Monday, 18 March 2013

Ushuaia, Argentina: Fin del Mundo

Landing in Ushuaia, the sky was clear, the sun was shining and the surrounding scenery was astounding: blue lakes, islets, channels, sloping landscape and mountains in the shape of spires jutting out. A beautiful view to take in and a prelude of things to come.

The hostel was just a couple of kilometres away from the airport so after the flight a walk in the sun was most welcome, not even close to being cold even though the evening was fast approaching. During the day, when the sun is out it is still very warm but in the shade or at night is when you can really tell the difference and you realise you are much further south.

One of the main reasons for flying into Ushuaia was to avoid having to take buses south only to have to take them north again, I figured this would be a decent time saver. That, and I was also keen on seeing if it was possible to get on last minute Antarctica cruise for a discounted price as it is the end of the season. This pretty much took up the whole of the next day, and unfortunately ended with me being unsuccessful, only two boats left in the season: one which was way out of my price range and the other not setting sail for another 3 weeks. Oh well, got plenty of information about the cruises here and will definitely be able to plan a trip for the future.

When not trying to get to the White Continent, the town hasn't a whole lot to offer, but the sights surrounding it make up for that. From the port, various operators run boats into the Beagle Channel where it is possible to see sea lions, seals, penguins and other birds local to the area. Usually they are chilling out on one of the Les Eclaireurs islets, with the most northeastern one home to Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. For some reason this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area and affectionately referred to as the Lighthouse at the End of the World by Argentinians. It is definitely the most visited lighthouse in the whole of South America and it is still in use today, but electronically manned and off limits to visitors.

Plush ocean liner destined for Antarctica


Left in the harbour on purpose?

Leaving the harbour

Beagle Channel tour boat

Along the Beagle Channel

Sea lions and birds

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse

Twelve kilometres outside of town is the Tierra del Fuego national park. Getting there is easy, all you have to do is book a bus through one of the many companies operating along Ruta 3 through the hostel you are staying at and you get picked up and taken there. At the park entrance, you have to pay an entrance fee of 110 pesos and then the bus will drop you where you want, depending on the trail you want to follow.

As it was a decent day, we opted to be dropped off at Lake Roca so we could attempt the Guanaco trail, a 4km uphill stretch which gave you great views into the Beagle Channel and across into Chile. On a clear day, Cape Horn is apparently visible.

The trail was described as strenuous but given the markings of past walks I wasn't too worried, however, this one was actually tough and the final hour and assault up the slippy stony path could have easily been described as arduous/ life threatening; it was seriously steep and tough, especially with a fairly large pack containing food, sleeping bag and tent.

At the top, the views were amazing and as we ate lunch we were joined by a crafty fox who was a little too at ease with humans, I'm sure he just chills out up there waiting for lunch everyday, not a hope given the climb I just had though. Getting down was much easier as would be expected, even navigating the boggy section was a breeze. I think at this stage we just wanted to get to the bottom and rest. Once there, it was a kilometre or so to get to the campsite and set up shop for the night.

Lake Roca

First viewpoint on the Guanaco trail

Last hour was hard going
Steep ascent

Fox in the foreground, Chile in the background

Looking over the Beagle Channel

Waking up in the Lapataia area gives you plenty options for short half hour to one hour walks to take in the natural beauty of the area. One such walk took us to Port Arios, this however was not a port and more in fact just a lake where I doubt a boat has arrived in quite some time. Still, nice views to be had with the early morning sunshine drying out the damp of the previous night.

To get back to Ushuaia, you need to get back to one of the pick up points in the park for a specific time; for some reason there are fewer points out of the place than drop off points. We decided to follow the seaside path from Lapataia to Ensenada, an eight kilometre path that cut through the forest for much of the time with the odd excursion out to the waters edge and along the cobbled shoreline. Not a difficult trek so a nice way to get the body used to walking with a pack on as there is much more difficult walking ahead, starting with the next stop in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile for the 'W' trek.

View out of the tent

End of the road

The port

Walking to Ensenada

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