Wednesday, February 8, 2012

End of the world - Ushuaia

A trip to the end of the world - fin del mundo - was one of the top things on my list for the big trip. After all it seemed like I was already so close, in the same continent, in the same country (Argentina). But 3000km away! I opted for the cheapest flight I could find: a 4 hour hop from Bs As to Ushuaia that made me got up at 2.30 in the morning... So I got just 2 hours of sleep before I had to catch the 4.45 am flight. And when I got on the plane I fell asleep immediately.

As the plane was approaching Ushuaia I hesistantly forced myself to wake up and open the window curtain – just in time to see the plane pass through the clouds and the view of the Beagle Channel and the snow-tipped mountain range opened in front of me. I don’t know if I’ve ever woken up and got my camera that fast. The views were amazing! And I was wide awake after that.

In Ushuaia I had the hostel with the best service so far. They were really helpful as even though I had planned to come here I had no idea what to do or see there – simply hadn’t had the time or energy to look into it. So the first day I just walked around the city and the shoreline, admiring the views to the Andes.

I booked a boat trip to Beagle Channel for the afternoon but it got turned around due to the wind and rain – got to experience yet another thunderous boat trip in the same week with people puking over the rails... We did see the sea lions and cormoranes but decided to take up their offer and take the boat again the next day. In the evening I went out to share a bottle of wine with a couple French guys – not like I could have used some sleep!

On the second day I decided to visit the National Park of Tierra del Fuego. It was 170 A$ to get to the park (85 for the hour bus ride there & back and 85 for the ticket to the park) but once you’re there you’ll find lots of things you can do for free. There are plenty of different hikes for a couple hours or the entire day and you could easily spend a couple days just camping and hiking there. You can certainly hire a car (even saw some taxis) to visit the points you can access by road.

I took some of the easier treks and walked five hours along the entire Lapataia bay side with 5 different hikes – gorgeous nature! There was lots beautiful clear green-blue water creeks and lakes, a black lake, mountains everywhere and you could see all the shades of green. I saw lots of different birds and some bunnies. I think the streams had lots of fish and saw people with rods on the banks, fishing.

Lapataia bay

Black lake
The paths were at some point not so easy to find, they had only small signs here and there and the map they give you is ridiculously small. It says the time you need to complete each trek on the start but somehow on the first “15 minute” hike I managed to spend almost 1,5 hours - I swear I got lost only for 5 minutes! :D But on another 15 minute walk I spent only 10 minutes. I enjoyed the Lapataia bay – lots of different sceneries and one nice viewpoint over the bay. And I mostly didn’t meet even people on the tracks so got to explore the nature on my own.

To get to the Tierra del Fuego park ask in your hostel in Ushuaia and they will book the bus for you or go to any tour agency in town. The park is 20km from town and you’ll have hikes from easy to strenuous. Normal hiking gear is fine and there’s plenty of camping sites. Look at the weather forecast before heading there.

I got back to Ushuaia on the afternoon and at 7 pm I was out again, for another try on the Beagle Channel boats. This time the sea was calm and there weren’t too many clouds so it looked promising. The boat headed straight to the lighthouse (not the “lighthouse at the end of the world” but the next best thing). We got some nice pictures and our tour guide Valeria told some interesting stories about the nature, the native groups that inhabited the area, the history and what goes on today. It was really interesting and we were a small group – and many of us already doing this again :D

After the lighthouse we went to see the cormorans and the sea lions. We got so close to them on the small boat – it was really cool to observe them roaring, grunting, sleeping in piles. The birds and the mammals shared the tiny island, I’m sure the Channel is full of islands like them.

Final stop was an island on the Beagle Channel where walked around and admired the nature there and the  sun set views of the Channel.  

Ushuaia by dark - arriving back to town
It was Jan 27th and then the sunset is at 21.40 – a bit earlier than at a same part of the summer in Finland. I was surprised to notice that Ushuaia is quite a lot further from the south pole than Helsinki is from the north pole. The weather is very different afs well compared to Helsinki’s warm summers and cold winters – there the summer and winter aren’t that different. In summer it can get up to 15 C but it’s really chilly there and lots of wind all the time – you could basically pack your autumn/winter clothes for a summer stay in Ushuaia. During the winter the temperature goes down to -5 C but very rarely below that (the boat captain said that in 1995 it was -20 C but that was the only time it was really cold). The sea keeps the temperatures rather stable – and the Antartica keeps the temperatures low. It’s merely 1000km from Ushuaia to the closest peninsula of the Antarctic (note that it’s 3000km to Buenos Aires). If you want to get there you can take a boat from Ushuaia but be prepared to shell out 3500 USD at minimum and spend about 2 weeks on a trip there. Book early or give yourself a couple weeks to hang out in Ushuaia for a cheap last minute ticket. A girl in my dorm was doing the latter.

Not knowing anything about Ushuaia I was really surprise by its beauty. The mountains surround the quaint town, the harbor is full of all kind of boats and you can admire the Chilean Andes across the bay, it’s a really stunning place. There’s a lot of things you can do, in the city you’ll find nice shops and restaurants, a big museum (the former penitentiary) and the shore is nice for a stroll around the bay (windproof jacket is handy). You can walk up to a small glacier from the city and take various boat tours (around A$ 200 and up) and hike around the Tierra del Fuego National Park. If you book early you may even find a flight for a decent price. Mine was booked about a week before for 180€ (one way, non-stop 4 hour flight) and I’d say that was a pretty good price considering it’s high season. Worth it for sure!

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