Part 8 - Ushuaia, Argentina
March 9th, 2015 – Ushuaia, Argentina – The end of the world
Ushuaia – also known as „The End of the World“. Our first impression of the southernmost town of the world, bathing in the magnificent light of the sun rising over the Beagle Channel at the foothills of the Andes, was clear: The End of the World is beautiful!
The first boats were sailing into the sunrise, its first beams wrapping land and sea in a magically warm light. Against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains, the colors of “Tierra del Fuego” were glowing in front of us – it was awe-inspiring.
Via CruiseCritic, we had connected with a couple from the US for that day, and I had booked a car and driver for the 4 of us. As agreed, Juan the driver was waiting for us at the port with a name board, welcomed us with a friendly smile and led us to the nearby parking lot, not without stopping at the mandatory photo stop. On the way to his car we passed a few sales booths offering tours from different tour operators located right at the exit of the port.
For our first stop, Juan drove us to the top of a hill on the outskirts of town, from where we had a beautiful view of Ushuaia and the Infinity docked in port. The Andean foothills in Ushuaia’s back and the mountains of the Chilean islands on the other side of the Beagle Channel were a spectacular sight and a breath-taking introduction to our tour.
After a few brief explanations on Ushuaia, we continued our ride through a beautiful landscape towards „Tierra del Fuego“ National Park, where Juan also paid our entrance fees. The first stop in the park was “Bahia Ensenada”, an idyllic bay in the Beagle Channel with Isla Redonda right in front of it. Here, the Beagle Channel also marks the border between Argentina and Chile. The mountains on the other side, partly still covered in snow, are Chilean territory.
The bay’s celebrity is the „The End of the World Post Office“, a small hut on a wooden pier, which extends into the Beagle Channel. The small post office was also the destination of other passengers, who had arrived in larger groups in buses and wanted to get a stamp from the End of the World. We were already grateful for our little individual vehicle and Juan, our driver, who gave us as much time as we wanted.
Our journey continued past small marshes, creeks and a beautiful, unspoilt landscape through Tierra del Fuego and the National Park. Shortly behind the bay, a little fox approached our car. A little cautious at first, yet hardly shy, he willingly stayed to have his photo taken.
Our next stop was a tourist information center at Rio Lapataia. Besides a restaurant it also hosted an interesting exhibition of mockups and images conveying information on the life and history of the native Yamana Indians.
After crossing Rio Lapataia via a bridge of timber beams, we asked Juan for a few stops at Lago Roca and other spots where we wanted to take pictures.
Our friendly driver took us to a small parking lot which marked the beginning of a hiking trail towards Laguna Negra. He asked us to take as much time as we wanted and to enjoy nature.
The path led us through a seemingly enchanted forest, where trees were covered in moss and other fascinating plants, which I had never seen anywhere else before.
After a leisurely 10 minute walk we reached Laguna Negra. This little lake also appealed to us for its pristine, protected landscape and, above all, for its tranquillity. We were the only ones there, and far and wide not a soul was to be seen or heard. This gave us the impression that the vast landscape of the moorland around the lake was our own little piece of Tierra del Fuego. The colors of the landscape reminded us of Denali National Park in Alaska.
We took the same way back to return to the car, where Juan was patiently waiting for us. Together we drove a short distance to another parking lot. Juan explained that the nature trail starting there led directly to Bahia Lapataia, and that’s where he’d be waiting for us.
We followed the trail admiring more of the interesting flora and soon reached a wooden platform at a hillside, from where we had a gorgeous view of Rio Lapataia opening into the bay. This is where the bay marks the river’s passage into the Beagle Channel.
The trail led down the hill towards a spot marking the end of Ruta Nacional 3, which begins 3000 km away in Buenos Aires. We were intrigued by a sign which made us realize that we were almost 18,000 km away from Alaska, where we had looked at similar landscapes just 2 years before.
From the parking lot, we took a wooden footbridge over swampy, densely vegetated grounds. Without getting our feet wet, we were able to cross and view the tidal marsh directly on the water, the shrubs and lush grass in front of it and little creeks carving their way towards the bay.
Finally, Juan drove us to Rio Pipo. For a short bit, the road ran parallel to the rails of the “End of the World Train”, which winds its way on a narrow-gauge from the “Station at the End of the World”, some kilometres to the west of Ushuaia, all the way into the National Park. At a time when Ushuaia was still a penal colony, the train was used for the transportation of convicts to the forest and the extraction of wood. Today, a 7 km stretch is left of the original 25 km connection. Many tours include a ride on the train as part of their program.
At Rio Pipo, Juan offered that we take a hike to a waterfall, but we declined. We just took a few photos and – just like a few free-roaming horses from a nearby horse ranch – enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
This short stop marked the end of our tour and Juan drove us back to town. We asked him to simply drop us off at Ushuaia’s main road and thanked him for his excellent service. Extremely friendly, without any time pressure and with genuine commitment he had shown us a piece of Patagonia at the End of the World.
We still had some time on our hands which allowed us to stroll through the streets. Jenny, our waitress at the Blu, had recommended “Tante Sara”, a restaurant very popular with the crew – also for its fast Wifi. We soon found the restaurant and were happy to meet Jenny and some of her colleagues. Jenny was one of the many good souls on board, so we asked her whether we could buy her a drink. In allusion to my regular evening drink, which she always brought before I could even ask for it, she perkily replied “Diet Coke!”. Unfortunately, the group already had to leave.
Birgit and I ordered a bite to eat, used the Wifi to send a few messages from the End of the World and then returned to the port, where the Infinity was expecting us.
Leaving the port of Ushuaia wasn’t the end of the day’s attractions. We first sailed past little islands in the Beagle Channel, which during the day were destinations of some excursion boats. Some of the islands were populated by seals and others by black-and-white cormorants, which from the distance looked like penguins.
Later in the evening we reached so-called „Glacier Alley” in the Beagle Channel, where several glaciers follow one after another, either reaching all the way down to the water level or ending as overhangs far above the channel. They are named after European countries. During this passage, like during our rounding of Cape Horn, MickeyLive gave explanations and background information on each glacier. His comments were followed by German, Spanish and French translations by Manuela, the ship’s “International Ambassador”.
From our balcony on the starboard side, we could watch these natural wonders pass by. Depending on the angle at which we stood to the glaciers, the blue facets of these ice masses were changing color and intensity. It was breathtaking ...
Expedition ship „Stella Australis“ in front of Italia Glacier
Romanche Glacier with its waterfall
Another highlight of the day was its very end. After the passage of those awesome glaciers, Mother Nature granted us another impressive spectacle. As magnificent as the day’s sunrise had been, as unforgettable was its sunset. It seemed as if the sky above the mountain ranges framing the Beagle Channel was on fire. The dense clouds over the snow-capped mountains were backlit by a golden light. An almost dramatic sight that would probably be best set to music by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
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