The end of the world
…and the beginning of everything.
So goes the tag line of Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world (or is it?)
We spent the morning sailing through the Beagle Channel, between spectacular peaks in the most glorious weather.
Our Chilean pilot transferred his responsibilities to his Argentinian counterpart and buzzed off in a small boat – to where? Nowhere we could see. This whole landscape is deserted with not a sign of habitation anywhere.
We made the same manoeuvre to approach Ushuaia as on our previous visit, on board the P&O Oriana. We sailed right past the port before making a tight turn and coming back in the opposite direction.
We were all looking out for wildlife, hoping that a seal might just pop his head up in time! We’ve had plenty of distant sightings of whales, albatrosses have been buzzing the ship and swooping low and there have been cormorants a plenty. But so far, I’ve not managed to snag a decent photograph of anything.
We chose to board a slightly less adventurous vessel – the catamaran which would take us to a couple of islands in the Beagle Channel and then to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and our tour began with a brisk walk over the pier.
Off we set, travelling eastwards into the Beagle Channel, getting a grand view of Ushuaia’s airport and the Andes backdrop.
Now this was a wildlife tour so we began to look closely at anything on a beach…but these are stones!
At this point, I decided to hotfoot it upstairs, to the open deck on top of the catamaran. Breezy? Yes! But this was surely the best place to be.
The obligatory flag shot.
As we approached the three small islands, the naturalist described it as “the white, guano-covered rock”. Except that many of our group hadn’t heard the word guano before. I’ll leave you to imagine the resultant conversation and the amazement when it was learned that fortunes had been made on such basic stuff.
I could see a few birds on the island and thankfully, they were not flying around our heads, or else I’d have scooted downstairs pretty fast!
There was a lighthouse too, solar powered now, we were told.
I caught sight of two rather pretty grey ducks.
What a fantastic morning!
Cameras were clicking non-stop, because the light and the colours were incredible. The air is so crisp and clear, too.
We headed back around the guano covered rock for a closer look at the cormorants.
I gasped as a small storm petrel landed right in front of me – no not this close (I used my zoom) but close enough, thank you.
I gritted my teeth and took the picture. Well, I really felt I must, all things considered!
I was more comfortable sailing by the other island. Here, an assortment of sea lions and seals were basking in the sunshine.
It was explained several times over that a sea lion has a rounded snout and a seal has a pointy nose, but some around us still didn’t quite get it!
Mother and baby were coming out having had a dip.
But mostly, they were all just sunning themselves and doing not very much.
Having seen the wildlife, the catamaran put on a bit of speed and we zoomed straight past Ushuaia (again) and headed for the entrance to the Tierra del Fuego National Park
Getting off the catamaran was a bit precarious, but hey, we are all used to hopping on and off gangplanks and tenders now – no problem!
“zorro” doesn’t feature in my Spanish vocabulary, but we won’t feed them, whatever they are.
And as we sat waiting for our driver, there was a reminder that we are now in Argentina – the man opposite topped up his mate cup and sipped it pensively.
We had a short ride through lightly wooded areas to our next stop. I tried to get a decent picture of the green lichen-like growths on the trees here and was going to ask what it was. Actually, our guide beat me to it and explained it’s a form of mistletoe.
Next stop was the station, to catch the End of the World Train back to Ushuaia.
Diego was our guard, although having made this announcement, he switched on the recorded commentary and settled into his cab to play a game on his phone.
It was a bit of a “toy train”, but had actually got real historic credentials having been built to transport prisoners.
The areas cleared of trees by the prisoners were in stark contrast to the rest of the park and the pale grey, dry stumps littered the landscape in an eerie way.
We made one stop, where everyone piled out to take a picture of the engine and/or the Macarena Waterfalls.
Then, all aboard once more for the last stretch into Ushuaia.
Mind the Gap is so much more succinct, don’t you think?
Once at the station, the bus was waiting to take us back into town.
This was where it was clear to see Ushuaia developing and growing. Many, many houses and apartments are being built to house the people who are arriving from all parts of Argentina to make their living here at the end of the world. Mostly young, 80% are under 35 – or thereabouts (just remembering from the conversation with our guide…don’t quote me!)
My hero and I hopped off the bus in town, so we could have a wander around before making our own way back to the ship. We wanted to see how it had changed in the intervening years. So, after a flag shot of the Tierra del Fuego flag, we headed for the main street.
Well, in many ways, it’s the same. There are still the same souvenir shops, the outdoor clothing stores and the cafes and bars. But somehow along the way, it’s lost its cutesy character which was a shame. Well, hardly surprising, though.
I quite liked the T shirt models.
We were ready for home now, really, so made our way across the busy road junction to the port.
As we did, I stopped to take a photo of the memorial to Evita.
Oh, and we had to have a photo of the “fin del mundo” sign – though quite who those people are, I have no idea!
And that was that. We were blown back along the pier by such strong winds that at times, I thought I might blow away! The two expedition ships had sailed for Antarctica, though the Lyrial was still there alongside Mariner.
On this occasion, we won’t sail around Cape Horn, which is an island to the south of here. We have fond memories of rounding the Horn on Oriana, however, so didn’t feel cheated in any way. We did, however, feel cheated a short while after leaving Ushuaia, though, when the Captain made an announcement that we appear to have a fishing net around one of our propellers and as a result, can’t make the speed necessary to include a stop in the Falkland Islands as planned.
We knew that the weather in the Falklands is notoriously fickle and that there was a chance that we might not get there. But the weather is fine and we’d hoped for better. There was an air of disappointment on the ship tonight, then, and a few mutterings amongst the groups of people in the bar. There’s nothing to be done, but it is another brick in the wall, that’s for sure.