ushuaia, el fin del mundo

  • pedro didn't know what to do with a beaver this size
  • bus to ushuai on the starit of madelennes
  • mainland behind
  • tierra del fuego ahead
  • first stop in tierra del fuego
  • long way from home
  • on the trail in the national park
  • heavy snow
  • beagle is hardly visible
  • the beagle channel - ushuaia
  • the arse of the world?
  • chirstmas in the spring
  • the beagle channel

At 7:30am on the 5th of November, we boarded a bus to Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego, in the Patagonia region of Argentina. The main reasons people go to Ushuaia for are that it is the port where cruises to Antarctica leave from and also because it is considered to be the most southerly city in the world, hence the "Fin del Mundo" or "End of the world" slogan it has. Really it should be Puerto Williams across the Beagle Channel in the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego, but I think it’s because Puerto Williams is more of a village. Whilst I’d have loved to visit Antarctica, I was short on time and money what with the trips being a minimum of 11 days long and costing from $4000 upwards – I will return here someday though.

The bus trip was roughly ten hours long, and for the most part was not very exciting, other than crossing the Strait of Magellan which splits Tierra del Fuego from the main continent. The channel was rough and the ferry swayed constantly while being battered by cold, strong arctic-like winds. Most people, including Anna, stayed on the bus, but not only did I feel like having a smoke, I also wanted to look out at Tierra del Fuego ahead of us so I got out – truth be told, I started feeling nauseous on the bus and needed to get out. I went up 1 level on the ferry, to quite an exposed part, hoping to get a good photo and as soon as I had taken the shot, the ferry was hit by a big wave. I, along with others on that level, was soaked by the cold sea water and whimpered back to the warmth of the bus. Another exciting bit was the several border crossings you go through because of the way the land is divided down here.

The first few hours of Tierra del Fuego was flat, boring, dry landscape, but suddenly we hit the mountains and then pretty much everybody on the bus (apart from an American dude who was glued to his iPhone) sat upright staring out the windows at the incredible landscape. Snow capped mountains covered in lush evergreen forests spilled down into beautiful lakes. It’s sort of how I imagine Alaska would be. This was completely different from what I expected the area to be like.

We arrived in Ushuaia and again I was taken aback by the beauty of the place. For some reason, I expected (and so did Anna) the place to be flat and somewhat ugly. But instead it was a cute town/city, surrounded by imposing mountains. Most hostels were fully booked but our rather friendly taxi driver phoned a few places around and eventually got hold of the guys at Hostel Del Laguna. The place was slightly out of town, but it was cheap and the rooms were great. The owner/main employee there was a young bubbly guy by the name of Victor, who hails from Buenos Aires. Victor is one of those super friendly guys, who greets you every morning with a thumbs up and a high five – sometimes he reminded me of a moustache-less Borrat.

The night we arrived, we were both keen on a bit of a night out following our week in the wilderness. First we had dinner at a really crap restaurant whose main ingredient, as Anna found out in her soup, was salt. We then headed to The Dublin Irish bar where we were told they sold Beagle beer, a beer brewed locally and whose brewers claim to be “the southernmost” brewery in the world – “the southernmost” and “end of the world” are slapped onto or before most things in this part of the world. Beagle beer is a stout with a pleasant taste, not as rich as Guinness. I think the beer thirst I had been putting off for a while took the better of me and after a few, I was pretty “Beagled”. We bumped into some Swiss people who had a funny story about the two of us regarding Puerto Natales.

The next morning (and for the most of the next day) was pretty much a right off. I had gotten Beagled and Anna had gotten Daquiried, so Hostel del Laguna had 2 very hung-over people hanging around. Victor was his usual chirpy, loud self. That evening Anna cooked up her famous chilli she’d been promising me since El Calafate. Victor joined us and raved about it to his friends over the phone. That night after dinner we were in the room trying to get to sleep and for some reason, Victor and his little helper Julian (a stoner kid who on several occasions invited me to smoke weed with him in the back of the hostel, which I declined) decided to do some cleaning up in the room above ours. I have no idea what they were doing up there, but there was loads of shuffling going on and we could also hear marbles rolling around – perhaps marble shuffling at 11pm is an Ushuaian pass time? We were pissing ourselves laughing because we could also hear them muttering stuff to each other and at one point it sounded like a bunk bed had toppled over, followed by silence and then exclamations – I pictured the two of them being like Mr Faulty and Manual. I think we pretty much laughed ourselves to sleep that night.

The next day when Victor greeted us with that massive, goofy smile and the thumbs up, I had to really restrain myself from cracking up. After breakfast we went for a leisurely hike in the Tierra del Fuego national park. It was a nice walk along the coast line, but it didn’t compare to the spectacular walks we had done in Torres del Paine. Frankly, halfway through the walk we were both quite bored and spent the rest of the time pretty much joking around ignoring what was around us. It’s the one thing about a trip like this, you become quite spoilt by the things you see in one place and then what would ordinarily be something beautiful doesn’t really catch your eyes. One running joke come about due to the fact that Tierra del Fuego has been invaded by Canadian beavers and these days you can order beaver in some restaurants. Naturally we, found it highly amusing to pass comments like “I think tonight I’ll eat some beaver”, “I wonder if the beavers you eat out here are furry” etc. The rest of the jokes were even filthier. For lunch we had leftover chilli, overlooking the bay. Later in the afternoon, the weather started changing – the winds picked up and there was a combination of sleet and rain started coming down. When we got back to town we booked ourselves onto a boat excursion through the Beagle Channel and some of its islands, for the next day.

By late afternoon, the sleet had turned to snow and we were pretty much in the middle of a snow blizzard. That evening we went to a “tenador libre” – an all you can eat bbq joint. We feasted as if we hadn’t eaten in days, and by the end of it, as is always the case at these buffets, I felt sick – in hindsight there really was no need to have 2 desserts. When we got back Victor was clearly battered. Every morning and night he’d give Anna a kiss on the cheek but that night Anna reckons he plonked a proper sloppy one on her cheek, he also kissed me hello on the cheek.

We woke up the next morning and the blizzard had continued. Looking out the window I felt like I was in the Alps in the middle of winter, rather than the Southern Hemisphere in what was by now the south’s late spring. When we got to the port, it was no surprise the excursion had been cancelled. You could hardly see the Channel. The tour company suggested we postpone it to the next day. For the rest of the day we hung around the town visiting some of the cheesy souvenir shops. The blizzard continued into the evening with the occasional sunny spell. In the evening we went out for a lovely meal in a sushi restaurant. By the time we headed home a nice layer of snow had started settling on the roads and buildings.

The next morning I had a feeling the excursion would be cancelled again. It had clearly snowed through the night as there was a layer of a good 20cm of snow all around the place. We headed down into town to book bus tickets to get out of town and by the time we headed down to the port the blizzard had started again – boat trip cancelled once again. The boat company also suggested we may be stuck in Ushuaia if the snow continued because the ferries carrying buses wouldn’t be able to cross the Strait of Magellan. With all this snow around I thought maybe they would open the ski resort for the day. One local ski shop said they’d rent me a snowboard for the day but I’d have to hike up the mountain as the lifts wouldn’t be open. Before going for it I asked another ski shop about the possibility and the guys there said I’d be wasting my time because the snow wasn’t settling enough and the runs would be really crap.

In the evening, I cooked up a massive paella, enough for us to take with the next day on our 26 or so hour bus ride to Puerto Madryn, over 1500km away (as the crow flies) and roughly halfway up to Buenos Aires.