On Thursday night, we made it to the end of the world. Okay, we didn’t quite make it all the way to the end as the cheapest boat we could find to Antarctica was $4,900 per person, but we are in the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina (at least if you are willing to believe all the signs and ignore the town of Puerto Williams just across the Beagle Channel…hey, it’s a town, not a city).
To make it to this final outpost on the way to Antarctica, we rode a bus for 11 hours, passing through the wide open expanses of southern Patagonia where there’s nothing but scrub grass and sheep as far as the eye can see, crossing via ferry the Strait of Magellan where we saw penguins swimming in the cold water and Commerson’s dolphins (very small, black and white dolphins) playing in our wake, crossing out of Chile and into Argentina, entering the windblown nirre and lenga forests of Tierra del Fuego, and then winding along narrow roads towered over by massive snow-capped peaks.
Then before us, seemingly out of nowhere, the rather large and overall quite prosperous town of Ushuaia appeared. Alone at the end of the world, it’s surrounded by mountains and the depths of the Beagle Channel.
In the span of a few minutes, you witness blue skies and then get wet as the rain comes down. You can watch the mountains disappear as heavy grey clouds cover them then move out over the ocean, allowing the mountains to reassert themselves. A smattering of hail may be followed by skin-frying sunshine (the ozone layer above Southern Patagonia has one big fat hole in it). And the wind may blow hard enough to almost pick you off your feet before completely dying. It’s an odd place.
But it’s also an undeniably beautiful place. You can’t escape the striking beauty of the mountains and the sea, and you can’t fail to acknowledge the harsh beauty of this place balanced right at the tip of South America. To best take it all in, we hiked straight out of town and then straight up Glacier Martial.
At the top, while trying not to be blown away by the crazy gales, we stared out at the Beagle Channel, scanning over the boats in the harbor and squinting out to where the land gives way and there’s nothing between us and Antarctica but the deep, dark ocean.
And then, when our noses threatened to fall right off our faces, we threw ourselves down on the glacier and slid right back down to sea level, where it was warm enough for an ice cream cone.
From sea to glacier-covered mountain peak and back…all in a day’s play at the end of the world.
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