Ushuaia and Fin del Mundo

Our first full day in Ushuaia was my birthday, and it was really fun celebrating the beginning of another year by waking up in a place I never thought I’d visit.

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Wolf had booked a sailing trip through the Beagle Channel as a special birthday trip and we were both really excited to get out on the water. We were super lucky that the morning started out with lovely sun – we had heard from others that it had been raining non-stop the last few weeks. So we drove the 20 kilometers back into town and met the five other people who would also be on our sailing trip.

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We had to laugh when the guide started talking about the trip and mentioned that due to the unusually nice weather, there wasn’t quite enough wind to actually use the sails, so our sailing trip quickly turned into a motorboat adventure.

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We weren’t too concerned. It was beautiful out, it was my birthday, and our van had carried us to the end of the world – we had plenty to be happy about.

Out on the Beagle Channel, we passed tons of lovely islands full of birds, all framed by the lovely snow-capped peaks of the southern Andes.

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We stopped to check out an island full of sea lions, most of the ladies looking very pregnant and ready to pop.

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Sea lions covered every available flat area, even scaling cliffs to reach a perfect sunbathing spot.

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We docked at Isla H and climbed up the cliff for a walk around the island.

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Our guide stopped and had Wolf taste some sweet nectar from a beautiful red flower; he pointed out all sorts of endemic plants, and talked about how the ancient native people lived on these islands.

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We saw a few geese and their little babies nested alongside the path before climbing to the peak of the island for a nice vista of the area.

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The cormorant colony on the other side was amazing – dozens of birds caring for their young, all while perched on steep, rocky cliffs and endurance threat of predator birds who circled overhead. We watched one baby cormorant force his way halfway down his mother’s throat, searching in vain for a hint of food. The island was such an interesting microcosm of ecology in the area that it was an awesome place to witness.

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By the time we walked back to the boat it had started drizzling and the captain had set up coffee with whisky and Alfajores (amazingly delicious dulce de leche cookies) for us in the cabin. The rain hadn’t stopped by the time we were done with snack time but we borrowed a few big rain parkas from the boat and headed back upstairs to take in the rest of the trip back.

Back in Ushuaia we set out on a few errands. First, we had asked out guide where we could fill up a propane tank, and he pointed us towards the entrance to town where, indeed, we were ecstatic to find a filling station with a nozzle that fit our tank! Birthday miracle! Since this was the first time we filled out tank, and it has no gauge whatsoever, we had no idea what to expect, or if it was even possible to fill. The previous owner had hinted at a potential valve issue, but we hadn’t gotten around to checking it out before leaving the US. In Ushuaia we were able to add 8 liters to our 12 liter tank. And although we didn’t know how much we had started with, we felt pretty good that we hadn’t come dangerously close to running out, even though we’d been running the gas generously – both for cooking but also to power the fridge when we’re parked.

We stopped for lunch and paired a couple of local Beagle beers with our sandwiches, and then  walked up and down San Martin Ave. which seemed to be the main tourist area, checking out souvenirs and just enjoying a stroll since the rain had stopped. Eventually we found an unlocked Wifi signal, the equivalent of buried treasure. After a bit of difficulty getting the car to climb up one of the hills, we parked near the Wifi signal and spent a good chunk of the afternoon sitting on the corner, checking in on real life.

At some point we made our way to a birthday dinner at a restaurant recommended by our guide and had some lovely grilled fish to celebrate the end of an awesome year of life and the start of a new one.

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Afterwards we strolled down and checked out all the other overland rigs parked down by the waterfront, set up to camp for the night. We hadn’t quite figured out where to stay that night and I couldn’t quite commit to the prospect of camping in the harbor parking lot without bathroom facilities. Not ideal. We started making our way back to the national park, along a different road this time, and stumbled upon the campground we had looked for the first day, also called Rio Pipo, but saving us quite a few kilometers into the park down a dirt road. We pulled in and were excited to see hot showers and a big community room with Wifi. It also seemed to be the place where every overlander in South America eventually ended up. Huge rigs, designed for decade-long trips and every type of road condition, were parked everywhere, many of them storing their vehicles while on a cruise to Antarctica.

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We were happy to find a place to park and cook before it got too dark. The next morning, we took our time, enjoying more internet time and a luxurious breakfast before setting out on more errands.

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We shopped for souvenirs without finding much and stopped to get me a rain cover for my backpack, which I hoped we wouldn’t need :) We stopped at the grocery store for necessary provisions, including New Year’s Eve champagne, and picked up a few postcards which we filled with well-wishes to family and friends while we sat and enjoyed an afternoon coffee and cake.

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It rained outside and we stayed inside, enjoying the Gemütlichkeit – my favorite new German word for the comfy, cozy, comfortable afternoon we were having. We braved the rain back to our campsite and listened to the drops on the car all night long.

We spent New Year’s Eve, the last day of the year, in Ushuaia, the end of the world. It all felt a bit poetic. And we headed back to the National Park for a day of hiking, and finishing the drive down Ruta 3 to its terminus.

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At the trailhead and end of Ruta 3, we ran into lots of other road trippers, in cars, and vans, and motorcycles, and even bikes. Some of them were finishing trips across South America, some had started in North America, and some were just beginning their journey from the end of the world, heading north. Two cyclists in particular were so enthusiastic about the start of their bike trip, but we worried when we saw them a few minutes later, just a few kilometers down the road and already taking a break… they had a long way to go before they reached Alaska.

We hiked along gorgeous bays and marshes and through interesting forests, even spotting a fox running in the other direction. We chatted about where we were, and what we were doing, and generally reflecting together on everything we had experienced in the last year, and everything that would be happening in the year to come.

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At one point along the trail, we passed another American couple. Wolf did a double-take, and turned around asking “Are you Lisa”. It turns out that this couple had worked with the same shipping broker and we had exchanged emails asking them about their experience as they had arrived just a few weeks prior. Wolf had checked out their blog and recognized her from the photos. We laughed about the coincidence and chatted with Lisa and Mike about their travels thus far and where they planned to go next. We had seen so many of the same vehicles as we’ve travelled south, and the overlanding community is small enough that I should have known these things are bound to happen. Parting ways, Wolf and I chatted about how nice it was to run into them – even though we don’t really know them personally, we had emailed back and forth and read enough of Lisa’s blog to know a little something about their lives and feel connected, even though we were really just strangers crossing paths.

On our way out of the park, we had to stop and grab a photo of the southernmost gold course in the world – I knew my dad would appreciate this place :)

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We had grand plans to spend New Year’s Eve with some wild camping out at a nearby Estancia, but we were also craving a bit of normalcy, so we opted to spend our last night in Ushuaia in the same place. Back at our campsite, people were starting to celebrate New Year’s and cooking up their feasts. We chatted with a few other travelers, including one Dutch couple who had been on the road for over 4 years. I was certainly a bit jealous of their custom-designed rig, but realized that even though a shower and a bathroom would be nice, I think I might be too afraid to drive such a monster

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I know we’ve become adults because we were both asleep before midnight, but it was nice toasting a New Year with like-minded travelers in a lovely setting, and falling asleep listening to the rain once again.

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Happy belated New Year, everyone!

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