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We flew from El Calafate to Ushuaia around midday, so, luckily, we could admire the landscape of the Southern Andes Mountains from the plane: snowy peaks, hidden lakes between the mountains, bays and rivers. Upon landing, the sun kept shining brightly in the sky and the temperature said we could go around in a shirt. Only with a shirt in Tierra del Fuego: I would not expect that. That day, the sun shined until 8 PM and it got dark at 9:30 PM, as usual in Summer in these latitudes.
As we walked from the airport to our hostel in downtown, we realised Ushuaia was completely surrounded by mountains on all sides. This is the exact place where the Andes Mountains, a.k.a. America’s backbone, begin. On the other hand, this is where everything ends: Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world (the southernmost settlement in the world is in Chile, in Puerto Williams, 100 kilometres South-East of Ushuaia).
In our first afternoon, we ate a picada (cold cuts) with a red wine in a park in front of the sea. But the weather began to behave as we would expect in the end of the world and the picada had to be wrapped up, the wine corked up, and we returned to the hostel to finish up what was left. During the rest of that rainy afternoon, after we ate our picada, we exchanged opinions with fellow travellers and we organised our schedule for the capital of Tierra del Fuego.
Once we finished our breakfast, we set off very early towards Ushuaia’s Military Prison. The prison was inaugurated on January, 1896, and it had two previous sites before arriving in Ushuaia: San Juan de Salvamento and Puerto Cook. Ushuaia’s prison was built by the prisoners between the years 1902 and 1920. Additionally, these same prisoners worked on a daily basis for Ushuaia’s community and they provided the basic services of the then small city: printing, communications, electricity, fire fighters, roads and bridges construction, and logging.
The prison hosted political prisoners, revolutionary anarchists and dangerous criminals. One of the most famous prisoners was Cayetano Santos Godino, known as “The Small Big-Eared“. This kid committed his first crimes at his tender 7 years old and was moved to the Prison of the End of the World in 1923, accused of murdering four children, attempting to murder another seven children and setting fire to six buildings. It is believed that the inmates lynched him when he threw the prison’s mascot (a cat) to the fire.
Apart from learning about the history of the city and the Argentine maritime history in the Antarctic, you can visit a replica of the original San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse, which was located in the Isla de los Estados. This lighthouse became known internationally when Julio Verne published his novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World.
In the first room of the prison, you can follow the trips made by mainly European vessels (Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British) around the area that is now Tierra del Fuego. Hernando de Magallanes was the first captain to cross the strait that now bears his name in 1520. He referred to these lands as “The Land of the Fires” due to the bonfires that the indigenous Yamanas tribes lit for heating and for cooking their food.
When we left the prison, my friend Angel and I took different roads: he decided to hire a navigation through the Beagle Channel and I went to walk around the city. In the sailing, he made it to Isla de los Estados, he saw sea wolfs, penguins and even whales. As for me, I walked the streets of Ushuaia in search of panoramic viewpoints. I cannot say I had a bad time…
At night, we treated ourselves: we dined king crab. You can see these long-pincered crustaceans floating in many fish tanks in the restaurants of the city, but my friend from Ushuaia recommended us Volver, the gourmet restaurant of chef Lino Adillón. We ordered a king crab ceviche for starter, and then a black corvina Volver and a garlic king crab. We left the restaurant amongst a deep feeling of nostalgia, because we knew that we would never try such a tasty fish in our lives.
Our third and last day in Ushuaia began very early and it involved a schedule full of activities. We rented a car and, with our mate kit, we picked up our friend Alfredo and we set off for national road 3 towards the small town of Tolhuin. The road wriggles among the trees of the forest, it goes along the edge of cliffs and it climbs the mountains of the Andes. We stopped to drink some mate in the banks of Fagnano Lake (or Kami Lake, which means “lengthened” in selknam) which has a length of 104 km and a maximum depth of 200 m.
With the eyes full of blue and the hair full of wind, we returned to Ushuaia to have lunch and we headed for Tierra del Fuego National Park. This National Park of 630 km² is located in the South-Western extreme of Tierra del Fuego province and it has four trekking trails with different levels of complexity. Our tour included a visit to the end of the world post office (where you can stamp your passport), to Roca Lake and to Lapataia Bay.
National road 3, which begins some distant 3060 km away in Buenos Aires, finishes right here, in Lapataia Bay. This is the symbolic place where the civilised world ends and the domain of nature begins. Here, also, finished our brief but intense trip around Argentine Patagonia. After visiting Bariloche, El Bolsón, El Chaltén and El Calafate, we had finally reached Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything. In the airport, we waved goodbye to Alfredo and to the Patagonian wind: in Buenos Aires, heat and humidity were waiting for us. Chaos again, the city again. However, the images and the feelings of this trip are going to accompany me until I return to Patagonia looking for some fresh mountain air.
What else can I do?
Due to lack of time, I could not visit all the sites I had planned in Ushuaia. Do you have more time? Great! Then you could use the following recommendations:
–Martial Glacier: you can walk to this glacier from downtown Ushuaia. To reach the glacier, you have to follow the homonymous street until it finishes and then you have to walk for approximately one more hour. From the top of the mountain, you can see the whole city. It is estimated that it could disappear by 2020.
–Esmeralda Lake: this lake is located 20 km away from Ushuaia over national road 3. The path to the lake takes approximately one hour (and another hour for the return), through peat bogs, wood bridges, beaver dams and woods. The lake has a very deep turquoise colour and it is one of the main attractions of Tierra del Fuego.
–Cerro Castor: if you visit Ushuaia in Winter and you like snow sports, you can visit Cerro Castor, which has 5 ski lifts and 33 trails with different levels of difficulty. It is located 26 km away from downtown Ushuaia.
–Antarctic: if you have even more time (and more money), you can hire an excursion to visit Antarctic. In Ushuaia, you can get last minute prices in the majority of the tourism agencies. The excursions last between 10 and 20 days, and the season begins in mid-November and finishes in mid-March.
This post is also available in: Español Llegar a la puerta de un lugar y que te digan que las entradas están agotadas implica que
This post is also available in: Español Pocas veces entré a una sala de teatro tan perdido: no conocía la duración del show, no sabía
This post is also available in: Español