We took a flight down from Buenos Aires to begin our journey through Patagonia in Ushuaia with our friend Jaclyn. Ushuaia is the capital of the Tierra del Fuego Province and considered by many to be the southernmost city in the world. Technically there are a few outposts farther south, but Ushuaia is the only one big enough to be considered an actual city.
Note: For those of you who aren’t Jimmy Buffett fans, the title of this post references one of his songs which was our theme song for Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is a port city along the Beagle Channel, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and serves as the starting point for (ridiculously expensive) cruises to Antarctica. Our first night in town we watched the sun set over the Beagle Channel, documented our southern status, and then went to bed. The next day we woke up before sunrise (aka 9:30) to hike up to Glacier Martial. Since we were there in low season, the chairlift to the very top was closed but the hike from town up to the mountain still provided excellent views of the city and Beagle Channel.
Some of the best views we had in Ushuaia were from our boat ride on the Beagle Channel. We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather, got to see a bunch of birds and seals, and had a super informative guide. We learned about the indigenous Yaghan people who went around naked until the Europeans started exploring the area. Naked! In the freezing cold! According to Wikipedia, they were able to stay warm by evolving a higher metabolism, covering themselves with animal grease, and building fires - in fact, they built so many that European explorers named the region Tierra del Fuego or “Land of Fire.” We also learned that the Beagle Channel is often the best way to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic since it is protected by mountains on either side, whereas the Drake Passage (between Antarctica and South America) and the Strait of Magellan (separates mainland South America from Tierra del Fuego) are not protected by mountains and have rough waters due to high winds. Our cruise on the Beagle Channel ended with another awesome sunset and some homemade coffee liquor from the boat’s captain.
We spent our second day exploring Tierra del Fuego National Park. We were a bit surprised to find that while the hikes had great views of the mountains, they were not in the mountains and thus were all very flat. Nevertheless, the scenery was still beautiful, and it meant we got to rest our legs for the hikes to come later in the week.
Our last day in Ushuaia was Vesper’s birthday so in addition to our normal hiking lunch of fruit, cheese, and crackers, we grabbed some birthday beers and headed out for a hike to Laguna Esmeralda. Since we started a little before sunrise, most of the hike was walking through frosted fields and forests. When we made it to the lake, a low cloud covered most the frozen water so we couldn’t see the mountains surrounding it except for a few quick moments when the sun tried to peek through. It was beautiful but super cold!
After the hike we headed back to town and caught an evening flight to El Calafate farther north in the Patagonia region. Although it was cloudy in town, our flight out provided cool views of the mountain tops once we made it above the cloud cover.