After an arduous day and a half of travel, I've finally made it to Ushuai, Argentina. This is the southern tip of South America, the gateway to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. I've been planning this trip for 13 months, and now it is all coming together.
I have arrived here a day early for fear of running into a weather event or mechanical failure which could prevent me from getting on our ship, the Sea Explorer, in time for its departure on what will be a three week trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica. This is OK with me. As my taxi takes me up a progressive incline to my hotel, the first things that I notice are the brightly lit buildings that line the coast. The lighting is good as the late afternoon sun gets lower in the sky. I grab my camera and head into town.
Ushuia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, commonly referred to as the "End of the World." This is a windswept town that is situated on a rapidly rising hillside. It is surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel, a relatively calm body of water that is a welcome relief for ships approaching the harbor after having braved the rough waters of the Drake Passage.
The name, Ushuia, emanates from the language of the Yaghanes Indians who inhabited this area up to 10,000 years ago. It has the meaning of "the bay that penetrates westward." By the 1800s, some 300 Anglican missionaries began populating this area as they attempted to evangelize the natives. Eventually, a penal colony was built here that became part of the city's history, the prisoners considered the "first settlers."
I've always found that the best way to get a feel for a new area is to just walk the streets. I head to Ave San Martin which courses through the center of town. Taking photos along the way, I make it to Maipu, the main street along the shoreline. In transit, I am aware that this is a very hilly area, and I am headed on a persistent downhill course to sea level. Walking back to the hotel will be straight uphill, a concerning prospect.
While strolling along the waterfront, I love the juxtaposition of the snow capped mountains and the Beagle Channel. Big ships are seen loading in the port near an area where I will be embarking on the Sea Explorer. The Ushuaia waterfront is the key access point to the Southern Ocean, not only for tourists, but also for scientific expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Starting to tire, I begin my long trek uphill to the hotel. Maybe I'll get lucky and find a taxi. If I don't, not to worry—I will sleep well tonight and will be ready to hit the ship for a trip to my sixth continent!