It’s been ages since I hammered something out on this website, yet with a journey to the end of the world under my belt, It seems right that that it be documented in a more permanent fashion that a bunch of photos and lame status updates posted on Facebook.
Patagonia has always been high on my list of places, although my first adventure into South America wouldn’t start there, but rather in a up-and-coming (possibly) small city situated on the south side of the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire).
Flying to Buenos Aries to Ushuaia consisted of an advertised four hour flight onboard the pride of the Argentinian sky, Aerolíneas Argentinas. Nationalized in 2008 after a disastrous experiment as a private carrier in the 1990’s, AA’s inflight magazine boasts that the over half the fleet is now less than 20 years old (but don’t worry, you still get to pay more as a foreigner!). While it’s a step up from MIAT Mongolian Airlines, it’s pretty obvious I was wasn’t going to be flying with the A-Team. A note to anyone planning a trip to Argentina in which they must make use of a regional carrier…fly LAN out of Chile.
An 08:00 flight out of Buenos Aires Ezezia International excludes one from making use of the airport shuttle services running to downtown BA, thus creating $50USD cab ride as the only option. Arriving at EZE, I was promptly informed at by apologetic AA staff that my flight to USH was delayed due to mechanical issues and wouldn’t be flying until 12:00 noon…would I like a complementary breakfast? Of course. Here’s a Nescafe and a piece of bread. Meh, it’s travelling.
Like most domestic terminals, the B wing of EZE is completely devoid of anything remotely interesting with which to pass four hours. So one might as well wander through security to the departure gates. Oh don’t worry, there is nothing interesting there either, except useless $6US coffee and chairs with arm rests. I strongly believe that one of the kindest gestures an airport can do for the waiting passenger is to remove the arms from their chairs.
There is 10:00 flight to Ushuaia…of course it’s LAN and of course it’s on time. 11:00 approaches and passengers begin to queue for the AA flight. Extremely early queuing is apparently an Argentinian pastime when it comes to air travel, so much so that I noticed on my second flight in country (from El Calafate to Buenos Aires, about a month later) that there was a sign at the gate “Do not queue until your seat order is called”. 12:00 rolls around. More delay. At this point the locals begin to become agitated and a few of the more extroverted begin to to surround the two attendants at the gate, shouting in Spanish which of course merely draws more into the growing crowd around the gate. In a post 9-11 western airport these kind of shenanigans would be shut down in about 30 seconds by a SWAT team sporting the latest in body armour and automatic weapons, ending with half the crowd tasered and the rest in quick-ties. But this isn’t a post 9-11 western airport. TIA, Danny. TIA.
About an hour later we are invited to board, and board we do, onto a non-airconditioned hotbox of an aircraft…that isn’t going anywhere. To appease the angry crowd, the gate wizards decided to waterbed the problem and just let everyone onto the aircraft while it was still being repaired. Naturally, people are even more pissed and yelling and herding at the front of the aging 737 continues. My friend Dan, who I had just met, pulls out his iPhone “This is going to be good”. It was at about this time that the Police finally make an appearance. Any hopeful Youtube videos would have to wait. 14:30…or 1500…we are finally airborne.
Not being the lucky recipient of a window seat, I was unable to grab any shots of the approach to USH from the air, but I assure you, from the odd glance I had over two other people, Tierra del Fuego is wickedly rugged. A city of 56,000 people, Ushuaia lays claim to the most southern city in the world, while the smaller Chilean town of Puerto Williams across the Beagle Strait will claim the title of the most southerly town in the world. Petroleum extraction in the north of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctic supply and a emerging ‘outdoor’ tourist economy coupled by cruise ship dollars anchor the economy of Ushuaia. Driving into the town from the airport, I knew this was going to be my kind of town, or so I thought.
Snow-capped mountains rising out next to the ocean, surrounded by ever-changing weather with a distinct preference for the soggy provide Ushuaia with a very west coast of British Columbia feel. Skiing, hiking, whale watching, 4×4 excursions, and yes, beaver watching are possible.
Ushuaia isn’t cheap either, not will you find much in the way of quality. One has to make some sacrifices being at the end of the world. Thankfully, beer isn’t one of them. People often quote Argentina and Chile for their wines, but big A boasts some awesome beer in the form of Cerveza Beagle, among many others encountered throughout my time in the lower parts of Argentina and Chile.
San Martin street is the main drag in Ushuaia and is home to the numerous outdoor stores that bizarrely enough sell absolutely nothing useful for trekking. Imagine a store that sells several types of camps stoves, but no fuel canisters or white gas? I spent almost two days combing about a dozen stores before I found one that sold a butane/propane canister suitable for my stove. Want a trekking map? Ha! Good luck with that. More on that pickle in another entry. Despite it’s rugged credentials, Ushuaia is playing catch-up to the more established Patagonian meccas places El Calafate, El Chalten, Bariloche and El Boson (to name a few).
Still, the town itself is quite nice, and architecture is heavy on European influences with considerable use of stone, wood and tin (aluminum) roofing solutions. Why we don’t use more tin roofing in Canada (especially up North) continues to baffle me.
Looking down onto the Beagle Strait and Ushuaia from one of the local ski hills.
Up next. The Sierra Valdiviseo Circuit.