Friday, 18 April 2014


1st - 4th Apr 2014

Ushuaia, the southernmost 'city' in the world.
The bus left El Calafate at 0300hrs, initially for a four hour journey to the staging post of Rio Gallegos on the east coast. This industrial and rather dull port city has a major military base and played an active role during the Falklands war in 1982. It is also the home town of the previous and current Presidents from the  Kirchner clan. I couldn't credit it; standing in the bus terminal there was the 'talkative' Uruguayan I had tried to avoid on the journey to El Calafate. He hadn't been on the previous bus. Where had he sprung from? Was he following me? I continued to avoid him. 
Next onto a rather more workmanlike bus with a metal grille over the windscreen, again indicating the sort of roads that we were to face further south.

The ensuing 14 hour journey took us through Chile, and the Chilean customs/immigration procedures are much more tedious than the Argentine equivalent. They even made us get all our bags off the bus to be searched. Bloody boring. Onwards to the Chilean harbour at Delgada for the 30 minute ferry crossing of the Strait of Magellan onto the main island of Tierra del Fuego. 

Right: The ferry approaching the little port on the northern tip of Tierra del Fuego which is, technically, an archipelago. The main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, is approximately two-thirds the size of Scotland and is split down the middle between Chile to the west and Argentina to the east.

The northern part of the island is predominantly flat grassland with many many sheep. We were held up for about 20 minutes while an enormous flock of countless sheep was on the move. Several of us went to sleep.

As in Patagonia the landscape gets progressively more hilly the further south you go until it becomes mountainous in the far south.

Left: Lots of guanaco, wild horses, and a few foxes.

Back into Argentina at the town of San Sebastian and then through the seaport of Rio Grande, about half-way down the island. This is another rather dull industrial place but renowned as one of the world's greatest sea-trout fly-fishing capitals. It was also a major Argentinian air-base during the Falklands war and has a large memorial to prove it.

It was shortly after this that the roads became, for a while, gravel tracks.... and then the bus broke down. We had to wait an hour for a following one which, by the time we had all transferred across, was rather packed.

After another four hours and a journey through mountain passes, by now on good roads again, we descended into the town of Ushuaia at about 2200hrs.

Although Ushuaia boasts of being the southernmost 'city' in the world, it is really only a  mid-sized town on the north side of the Beagle Channel with a busy seaport (and airport). In fact there is a more southerly small township, Puerto Williams, across the Beagle Channel in Chile, but it is indeed very small. I believe the Argentinians and Chileans have had many spats over who owns what in this part of the world, as indeed the Argentinian government still does with us. I don't suppose ships go from here to the Falklands any more, which aren't too far away. 

Fortunately I found a delightful guesthouse quite close to the bus station called the 'Martin Fierro', although a steep walk to it as the town is all seriously uphill from the port. I was greeted by the owner like a long-lost friend and was put up in a room which had all mod-cons including a kitchen. Right: The charming owner, Xavier, who is a lawyer by day and speaks fluent English. I strongly recommend this place should you be passing by.

Speaking to Xavier he said that most Argentinians down here are rather pissed off that their government makes such an issue of the Falklands/Malvinas ownership because before the conflict in 1982 they all got on very well with each other and had a good trading and tourism relationship.

Another bonus; just across the  street is an 'Oirish bear', the Dublin (left). It does great nosh and stays open until 3.00am (I'm told), much to the annoyance of Xavier, but was most welcome  as far as I was concerned as I had arrived rather late.

It is a very lively and popular watering hole and was nearly always packed (right). I would like to think the owner is called Pat O'Gonia.

Left: The local brew around here is 'Beagle' beer which comes in three varieties; pale lager, gold and a dark stout.

The original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego were the nomadic Yámana tribe whose members (right) faced the sometimes brutal weather conditions almost entirely naked. Apparently they didn't have any permanent shelter to keep clothing dry and believed that the natural oil of their skin was better protection than soaking wet animal fur. There aren't any left now. Am I surprised!?
Back in the 19th century Capt Robert Fitzroy kidnapped 4 of them and took them to England to be educated and paraded around as examples of 'gentrified savages'. One died of disease and, due to public criticism, he returned the rest to their homeland. Really? Bit of a wasted journey.

Left: Part of the port. Ships, including an increasing number of cruises, go to the Antarctic from here. Much tourist trade is in this direction during their summer (Nov to Feb).

The town boasts lots of decent cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, including as in Patagonia, many chocolate emporiums. It is a remarkably jolly place, quite tourist oriented and even the weather was kind during my stay. I was expecting rain and gale force winds, which never materialised.

Right: Another Oirish pub. They get everywhere, don't they. 

Left: A bust of Evita Peron down by the harbour.

Right: The local golf club. This is, of course, the southernmost golf course in the world. I'm not a golfer but it looked quite a smart place and probably attracts quite a few enthusiasts who like to play in 'out of the way' venues.

There is also a substantial rugby club which has four very decent looking pitches including a substantial grandstand.

I called in at the tourist office to see what was on offer in the area. The Uraguayan guy was in the queue behind me. I'm sure he is following me.
There are some interesting things to see and do.
I was also keen to arrange another day's fishing, and did so (at considerable expense I may add). This is the Mecca for trout fishing so it would be foolish not to take the opportunity while I am here.
Revelations to follow.............

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