Ushuaia: the very end of the world (not really!)

(written in Hostel Patagonia Pais, Ushuaia, Argentina. April 2010)
Well, 5 months and 22 days after I left Mexico I made it to the southernmost city on the planet, the end of the world (only later I found out that it wasn’t!) and the turning point of my Latin American loop. In a few days I will be starting to make my way back home.
Sandra and I arrived in Ushuaia at 7pm after a 12h bus ride from Chile. We made a few very windy stops, obeying immigration rules and arrived in the dark. As soon as we got off the bus (we saw them coming before we even stepped out) we got attacked by hostel touts loudly advertising their joints. One lady was particularly loud offering a promo price and a free transfer. We didn’t have a hostel in mind, the price was reasonable, and we really didn’t feel like walking so we gladly accepted. We didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into but it turned out to be a lovely place – warm, cozy, welcoming. In fact it was so inviting that I stayed longer than I thought.
As soon as we walked in we bumped into Rodolfo, a hearty Argentinian we have been bumping into since the 33h bus ride on Ruta 40. He always made us feel so good, gleaming, hugging, kissing us everytime he saw us. One of those people who make you feel so wanted and welcome, so comfortable, relaxed. That first night as the hostel he was also our chef in charge of the asado. We had delicious, collective dinner initiated by a group of lovely French folks. Every morning and every evening we ate together around a long kitchen table. Very nice!
Tonight (April 10, 10) we are celebrating a Canadian girl’s birthday. It is also a Spanish guy’s birthday so it is going to be a big party. I have been conserving my energy by doing nothing all day. We have already chopped all the salad veggies and the grill is burning.
But let me take you back to our first day here. We arranged a boat trip through the Beagle Canal and soon after breakfast we were on our way to the docks. There were only five of us on the small boat which allowed for plenty of space and un-blocked picture taking. Our first stop was a small island inhabited by a cormorant colony. Two in fact. Living not so peacefully. Hundreds of black and white penguin like birds perched on the rocks, taking in the sun. It is one thing reading about them in encyclopedias and another seeing them with your own eyes. We then headed to Isla de los Lobos which was by far the highlight of the trip. We saw the sea lions. Two different species as a matter of fact. They were so cute, so big, so fat and lazy. So lovely! We saw some of them swimming in the water close to the boat, others just spread out on the warm rocks. We saw some youngsters, some male lions fighting. It was amazing!
– Did you see that one over there? – I’d ask Sandra. Oh! Wow! Did you see that?! Oh! Look! It is flapping its tale.
– Look at the baby over there – Sandra would say. Did you take a picture of that one?
The guide was explaining something but we were too excited to hear anything. We wanted to take a picture of every cute face, every fat body, every flapping tale, and every interaction. The only problem is that we didn’t spend too much time there or maybe we did but it just flew by. In any case we could have watched them all day.
We then saw the lighthouse at the end of the world, a famous postcard image and then headed to another island inhabited by the yamanas (local indigenous tribe) in the past. Let me share their story with you.
The yamanas inhabited Tierra del Fuego and were between 1.47m (women) and 1.55m (men) tall, with short legs and long arms. Well adapted to their unforgiving surroundings. They walked around naked, protecting themselves from the cold by covering their bodies with animal fat and making fires. They would have a fire in their hut as well as on their canoe to keep them warm while fishing, etc. They lived in very basic huts made of branches and leaves and fed on sea lions, whales (if lucky!), and other seafood. Very idyllic!
When the European conquerors came they saw the fires of the yamanas and named this new land Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). But that is all the good they did. In an attempt to civilize the locals they gave those blankets and clothes. Thos of course got dirty and brought diseases previously unknown to the yamanas. Also when they got wet, the locals caught colds and died. The conquistadors also took some of them to European zoos and exhibited them as animals. Unforgivable. In a very short period of time the yamanas were almost completely extinct. Today there is only one pure blooded yamana left, an old lady living in Puerto Williams, the southernmost town of Chile. Her children are all mestizo – mixed blood.
