You can’t expect the most southerly inhabited town in the world to be easy to get to by road.
Leaving Puerto Natales in Chile the journey went a little something like this… 2 buses, one side of the road switch to a bus going in the opposite direction, 1 border crossing, 1 ferry, and 1 minibus with a trailer attached driving through the mountains… 14 hours later and I arrived in Tierra del Fuego. The land of Fire.
It may be an arduous task to reach such a place, but I’ve found that more often than not, the more difficult a place is to get to the more worth it it is. There are views in Patagonia that you hike for days to see. But in Tierra del Fuego… you drive right past them on the main highway.
It was 9pm when we staggered into Freestyle Hostel in Ushuaia. We were greeted at the hostel by a large Argentinean man with big hair, a beard, and a hat that was slightly too big for him. He introduced himself as ‘Rasta-Man’. He was a solid, round, snowy white Argentinean. Rasta-Man wanted to be Bob Marley… he wanted to be Bob Marley bad… and to be honest he was doing a fairly good job at it. We were given a very warm welcome from Rasta Man as he showed us to our dorm. Before this day I had never been hugged by a large Argentinean – Rastafarian man… now I have… it was an interesting and breathtaking experience. Literally, I had no breath left after the moment I was engulfed in his arms. Yet it was somehow comforting after such a long journey. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll go back for another…
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago, with one main island (Isla Grande) and a group of smaller islands. Most of the area east of the main island is apart of Chile and most of the land to the west is apart of Argentina. We stayed in Ushuaia, the largest town in the archipelago, which is on the Argentinean side. The town itself reminded me of a small Scandanavian town, nestled into the earth by a fjord.
I spent my first day in Ushuaia taking it in. Walking about the streets, feeling the cold air on my face. Most travellers don’t make it this far south, and I was quite proud that I had. Lima to Ushuaia in 2 and a half months. This point in the trip represented something big had been gained. Part of a dream had been realised. My feet were on the ground, in the most southerly town in the world… and I had gotten them there. Ushuaia, for me, was a time to take it easy.
The following day we went on a small hike to see Laguna Esmeralda. We walked through muddy bogs before making it to the hidden green Laguna among the mountains. It was beautiful of course, something to add to the memory bank of the past few weeks in Patagonia, but more of a small walk than a hike in comparison to the past few weeks.
On the third day we went to see a glacier just out of town. It was a taxi ride and a 30 min walk up to see this glacier. We got to the top and looked around. I could see a whole lot of tourists but I could not see any glacier. So we walked further. Another 30mins up a steep hill. At the top of the mountain it started to snow and there was a beautiful view, but still no glacier. When I got to a point that I could no longer feel my fingers we skidded back down the scree, still no sign of a glacier. So to amuse myself I found some snow and ran to the top, then slid down on my bum. Turns out that was the glacier. It was so small it was barely noticeable, and I had just slid down in on my bum…
The next day we left Ushuaia. It was beautiful, and could have easily passed for a small town in the swiss alps. After hiking through Patagonia, my time in Ushuaia felt more like a relax with a little bit of walking thrown in. It was another layer of Patagonia, a marker on my journey, and some time to breathe. There were a lot of things I didn’t do in Ushuaia, partly because of physical exhaustion and questionable lung capacity, and partly because of my bank balance. A lot of activities in Ushuaia were quite expensive in comparison to my long term travel budget, and when you’re travelling for 10 months you need to take these things into consideration. So I made my peace with not seeing everything. I had made it, finally, to my end of the earth.
As it turns out, new experiences were still to come.
Leaving the Land of Fire was an adventure in itself…