I stayed for a total of eight days in Ushuaia, where the weather has been for the most part cloudy and rainy, with a few sunny spells here and there. On my last full day it was actually snowing and hailing; surprising for summer considering Ushuaia is actually no further south than Edinburgh is north, at least according to one of my roommates at the hostel. On a clear day, the mountainous landscape surrounding the city is most impressive.
The first outing I did was to the Tierra del Fuego national park. I caught a late bus at midday as I’d opted to send postcards that morning, which took longer than expected (picture me sitting at a desk in the post office licking and affixing 40 stamps). The bus was empty, apart from a distinguished-looking young Swissman called Adrian. We exchanged pleasantries and decided we’d do the four hour coastal walk together.
At the drop-off point by the sea there was a long and narrow cabin on stilts which was, as it turned out, the last post office on earth. We went inside to satisfy our curiosities, having noticed the line of queuing tourists. The room was heated by a traditional iron stove and the walls were covered in postal memorabilia. An old bearded man at the front desk was stamping people’s passports for a nominal fee with a large circular emblem that read Unidad Postal Fin del Mundo. He adorned the chosen passport page with the date and a sticker of himself, before finally posing with the tourists for a souvenir snap. It was all a little quaint but I did regret not having my passport with me (I did however later get a nice stamp from the tourist office at the port in Ushuaia, which I was very pleased with). Adrian had his stamped, and I paused by the entrance to soak up the heat coming out of the stove, proclaiming that I would never leave the place.
The coastal walk was beautiful. I won’t go into too much written detail as a) I’d like the photos to tell the story and b) I am falling behind on my blog posts. So here we go:
The highlight of the walk was at a point where we stopped on a sloping curve in the forest. We heard the woody sound of taktaktak! echoing through the trees, followed by silence, and then taktaktak! again. These were Magellanic woodpeckers, or Carpinteros Negros Patagónicos in Castillian. I must have spent a good 15-20 minutes observing the birds through my binoculars before moving on; the male is particularly striking with its bright red head. Sorry, no photos I’m afraid: I didn’t think to bring a zoom lens for my camera.
The other notable outing I did was a boat trip around the Beagle channel, something I organised at the very last minute to take advantage of a sudden spell of good weather. We drew close to several small islands – they were actually more like large rocks – to observe birds such as Cormorants, as well as more sea lions. Out came the binoculars (I’ve paid for them so I’m gonna use them, damnit!) and the DSLR for some serious observation.
I had an interesting conversation with a middle-aged Scotsman (whose name I forget) who was travelling with three close friends. They had travelled down from Buenos Aires over the course of a few weeks on motorbikes and one of them in a vintage Triumph car. The biggest challenge, he told me, were the strong Patagonian winds that blow at up to 80mph and very much impede progress. There were times when they couldn’t make any headway at all and had to wait out the winds for hours in a rest stop. I quizzed him on his views of the Islas Malvinas (otherwise known as the Falkland Islands) and he said we should ‘give them back – what do we need them for?’ It’s certainly a touchy subject in Tierra del Fuego. The Scotmens’ journey had finally come to an end and the motor vehicles had been packed into a shipping crate ready for their 45-day transit back to the UK.
We paused to observe the famous local lighthouse of Ushuaia built around 100 years ago. Its image has been previously used to promote a novel by Jules Verne, representing the last lighthouse on earth. Our tour guide told us, however, that there is another lighthouse further south and that this one lays false claim to the title. However, it was favoured for promotional material as it is more architecturally striking.