Al fin del mundo!
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, located at the tip of South America in Argentina. Puerto Williams in Chile is technically farther south but Argentina likes to point out that it’s more of a town than a city so therefore it doesn’t count. It wasn’t in our original plans but Ford, the guy we bought our car from, deservedly wanted to drive all the way to Ushuaia. Seemed fair enough that he should finish the journey up right considering he had driven from Atlanta, GA to Patagonia over the course of 2 years
We didn’t know what to expect from Ushuaia but, in the end, we really enjoyed our time there! Much of Tierra del Fuego is barren, windswept land but when you arrive in Ushuaia you arrive to snow capped mountains, glaciers that are a mere 30 minute hike away, vibrant peat bogs, tons of wildlife, and the mighty Beagle Channel itself. Combine that with a gritty port city and the end of the world is a pretty cool place to spend a few days.
We flew from El Calafate to Ushuaia to meet up with Ford, his brother Casey and our future vehicle, Cielito Lindo. While the driving (pun intended) reason for going to Ushuaia was the car Kelsey had quite a bit of field research to conduct there as well.
The arrival flight into Ushuaia was quite exciting. They built the airport on a narrow strip of land in the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia gets hit by all your typical Patagonian winds. That makes the landings pretty fun as the plane gets buffeted around, landing just above the whitecaps below. We stayed the first couple of nights at an awesome lodge called Los Cauquenes. It’s outside of town and has beautiful views of the beagle channel.
I was still limping around with a torn calf so Kelsey went for a run on her own around town. It was not destined to be a very successful one with many perros animosos blocking her way. Dogs of questionable animosity are one of the more exciting features of South American exercise. Kelsey is well versed in the art of repelling them(making a hissing noise and pretending to pick up and throw rocks) but in this case there were too many to overcome. She never came back… Just kidding.
The next day we set out out past towering cruise ships onto the city dock (read tourist dock) to board our much smaller but faster boat for the penguino excursion. I am not going to lie, we were pretty excited to go see some penguins and we were not disappointed. After a quick stop at the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse we sped off towards the Island of Martillo where the penguin colony is. We saw two different types, the smaller Magallenic penguins and the larger Gentoos. These strange but well dressed creatures were immensely entertaining. It was fun to watch them come shooting out of the water onto the beach but my favorite was a group of younger ones that ran in circles chasing each other for no apparent reason. Martillo has an expansive rookery so we really felt like watching the colony was similar to watching a giant daycare of small children. But cuter. We were served a delicious meat and cheese platter with beer while we floated around taking it all in. The trip back was adrenaline filled as the boat captain kept the pedal to the metal through building seas. We certainly weren’t in the land of safety rules and lawsuits anymore!
The next day we took off in a Land Rover Defender with a delightful couple from Holland and our guide, Roberto, to explore the region by land. We did a beautiful hike on the Estancia Harberton property through meadows and flag trees to a river. We followed the river through a beech forest towards our destination. A pretty waterfall and tasty pastries and coffee followed.
After wandering back through the wind scoured terrain we decided to try our luck catching king crabs in the Beagle Channel. We drove along the coast, through quaint fishing communities before arriving at Puerto Pirata. After donning our lifejackets we zipped out in the zodiac to pull up some crab traps. The first trap was empty(though conspicuously missing any sort of bait) The next two traps that we pulled up each had a couple of crabs! We caught 5 King Crabs in total. I would be curious to know if any pot ever comes up empty. My suspicion is that the odds are stacked in favor of ensuring that tourists leave happy and well fed. Well fed we were though it required some work. After a quick lesson on how to extract the meat we were off cracking shells and eating deliciousness. So tasty and definitely the freshest king crab we’ve ever had. Kelsey even ate some (she’s not much of a crustacean person if you didn’t know…)
We then met up with Ford and Casey who had just returned after some successful hiking trips in the area. We planned to wake up early and hike up Cerro Guanaca in Tierro del Fuego National park for our last day in Ushuaia. It is about 5k and 1000m and covers a variety of terrain. The hike starts along Lago Roca and then heads uphill through the guindo and lenga forested hills. As the forest opens up to give you a view of the finishing ridge the trail gets bogged down in an actual peat bog. The finishing ridge was exposed and very windy but led to a stunning 360 degree view of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel, and the tail end of the Andes mountain range. For Casey and Ford this was the last summit of many over their trip and for us this was the first of many (hopefully). We enjoyed the summit together despite the 80km winds whipping through constantly.
On our way out we stopped by the actual end of the road in the park and posed for a couple of pics and sent some postcards from the “End of the World” post office(for far too much $$$).
It was definitely time to get out of there because a cruise ship had dropped off what seemed like a never ending horde of people on buses. We all piled into Cielito Lindo and started driving North towards Chile and Punta Arenas. We made camp on a beach by nightfall, eating a tasty “field stew” as Ford & Casey called it. It was a mix of all the food they had leftover including lentils, rice, sausage, peas, and beans. Let’s just say that when Casey asked the kiosko man at the border to warm up the leftovers in the microwave the next day he glared at it suspiciously and said, “I’m just trying to guess what this is.”
We successfully crossed the border with the car now in our names and had an awesome time taking the ferry across the Strait of Magellan in very windy conditions. Once in Punta Arenas, Ford and Casey packed up all of their belongings (no small task unpacking from a journey as expansive as they had) and we ate a meter long pizza (no exaggeration) and drank pretty decent beer at a local bar.
In the morning we dropped Casey and Ford off at the airport. The bond between man and machine is especially strong if that special machine has driven you over 35,000 miles from Atlanta, Georgia to the Southernmost tip of the Americas over the course of 2 years. Ford and Cielito Lindo said a tearful goodbye after many incredible adventures together.
After almost driving down a one way street, the first of many I’m sure, we found our way out of the airport and were off to start our own adventures with Cielito Lindo. We promise to treat her well and take her on lots more adventures. Cielito already seems like a trusty mobile.