very cold wind cut right through us as we shuffled on
to the boat that would take us across the Strait of Magellan.
This is what separates Tierra del Fuego from mainland
South America. The channel is 560 kilometres long and
between 3 and 24 wide. It was discovered by the Portuguese
explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, and subsequently
named after him. We passed the two-hour crossing in the
shelter of the cabin compartment. Another smaller bus
met us at the other end. When the tiny compartments underneath
were full luggage was loaded along the back seats, forcing
three people to stand in the aisle. The driver thoughtfully
stopped at a nearby house and managed to obtain three
stools for them. With that we headed out of town and bounced
our way south along the gravel road.
through immigration we soon arrived in Río
Grande. It's not much of a town and I was glad to
be just changing buses. Río Grande and Ushuaia
are the principle towns in Argentinean Tierra del
Fuego. Ushuaia is the largest with a population of
42,000. It also holds the title of southernmost city
in the world (in case you're interested). While we
waited to change buses Dana and I went for a bite
to eat in the service station across the road.
wind was blowing a gale outside and it was cold. I couldn't
believe I was really here. I had journeyed to the end
of the world. I'd dreamed of this place for years. I first
read about it in a book. A James A. Michener book if my
memory serves me correct. Considering the remoteness of
the island and its situation in one of the world's roughest
seas, getting here had been considerably easier than anticipated.
As for what it looked like, well so far just like the
rest of Patagonia. I guess time would tell what the people
thing for sure, they were a lot more emphatic on the Falklands
belonging to Argentina. As the bus had pulled into town
I had noticed large signs bearing the words:
Malvinas son Argentinas
(The Falklands are Argentinean)
until now I had managed to avoid conversations on that
topic. The only time I came close was when I stumbled
home at three in the morning after a late night drinking
session at the aptly named Lunaticos bar in Punta Arenas.
A group of Argentinean guys decided that they wanted to
discuss British rock music and the Falklands with me.
I was far too drunk and tired, and politely excused myself.
anyway here I was at the first focal point of my
trip. It certainly had all the ingredients for the
end of the world: bad weather, bleak, barren landscape,
a wind-beaten town by a grey sea with an apparently
small population. And Leo Sayer's When I Need You
playing on the radio; the latter adding a sense
of nostalgia to the moment.
got up around nine the next morning. The air outside was
brisk and clean. I left Dana talking to a group of Israelis
and went for a walk. Although Ushuaia was the largest
city on the island, it still contained all the charm of
a small town. Its situation on the coast, surrounded by
large snow-capped mountains certainly helped add to that
charm. It was almost like an Alpine village - not that
I've ever been to one you understand, but I've seen pictures.
Two decades ago this was just a tiny village. Now it's
a thriving town that is a key naval base for Argentina.
It's main industries are fishing, tourism, forestry and,
oddly enough, electronics assembly. I figured I could
quite like it here.
was also the embarkation point for trips to Antarctica.
The German ship, The Bremen, ran 14-day tours to
the Antarctic Peninsula, along with the Falklands and
many other islands. Everything was provided for the trip,
at a price of $6000 US. However, we had discovered, on
the backpacker grapevine, that if you showed up last minute
that price could be slashed to $2000. One woman had got
on for $1500. The best option, it seemed, was to turn
up at the ship one or two hours before it was due to sail.
If there was a space, the price was very negotiable. I
was tempted. So were Nick and Kirsten. But in the end
we had unanimously decided to leave it until another day.
a trip to the local supermarket in order to stock up on
supplies for four days of camping, we slumped off to meet
the bus that would take us the short distance to the national
park. Much of our stuff had been left back at the hostel.
In the minibus were a couple of American guys, and a very
lovely Argentinean girl. She told me that she didn't care
about the Falklands and had no problem with English people.
bus dropped the four of us at the pier where boats left
for Isla Redonda. We had each bought a ticket that would
take us to the island and then on to the campsite at Laguna
Verde. Unfortunately the boat wasn't running and we were
taken out to the island by Zodiac, but it wasn't big enough
for the journey to the campsite, and therefore would be
taking us back to the pier.
Redonda contains the southernmost post office in the world.
In fact that's just about all it contains, other than
an abundance of wildlife. No one lived on this tiny island,
so I failed to see the logic in having a post office.
The only apparent reason for it being here was to provide
visiting tourists with a stamp in their passport to prove
they had been to the southernmost post office in the world.
And of course to send a postcard.
you send post from here then?' I asked the old man who
had just filled two pages of everyone's passport with
stamps - except mine because I had left it in my bag on
the mainland. It seemed he didn't get to use these stamps
much, and was therefore taking advantage of the opportunity.
course,' he replied, 'it's a post office!'
confirmed in my mind that we really were in the company
of a madman.
each selected a card, wrote our messages and put them
in brown envelopes, which the old man ceremoniously covered
mas (there's more)!' he exclaimed proudly after each stamping.
then headed back outside.
island lies just off the coast in what is known as
the Beagle Channel. Surrounding Tierra del Fuego is
a huge archipelago. Many of the neighbouring islands
belong to Chile. It felt strange to be stood on a
hilltop in Argentina and be looking at Chile. I expect
it would be difficult to ascertain which islands belonged
to whom, had it not been for the many Argentinean
flags dotted around the pier. The two neighbouring
countries are not the best of friends. The fact that
General Pinochet allowed the British to use Chile
as a base during the Falklands War probably didn't
help matters much. They are also locked in a battle
for land. The island of Tierra del Fuego is unequally
divided between the two, giving Chile the largest
chunk. However it seemed to me that Argentina has
the most beautiful section. The main island is 76,000
square kilometres in size,
and two thirds is owned by Chile. However, the southern
half is abundant with scenic lakes, glaciers, rivers
and mountains, while the north is dry, flat and wind-beaten.
And anyway, don't they have enough land? I mean look
at the size of it compared to Chile or the UK. Honestly,
some people are just so greedy!