Fin del mundo: end of the world

We’ve arrived in Ushuaia — officially the most southern city in the world. It is little more than a town but is the primary gateway to Antarctica. The name Ushuaia comes from the indigenous Yamana language meaning ‘bay penetrating westwards’, a name that could be used to describe any one of a number of places but I suppose the Yamana knew what they were talking about.

ushuaia-argentina-Suenson-Taylor-007Ushuaia is fronted by the famous Beagle Channel and surrounded by a range of rugged, Hades-black, snow-streaked peaks. Dark green trees cover the land around the base and climb up the mountains until they peter out at a point where they can no longer survive. From the air, it looks as if the black mountains have sprung out of the forest like unwanted facial pimples.

ushuaia-argentina-Suenson-Taylor-008It is supposed to be summer — we had left Buenos Aires in 32 degrees and arrived in Ushuaia in 2 degrees, it’s very cold. Not only is it 2,000km further south and therefore much cooler but the air feels even colder as the channel funnels winds chilled by ice. The town calls itself ‘Fin del Mundo’, the end of the world, and it has exactly that kind of feel to it. The buildings are low, made of wood and corrugated iron and painted in odd primary colours that you imagine would adorn the last town on earth as the bin ends of paint are used up at knock down prices. It used to be a penal colony for political prisoners and hardened criminals so it is not surprising that town planning was not a priority.

While adjusting to the cold weather there were a couple of things that we wanted to do locally – climb the Glacier Martial and take a trek in the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park and buy some ‘windcheater’ and waterproof kit for our tour to Antarctica.

ushuaia-argentina-Suenson-Taylor-005To reach the glacier you can cheat a bit by taking the chairlift up to the outer rim. As any hardened skier will know, this proves excellent training for freezing our whotsits off in preparation for surviving the Antarctic summer. Our preparation is nothing if not thorough. When at last we reach the end of the lift and slowly unravel ourselves from a seated posture, we continue on foot up into the natural amphitheatre of the glacier until we reach several ridges that are too steep to allow us to go further without being roped together. From this point we are rewarded by fabulous views of the glacier that surrounds us and down to Ushuaia, across the Beagle Channel to the last remaining land before Antarctica. The walk back down is slow but pretty with the glacier water rushing downhill in streams that slowly combine into an ever expanding river that we follow back into town.

ushuaia-argentina-Suenson-Taylor-003Having been allowed a takeaway sandwich for lunch that has to be eaten on the bus, I am marched off to the Tierra del Fuego national park. Mercifully for me it is not very large so most treks cover half a day only and I know that it but a matter of hours before I can enjoy a warm shower, a cool beer and a rest. Despite the small area, the views of the mountains and lakes extending into neighbouring Chile are all captured within the trails but they are not as spectacular as other Patagonian parks that we have stomped. The weather did not help: the warm morning sunshine having been replaced by oppressive cloud, semi darkness, a cold wind and sleet. But it didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves. Apparently. Fortunately, Ushuaia is full of cafes and chocolate shops that make for a perfect rest point out of the cold, drinking lovely hot chocolate and eating fine pastries.

Fin del mundo: end of the world
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