Sun, sea and snow-capped mountains. A magical trio that you quite literally have to go to the end of the earth to find adjacent to one another.
As we disembarked our plane in Ushuaia, into the modest ski-chalet style airport, I was surprised and delighted to find that it was gently snowing. Everyone was wrapped up warm as they waited for one of just three bus lines that wind their way back and forth around the city.
Along the seafront, immense piles of shipping containers and impressive cruise ships exemplify this active port city. Aside from the astonishing views of Chilean mountains across the Beagle Channel, it’s the road signs here that provide some of the best photo opportunities. I’ve never seen such numbers pertaining drivable distance; we were a mere 3094km from where we began earlier that day!
For when photo taking in the blistering cold gets tiresome, a plethora of cosy bars offer shelter. With glorious heating, eclectic antique decorations and a bottle of red wine by your side, it’s easy to forget you’re basically facing the Antarctic winter. (One bar which warrants the long and unaesthetic walk to the industrial outskirts of the sprawling city is “Kuar”; the panoramic seafront windows certainly didn’t disappoint.)
Back outdoors and, naturally, avoiding pricey tours or excursions, we explored our spectacular surroundings on foot. Beyond our little house which sat at the edge of the ever-growing city, at the end of the end of the world, was the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.
We walked most of the way there from town, wanting to soak up as much of the stark surroundings as possible. Looming mountains, sparse, sinister trees and scrubland horses were all overshadowed by the sheer joy that comes from shattering the ice in frozen potholes and puddles.
We made it as far as the final station for El Tren del Fin del Mundo and decided to hop aboard a transfer bus, to save our poor legs. What we didn’t realise was that this was the most painfully slow train on the planet; it took nostalgic stream train journeys to a whole new level and waiting for its arrival shifted from “scenic” to “laborious” quite swiftly.
Eventually, we made it as far as Bahia Lapataia. The very end of Ruta 3 and a bay framing the vista beyond. Despite the abundant photo miradors intended for noisy visitors to enjoy, I have never heard silence quite like I did here. Everything was totally at peace (and thus the perfect spot for a picnic!).
Trekking back towards civilisation, the variety of lakes, trees and neck-craning views abounded. Whilst there was little by way of wildlife, we repeatedly spotted pairs of geese: one white, one mottled brown. It turns out these are the logo of the park, thus I became suspicious that they had been planted as subliminal advertising of some sort!
From the far west of the city (and in fact the whole country) to the looming heights above, our next trek took us unendingly uphill: Cerró Martial. The vaguely outlined paths surreally transported you from a woodland that wouldn’t look out of place in an autumnal English scene, seamlessly to winter in Narnia! The snow was surprising, glistening and deep. It signalled the ski piste up ahead. Out of breath and unaided by battling the powerful wind, we climbed as high as we could. Unfortunately not all the way to the glacier atop the mountain, but high enough to admire the panoramic variety of shades that constituted the water and the mountains, whilst darkness crept in and the city began to sparkle. At the foot of the ski piste sits a charming tea house offering spectacular cakes and a taste of retro England (more than 13,400km from home), only with infinitely better views.
On our final day, we were a little more gentle with ourselves and took a bus to Playa Larga- Ushuaia’s only beach. Covered in pebbles and bloody cold, it took me right back to my childhood on England’s south coast. But this beach was long and shallow, for just feet behind it stood wild woodland. This really is the land of juxtaposed scenery! All of the trees, clearly wind-beaten, were gnarled and almost horizontal. Much like me by this stage.
We took ourselves home and prepared a gourmet leg of Fuegan Lamb. Turns out the local nature was delicious both inside and out.
As the souvenir shops suggested, Ushuaia’s offerings also include penguins, a former prison and seasonal skiing. But for us, it was the landscape unlike anything we’d ever seen that championed this charming city at the end of the world.