Where Glaciers meet the Sea
LIVING UP TO THE REPUTATION OF THE PINNACLE OF REMOTE BEAUTY.
As my flight skirted down the Argentine coast over the waters of the South Atlantic, I couldn’t help but feel I was headed to the frontier. Ushuaia, being the world’s southernmost city, is the last meeting point for teams of scientists and explorers head to Antarctica. Ever since its foundation in 1884, it has existed on the edge of the world, and as I found out, not much has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, Ushuaia is a growing city with all the modern comforts you would find in Buenos Aires. However, the frontier mentality is strong amongst its people. The harsh weather that blows in from Antarctica and remote location contribute to a strong feeling amongst Ushuaia’s citizens of “if you want it, you have to build it yourself”.
In the bubble of modernized Ushuaia, you can easily forget that you are at “the end of the world” (the city’s slogan). Once you venture out of the city limits however, you won’t find anything but mountains, water, and the occasional Albatross. When you wander into the vast wilderness, the feeling a total solitude sweeps over you. In the Patagonian mountains, the only sounds are of your footsteps and the wind whistling through the trees. Even on the warmest summer days (temperatures above 20C or 68F are rare), crisp air is brought from Antarctic winds meaning that to stay comfortable, you’ve got to keep moving, just as inhabitants have always done since the native Selknam and Yamana tribes who lived here long before any European explorers arrived.
Ushuaienses are very in touch with their natural surroundings, often organizing outdoor asados - an Argentine national pass-time of grilling a vast assortment of meat over wood-burning fires with family and friends, going for walks in the numerous national and regional parks to drink mate (a hugely popular Argentine tea-like drink) along to the way or to go camping. Even in the winters, the people of Ushuaia are out skiing or ice skating. It is a place for those who love to move and who find peace in their own thoughts without the distractions of massive cities.
Ushuaia, like much of Patagonia, is a haven for those with an adventurer’s spirit. Even for the tourists passing through, bonds are quickly formed here. The remoteness is a reminder to those who venture to the end of the world that we all depend on each other but that it’s up to every individual to make it for him or herself. When the constant stimuli are removed and you no longer feel bombarded by people bothering you for this, that, and the other, it’s easier to open up to those you meet along the way.
I’m not one to generally seek out company. In fact, I generally look at strangers who approach me in public with suspicion as I assume they have some sort of end game. In the mountains of Patagonia however, I have no such feelings. I am happy to share an hour or two trading stories about the travels to this far-flung corner of the earth. Whether or not we ever meet again doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we’ve shared in the journey and enjoyed a shared experience.
Perhaps this is what travelers to Ushuaia are looking for- a place where they are reminded to appreciate the here and now and to be thankful for what they have around them at the moment. On the frontier you have what’s in front of you. What you make of it is up to you.
Photos by: Sander Crombac, Luuk Wouters & Florence Oh