Upon leaving Puerto Natales we realized that literally within several days we would arrive at the end of the road: Ushuaia, Argentina. Despite this fact, we still had close to 1,000 kilometers to go. A quick boat ride from Punta Delgada across the narrowest section of the Strait of Magellen placed us onto the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, translated into English as “Land of Fire.” The name is derived from a Portuguese explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellen, who was the first European to visit the archipelago in 1520. He and many other Europeans saw fires on the shores as they passed by ship. The fires were built by the indigenous inhabitants of the region called the Yaghans, who built the fires in order to keep warm in the frigid environment.
It sounds magical, doesn’t it? The Land of Fire! Mostly northern Tierra del Fuego was kind of a (Richard wouldn’t let me use the word I wanted to here) place lacking in visual attractiveness . A barren wasteland stood before us with the wind whipping our jackets, hair, and the hats off our heads as we stopped at several border crossings along the way as the archipelago is split between Chile and Argentina. We spotted dozens of oil wells bobbing their steel arms into the ground, while flares lit up the sky. Petroleum and natural gas extraction fuel (see what I did there?) the economic activity in northern region of the archipelago.
Our first stop was at Parque Pinguino Rey (King Penguin Park) to check out the… wait for it… a King Penguin colony! This would be our first real-life Happy Feet experience. The pinguinos were kind of far away from the viewpoint, which was fine, as we didn’t want to interfere with their peaceful existence. They were chatty little creatures, waving their necks back and forth as if spineless, crowing and cawing loudly. One thing I didn’t realize was that penguins actually lie down on the ground to sleep. Many were lying on their stomachs having a snooze while the tourists hovered behind a wooden fence attempting to zoom in and snap some shots. The babies were really cute, and were easy to spot with their thick, brown coats.
After getting our fill of penguin watching and our noses running from the cold wind, we jumped back into the truck and continued south. It was late in the season and most of the campsites were shut down, so we spent the night in the parking lot of a nice YPF gas station in Tolhuin. The next morning we stopped by the popular neighbourhood bakery for some hot tea and baked treats. It is common for gas stations and bakeries to have a hot water dispensary (for a price, of course!) available to fill up maté cups while on the road. Richard made sure to keep a full t
hermos vacuum insulated bottle at the ready for Nescafe on the go.
As we headed towards Ushuaia the landscape really started to improve. It became lush and green with lakes and wispy clouds. Little did we know that there is actually a pass on the road towards Ushuaia called Paso Garibaldi. At the summit, bits of snow covered the ground, and the lenga trees changed from rust, copper and burnt orange to green. A bit of interesting history here: the pass was built in 1956, and three days after the route opened a USA-licensed Jeep became the first successful vehicle to travel from Alaska to Ushuaia. Cool.
Before we knew it, we turned a corner on May 10, 2016 and the huge Ushuaia sign popped into our view. We had seen dozens of photographs of this place, usually with couples and their rigs in front of it, with big grins on their faces. There wasn’t really any build up for us, but more of a surprise when I saw the sign before expecting it. Mostly what happened was that I shrieked, “Oh my god! There’s the sign!” and we pulled over to get some photographs.
We headed through town to the end of the road sign and gasped, “17,848 kilometres to Alaska?! Are you serious!?” We departed from Vancouver nearly three years earlier and meandered so much that we clocked a grand total of 45,755 kilometres.
Free cookies from strangers for the win!
We hadn’t heard too much about the town of Ushuaia from other travellers other than, “Oh, it isn’t that great. There’s nothing special about it, just a town at the end of the world.” Partially due to our low expectations we really enjoyed the town. The snow-dusted peaks in the background were a surprise, as was the great scenery and street art.
We popped in for a quick nosh and warm-up at the Ramos Generales Restaurant, enjoying the interesting decor and hot beverages.
We visited the one-man run post office in Tierra Del Fuego National Park in order to send out some postcards from the ‘end of the world’ and to get our passports stamped. Well, only my passport was stamped as Richard needed his last remaining page to get back through Chile and into Argentina when we made our final push north. The old radiators inside the building warmed up our chilly bones due to the cold winds from the Beagle Channel, so we took our time inside picking out cards and smiling at the man running the place. He had a great mustache.
By the way, unbeknownst to us, you can obtain a Fin del Mundo stamp for free at the Visitor’s Centre in Ushuaia, but then you won’t get this cool sticker to go with it.
We spent a couple of nights camping in Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, close to a beautiful river.
It was cold and damp, and we decided to book ourselves into a cheap hostel for a couple of nights to keep the blood flowing and maintain our motivation for life in general. We skipped the popular celebratory lobster dinner and lugged our gear into the French-run La Posta Hostel and it was worth every penny. Free breakfast, nice warm dormitory, hot shower with heated floors. Definitely a nice treat during our last couple of days in Ushuaia.
With our joie de vivre returning, we headed to Laguna Esmerelda for a short but enjoyable and scenic hike.
Only one direction to go. With a shipping date set, we had six days to drive 3,094 kilometres to Buenos Aires. Vamos!