We made it! After 4,000km of riding in every terrain and weather condition imaginable we reached the official start point of our trip – Ushuaia. We had crossed the Andes (for the first time), ridden through the Pampas in scorching 39 degree (celsius) temperatures, enjoyed kilometres of stunning Argentine coastline, been blasted by 100km/hour cross winds, and survived three border crossings and a boat ride to finally reach Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire. Richard was so excited to be back here (he rode a bicycle through the southern Andes in 2010) and to be spending time in Ushuaia once again.
Ushuaia – the capital of Tierra del Fuego province and the southernmost city in the world – was a bustle of activity when we arrived. Cargo ships, cruise liners, tour boats and yachts vied for position in the busy harbour. A gaggle of tourists, dressed in the latest outdoor adventure gear – all brand new and spotless, were elbowing each other in the many souvenir shops, grabbing their last bit of Ushuaia “End of the World” memorabilia before boarding cruise ships to Antarctica and buses to a myriad of outdoor adventure destinations.
While it was settled in the 1800s, Ushuaia became known in the early 20th Century when a prison was built here. Like Australia, the prisoners were among the “first settlers” in Ushuaia. Maybe that’s why we felt so at home here? A crazy mix of steep one-way streets and jumbled buildings, Ushuaia could easily be considered a motorcyclists nightmare, yet it attracts hundreds (if not thousands) of riders each year. We saw at least a dozen riders both locals and travellers from all over the world arriving and leaving the city as we rode in.
We decided not to camp, opting instead for the hostel that Richard had stayed in during his visit here in 2010. ‘Hostel Malvinas’ was a little tired looking, but the staff were friendly and the rooms clean and comfortable. We parked our bikes outside the hotel and before we could unload them, a strong gust blew Richard’s bike over (he is learning to swear in Spanish – a useful skill he reckons). It landed with a loud thud half on the road and half on the footpath. Almost immediately a bunch of cars stopped and several fit young guys came running from all directions to help pick up the Schnauzer. A great introduction to the friendliness of the Ushuaia locals…and to the strength of the wind in these parts! No damage done to the bike due to the panniers and engine guards, but a good lesson learned.
We explored the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (a little shocked at the $20/person/day entry fee but hopeful the money would be used for preservation and maintenance of the park). The National Park is beautiful, with mountains, waterfalls, lakes, forests and glaciers providing habitat for over 20 species of mammals and over 90 species of birds. Located about 11km south of Ushuaia it is the southern terminus of the Pan American Highway and a draw card for travellers like us. The sign in the park (possibly the most photographed sign in the world) indicates it is 17,848km from here to Alaska. No doubt this is as the crow flies and not as the crazy Aussie motorcyclists intend to ride. While we haven’t fully mapped out our route, we anticipate covering a distance of some 40,000km before we make it to Alaska - sometime in June next year.
After a great night’s sleep we decided to leave the bikes behind for the day and hike up to the ‘Glaciar Martial’ which sits about 1,000m above sea level. We set out from our hotel and after walking for about 7km we made it to the base of the mountain. We refuelled with hot chocolate and apple pie at the tea house nestled among trees at the base of the ski slopes (the place transforms into a ski resort in winter) and then started the hike to the glacier. It was pretty steady going (despite the occasional strong winds which threatened to send me back down the mountain a couple of times!) and within an hour we were at the top. The view was amazing. We stood at the top overlooking Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel (named after Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle which sailed here in the late 1820s) and the distant Chilean Andes and reflected on the amazing history of this part of the world.
We continued to reflect on the history, the people and the culture on our return to our hotel where we enjoyed an Argentinian red and a bottle of “Beagle Fuegian Red Ale” – so good! Cheers to you Charles Darwin…a fine drop indeed.