A quick picnic at the “End of the World”

Sophie by the Beagle Channel

As we hurriedly make our leathery ham and squidged cheese sandwiches, we can’t help but let out an ironic little chuckle.

Sandwich at the ‘End of the World’

This should be a highpoint for us, our arrival at the bottom tip of South America after an overland journey of more than 15,000 miles.

From the salsa-ing streets of Rio, to the swinging hammocks of the Amazon.

From the warm waters of Colombia’s Carribean Sea, through the Andean peaks of Ecuador and Peru and on.

Past the shimmering salt flats of Bolivia, the tereré drinkers of Paraguay, the gravelly-voiced gauchos of Uruguay and the slick tangoers of Buenos Aires.

It’s been quite an adventure.

And now here we are at the place they call Land of Fire, Tierra Del Fuego national park.

At the end of the road, where Ruta 3 stops at the bottom of Argentina

A five-hour trek has brought us to the end of the road, literally.

It is here that the fabled route 3, which commences in Buenos Aires and runs down the eastern spine of Argentina, finally finishes.

From the spot when the the dirt track stops it is a just a few steps to The Beagle Channel.

This narrow stretch of water takes its name from the vessel that carried Darwin on his voyage of evolutionary discovery, making observations that formed the basis of his groundbreaking work The Origin of the Species.

The beautiful crystal clear waters of the Beagle Channel

Beyond, this strip of water, icy waves carry you to the ‘white continent’ – Antarctica.

Our minor hysterics are because we have but a couple of minutes to enjoy our moment.

In keeping with our hectic pace of travel over the last few months, we can’t hang about.

We have to hurry to make the last bus of the day to the World’s most southerly city, Ushuaia.

Brrr… “Why does everything look purple?!”

The Land of Fire is not a place you want to get stuck at for a night.

Its name is misleading, far from being a devil’s paradise, the weather is bitingly cold and through much of our hike we battle driving winds and skin-pricking sleet.

However, this is an unpredictable, changeable climate and when the wind and sleet eases off we are able to enjoy breathtaking scenery of lush pine forests and crystal clear waters.

At one point the tranquility is disturbed by the sound of loud, incessant hammering in the middle of the woods.

Our attention is drawn to a couple of long-beaked, colourful woodpeckers busily bashing away at a hardwood tree trunk.

Knockin’ on wood: Woodpecker at Tierra Del Fuego National Park

Back by the coast we spot some penguins resting on a rock a few hundreds metres out to sea and I think I see a beaver diving into a lake, but I can’t be sure, it could well have been a duck!

Starting on New Year’s Day it had taken 33 hours,  to reach here from the Atlantic coast seaside settlement of Puerto Madryn.

It was a particularly unpleasant journey for Sophie, who spent the first few hours spewing out the content of the ample quantites of Patagonian lamb and red wine we had consumed the night before to see in 2012.

Throughout our trip around South America we have arrived at new places without a hostel reservation and it has never been a problem.

Time to get the superglue out again! My trusty trainers have seen a few miles

But in peak summer season, Patagonia creaks with the weight of tourists keen to explore this desolute but beautiful land.

After our arrival in Ushuaia at about 9pm, the first five hostels we try are fully booked. A kind guy who runs a sushi bar gives us a ride in his car to a place he thinks might have availability.

It does, but it is extortionately priced. So, reluctantly we force ourselves to continue our search.

Old black and white photo of prisoners at Ushuaia Prison

Finally we find room at the Refugio del Mochilero backpackers for a comparatively cheap price.

Despite teeming with tourists, Ushuaia is a relaxed, laid-back spot.

Established originally as a penal colony, the town’s former prison has been converted to a museum containing exhibits about former occupants.

These include political prisoners sent to this wilderness to gag their critical opinions about the military dictatorships of the middle of the last century. They shared the prison with horrific murderers such as Cayetano Santos Godino, nicknamed Petiso Orejudo – the big-eared midget.

Prison Officer Cross… Don’t mess!

Godino terrified Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century when he was found guilty of the murders of four children and the attempted murder of a further seven.

In one case he killed a four year old boy by hammering a nail into his skull.

He was transferred to Ushuaia jail in 1923 and spent the rest of his days here.

On another of the prison’s five wings there is an exhibition dedicated to the plucky explorers who bravely attempted to discover more about Antarctica.

Model of a vessel used by early explorers to the Antarctic, crafted out of matches and wood by a former prisoner

Rare black and white footage shows Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen at base camp playing with huskies and doing final preparations before heading off to become the first person in the World to reach the South Pole.

Captain Scott’s ironically much more chronicled failure to beat Amundsen is also retold through letters and diary extracts.

The famous advert that charismatic Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton placed in a newspaper for recruits to join him on his latest adventure to the South Pole catches my eye…

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Hiding behind the snowman on the glacier in Ushuaia

Sounds fun!

The following day a drive and a chairlift ride from town takes us to the foot of a small glacier.

It sits on one of dozens of peaks that surround this beautiful little spot and offers spectacular views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.

At 5.30am the following morning it’s time to get on the road again for another long bus journey, up the western side of Argentina to El Calafate.

We are both a bit drowsy, but as we wait for the bus our senses are awakened  by the sight of an incredible sunrise…

…Perhaps this little spot does warrant the title Land of Fire after all.

Incredible sunrise over Ushuaia, the land of fire

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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3 Responses to A quick picnic at the “End of the World”

  1. Love the photos, especially the last one:) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Annegrete says:

    Loved your shoes, Phil….
    And it brought back the memory that I am still short of fullfilling another childhood’s dream..
    to see that End of the World, too…LOL La Tante

    .

  3. Pete says:

    A great summary of an awesome adventure, and still some more to come!

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