Antarctica was a dream destination for me as far as I remember. I got a book called "To the edges of the Earth" (loosely translated) for Christmas as a young boy. There were stories of exploration and conquests of worlds highest peaks, depths of oceans and also stories about conquering North and South pole. My fascination with Antarctica grew ever since. It's been a long wait and at the times I thought, I will never be able to make it. But that day finally came and I found myself on the plane flying to Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world. And on top of all that, I was about to sail to Antarctica on the beautiful square-rigger, Bark Europa.
It was a long flight from Sydney with almost as long transfer times in Santiago and Buenos Aires. After about 35 hours, I finally reached the “end of the world” or Fine del Mundo as they refer to it. I had some time to spare so I took a walk around the town.
Ushuaia, the gateway to Antarctica
Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, Argentina. It is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world.Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. (source: Wikipedia)
They call Ushuaia the gateway to Antarctica since its close proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula. This is the place where the majority of Antarctic cruises begin from.
In the late 19th century, the Argentine government established a penal colony in Ushuaia intended for repeat offenders, serious criminals, and some political prisoners. The prison population became forced colonists who spent most of their time chopping down the now-protected lenga trees, which they used to build the town. The prison was shut down in 1947, but it and the railway to the settlement have now become the Museo Maritimo and the Tren del Fin del Mundo respectively. There are a lot of attractions around the city that portray this era of the city history,
Ushuaia is not a big city. Everything is pretty much within walking distance. Even the airport is not that far from city center. It isn’t a very busy city either. Even during the weekdays, I got an impression that it was weekend. There is a little traffic on the streets but nothing major and cars generally drive very slow. One thing I realized on the day one is that I need to learn some Spanish. It is too late now but for the future. It is useful.
Of course, my first steps led to the port to see the Bark Europa. She was not there yet but the big fat cruise liners were. Europa came in a day later. She looked so tiny among all those big passengers ships. But so much more mesmerizing and beautiful. I couldn’t wait for the moment I set my foot on her deck in few days. Looks like Antarctic cruise business is booming. Ships come and go on a daily basis. I believe only some of these are actually going to a proper Antarctic trip. Some of the bigger vessels only reach Antarctic waters but they actually don't do any landings.
One morning I set out for a hike to Glacier Martial. This is the end of the summer here and the surrounding mountains didn’t have too much snow on them. Even the glacier was very small. It was hard to recognize the terminus from the distance. Once I walked up closer to it I realized it was almost impossible to get very close to it. There is a good view to the bay and Ushuaia from up there. The weather was nice, but occasionally it changed to rain, wind and then back to nice and sunny weather.
There are plenty of other location to explore around the town such a Tierra del Fuego National park, lake Esmeralda, Beagle Channel and Port Williams. I leave them for another day though. They deserve a trip on its own together with rest of Patagonia. For now, let's get ready to board Bark Europa.