I’d been umming and ahhing about going to Ushuaia. Having spoken to people who’d been there, the impression I’d got was that pretty much the only reason to go there was to say you’d been there. It makes a pretty big deal of being the Southernmost City in the World (which isn’t even true, there’s a place in Chile further south) and the tourist office will put a crappy stamp in your passport to say as much. Add to that it’s not the easiest place to get to overland, in fact I hadn’t met anyone who’d not flown there, and I was wondering whether it was worth it. I figured, however, that I did actually want to say I’d been there and I’m not exactly in a hurry, so what the hell.
Caught an early bus from lovely Rio Gallegos and set off. It’s 600k and the bus was due to take 13 hours, which even by South American standards is pretty slow, and half an hour after leaving I found out why. Chile and Argentina having been fighting over borders for a long time and as a result half of the island of Tierra del Fuego is Argentinian and half is Chilean. However, the Argentinian bit is not actually attached to the rest of the country, so you have to drive through a bit of Chile when travelling overland. To do so, you have to leave Argentina, enter Chile (promising you have no fruit or meat with you), drive a bit, leave Chile and finally enter Argentina again (where you get a brand new 90 day tourist visa after having promised you haven’t bought any fruit or meat in the 3 hours you’ve been in Chile). Each of these actions means the whole bus getting off at a border point and trooping inside to get passports checked, stamped or whatever. It takes bloody hours. Add to this the ferry across the Straits of Magellan, the gravel road through Chile itself and the 13 hours suddenly make much more sense. Needless to say, we were late.
Ushuaia itself was a pleasant surprise given what I’d heard.`About 100k before you get there the endless Patagonia steppe comes to an end (not endless then is it?), the land begins to rise in interesting ways and trees begin appearing. Trees! Hadn’t seen any them outside a National Park in weeks. The town itself is on the edge of the Beagle Channel, one of two ways to reach the Pacific by boat without going round Cape Horn (the other being the Straits of Magellan we’d crossed earlier), and frankly it’s beautiful. Surrounded by water and snowcapped mountains, it was one of those places that make you feel all poetic. Until the cruise ships arrive and discharge 3500 fat American and tiny Japanese tourists for the afternoon that is. But they all stick to the main street, which is full of shops selling fluffy penguins and “My Friend Went To The End of the World And All They Bought Me Was This Crappy T-Shirt” t-shirts, so they’re easy to avoid.
But not that easy; I met two (one fat, one fatter) American passengers from one of the ships on the bus on the way to the National Park. It was a 50 day cruise round the Americas and they’d spent a day in Buenos Aires, an afternoon in Puerto Madryn and the morning in Ushuaia. “Gee, I love Argentina” the (fatter) wife gushed (she really did say “Gee”, honest). Call me a cynical old sod, but, well you know what I’m going to say don’t you? Honestly. I’ve spent longer on one bus than they had in the country. Tsk, bloody tourists.
None of this spoiled the town though, I did a couple of walks in the Park and surrounding mountains and spent a couple of days sitting down by the sea watching things sail about (boats) and fly around (birds), and had a lovely old time of it. And of course, I now have a crappy Ushuaia stamp in my passport…