Posted by: robinson2000 | July 4, 2011

Ushuaia – The Southern Most City

29th June – 4th July

Hearing many of positive stories about Ushuaia, I was keen to spend some time in the southern most city in the world, and ended up staying five days. Ushuaia is the capital city of the Tierra del Fuego province and is positioned on the northern shore of the Beagle Channel, overlooking the straits across to Chile. In the summer season, Ushuaia is a popular tourist destination for Argentinians who want to escape the big cities in the north of the country, explorers who want to visit Antarctica, and backpackers who enjoy the many activities that Ushuaia offers. In the winter months it is a much quieter town, with average temperatures of 0⁰C that attracts European skiers to come and train.

 Being a port, Ushuaia has an interesting harbour with rusty anchors lying about and monuments of famous sailors of the past dotted along the sea-front. It also has numerous casinos and strip bars to satisfy the sea-dogs, who wash up daily to have a good time after months at sea. I took a walk along the harbour and around to a spit of land where the airport is built. From the airport, you can see Ushuaia nestled on the steep mountainside of Cerro Martial and watch seagulls attempting to crack muscles open by dropping then on the tarmac. You can also see The St. Christopher, a small tugboat that has been stranded opposite the town because its company went bankrupt. It now remains as a symbol of ships sunk in the area. It was a freezing cold day so I quickly beat a retreat from the windswept spit and made my way to the old prison that has been turned into several museums.

The most interesting part of the museum was the Museo Penitenciario, which detailed the history of the prison. The prison was built in 1896, by 14 convicts who were sent to Tierra del Fuego aboard The Mayo. The idea was to colonise the island with convicts, and they immediately sent 11 more men and 9 female volunteers to continue the project. Eventually the penal colony was turned into a National prison and then finally a military prison. One prisoner nicknamed big-eared short man, was known for killing minors in Buenos Aires in the early 20th century and served a life-long sentence. In 1927, plastic surgery was performed on his “winged ears” as it was believed that they were the source of his wickedness. According to some local versions, his ears grew again. He was beaten to death by fellow prisoners in 1944. Based on the type of offence committed, prisoners divided themselves into categories. Those charged with homicide considered themselves superior and had no contact with ordinary thieves. Thieves were also divided into classes – blackmailers and falsifiers, and refined thieves had no contact with petty thieves. Murderers were also divided into classes. One was those who had killed for a robbery or a similar reason, others for love or passion or to save the honour of a beloved person. The prison of Ushuaia was never surrounded by a wall, there was just a small wire fence but there was no risk of escapes. Where would they go? They would have to come back due to fatigue and starvation.

That evening, being my first night in Argentina, I headed to an all-you-can-eat bbq restaurant and treated myself to an expensive meal. The food was excellent and you could gorge on as much meat as you wanted. After multiple helpings of freshly cooked steaks, ribs, chicken legs and sausages I was stuffed and felt quite sick on leaving the restaurant. I walked it off the next day by heading to the National Park of Tierra del Fuego. The park was completely empty and the bus became my personal taxi as I was the only passenger, giving the driver the time and location that I’d like to be collected. I’d given myself five hours to cover a stretch of trails through the wooded park. It was beautiful and the sound of silence was deafening at points as I plodded through the snowy trails, sometimes knee deep in snow. There was very little wildlife to see apart from a few birds. I did find a beaver lodge, but it was under 3 ft. of snow so there were no beavers visible. They were probably much warmer than I was as their lodges are well insulated with the inside temperatures reaching 10⁰C. I did find the disputed end of the Pan-American highway that begins in Alaska, which was a bonus.

The best day in Ushuaia was spent dog-sledging along the snowy trails north of the city. To reach the sledges we first had to hike for 3 hours through deep snow using snowshoes and crampons. Our guide was an experienced mountaineer who showed us a few climbing techniques and taught us about the wildlife in the flora. After hiking over some frozen lakes we reached the huskies that were raring to go. We had eight huskies pulling our sledge with one driver and three passengers. The speed we reached was phenomenal as the dogs busted their hides and dragged us for several kilometres back to their sleeping area. That afternoon I caught a boat tour out to some of the islands in the Beagle Channel. We visited a sea-lion colony and a cormorant colony. The cormorants had recently nested and were furiously guarding their nests from other birds. Each nest was spaced an equal distance apart so that each bird at its own personal space to prevent squabbles with neighbouring cormorants. The boat trip was excellent, though somewhat choppy, and we witnessed a fantastic sunset on the return journey to port.

Overall Ushuaia has been one of my favourite destinations in South America, although numbingly cold at times, it was also stunningly beautiful. After five days I was ready to move on and travel north for a change to El Calafate. It means another day on buses, crossing back into Chile, back to the mainland via ferry, and then back into Argentina, but at least I get a few more passport stamps.

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  1. WOW! Looks amazing, mate…

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