Let me begin at the end – at the end of the world. That is, the end of Argentina and almost the last end of the South American continent: Ushuaia. The name has its origin in the language of the Yámana Natives and was used to be called Oshovia, meaning „bay facing east“.
The town grew because the Argentinians were allured with job offers from industries that sprung up from nowhere and due to higher salaries compared to those of the continent. Before that there was actually only a prison here. The infrastructure grew along with the population, residential areas and supermarkets evolved, as well as schools and hospitals. Today there is even a university, which is offering primarily those degree courses that are useful for the region, such as marine biology and geology. However, most students prefer to go to Buenos Aires, Cordoba or Mendoza. In Ushuaia everything is more expensive than elsewhere – every orange juice has been imported. Like almost everything else here, a steak along with a baked potato costs an average of 300-350 Pesos, which equates to approximately 20 Euros in European prizes.
The bay as well as the rest of the city show themselves at their best when the sun is shining and in still air – shallow and inviting. But this is rather an exception. Most people are being welcomed with rain and a blanket of clouds, like we were. „Wow – fireland“ is a thought that only comes up when looking out of the airplane window during landing Then you come down to the earth with a bang. The cab drivers don’t talk much. They just transport the next tourist couple to their lodging. The streets are riddled with holes and the traffic is wild – it’s not unlikely that two to four lanes are being read into one street. The habor and the chessboard like city center are passed considerably above the speed limit. Well, you can rather speak of a village than a city despite the 60,000 inhabitants. The atmosphere is harsh and gruff. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be at the end of the world.
A twin room in a hotel costs an average of 50 Euros per head, a dorm a little less. That’s why we’ve decided on a private AirBnB lodge at the edge of the woods – a 20 to 30 minutes walk to the main road of San Martin. There, we had to pay about 30 Euros per person per night, but having an own room and homemade breakfast included. Breakfast included means in Argentina a muffin or a crossaint (Medialuna), tea or coffee (tasting like dishwater) and maybe a toast with ham and cheese.
Unpacking the backpack, wrapping us up: it’s cold at the end of the world. At least the average weather is. Cold wind creeps into every gap of the jacket. Along rugged sidewalk or rather scrapped pebble paths spilled with concrete, if there was just any left over. The rest is due to the weather. Deep puddles, torn asphalt, cut pipes, that show right there. Steps in all possible heights and widths as well as geometrically artful landings where you least expect them. The end of the world is certainly not barrier-free.
The next fascination: rotten and rotting cars in open carports and front yards – at least in the district above the chessboard. We were able to solve this puzzle in the meantime: the locals once came here with their old cars, made more money and bought new ones. Since Ushuaia lies on the island “Isla Grande“ of Tierra del Fuego, literally Fire Land, which has no scrap yards, there are two possibilities: you either sink your car in the ocean (which has happened before) or you wait for the annual ship send by the government The cars are being collected, pressed and taken away. But some are just left behind and are “under repair“ or simply become wild flowerbeds.
There is also real art in the streets of Ushuaia, among other things due to a project called “Ruta de Murales“. For this, an artist travels through the whole of Argentina and works with artists and non-artists, who feel like learning the art of graffiti and like beautifying their city. Walls that have been authorized by the city become real eye-catchers within two days.
The tourist information is located down at the harbor. For those who try to find it with its address, Prefecture Naval 470 – don’t let google maps mislead you. In Argentina navigation works seldom if ever. Side roads have different names or don’t exist at all; and the numbers neither make sense in the road network nor on the internet (in Buenos Aires house numbers 611, 612 and 613 are on one side of the road, followed by 640 and 601). Take along a street map or a printed sketch of the city and never try to estimate the distance (or add 30 minutes on top of that).
Right on the waterfront, tour organizers have their wooden huts. For about 50 to 100 Euros you can go to the island off the coast by boat and spot some penguins, see lions and cormorants. So you can say that you have been to the Beagle Canal at least once. A lot of people cross over to Puerto Williams – in two hours across the entire Beagle Canal. The city is part of Chile, and is truly the southernmost city of the world. There are more inhabitants further south – at least temporary ones – on the island of Cape Horn (one family, who registers the local ship traffic) and in the Arctic. Many agencies advice you to stay two nights and charge 120 US dollars or more per person and route.If you keep on asking around, you can occasionally find an offer for a roundtrip in one day (i.e. with Rumbo Sur, around 6,000 Pesos per person). I can’t tell you whether the trip is worthwhile or not. We’ve skipped that. You can also go to Cap Horn with a large ship or optionally a sailing boat for 1,200 to 2,500 Euros per person – the last island before the arctic. Because of my last name, Horn, I always wanted to go there, but due to the prizes I have decided not to. My decision was not merely a financial one, but also based on the fact that the wind is really strong in November/December on the open sea that I didn’t want to pay that much. Here, waves of up to twelve meters are normal. It is an undertaking not without its dangers, as Captain Uke, who sits in the cabin of Club Natico, tells me. He will take two tourists out there next week.
We rather do something harmless, rent a car for about 1,250 Pesos (always pay cash, it’s 20 percent cheaper than paying with credit card), including 200 kilometers (you only have to fill up the tank in the end) and drive about twelve kilometers from Ushuaia down the mogul slope to Tierra del Fuego National Park.
