By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
ARGENTINA – The water is so clear you can see fish swimming amongst the rocks three meters deep, and even though Long Beach is a mere ten minute bus ride east of the city, the sand was deserted even in the thick of summer.
You can skip flat stones towards the mountains across the bay and listen to the echo of the splash. It was one of the best beaches in Argentina, and if only Ushuaia was warm enough to take off your jacket, the water would be great.
With average summer daytime temperature of around 13 degrees Celsius (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit), the southernmost city of the Americas tends to be focused more on hiking and the outdoors than sunbathing, despite the raw beauty of the deserted beaches.
Nestled among the last jagged edge of the Andean Cordillera, the city at the end of the world, or beginning as far as Fueginos (residents of Tierra del Fuego) are concerned , Ushuaia remains one of the most isolated cities in the world.
Despite the fact that significant numbers of tourists come through Ushuaia, a serene sort of weather-bitten desolation continues to give the place the overall feeling of a lost outpost at the far reach of the continent. The paint of many of the turn of the century houses is more often peeling than not, and the Beagle Channel to the south is adorned with the rusting shipwreck of the Saint Christopher, an American boat that ironically ran aground before conducting a salvage operation a mere half century ago (1957).
One of the oldest buildings in town remains the prison which was built during the early 1900s. The prisoners themselves were responsible for its construction, and after it was finished the better behaved ones were hired out to help put together many of the edifices of Ushuaia.
Until its closing in 1947, the prison housed some of the worst criminals of Argentina. On a main street downtown, you can still see a colored mural of Cayetano Santo Godino, known as ‘The Big Eared Midget,’ a child killer who was one of the prison’s most feared inmates.
Due to the combination of natural beauty and its convenient location as a jump-off point for cruises to Antarctica, Ushuaia has become a popular tourist destination. The Tierra del Fuego National Park is a beautiful place for sightseeing while the Martial Glacier north of the city boasts a one chairlift ski hill.
The lift brings tourists up to the glacier even in the summer for beautiful (but chilly) views of the Beagle Channel and the mountains of Chile’s Navarino Island to the south. Boat trips can be organized to see: seals, orcas and Magallenic penguins.
To get to the end of the world overland from Buenos Aires means crossing nearly 3,000 kilometers of Patagonian Steppe. Before you arrive at the island of Tierra del Fuego, you actually have to cross the Chilean border, as the Argentine part of the island is actually divided from the rest of the country.
You must cross through the Strait of Magellan, the turbulent stretch of water where two oceans meet. As you ride the ferry across, you can clearly see the water of both oceans converge. At some points it almost looks like two oppositely flowing rivers running alongside each other as whirlpools spin dividing the conflicting currents.
If you are lucky you may even see one of the orca-like commerson dolphins from the ferry. Bring a jacket though – the currents contribute to a freezing wind.