I arrived in the dark, dampened streets of Ushuaia early on Friday evening. The scenery had changed in the last hour of the trip, from endless dusty gravel roads before finally transforming into a winding paved descent through the last of the southern Patagonian mountains. Unfortunately, the views had not done much to ease the cramped conditions on board the 11 hour long bus ride from Punta Arenas. Ushuaia was my final stop in my long adventure south from Santiago and marked the end of over 3000km of hitchhiking and occasional bus rides. Quite simply, it is impossible to go any further south than Ushuaia. With the exception of a couple of small ports in the Chilean islands underneath the Tierra Del Fuego, is is the southernmost city in the world.
I had an email saved on my phone from my Couchsurfing host, named Facko, who had kindly accepted my request via the website and offered to put me up for a couple of days before my flight to Buenos Aires on Sunday morning (those of you who don’t know about Couchsurfing can read my post here). I decided to get off the bus in the centre of town and quickly found my bearings in the easy-to-follow gridded street system. Glancing out to the harbour, I enviously eyed the enormous cruise ships waiting to depart to Antarctica and thought of the multitude of middle-aged and retired clientele on board, comfortably sipping champagne in their cabins. Ushuaia’s proximity to Antarctica means it is highly favoured as a departure point for these once-in-a-lifetime excursions. Turning away from the main street, I walked an easy two blocks to the address saved on my iPhone.
After exchanging introductions my host, Facko, showed me to the ‘couch’ he had available for the two days – a single bed! He gave me a tour of his 2nd story apartment and explained that his housemate was away for a few days, leaving the room available. Quite unnervingly, Facko spoke English with a perfect Bournemouth (UK) accent, something passed on by his grandmother. He also spoke perfect Argentine Spanish and considered himself a full-blooded Argentinian, which I could relate to my time growing up both in England and Australia. Although he had work at 7am the next day, Facko gave me a key and told me to take my time in the morning. He offered to give me a tour of the town after he finished work at 3:30pm.
After some brief research using my guidebook and some websites (including one of my favourites: Wikitravel) I decided to visit the Cárcel de Ushuaia y Presidio Militar, the old jail and military prison. I have always found these sorts of places fascinating, and the history behind this one dated back to January, 1896, when the first group of convicts arrived with the intention being to colonise this pointy end of the Tierra Del Fuego. The military prison was eventually merged with the jail in 1911 after the building of the prison took 9 years, all completed by convicts. The system used was based on a lifetime of work for the inmates, and the town of Ushuaia prospered under their low-cost labour. Outside of the prison convicts built roads, bridges and buildings. They were also responsible for the production of the southernmost railway in the world, 25km in length and still visible today in the nearby National Park.
Joined to the old jail is the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia. Having learned of Margaret Thatcher’s death just days before, it seemed quite odd to be immersed in the passionate (and rather different) Argentinian side of history concerning the Malvinas, otherwise known as the Falklands Islands.
The descent from Glaciar Martial offered some stunning views of the bay and my last sunset over Patagonia before my easy flight north to Buenos Aires the following day. I can’t thank my host Facko enough for offering me a place to stay while in Ushuaia, and for all of the local knowledge he was more than happy to impart. In some ways, this marks the end of one part of my journey and the start of another as I now venture north-west through Argentina and towards Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia – to name just a few.
Enjoy the photos from the glaciar and the town itself. Nos vemos!