At the Fin del Mundo

Trip Start Sep 12, 2011
Trip End Dec 20, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Friday, December 2, 2011

A 15hr bus ride (it should have been 12, but inexplicably we had to wait 3hrs in the bus station for our 3rd and final bus of the day) got us to the Southernmost city of any real size in the world. The road through Tierra Del Fuego was flat and grassy and looked a little like some of the Scottish Western Isles. In fact, alot of the topography in the southernmost part of Patagonia has a distinct Scottish look to it, plus the weather (rain and wind) is also very similar.

The bus ride was totally unremarkable except for the moment where we almost ran over a Beaver and visited a bakery with parrots - weird.

We arrived in Ushuaia just as the sun was setting but even without a great deal of sunlight we could tell that the city was as beautiful as people say it is. Ringed 360 degrees by snowcapped mountains and on the shore the Beagle Channel, the town is located in a dramatic location which affords phenomenal views in every direction. (That sounded a little like a guide book).

We got a taxi ride to the Hostel and had 10 mins of the taxi driver rattling off the top 4 sites in Ushuaia in rapid fire english with some additional stories about how he was about to have his 3rd divorce. Our hostel is a little outside of the city but is easily one of the best places we have stayed this whole time. Although a tad expensive, its really clean, warm, friendly and has luxuries such as computers and two kitchens! After spending about 6 weeks camping in the wild, treats such as these are truly appreciated.

Our first day was spent mostly indoors as the weather was brutal. This gave us enough time to download all our photos and finally get this blog up to date. Once the rain stopped we headed out and did our usual, which is walking 10 laps of the town for no reason other than to have a nosy. The commercial shipping port was cool to look around as there were hundreds of enormous containers getting loaded onto container ships and it felt like the scene of a James Bond movie or an episode of 24 where there is almost always an action scene involving a gunfight in a shipyard full of containers.

The second day was spent out at sea. We booked ourselves aboard a little motorboat with about 8 other people and headed out into the Beagle channel for a look at some of the islands. The captain (this is what they called him but he was just a hippy dude who steered the boat) warned us that the sea was going to be a bit rough and that we may have to turn back if things got a little too much. Based on my knowledge of South American health and safety I already knew that turning back because of the weather would be very unlikely. Also, its worth noting here that despite the small size of the boat and the roughness of the sea, no passengers were given lifejackets. I think in Argentina, lifejackets fall into the same bucket as seatbelts and bike helmets. I can imagine the look on my dad and grandadīs face (they are keen sailors and neurotic about safety on board boats) when I tell them that we werenīt given lifejackets, they will freak. The views from the boat back to the shore were awesome and the islands were laden with massive sea lions and birds which I initially thought were penguins. We sailed out to the southernmost lighthouse in the world and then stopped at an island for a quick walk around where we saw some of the middens left by the native Yaman people who inhabited the area before british missionaries came and wiped them out with diseases. These middens are large piles of mussel shells where the natives would dive for mussels naked in the freezing southern ocean and then return to their little shelters and munch away to their hearts content. After  eating each mussel they would chuck the shells outside and after a while their house would be surrounded by massive piles of shells which still remain today.

Interestingly, it was yet another example of how South American natives were wiped off the face of the planet by Europeans who thought they were doing them a favour by "civilising" them and teaching them about christianity. In Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina there are virtually no native people left due to this onslaught by the Spanish, Portugese and British.

The boat trip ended with a few beers from the onboard keg (take note mum and dad, we need one of these for your boat) and a welcome return to terra firma for Gemma for who at this point had turned a distinct green colour and was feeling more than a little seasick.

We returned to the hostel for a siesta as we were knackered due spending the previous night awake listening to the sound of a dying warthog in our room. It was actually a German guy with the worst case of snoring you have ever heard. There was actually another dude snoring in the room as well but his was normal snoring compared to the dude in the bunkbed above me. He started with some really heavy and fast breathing which I measured to be in a 3 to 1 ratio to my own breaths (he was a heavy smoker). After a few of these rapid breaths it would then somehow spread to nose and esophagus and result in some incredibly loud snoring. And then weirdly, it would stop completely. He wouldnīt breathe at all for some time and then the whole cycle would repeat. I thought the dude was going to die. Unfortunately, this scenario played out again the next night and we had to leave the room and sleep in another room. After some googling I have determined that the guy has a severe case of sleep aponea which can be really dangerous if it is not diagnosed. For the health of the german dude I am going to tell him to go see a doctor.

