Take off to the end of the world

That’s how Ushuaia in Argentina markets itself, and it’s my interim destination before I get to Isla Navarino – just a stone’s through across the Beagle Canal, south of Tierra del Fuego.

Isla Navarino is part of Chile. As I take off for my trip in mid-January, I have no idea how complicated the crossing from Argentina to Chile will be. Ushuaia seems so close, much closer than the Chilean town of Punta Arenas…

At 4 in the morning on the day of my departure, I can suddenly feel it again: the travel bug biting! The stress of preparing and frenetically considering what not to forget and what needs to be done is over. My heart is beating. Wanderlust and curiousity are dancing around in my stomach like butterflies. Still, I am calmer than I was before. I feel guided. Eventhough I will be travelling by myself for the first half of this trip, I have a clear objective and a work assignment for a museum in Vienna.

Stopover in Buenos Aires and changing airports: at the gate I can already smell the warm summer air and wouldn’t mind spending a few days here instead of continuing towards the much colder South. Upon arrival in Ushuaia, those thoughts are (almost) gone immediately. Welcome to Patagonia!

As a town, Ushuaia is not exactly charming. It’s very touristy, but still: Patagonia is Patagonia. The light that shows nature from its very best side, the funny ducks with their long beaks that give very distinct concerts in the morning and at night, the wind running across shrubs and meadows. Instantly I feel calm and serene, much more than only a few hours before. Time has a different definition in South America. I am transformed. Eventhough I am here for work I put less pressure on myself and don’t feel like having to do something useful with every minute of my day instead of “loosing or wasting time”.

After a few hours’ rest I walk from my hotel, which is on the outskirts of the town into the centre in order to confirm the crossing to Isla Navarina. Smaller and big cruise liners are parked in the port. Ushuaia serves as jumpling-off point for popular excursions to Antarctica. Shops for outdoor equipment and restaurants line up next to one anoher. The cross-roads fight their way uphill. After running around for quite a while I fnally find Fernando from Ushuaia Boating. He says, I cannot go tomorrow. The day after should work. That means I have to find another hotel for one more night. The prices are outrageous, I am glad, however, to get another day’s rest before continuing. Unfortunately I picked up a cold on the long flight and the night at the airport in Buenos Aires. Into the bargain, I loose a gold corona while sucking on candy I brought from home. Now I get to know an Argentinian dental surgery from the inside and get a new composite filling.

On Saturday morning Fernando tells me it’s not possible to cross over either. Supposedly the road on the island is closed to construction work, and it’s the only way into town – and to immigration. The word is spreading that the motor of his zodiac is broken. Whatever it is, I need to cross! Fernando suggests to try and find a sailing boat. Memories of my atlantic crossing on the Tres Hombres from two years ago arise… I am spending hours at the little dock for sailing boats. Our group of people that are trying to find a way to Isla Navarino is getting bigger and bigger. Around noon we finally get good news: for USD 200 per person the seven of us can go to the Isla Navarino. It’s an extortion, but whatever! I need to go. (I am sure that Ushuaia Boating is getting it’s share of that amount, since every single one of us was on their passenger list and they end up finding the boat for us.) First we need to run across town to execute the emmigration formalities. Around 2 pm we finally set sail. My cold has gotten worse again and the first hour at sea is exhausting. I find a cabin to lie down and sleep. The last hour of our voyage and can somewhat enjoy again. We arrive on the island just in time to get our passports stamped at immigration.

Totally exhausted I arrive at my accomodation that I have reserved prior. The cosy “Hostal Akainij”. For Sunday welcome lunch there is a nice Asado (= BBQ, mostly lamb in Patagonia). I spend the frist to days in bed and try to get better. It’s not a lot of fun to lie around, but I have to energy to do anything. Still, I find out a lot about the Isla Navarino, life on the island, the museum, the history, and that most visitors actually arrive from Punta Arenas. In 1978, a war almost broke out between Argentina and Chile in this region. Pope John Paul II was visiting at the time, and only due to his intervention it didn’t start. Further west on the island, you can still find canons pointing directly at Ushuaia. Chile is trying to improve infrastructre and the island’s connectivity. For that purpose they are building a street throught untouched parts of Chilean Tierra del Fuego, in order to install shorter ferry crossings. The option that both countries work together in working out how to make this area more easily accessible simply doesn’t exist. There is no use in debating that with anyone here (expect for other visitor) and I tell myself: when in Rome, do as the Romans do! – even though it seems like nonsense….

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