January 19, 2023
Alaska, Machu Pichu, Tasmania, Nepal, Bali. Some place names come equipped with a special magic. So it was with our next destination, Patagonia. We were flying south for over three hours to the southern-most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina and leaving warm South American summer for cold South American summer. It was late afternoon and 90 degrees when we left Buenos Aires, making it problematic to figure out what to wear on the plane as it would be almost 8 pm, in the forties and maybe raining when we arrived in Ushuaia.
As we flew in to the town, we paralleled the wild Beagle Channel with snow-covered mountains on both sides. It looked very similar to southern Alaska, where we’d been only months before. I was probably the only person in shorts waiting outside the airport for a taxi to our hostel (euphemistically called a B&B).
We’d learned during our travels to Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon last year that when planes land in small towns, the taxi fleet is taxed and we expect to have to wait as they shuttle travelers to town and return for more. It was no different here. Eventually, we snagged a tiny wobbly-wheeled and hard-seated taxi that took us a couple of miles away to our hostel.
The hostess, Maria, could not have been more different from our arrogant French host in Buenos Aires. Warm and friendly, she spoke little English but immediately made us feel welcome. The rules here were simple—there weren’t any. The only thing she requested was that we please pay before leaving. Seemed fair enough. We asked her in sloppy Spanish if she could recommend a boat tour of the Beagle Channel. Instantly, she whipped out her phone and made arrangements, getting us a discounted price for a trip the next morning.
Out room was rustic, but functional with lots of storage for the serious backpackers who flock to Patagonia, a cranky gas heater, and floors that would not be ruined if we accidentally put a glass of cold water on them. We shared a bathroom with an unknown number of people but because we had to be at the docks early for the boat, we planned to wake up early to commandeer the shower before the others got up.
Our hostel was several blocks from the downtown area and after we got settled in around 8 pm we walked down the steep hill to explore the town a little. This far south in the summer it didn’t get dark until well past 11 pm and the morning sun would begin to light the sky before 5 am.
Ushuaia is a pretty little town built along the edge of the Beagle Channel. We wandered along the waterfront admiring the yachts and small ships in the harbor. The city felt a bit schizophrenic; on the one hand, local Argentines were struggling with crippling inflation and high unemployment, while many wealthy tourists had come to the city to board the small expedition cruise ships to the Antarctic that cost at least US$12,000 (and up to US$30,000) per person and expected luxury accommodations and fine food while they waited to board.
We were truly at the fin del mundo (end of the world) here and nearly everything had to be imported. We quickly discovered that Ushuaia was significantly more expensive than Buenos Aires.
Not for the last time did we comment on how similar the setting was to Homer, Alaska—though Ushuaia, which crawled up the side of a hill that eventually turned into a mountain and reached a glacier, was much steeper than any of the towns we visited in Alaska.
After walking around the town, we suddenly realized that it was nearly 10 pm and we hadn’t eaten dinner. Neither of us was particularly hungry so we shared a sandwich and headed back to our room. It didn’t take us long to realize that although our room had a nice view of the Channel, we’d be paying for it, huffing and puffing up the steep streets to get there.
We had an early start to get to our boat tour in the morning—and get showers before someone else used the shared bathroom. Even though we were exhausted, it was hard to fall asleep until it got truly dark around 11:30. Another reminder of our trip to Alaska and the Arctic just a few months earlier.
Between the photos and the writing, you always make me feel like I want to be there!