I realise that this blog is probably the most boring post yet so its a good time to digress and discuss two of the worst parts of South America. Litter and Graffiti.

From what we have seen of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia these countries have the worst attitude towards rubbish disposal that we have ever seen. It could be that we are just naive and have spent too much time living in first world countries where we have multicoloured wheelie bins to recycle every different type of rubbish imaginable but the litter situation here is disgusting.
Firstly, people seem to have no problem chucking stuff on the street and out of their car. Secondly, they donīt seem to understand the concept of landfills. Their idea of a landfill is a one meter deep pit where any tom, dick or harriet can come and dump their crap. They seem to forget about the fact that their country has the strongest winds ever which then blows all the rubbish out of the landfill and all over the surrounding countryside. The bushes around the landfills then get covered in rubbish and it actually looks like plastic bags grow on trees! Check the photos out at the end of this section to see for yourself. They also love to throw their rubbish into their only water source.  You would think that in an incredibly dry country where every drop of water is crucial for farming and drinking then they wouldnīt pollute their rivers with rubbish. Not the case - see the photos. All this littering has turned my into a bit of a greenhead, I wonīt be joining Greenpeace when I get home but will make a better effort at recycling my waste. Although, it does make you appreciate how clean and unspoilt by humans Scotland is. We are very lucky to have clean rivers, free access to areas of natural beauty (no national park fees), few annoying tourists and a great road network to get there. You can go a hiking for a full day in spectacular scenery with fantastic wildlife and not see another human being. If it wasnīt for the dreadful weather then it would be paradise.

We have seen graffiti everywhere you can possible imagine. All the usual places like street walls, tunnels and toilet doors. But in S America they go many steps further. Nothing is sacred. We have seen graffit on statues, graves, monuments, natural wonders, historical buildings, houses, cars. Its everywhere and it looks horrible. The worst examples of this I have seen was either on the amazing redstone rock formations in the Salta desert or the paint splattered sculpture of their liberator General San Martin in the main square in beautiful Bariloche. They will graffiti anything anywhere. It would be the same as someone graffiting on a scuplture of the queen or on Edinburgh castle. It just wouldnīt happen and if it did it wouldnīt last long.

If I was the president of Argentina, I would organise a clean up day where every citizen has to go out and clean up rubbish and remove graffiti. But I am not the president of Argentina so I will just moan about it instead.

Ushuaia is a really cool little city, my favourite part being the bustling waterfront. Watching people board huge cruise ships to head to Antartica leaves even those left behind with an air of excitement. While a trip to Antartica would be epic I am sure, our boat trip on the Beagle channel once again demonstrated that I am made for the land and not for the sea! No sooner had we hit a few waves on our boat did I want to get off the damn thing. Our dreadlocked skipper didnīt seem to mind that the little tub of a boat was being tossed around and at one point even allowed a wee midget Argentine man who couldnīt even see over the wheel steer the thing. Yikes!

One thing that is really funny about nearly all Argentinian towns and cities, and apparent here in Ushuaia is the complete lack of uniformity to their homes. You almost never see two houses the same, instead they are all shapes and sizes and colours, made with a huge variety of materials, always somehow looking unfinished. They donīt really go in for landscaping either, gardens are mostly used as extra storage space (i.e for bits of car, old washing machines etc) as well as home to a mean guard dog -  even the spaniels and labradors here are mean! However, what this, as well as probably the litter, graffiti and siestas etc demonstrates, is that people here are super laid back about everything. Nobody is ever in a rush, they donīt strive for perfection, lots of time is dedicated to family and friends and they are very enthusiastic and patriotic about their country. A good example of this can been seen in the cars they drive. There is no īkeeping up with the Jonesīs hereī, in fact it seems that the award goes to the person who has managed to keep the oldest piece of shit you have ever seen running the longest! Even in comparison to travellers from other places around the world that we have met, British people are without a doubt the most uptight, prudish and impatient of all. Maybe we have a thing or two to learn.....


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