It was dusk when our plane touched down on a very short runway in the middle of the Beagle Channel, the body of water between Argentine Tierra del Fuego and the
Chilean island of Isla Navarino.
We'd arrived at Ushuaia, the end of the world.
Ushuaia is, in fact, the capital of the Tierra del
Fuego region of Argentina, and the southernmost city in the world...the last outpost of civilization before reaching Antarctica and the South Pole. Originally known for the prison that was built there in the first half of the 20th century, it has grown to a population of 70K with a large tourism trade, thanks to the many natural wonders within (and beyond) its borders.
was 9:20pm when we landed, it was still very light outside, with a large, clear moon,
setting sun, and snow capped mountains surrounding us.
A driver was waiting to take us to Cabanas del Beagle, a collection of 3 log cabins built into the side of a hill and overlooking the city and channel. We had read rave reviews about this place and its proprietor, Alejandro Chizzini, on TripAdvisor and were anxious to experience it ourselves. The reviews were spot on: Alejandro and his wife are amazing hosts! A loaf of homemade bread was waiting for us in the kitchen, and they invited us up to join them for dinner with the other guests, which was already in progress when we arrived.
The other guests included a Swiss couple that had stayed here the previous month, before embarking on a 3-week trip to Antarctica (the last leg of a four-month vacation). They were joined by a French couple on their honeymoon (they got married last August and are traveling for one year), and a 3-person sailing crew, also from France.
An aside: Everyone we've met here (non-U.S.) has been traveling for a month or more. They are shocked to hear that we made this trip with just 12 days vacation. They have traveled the globe, speak multiple languages, and have amazing stories - none of which revolve around their jobs. In fact, most non-US people don't even mention their livelihoods, or inquire about yours...there are simply far more interesting things to talk about!
So the Swiss couple and the French couple had just returned from a sailing trip to Antarctica (they'd met each other on board). Seven of them had boarded a 67-foot sailboat to cross the Drake Passage, a harrowing experience from what I can tell: everyone had to work on the boat (3 hours above deck working, 6 hours below deck resting; repeat) despite driving wind, rain, snow, and sea sickness.
But they claim the payoff was worth it - Antarctica was unbelievable, indescribable. Because they were a small group, they were able to visit the Chilean and Ukrainian scientists at the research station there (normally, large groups of people are prohibited from staying on shore for too long, never mind visiting with the locals), and partake in their homemade whiskey and karaoke machine (!). They also told us how they had strapped a lamb outside the boat so that it would be naturally salted by the sea, and when they arrived they made an asado, the traditional dish of Argentina (slow roasted lamb or other meat, hung on a cross and tilted over an open flame; it looks like this - although this was one we saw down in the town later that week).
This group was really fun - we ate lamb, drank wine, and passed the mate.
Now let's talk about the lodging: so unique, so beautiful, and hand-built by Alejandro himself! Originally a research scientist, he left his job about five years ago to build and run these vacation rentals. He and his family live in a fourth cabin, situated highest on the hill, above the guest cabins.
The buildings are amazing: stone and log exteriors, big plate glass windows with water/town views, heated slate floors, fire place, and all manner of unique fixtures (e.g., big, old bolts for coat hooks and an old cast iron oven door hiding the in-wall safe deposit box). There's even what looks like a giant whale (dinosaur?) bone over the doorway. Alejandro built nearly everything in the cabins (including furniture, staircases) from logs and architectural salvage.
All of the fixtures were recovered from the South George Islands, east of the Falkland Islands and subject of the 1982 Falklands War with Britain). For years, whaling stations operated here under license from the British, but when the whaling industry ended in the 60s the stations were abandoned...leaving wonderful architectural salvage for Alejandro's cottages!
Now let's talk about the view from our cottage. Stunning!
And here's the walkway up to the other cottages:
And Alejandro's office (notice the ski poles and boots sticking out of the wall in the second shot):
And here are some shots from the town. Very colorful!
They also had these great little A-frame houses which I failed to get a
picture of, but here's one from another traveler:
Lastly, there are a ton of great dining & drinking spots in Ushuaia. We only had a couple of nights there, but made it to:
- The Dublin - a lively Irish pub that is the place to be in the evenings
- Tia Elvira - the best place to sample Ushuaia's famous king crab legs (mine were broiled with parmesan, TJ's with oil and garlic. SO GOOD)
- Kalma Resto - a relatively new spot which Alejandro recommended to us, and boy are we glad he did. The food was exquisite -
each dish a work of art, complete with edible flowers and foam. We
started with an amazing salad in a large flat-bread bowl (like a tortilla
bowl) full of lettuce, avocado, brie, orange sections, and other stuff.
I then had a salmon dish with cous cous and baby carrots and TJ had a
Patagonian trout fish with spinach gnocchi. Both were stupendous.
Dessert was a crazy chocolate concoction sitting on a layer of olive
oil. Sounds weird, I know, but the oil actually mixed nicely with the
bitter dark chocolate. The service was also spectacular - the chef even came out to greet us. Highly recommend this spot.
We proceeded to have two fun-filled days of trekking around this area which I'll cover in future posts. Ushuaia was definitely my favorite part of this trip, and I hope to get back there some day!