A long drive today, with a ferry over the Straits of Magellan from Punta Delgada, and a total of 11.5 hours on the road to reach Ushuaia across the ‘Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.’ Back into Argentinean territory again, passing through the border at San Sebastian, the country here is generally a vast expanse of steppe, with little to break the gently undulating ground apart from the odd drumlin.
This is sheep country, with lonely estancias punctuating the topography on occasion, and rhea and flamingo spotted from time to time. South of the border, the country starts to get hillier and after the minor petropolis of Rio Grande, where we changed buses, the country starts to get much more interesting, with large areas of beech woodland, ñire and lenga again, much of it covered with the lichen ‘Old Man’s Beard’, testifying to the pure air in these parts and somewhat spectral in appearance.
A quick pit stop at the recently established village of Tolhuin, set up with government assistance to develop a local forestry industry, and then the country changes quite dramatically beyond here. We’re in the southern half of Tierra del Fuego now, skirting the southern shores of the 120km long Lago Fagnano, and the mountains start to build around us, as we are crossing the very southern extension of the Andes, albeit with much lower elevations than those found to the north. This is the only part of Argentina that is situated west of the Andes, and here the mountains rise with neat conical peaks to about 1500m, supporting a small ski resort (mainly cross-country) about 20km from Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is now a large bustling town and it has grown considerably since my last visit 12 years ago. Descending from the mountain pass of Paso Garibaldi at 430m, Ushuaia quickly comes into view with industrial and warehousing estates sprawling uphill from the dock area.
This is the key port for Antarctic crossings and there is an air of expectancy in the town as passengers await their ship to arrive in port. We had a late dinner of king crab in town before retiring for the night.
Up early to catch the sunrise on the Beagle Channel, splendidly set between the mountains of the Argentinean Tierra del Fuego, and the Chilean island of Navarino with its jagged mountains opposite.
Watched the M/S Orlova arrive in port, and then after a quick breakfast, a quick farewell to my travelling colleagues before heading off to the airport, situated on a peninsula a few kilometres out of town, with fine views of the mountains all around.
The airport was crammed with passengers freshly off the big cruise ship that had docked the night before, but with usual LAN efficiency, I was swiftly through and off to Buenos Aires and, ultimately, home!
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