El fin del mundo - the end of the world

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January 8th 2010
Published: January 25th 2010
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My 4 flight/7 airport trip from Cork to Ushuaia always had the potential for problems but I didn't think it would be the very first leg that caused them. The Aer Lingus flight to Heathrow was delayed by four hours so I missed the onward flights to Madrid and Buenos Aires and had to rebook everything for the next day. I ended up flying Air France via Paris (not an impressive airline) and had to fly business class on Aerorlineas Argentinas south to Ushuaia. I eventually arrived at about nine on New Year's Eve and met up with Terry at the La Posta hostel.

I always like the idea of getting away from all the New Years nonsense at home and going somewhere different and the city at the end of the world seemed like an interesting destination (my tour of Patagonia with Tucan was due to start on the 3rd). I didnt quite appreciate how much like the end of the world Ushuaia would be on New Year's Eve though. The streets were almost deserted, most bars and restaurants were closed. Of the two so-called Irish bars, one (the Dublin) was closed and the other (the Galway) wouldn't serve drinks until 11.30. Think they need a "Cork" pub in town. We eventually tracked down a hotel bar for some beers amid some rowdy locals.

Ushuaia exists in a stunning location, surrounded on three sides by snow-capped Fuegan Andean peaks and to the south by the Beagle Channel. The town itself is less attractive, with an odd mix of architectural styles and gaudy colours, but was a nice enough place to hang out for a few days, especially in summer when it doesn't get dark until 11. It's the base for Antarctic cruises, with ships arriving and leaving daily, as well as the start or end point to explore Patagonia. Don't think I've ever seen a town with so many people in trekking clothes. We spent the next couple of days chilling out and exploring what the town had to offer. The Maritime Museum and Presidio was very interesting - set in the old prison, Ushuaia was founded as a penal colony. It has displays on the prison history as well as maritime history and the exploration of the Antarctic, and one of the wings of the prison was left untouched from its days as a penal colony - a grim and icy building. We also found the excellent Invisible Pub, a cool, small bar with great beers (cervezas artesanal), cool music videos being played and very tasty lomitos (steak sandwiches).

On Sunday we decided to trek up to the Martial Glacier in the mountains overlooking Ushuaia. We walked 7km on roads to the chairlift, took that and then hiked for another hour up quite steep slopes to the glacier. The glacier itself isn't that impressive (just looks like snowfall really) but the scenery up there is superb, both of the mountain and the town and Beagle Channel below. We were lucky that the overcast weather had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny day, enough to get quite sunburnt. That evening we met up with out tour group for the next two weeks - Jules the tour leader, James the driver and Alan and Conor from Ireland, Paul from Australia, Katherine from UK and Jenny from New Zealand. Quite a small group, especially considering we would be travelling on a 34 seat overland truck!

Next day we went on a 2.5hr boat trip in the Beagle Channel, sailing near some rocky islands to view comorants and sealions and up to and around the lighthouse. Pleasant enough cruise but nothing spectacular. On Tuesday we headed to Tierra del Fuego National Park for some hikes, the first through the forest down to Bahia Ensenada and then along the coast for another three hours. Really beuatiful area and a decent, enjoyable trek. After a final meal in Ushuaia, we finally made it to the Dublin bar (i.e. it was finally open). I had met a guy from Ushuaia on the flight from Paris who was friends with the people who worked there and gave me a note that was supposed to translate into a free drink. Well, it did - a thimble full. Still, it was a decent bar with some good beers on tap.

On Wednesday, we finally said goodbye to Ushuaia and headed north on our big, yellow truck called "Frankie". The truck is relatively new and very comfortable, certainly superior to the African trucks and many others we passed on the way. We stopped before the border with Chile for lunch and it was like being back in Africa - prepping sandwich lunches and flap drying the plates. The choice of food was a lot better though even if it was a much colder climate. There was an impromtu strike at the border which delayed us for a couple of hours, but eventually we got through to Chile. From here we took a ferry across the Straits of Magellan and then drove on to Punta Arenas, our base for the next couple of nights, and the inappropriately named Hotel Savoy.

The next day was spent exploring Punta Arenas. Chile claims that this is the world's southernmost city since Ushuaia is merely a town but I'm not having that. Chileans and Argentines need little reason to start an argument. In Punta Arenas, we visited the cemetary which is an extraordinary collection of crypts and tombstones. They take death very seriously here, and it was interesting the diverse collection of immigrants to the region. Stopped for a lomito lunch in town and we felt compelled to try to local beverage Fanchop - draft beer and Fanta. Tastes about as good as it sounds. Then it was off to see the penguin colony in Seno Otway. The magellanic penguins are quite small, similar to the ones I saw near Cape Town, but the location here was much better, down by the seafront and the adjacent grasslands. The penguins come here every year to mate and they were adorable, flapping around and hiding underneath the boardwalks protecting their young.

Additional photos below
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25th January 2010

Great photos
Just returned from a cruise and saw some of the same wonderful views but with more clouds. Loved the penguins. Thanks for the mountain pictures.

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