When you think about it, Westerners have brought a lot of pain to various parts of the world and have initiated many shameful acts such as slavery. I don’t understand why can’t they, WE, just mind our own business and appreciate different culture just as it is. It seems so easy…
Our guide showed us a spot where there was a hut before and it was surrounded by little hills of what turned out to be rubbish. They build these mini mountains to protect themselves against the wind. We dug into one of them and saw that it contained mainly ash,bones and sea shells. All of this happened not so long ago. The yamanas lived in the 1800s. This makes what the Europeans did even more inexcusable.
We walked around the island, talking about the vegetation. Our guide told us about the Calafate berry, a fruit typical to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. The legend says that if you eat the fruit you will return. I have been making sure to eat my Calafate berries.
On the way back to town we got some artisanal beer which was the only thing missing to complete our sunny cruise.
We spent the afternoon strolling up and down the main street, checking out the shops. And we also spent a considerable amount of time in a local café, enjoying delicious strawebbery cakes and Red Caipirinhas (chardonnay & strawberries) – an unusual variation but so delicious.
We woke up early for our second day in Ushuaia. We were taking a 7am bus to National Park Tierra del Fuego. We had an improvised breakfast of what food we had left – pears, dried fruit and nuts, and chocolate. And we waited. The people we were sharing the shuttle with were having trouble waking up. They’d gone out the night before and had come back at roughly 5am, leaving them only about 1.5h of sleep. No wonder they couldn’t get up. By 7.30am everybody had crawled out of bed and we could leave. We had to make it to the park before 8am and save ourselves the $12 entrance fee. You know what they say – every little helps!
Our first stop was the Last Post Office at The End of the World, where I bought and stamped postcards for family and friends. It was expensive but I got excited with all the cool stamps. One could even say I got a bit carried away 🙂 I also had my passport stamped with a giant penguin stamp. Very, super, duper cool! I can’t stop looking at it. Did I mention I also got an End of the World Certificate? It is all official now.
We then walked along the lake which turned out to be the sea, enjoying the pretty scenery, varying between evergreen beech trees, meadows, and snow peaks. Again a very good day hike. On the way we spotted more red-headed woodpeckers and black-headed ones too.
We finished the trip at the park’s restaurant where we enjoyed beautiful views, the sight of wild rabbits, and a good lentils stew. In my case at least, Sandra wasn’t too happy with her dry, expensive, reheated meat.
After lunch the rest of the gang decided to hike another hour to a beavers’ colony and the end of Ruta 3 but we were too tired and couldn’t be bothered to move. Sandra spent the rest of our visit napping on the veranda and I wrote blog posts.
We must have spent the rest of the afternoon doing something but it must have insignificant because I don’t remember anything. Later in the evening we said ‘no’ to another community dinner and went to an Irish Pub where we took advantage of our vouchers for free beer (got them at the boat tour) and snacked on salad and excellent homemade fries.
Next morning Sandra let me sleep until 9.45am. We had breakfast and headed to the prison museum for Sandra’s last few hours at the end of the world. We joined a guided tour at 11.30am and by 12pm we were both exhausted. The truth is we have been feeling very tired ever since we got to Ushuaia despite our relaxed schedule. It probably all piled up from the hike and the last couple of busy weeks. In the museum we learned about a 16-year-old serial that started killing children at the age of 10. Very interesting!
Sandra and I took our goodbyes and went our separate ways at 2pm that day. I then took care of some chores and felt like a nap at 6pm. I knew it was late but I could hardly keep my eyes open. I thought I’d get up after about one hour but of course that didn’t happen and I got up 3-4h later for a quick dinner before I crashed again.
It is raining today and I haven’t done much. Just went for lunch and got some more penguin stamps. The asado for our birthday dinner is slowly cooking, I am hungry and excited 
PS To James who said it would be soooo cold in Ushuaia. I got news for you Mister – it is sooo NOT cold. It was so hot yesterday we walked in T-shirts.
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