsels.

Dinner on the Grill - Ushuaia, Argentina

After comparing prices and window shopping we eventually settled on an Asian influenced buffet that sported a hearty grill accompanied by a mixture of seafood and a light sushi bar.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

A vegetarian’s nightmare, the restaurant was a carnivore’s paradise. The meat was all beautifully cooked and awash in flavor.  Predominantly consisting of lamb and beef,  I set to sampling as many of the different options as possible.

Mixed Meats - Ushuaia, Argentina

Each trip back to the grill brought with it a hearty grin from the cook as I worked my way through normal steaks, grilled intestines, sausage, blood sausage and even rack of juicy lamb ribs that melted in my mouth.

Dinner - Ushuaia, Argentina

With a nod towards ‘healthy’ eating, I also balanced things with several trips to the normal buffet bar where I loaded down my plate with beets, green beans, calamari rings, sliced tongue, clams, fried octopus and baby mussels.

Stuffed and served up with a hearty side of solid conversation as the guys told me about their recent Antarctica trip, we eventually surrendered to our food comas before calling it night. To this day even thinking about the meal makes my mouth water and my feet yearn for a return.

Words of Warning

So, here’s the scoop.  If you start your trip through Southern Chile and Argentina in Ushuaia, you’ll probably love the place and enjoy the experience. It’s a decent city to start with and offers solid hostels, a beautiful national park, fun penguin excursions and medium-sized mountains all set to a pretty harbor with gorgeous sunsets. However, if you’ve already done Southern Chile, seen the glaciers and mountains in El Calafate and/or El Chalten and found penguins somewhere along your way, you’ll risk disappointment.

It’s also worth noting that a visit to Ushuaia guarantees exposure to amazing photos and stories from Antarctica which will no doubt trigger an intense desire to make the trip.  I know that for my part what started as a passing pre-trip desire has now blossomed into a post-trip obsession!

Please note that this post breaks with my typical chronological format and focuses exclusively on my time spent in the city of Ushuaia.  I spent my first complete day in Tierra del Fuego on a penguin tour and my second exploring the Tierra del Fuego national park.  Stay tuned for future posts covering both day trips in detail.

Argentina Photos Posted

The Photographer, Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Hello all! I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve completed uploading a select 425 photos from my recent Argentina trip. The photos cover Buenos Aires, Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego), El Calafate/El Chalten (Patagonia) and Iguazu.  I’ll be embedding many of the photos in my blog posts about the trip which will start to go live in the next week.

Can’t wait until then or want to make sure you don’t miss any?  Head on over to the flickr album now and let me know which are your favorites!