Well, its not really the end of the world. For a start, the main road goes south a few miles further. There is another town just a few miles over the water that is farther south. However, for the purposes of tourism, it is the end of the world, or the most southerly town on the the south american mainland.
We caught a ferry from Punta Arenas over the Magellan straight which was cold! The town on the other side has one road going out of it and you might guess it was nearly 100km of ripio. However, the scenery was beautiful, and before we knew it we were heading to yet another border crossing back into Argentina.
We couldn’t make it in one day so we had a stopover in Rio Grande in a small hotel that felt like a travel lodge.
The next day however we finally arrived. Ushuaia has been a bit of a Nordkapp for us. We had set our sights on Nordkapp in the summer and been thoroughly disappointed upon arrival. Ushuaia is nothing like that however. It is a big, bustling tourist town.
We arrived and for once, and entirely because of my complaining about being too organised, did not have any accommodation. We had thought to pick up some WiFi at the local YPF garage but the cafe is closed on a Saturday. Argentina is half closed Saturdays and on a Sunday there would be nothing open if not for the tourism.
I was feeling that I had complained at the wrong time. Without internet access all of a sudden, we had no easy way of finding a room to stop in.
We went out of town to a hostel that Clair had spotted previously and I asked about stopping one night while we got our bearings but they had sold out. Clair had been warning me of this, Ushuaia is not suffering a collapse of tourism in the same way much of Chile is. On impulse I spotted a hotel down the road and went and asked. They had a couple of rooms but nothing for the four nights we wanted and what we had previously seen advertised would have taken our whole weeks budget just in accomodation fees. However, after a bit of chatting to the receptionist, we got a room for four nights at a very modest price, well within our normal budget.
The view was non existant and compared to our view from our bedroom window we have posted in the past, it doesn’t pass muster.
That said, we had a room and a 20 minute walk into town. Not bad.
We spent the first afternoon looking at tourist trips and opted for a ride on the tourist bus. The very old London Routemasters they ran were really not suited to the very poor roads around town or the incredibly steep hills in places but they chugged about and it was an entertaining couple of hours.
Ushuaia it is quickly apparent is very much like a lot of towns in Chile and Argentina, the houses are very low quality, it has had a population boom and social housing blocks are areas of crime. The older houses built into the hills are often not much more than sheds with 50″ TV’s in many cases and the whole urban area has a feel of work started and never finished. there are wrecked cars everywhere, litter and rubble and the roads and footpaths are terrible. Unlike Chile, however there seems to be no need for high steel fences around every house and our bikes have spent their time parked out the front of the hotel on the main Ruta 3 without incident.
The main street, San Martin however is bright and busy. Tourists roam up and down and 7th or 8th establishment is a cafe and they are all busy.
On Sunday, we had opted to go on a boat trip into the Beagle Channel. Before that though, we visited the jail. Ushuaia was founded as a model of the Australian (and other) penal colonies that were designed to populate remote areas of various countries in the 1800’s. The last jail built is still standing and has been converted to a museum not only of jails but of maritime history.
For the boat trip we chose one of the small operators and our boat had a maximum capacity of 29 people. I’m glad it wasn’t full, as it was raining, we spent a good deal of time inside but the boat stopped at several islands where we were able to see cormorants, seals and a light house very close up. the boat also stopped for us to disembark on an island to look at a plant. Yep, a plant. I think many of us were nonplussed by this. However, we walked to the top of a nearby hill and there were a couple of big birds I was able to film which was nice.
We rounded the evening off in a bar where we bumped into a Dutch couple we had met on the boat. We spent the whole evening chatting which really made our day.
We had no plans the next day and did some aimless meandering around but the day after that we went on a coach trip to the most southerly national park in the world. The trip took us to a train station where we travelled for an hour on a narrow gauge railway that was originally constructed for the prisoners to transport the trees they felled. Large sections of the area were mined for timber and the result still show in the areas of denuded land were tree stumps still stand and very often nothing has grown back. They are even called tree graveyards.
The train was tedious, we got the sense that everyone on it was not enthralled and when we boarded the tour bus, the guide was asking if we liked it. I’m sure its great for thier tourism but I would not recommend it to anyone.
Moving on into the park we stopped at a couple of lakes and then did a hike of a few km’s to the very end of Ruta 3. This is the official end of the Pan American Highway that stretches from Canada and ends at a little car park with a sign. Its hard to believe that our plans put us going to the top of the highway some time next year.
And that is the end of our stop in Ushuaia. So far we think we have travelled around 4000 km. Now we head north and back into Chile to the town of Puerto Natales. There’s just time to stop int he Irish bar for a few beers tonight before we head off.