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27 Apr 2010

The end of the road in Ushuaia, Argentina

By Kristin Brinner

The continuing travel diary of two young Americans who set out on a 70,000 km road trip to realize a travel dream.

In the most southern city in the world, we finally found ourselves at the end of the road at 1:27 pm on October 23, 2009.

Ruta Nacional 3 extends 3079 km from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and ends in Tierra del Fuego National Park. After paying the exorbitant $25 park entry fee, and driving the remaining 10 km to the end of the road, we toasted this milestone in our trips with a bottle of red wine from a Patagonian vineyard in an impromptu picnic and shivered as the winds picked up. Tierra del Fuego National Park in the springtime isn't exactly the warmest place for a picnic, but we were buoyed by our accomplishment. We finally called it quits when it started to drizzle and headed back to the heat and comfort of our bed and breakfast.

The end of the road

 Deciding to brave the falling snow the next day, we hiked into the mountains around Ushuaia to visit the Martial Glacier. While the surrounding mountains were beautiful and the sun managed to peek through the swirling clouds, we're not sure we saw the glacier (or maybe we were walking on it). It's not a large glacier and has receeded significantly in the last century so apparently it's easy to miss. We amused ourselves by sledding down the steep glacial mountainsides and enjoyed the stunning views over the Bay of Ushuaia.

Looking for glaciers

We also took a 4 hour boat tour of the islands of the Beagle Canal that separates Argentinian Tierra del Fuego from Chilean islands to the south. Shortly after our boat left the port I started to have flashbacks to our fateful voyage from Panama to Colombia. The waves were crazily rocking the boat as they splashed over the hull, but luckily we made enough stops near islands (and areas of relatively calm water) that my stomach had a couple of chances to calm down.

We first circled around the Faro (Lighthouse) Les Eclaireurs. Built in 1919, this lighthouse is considered a symbol of the city of Ushuaia. Nearby we floated next to Isla de los Lobos (Wolf Island), a small island covered with South American Sea Lions. I think it's interesting that the animals we call sea lions are called sea wolves in Spanish. Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island) was covered with nesting cormorants who were busy flying to and from the island carrying moss and sticks to construct their nests.

Faro Les Eclaireurs in the Beagle Straights

Lastly we took a quick walk on Bridge Island. We first stopped by the remnants of a shell midden, the home structure of the original people of Tierra del Fuego. The Yamana may be the most hard-core people who have ever inhabited the earth. Here I was, clad in Gortex and fleece, and I was shaking from the cold and wind. The Yamana did not wear clothes - ever. They kept warm by huddling in a crouching position around fires and by smearing themselves with sea lion grease. Apparently they evolved to have a higher metabolism than other humans so they didn't need clothes to keep them warm even in sub-freezing temperatures. The women actually swam in the frigid oceans surrounding Tierra del Fuego to hunt for shellfish. They could survive sleeping outside without shelter because of their biologically unique adaptation. Of course their contact with European explorers was disastrous and the last full blood Yamana person, Cristina Calderon, is 95. She is also the last person who speaks the Yamana language. We took a quick hike around the island before bundling back on the ship to take shelter from the biting winds.

Now that we've reached the end of the road, we are headed back towards Buenos Aires where we will finish our trip. For the first time in fourteen months, we are actually headed towards home, and it kind of feels nice. We still plan to spend a month exploring Uruguay, but the end is in sight.

To read more of our travels  through Latin America click on the title to read:

Next week the final installment of this series, learning about gaucho life on a Uruguaian ranch.

For a full account of our travels, see our blog at The Darien Plan.

For those considering driving the Pan-American Highway, we have collected information on border crossingscar shipmentroad conditionsgas prices, and everything else we found useful as road trippers driving Latin America at www.DriveTheAmericas.com

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