You can also go by bus for 400 Pesos for a roundtrip (ida y vuelta). The bus takes you up to the entrance of the park and the last return trip to the center leaves at 4:45 pm. But we rather want to drive all the way through Ruta No. 3 instead of having to walk the rest. So we pay 130 Pesos admission per person (actually non-Argentinians pay 210 Pesos, but somehow we got a discount), and follow an aisle through the thick forest for 20 minutes, which, in fall, shines in the colors of a fire: red, orange, copper, gold and yellow.
Unfortunately, we didn’t experience that, but now and then we could spot a stream, a lagoon and one or two birds. Sometimes we have passed a bus with visitors and then we arrived at the last street of Argentina. Rather not spectacular, but we have been there. From there, you can go along a hiking trail for about 30 minutes each way to the last walkable part of the Isla Granda at Beagle Coast. The wooded slopes are full of parrots and the ground is studded with shells. You hardly meet any human soul. The harsh weather is just right. On the way back, dozens of people walk on the viewpoints on the footbridges in throngs. Time for us to escape. Into the car, out of the park. There are two other hiking trails: first the “V“ at the coast (about 4 hours each way, which you should start in the morning in order to get to the bus on the main road, which leaves between 2 and 3 pm to go back to the entrance. You should really inform yourself at the there!), and the mountain trail (with a few meters in altitude, which shouldn’t be a challenge for settled hikers).
After this we drive along the N3 in the only other possible direction to Telhuin. We were repeatedly advised not to go to Rio Grande, one of the biggest seaports in the Northeast. Our destination: the Lago Fagnano. We drive between the hills for 75 kilometers. A lot of nothingness. I’m getting tired. Serpentines. Not a lot of traffic. No radio reception. One roadside restaurant. We are drinking coffee out of tea bags (you also get that on nighttime bus trips – no revelation, but drinkable), are thereby being vaporized by the fresh smoke of the fireplace and more than loud trash news on TV. We pay and skip the last ten kilometers to the pond. We are going back. We return the car and invade the café Ramos Generales on the other side of the road again. This café has once been a residential house and is now a mix of café and museum. Really cozy. A tourist hub in a good way. Here we meet Julia from Berlin again and a couple that was on our plane on the way to Ushuaia. Andrea and Stefan treated themselves with a cruise to Cape Horn… As soon as the two report, I’ll add their experience to my Ushuaia blog.
On the next day we visit the harbor and „Nave Tierra“, a house at the gates of the city which has been built out of recycled materials, 3000 glass bottles- and hundert of plastic ones. It has solar cells, rain barrels on its roof with sections filled with stones to filter the water, a greenhouse and stairs made of old tires. http://www.plataformaarquitectura.cl/cl/02-332732/nave-tierra-la-casa-autosustentable-de-michael-reynolds-en-argentina
Speaking of environmental projects, dear Argentinians, why do you always keep the engine running? Whether at the airport or in the city, for short or long stops, the end of the world deserves less exhaust fumes! Since 2011, there is a ban on plastic bags. That’s super! So, those who go shopping in the supermarket have to remember to take along a cloth bag. Amigos, don’t ruin this great project with running engines!
The afternoon leads us to jail. The prison museum of Ushuaia has an infamous reputation. The admission is 300 Pesos per person, which is entirely used to preserve the building and the exploration of the sea area. The museum has five wings – among them one art gallery; a historic, original cell block; a floor with accessible old cells and a great photo documentation of the Museo Naval’s history. I’m not usually a museum person , but I really like this one. http://www.museomaritimo.com/
In our last days, we visit the Martial glacier in glorious weather. Other hikers walk up to the foot of the glacier (which takes about an hour), but because of my obstinate cold we take the cab up there (from the city it is about 150 Pesos), hitchhike back and just walk from the currently inactive cable car station to its exit (two kilometers each way) to enjoy a great view on Ushuaia’s bay from up there. We actually have seen people walking up there – that is, jogging. They’ve trained, probably for the Glacier Martial Run. On December 11, competitors can choose between 10 and 21 kilometers with a crips evaluation profile and climb the glacier at a run. www.maratonushuaiaextremo.com/es/contenido/ver/5-ruta.html
If that is not extreme enough, I can recommend the Ushuaia Trail Race Fin del Mundo. On March 25, 2017 either 42, 25 or 13 kilometers can be rocked. http://ushuaiatrailrace.com
Some people are being brought up to the cableway and let themselves roll down, for example on a longboard like Natan and his girlfriend Maru. Lying down, like you do in a bob championship, just without the ice and the bob, simply on the road with full gear. You can reach a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Coming down, you let someone bring you up again and start all over.
Anyone who needs a hot chocolate, a coffee or a cocktail for champions after so much fresh air, can get it in the Hard Rock Café Ushuaia, which will be “coming soon“ if you believe the car advertisement in November 2016.
If that helps the city – I really don’t know. I rather stay at Ramos Generales, eat chocolate covered sugar penguins, drink tea with honey and look at the harbor.
Sunshine and blue sky today. At an outdoor temperature of nine degrees Celsius and no wind at all, the Ushuaios completely freak out. For them it’s t-shirt weather; for me, only time to take off my hat. It really does seem springlike with the cold being so dry. One thing is certain, it’s best to start your trip to Argentina in Ushuaia and only stay either for one day, don’t really like it and move on being dissatisfied, or, stay for three days, go on a cruise, do a hike at the glacier and take a ride through the national park. Or – third option – you stay for at least one week as we did, immerse into the life there, drift along, get there when you get there, look at places outside of the typical tourist spots and engage yourself with the deceleration. You only have to get over the phases of “anger“ and “boredom“ and you truly get there – to the end of the world.