Friday, October 10, 2008

Argentina, Ushuaia and the end of the world.

(At the entrance to town)

Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world (tm). We had finally made it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this wasn't far off. A little more "comfortable" and touristy but other than that it was as rugged and pristine as I would have thought. The city itself is at the base of mountains facing the sea which comes up in an arm off the Beagle channel. The mountains in the background sported snow and a glacier with lots of forest all around. Small and compact it has the feel of a weather worn town at the end of the world, pretty fitting as that is pretty much exactly what it is.

(At the end of the road)

A closer look reveals that it is actually a tourist mecca. Cruise ships in the bay, tour buses along the port, and a whole strip of tourist shops and restaurants make the true nature of this town clear. Nevertheless there is a very "remote" vibe to the town, and it is a lot of fun just walking around and looking at people and the shops. A few km further south is the end of the road (literally). Here in the middle of the Tierra del Fuego national park the road which starts in Alaska comes to a screeching end, and after over 17,000km I could not think of a more fitting end. A rugged bay with stunted pine trees bent by the constant wind and weatherworn rocks is where you find yourself if you make it here. Somehow I would like to imagine that the start of the highway is pretty much the same, but I will have to make up there before I know.

(Cruise ships and the bay)

Surprising was finding that the area around Ushuaia has plenty of ski lifts and ski resorts. Of course this being summer everything is relegated to wandering and hiking in the mountains and hills. Even the campground had a small lift, but by the look of it, it hadn't been running in a while. After talking to some of the people here, it turns out that the lift stopped running a few years ago due to lack of snow. Pretty surprising considering that a few kilometers further away is a glacier! It was then explained to me that the heat of the town was the cause. As the town grew every year there would be less and less snow for these lifts as the town is nearly at it's feet.

(A view of the town and the bay from up high..)

In addition to the ski lifts there is plenty of adventure tourism, hiking, climbing, canoeing, horse riding, mountain biking and fishing seem to just be a few of the many activities which the tourists come here for. Not to mention the boat tours around the bay and of course you can book tours here to go to Antartica. The boat tour around the bay is excellent. You get really up close and personal with the wildlife around the bay. The boat gets close to some of the islands which dot the channel where the seals make their home. As a bonus you get some great views of the town when you come back in.

(Around the bay)

We spent our time here relaxing and touring around. Checking the tourist shops and just wandering the town. A couple of friends of Katheryna's from Switzerland, Maura and Mavi who were in Buenos Aires came down to spend few days with us. We visited the National Park, took a boat tour, Katheryna and Mavi went horseback riding while I took Maura on a bike tour. In the evenings we cooked huge meals on our fire at the campground and enjoyed the evening views of town from the campground.

(Katheryna, Mavi and Maura, and dinner!! Yum, Yum)

On a completely different note. Once you enter Argentina you will find that pretty much every town has a plaza, a monument, a road, a billboard, or at least some signs stating "Malvinas son Argentinas", and/or something commemorating the war, or the fact that they consider the Falklands part of Argentina. Usually, you just note it in passing, but here in Ushuaia, it is not possible to miss. Pretty much ever car, house or corner has the slogan proudly displayed, either as a sticker, graffiti or a flag. It doesn't help that the 25 year anniversary was recently, and the whole town got decked out in patriotic colors. Of course the islands are still independently governed as part the commonwealth, but this is not something which you should discuss too loudly. I was mildly surprised to find, that Argentina gives automatic citizenship to anyone from the island who wants it.

(Hiking above the campground)

All of this notwithstanding I found it a very pleasant area to spend some time. The only issue is that it is very, very, very far from anywhere else, so getting here is an adventure in itself. Of course I am talking about coming overland, you can also fly here or take a cruise, and spare yourself all the trouble, but then that is not really the point, as for us "the road is the goal".

(Some wildlife around Ushuaia)

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