Tierra del Fundo – Ushuaia (Part I)

So what does Tierra del Fundo mean? Literally translated from Spanish to English, it means ‘Land at the End of the World’. And for good reason. At latitude 54.8019° S, Ushuaia in Argentina happens to be the southernmost city of the world!

I had thus far travelled from New Delhi at 29 deg North to Frankfurt at 50 deg North, then headed south west to Buenos Aires at 34 deg South & was now heading further down to Ushuaia at 54 deg South. My final destination was the Antarctica Circle or thereabouts at 66.5 deg South! Some latitudinal journey!

The alarm rang sharp at 3.15 am jolting me out of bed. Dismissing the temptation to snooze, I got ready in time for the cab which arrived as required at 4.15 am. Saying goodbye to the staff I boarded the cab for the AEP (Aeroparque airport) which was closer than the EZE (Ministro Pistarini) International airport at which I had arrived from Frankfurt the previous day.

I reached the airport by 4.40 am. Check in didn’t take too much time. AEP is a small airport meant primarily for domestic flights. On a hunch I picked up a Garden Green Salad from Mc Donald’s (which turned out to be a golden investment subsequently!) & headed through Security to my boarding gate. The display announcing destination weather as 6 deg C with rain caught me by surprise! I hadn’t anticipated Ushuaia to be this cold but thankfully I had my -10 deg C jacket in my hand carriage.

Ushuaia was ready to give me a cold welcome 🙂

This was also the first time that I encountered the aircraft of Aerolineas Argentinas, the national carrier of Argentina which had changed my Buenos Aires-Ushuaia-Buenos Aires flight schedules a number of times, sometimes even without informing me, keeping me on tenterhooks till the last moments! Well I didn’t have too many options in selecting my airline. The only other domestic carrier flying to Ushuaia is Latam Airlines whose timings didn’t suit my purpose but whose services are reportedly better.

Boeing 737-800 of Aerolineas Argentinas at Buenos Aires airport
Boeing 737-800 of Aerolineas Argentinas

The aircraft was pushed back exactly at 6.15 am & we took off in another 7 mins.  I soon realised that I had made a mistake in reserving an aisle seat as the early morning view outside was breathtaking. Craning my neck to take some pics on zoom from the limited field of view available from my ‘vantage point’ I made a mental note for the future to take a window seat on short flights when travelling to a new city so as not to miss any photo ops.

Service began once the aircraft reached its cruising altitude. I was asked for my choice of drinks between tea, coffee, coke, sprite & water (no orange juice here) & handed over a cereal mix bar as ‘snack’ which I saved for later.

Snack onboard Aerolineas Argentinas
Not exactly ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ 🙂

I was prepared for this contigency. With a smirk on my face I pulled out my salad & hungrily consumed it with repeat rounds of coffee. Foresight, foresight 🙂

It was a 3.5 hrs flight. Too excited to sleep I flipped through the onboard flight magazine trying to make sense of this mysterious city called Ushuaia.

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, Argentina. The word Ushuaia comes from the Yaghan languageush and waia (“bay” or “cove”) and means “deep bay” or “bay to background”. It is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It was founded on October 12, 1884 by Augusto Lasserre.

Ushuaia is located roughly 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) from the coast of Antarctica. Due to its high southern latitude, the city’s climate is influenced by Antarctica, and the duration of daylight varies significantly, from more than 17 hours in summer to just over 7 hours in winter.

Tourist attractions include the Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay. The city has a museum of Yámana, English, and Argentine settlement, including its years as a prison colony. Wildlife attractions include local birds, penguinsseals, and orcas, many of these species colonizing islands in the Beagle Channel. There are daily bus and boat tours to Harberton, the Bridges family compound, Estancia Harberton. Tours also visit the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.

I dozed off & was woken up by the ‘fasten seat belt’ announcement. The sky was overcast & Ushuaia was not visible till we descended below the clouds. It was raining as we landed at 10 am a full 30 mins ahead of our ETA. The arrival lounge was small & cute with just one baggage belt. I collected my bag, headed out of the gate & was quickly ushered into a taxi for the city. Rain was no deterrent as I hurriedly tried to capture the first images of the city.

A distant view of Ushuaia


Cruise ships at the Ushuaia pier
Luxury cruise ships at the pier. No I wasn’t booked on one of these…haha

It took about 15 mins to reach my hostel. As all hostels are, the place was well lit & done up in bright colours immediately giving a very cheerful feeling.

Antarctica Hostel, Ushuaia
The Reception area & Lounge

I walked up to the desk with my best smile & the politest tone hoping for an early check-in but was told rather matter-of-factly that a bed wouldn’t be allotted before 1 pm which was the official check-in time. It was only 10.45 am & there was a long way to go. That sucked for a moment. But what the hell. I decided to use the time to explore the city/town.

After storing my suitcase in the baggage area & I headed up to the kitchen to fix myself a cup of coffee where I met a couple of fellow travellers & we got chatting. Post coffee they very graciously offered to take me for a walk around the town & escorted me to the Tourist Office along the water front where I picked up a much needed map of Ushuaia & other important information.

The approach to the waterfront with its tour operators’ kiosks

My friends departed after giving me important orientation around the town & I was now left to explore further on my own.

Ushuaia is basically a small town on a slope with mountains towards the north & the Ushuaia Bay & the famous Beagle Channel towards the south. The roads run perpendicular & parallel to the coastline dividing the town into neat & well marked blocks. It again doesn’t appear to be Argentina with its so called economic meltdown! The main retail street is called the St Martin Avenue & everything of interest is within walking distance.

Map of Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia. The main market area & surroundings

I spent the next 2 hrs strolling around the market hunting out tour companies for a possible future tour to Terra Del Fugo National Park (on return from the Antarctica cruise) & the office of my cruise company in the hope of asking for an upgrade. The town is picture postcard standard & I captured some great visuals.

Memorial garden to Eva Peron, Ushuaia
The memorial garden to Eva Peron on Maipu


A tourist bus at the waterfront


Martin San Avenue, Ushuaia
Martin San Avenue where the main action lies


A restaurant on St Martin Avenue


Thematic Gallery, Ushuaia
Thematic Gallery which houses a museum dedicated to the history of the region

…to be contd





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