The southernmost city in the world

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
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Trip End Nov 30, 2011


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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tuesday morning we left Punta Arenas and headed for Ushuaia – 10 hours plus, by bus. The journey was uneventful until crossing into Tierra del Fuego by ferry. Suddenly the sealed roads of the mainland stopped, and we entered the barren wasteland of Chilean Tierra del Fuego. From the bus we had a perfect 360 degree view… of absolutely nothing. Over 110km from the ferry crossing to the Chilean border post and all we saw was open scrubby plain in all directions, sheep happily minding their own business until the next tourist bus came along, and seemingly endless, unforgiving dirt roads. We maybe saw as many as three buildings and two people between the ferry and the Chilean border post – there really is just nothing there.

While the Chilean side of the border was relatively speedy, crossing the Argentinean side a few kilometers down the road, was excruciatingly slow – we spent just under two hours waiting for the Argentineans to clear our bus load of passengers. Mercifully we were finally clear of Argentinean immigration and back on our way to Ushuaia. For the record, the Argentinean side of Tierra del Fuego is infinitely more beautiful and interesting than the Chilean side- especially the hour or so just north of Ushuaia coming through the Fuegan Andes and passed many of the pretty lakes.

By the time we arrived in Ushuaia it was after 6pm. Fortunately this far south it's still daylight at 10.30pm, so we had plenty of time to find and check-in to our nice hotel, wander the main street in search of some Argentinean currency, examine the local culinary establishments, and grab a quick dinner.

With nearly four full days in Ushuaia before our Antarctic cruise departed, the first priority on Wednesday was to find somewhere to have dinner on New Year’s Eve. With a few days still to go we weren’t expecting this to be particularly difficult, but after our first few enquiries were all met with 'Sorry, we’re closed New Year’s Eve’ we realised the bigger challenge might be finding somewhere that was open, rather than somewhere that had a table. Further investigation tracked down a few establishments that were actually going to be open on New Year’s Eve, but all had menus starting from US$120/pp. Unfortunately for us, when we’re travelling around the world for a year, we cannot splash out $240 on a single meal... even on New Year’s Eve. With our options fast running out, and desperation just about to set in, we finally found a nice restaurant charging a somewhat more rational price for dinner – crisis averted thankfully!

With New Year’s Eve dinner finally sorted, and bookings made to go to Tierra del Fuego National Park, just outside Ushuaia, the following day, we had time to enjoy the nice weather with a boat cruise out on the Beagle Canal. Kerry was initially keen to take the boat to see a colony of Magellanic penguins a couple of hours from Ushuaia, but with innumerable penguins available to play with in Antarctica, it seemed like a bit of a waste of time and money to me. Finally common sense prevailed and we did a shorter boat cruise around the inner harbour, taking in the vista of Ushuaia back dropped by the snow-capped Fuegan Andean mountains, visiting several seal and bird colonies that reside on some of the rocky outcrops in the Beagle Canal, and finishing with a sail-past of the lighthouse at the entrance to Ushuaia harbour.

Wednesday night we had a superb dinner at a restaurant called Bodegon Fueguino. Sorry, no photos as we left our camera at the hotel, but the popularity of the place was evident in that when we arrived 10 mins after it opened, the restaurant was already half full, and when we left there were groups queuing outside the front door waiting for tables to become available. It really was that good – great atmosphere and really good food, all at relatively reasonable prices by Argentinean standards.

We had decided that we wanted to go into Tierra del Fuego National Park, so on Thursday we went on a day-trip. Apart from hopefully seeing some beautiful scenery, as we had seen arriving into Ushuaia, part of the appeal for me was that our trip included a visit to Isla Redonda, just off the coast of the national park, home to the world’s southernmost post office. After seeing it on TV a couple of years ago, and being in Ushuaia at the end of the earth, I thought it would be quite cool to send a postcard home from the world’s southernmost post office – something unique that you can only do on Isla Redonda, and something that most people that visit Ushuaia don’t even know about.

We enjoyed a nice hike in the national park along a coastal pathway, in very good weather – we were expecting Tierra del Fuego to be cold and windswept but the weather in the national park was warm and sunny, with only a gentle breeze. However, having been in Torres del Paine little more than a week ago, the scenery struggled to match up to Torres’ beauty. After hiking for few hours we were able to enjoy a very civilized lunch of barbecued chicken and local wine, before continuing further into the national park for a zodiac ride along the coast enroute to Isla Redonda.

Isla Redonda is a small non-descript island, maybe only one sq km in size, and only a matter of a couple of hundred metres off the shore from Tierra del Fuego National Park. It isn’t special for any other reason than it is home to the world’s southernmost post office. It has one sheltered bay for access, houses three buildings – one of which is the post office; the second, a very small refugio; and the third, unknown – and boasts one giant Argentinean flag, so as to leave no one in doubt as to in whose territory the island lies – most of the island’s south of Tierra del Fuego and in the Beagle Canal belong to Chile.

The post office itself was comprised of not much more than a wooden shack on a hill overlooking the bay, and two people charged with selling postcards and stamps, and collecting and franking postcards being mailed. I’m sure that it exists for no other reason than the novelty of it being the world’s southern most post office. Being organized Kerry and I had written our postcards in advance, and also brought our passports with us to get stamped at the world’s southernmost post office. However, we did not anticipate that we would both have to sacrifice a whole page in our passports!

With our Antarctica trip beginning Saturday afternoon, on Friday we had to move from our nice digs downtown to our tour’s arrival hotel - which unfortunately turned out to be a fair walk from the centre of town, and nowhere near as nice. With a disrupted day of packing, checking-out and moving hotels we decided that we would have a quiet day to blog and take care of administrative things before heading out for our New Year’s Eve dinner.

Given that the southern hemisphere summer is the height of the tourist season in Ushuaia, it was a surprise to us that there really wasn’t anything happening on New Year’s Eve – no parties, no firework displays, and most surprising, almost all restaurants and bars were closed! The town was remarkably quiet, with only the disorganized or newly arrived wandering through town trying to find somewhere to eat. You would have thought that in Ushuaia they would want to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, but apparently not.

New Year’s Eve dinner was nice, with a bottle of wine and a glass of champagne each included. By the time midnight rolled around though our travels were starting to take their toll on each of us, and we were both beginning to feel quite tired. We managed to get to midnight and enjoy our New Year’s toast, but with nothing going on in town, once we finished our drinks we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel.

With our boat to Antarctica not boarding until 4pm, and most of Ushuaia still closed down for the New Year’s holiday, Saturday was another quiet day spent lounging at the hotel, blogging and waiting in anticipation for 4pm to roll around.

Next stop for us is the white continent, Antarctica - one of the last untouched wildernesses on Earth.


Andrew
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Comments

Jane Brewer on

Happy New Year guys! Pleased you managed to get a glass of bubbles somewhere. Just read your Antarctica Blog. What a way to start 2011! Loads of love xxx

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