(Ushuaia, Argentina – 26 Nov 2013) Prior to planning for this trip, neither Jessica nor I had ever heard of Ushuaia. It is the self-proclaimed city at the end of the world because it is the largest populated
settlement located at the southern-most point of South America. Pronouncing the name of the city is tricky until you get the hang of it. The H is silent so there’s no ‘sh’ sound and the ‘ai’ in the second syllable is spoken with the long ‘i’ sound of ‘why.’ So it’s Oose-WHY-uh.
We had no preconceptions of Ushuaia as we boarded the plane from Buenos Aires for our 4 hour flight. All we knew is that we were very excited to be going. And that excitement only increased throughout our flight. “Can you believe where we’re going?” we would say back and forth to each other.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have window seats on the plane so our view of the landscape was limited on approach. Maybe this was for the best because it left us truly blown-away by the scenery once we stepped out of the airport. It was frigid-cold and the winds ripped through us, adding decisively to that blown-away feeling. The waters of the Beagle Channel surrounding the airport were alive with white caps and wild from the harsh winds. Large flakes of snow swirled down on us. It was hard to tell if it was actually snowing or if these flakes had blown from the tops of the majestic snow-infused mountains that encircled us. First impressions of Ushuaia were pure WOW!
Among other things the city tour introduced us to the Yámana people, the original inhabitants of the area. Most shocking about these hearty people was that they lived in this harsh super-southern climate without wearing clothing!!! In addition to always always always carrying fire with them wherever they went (like modern man with his cell phone), they coated their bodies in fatty sea lion oil. Even when traveling from place to place by canoe, fire was with them and so was their extra supply of fat. All but one of the Yámana people are gone today. The last pure-blooded Yámana is an 85 year old woman that still lives in the area. She doesn’t get out much these days and spends most of her time sitting naked by the fire and reeking of sea lion. [That last sentence may or may not be true, since I made it up.]
Getting ourselves offshore and into the picturesque Beagle Channel on a boat was a must. With that in mind, Jessica and I strolled down to the dock around 5 in the afternoon to buy a pair of tickets for an excursion the following day. There’s ‘plenty of room on the boat leaving today at 6,’ we were told. And, that we ‘might prefer the smaller group.’ And that the ‘lights of the city are really pretty when the boat returns to port after sunset.’ SOLD! Knowing how the temperature drops with the sun, we hustled back to our room at the hostel for the additional layers. Back down to the port we ran and promptly at 6, our little cabin boat untethered from the dock and motored slowly into the channel.
Being so very far south and only a month shy from the winter solstice, there was plenty of daylight left. It is practically joyous to experience such bright and lengthy days. The sunlight that lingers towards each day’s end seems to have an extra shimmer in it, too. Photographers refer to the hour before sunset (or after sunrise) as the magic hour, because the light of the sun shines with a more warm and reddish tone. Here at the end of the world in late November, we can talk of magic hours.
In the pic below, the black birds in the water up ahead of the boat are cormorants…probably feeding on a school of sardines.
Our boat came up close enough for some good sea lion pics…. and for us all to get a good wiff of their ample stench.
The lighthouse in the distance was the furtherst point of our incursion into the Beagle Channel.
You Call That A Glacier?
Another day we set off on a hike to the Martial Glacier, which resided a relatively short ways up one of the many mountains that crowded around Ushuaia. Though Ushuaia’s most famous glacier turned out to be quite unglacier-like in appearance, (at least to us it looked more like any other patch of snow), our hike to the glacier was totally worth it.
Life on the Streets of Ushuaia
Every smallish town has one main street where all the action takes place. The hostel in which we stayed was located just a half-block off this main street so we walked its length many times, either pretending to shop, stopping for a cup of hot chocolate, or cavorting with penguins.
Early in its history Ushuaia was home to a large prison. Many of the older buildings, including the post office (below) were built using prison labor. The weather-beaten mural commemorates this history as do the escaping prisoners.
Making it to the southern tip of South America was on our minds from the start of our trip, but honestly sat there only as an ephemeral goal; we had no concrete plan for making it happen. For that reason, it seemed the kind of thing that could have easily slipped away from us. Looking back, it feels a bit like luck that we acted. So pleased that we did, too. Ushuaia was not only beautiful, but it showed a side of charm, as well.
There is no obvious utility in climbing mountains for the sole sake of climbing them, yet people do it all the time…..because successfully reaching the top of a mountain satisfies. It was the same for us in achieving Ushuaia- the city at the end of the world. We are muy satisfied!
We head north now to Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, and one of the most famous National Parks in all the world- Torres del Paine. Don’t go away.