These early morning flights out of Buenos Aires continue to kill me.
Not only is the hour of departure for Ushuaia desperately and outrageously early, but our decision to stay up all night and make a party of our trip to the airport just doesn’t cut it anymore with these old bones. We said goodbye to Pablo and Marcelo at 3:30 a.m., and rushed back to the apartment to quickly shower and grab our bags before heading out to Av. Callao to hail a taxi to Aeroparque for our 5:30 flight to Ushuaia. Buenos Aires is still partying.
We seem to be the first people at the airport and even the security screening (or what there is of it), which at this hour closes between flights, isn’t open yet. The airport seems to stay open all night, but there only appears to be about 1 flight/hour from 2 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Our gate is full of people heading to the fabled far south and I romantize them: A young British woman heading to some desolate outpost, her older, shaggy-bearded mentor accompanying her, their purpose is to relieve some lonely Antarctic sea-lion watcher or temperature-gauger, ready for some R&R. There are several members of the Spanish Army, scientists all, heading to the polar south for several months of lonely research. Or so it seems in my romantic head. Everyone has trekking shoes and fleece and practical zip off, water-wicking beige pants on; me included. Hernan, our travel agent, has screwed up: we have one business class seat and one economy class seat. I, unselfishly, offer John the business class seat. We board the Aerolineas Argentinas plane and immediately fall asleep, although John is much more successful at staying asleep. Unfortunately, I have two screaming children sitting right in front of me.
Ushuaia: The Southernmost City in the World
3.5 hours later we touch down in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and it’s the end of the world as we know it. Snow-capped mountains and temperatures of about 10° greet our groggy heads. We are thankful for our layers of “winter’ clothes that we have brought. John has wanted to come to Tierra del Fuego since he was a kid in geography class. He is itching to get to our hotel, get settled and get out! Our hotel is about a 15 minute drive outside of Ushuaia and we are met by the tour operator who promptly recommends three different expeditions for us over the next 3 days. We arrive at the hotel, nestled on the Rio Olivia and at the base of Monte Olivia (picture Mount Crumpit, from “The Grinch”) and thankfully our room is ready. We are booked for a 3 o’clock cruise through the Beagle Channel and promptly go to sleep for the rest of the morning.
Into the Beagle Channel
A “remise” is called, to take us to the tourist dock for 3 p.m., and we board the Tolkeyen Patagonia catamaran and head out into the Beagle Channel. The cruise will get us back to Ushuaia for about 8:30. We untie and float into the channel, viewing the town from the water. We can also see the dramatic Monte Olivia from the water, knowing our hotel is at the base. The afternoon is cool and dramatically overcast. Every piece of information you read about Ushuaia tells you that the weather is very changeable here, so we are prepared for the best and the worst. Our first stop is a colony of cormorants who happen to be sharing space with the sea lions on Isla de Los Lobos (Sea Lions’ Island). The catamaran easily maneuvers the shallow waters and everyone is on deck, snapping pictures. We pass the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and continue sailing past the Chilean Military town of Puerto Williams, on the other side (the Chilean side) of the Beagle Channel.
We cruise on through Mackinlay Pass and finally stop for a good half hour at the Magellan Penguin colony. We take lots of pictures here and move around the deck of the catamaran watching the antics of the penguins through the camera and our binoculars. Who knew that penguin necks (and sea lion necks, for that matter) were so flexible? At one point, we see something jumping through the water. We can’t tell what it is, but watch in fascination as it comes closer to shore. A much bigger penguin proudly emerges from the water and we realize that he is an Imperial Penguin, standing taller and with bright orange beak, feet and under-wings. He stands in one spots and continues to groom himself for the entire duration of our stay here.
A bottle of wine is ordered for our two-hour trip back to Ushuaia – beer and wine is cheaper in Argentina than Coke or Pepsi. We engage in a lively conversation with one of the guides on the catamaran and two young guests of the tour that day. We talk about politics and language, tourists and Argentina; all of them are Argentinean, learning French, and they all speak English remarkably well. Right on schedule, we are on the dock in Ushuaia. We are exhausted, and take a taxi from the port to our hotel, and have dinner in the dining room before falling into bed just after 10:30. Thankfully, there is a message waiting at the hotel that our tour tomorrow morning won’t pick us up until 9:45.
Plenty of time for plenty of sleep! Welcome to Ushuaia: indeed the Southernmost City in the World!