Ushuaia, Patagonia – southernmost city in the world. Next stop, generally Antarctica. Chile and Argentina have carved up the wilds of Patagonia between the two countries, and there are smaller settlements further south – none of which you’re likely to want to visit however.
Getting here doesn’t happen by accident, you need to really want to get to Ushuaia. In my case, it was an 18 hour bus journey from El Calafate (Argentina) through a decent chunk of Chile, and back into Argentina. During this, you and your bus board a ferry for a short hop across the legendary Magellan Strait.
That’s a lot of bus, but they’re comfortable, and the journey is broken up by the various crossings and a bus change at Rio Gallegos, so not bad on the high quality busses.
The Terra Del Fuego (Land of Fire) national park protects the fragile ecosystem at the bottom of the world, and anyone who has visited the South Island of New Zealand will be struck by the similarities. And not just because it’s usually bloody windy and cold.
The trees, even the grasses, are often exactly the same species as found in southern NZ, and much of the wildlife too – penguins, seals, birds and sea lions. Terra del Fuego was named for the fires that were kept burning by the native tribes, and spotted by early European explorers. (The Selk’nam and Yaghan groups)
These semi -nomadic people would carefully carry fire with them to new campsites. Inside the national park, a visitors centre gives a good insight as to their lifestyle, before western introduced diseases and lifestyle changes wiped out the populations. A small part of the park is open to tourism for camping and hiking, but most visitors stay one night at most inside the park. A decent visit is easily done as a day trip from Ushuaia.
Europeans used this area primarily for whaling and sealing in the earliest days, and this distinctly seafaring city has a real air of frontier to it. Like Australia, much of the early population stems from a penal colony. A population of around 60,000 means there is decent infrastructure and nightlife, mostly centred around the Dublin Pub.
There’s a golf course, and even a couple of rugby clubs – my guide to the national park tried to get me a game with a local club, but then a German suggested morning beers. Let’s face it, I know where my strengths are at this stage of my life….
The Pan American Highway terminates here, and it is a great place to meet incredible people, who have just completed, or are about to embark on, some pretty amazing adventures.