Monday 19 February 2024 – We were due to be collected at 0800 to be taken to Buenos Aires’s domestic airport for our flight to Ushuaia, so the alarm was a little early, but, hey, we’re travelling; early alarm calls are routine. The hotel breakfast was fancy but otherwise unsatisfactory; we like yoghurt and fruit and wholesome things, whereas what was on offer was elegant but largely pastry-based. No matter; we got some sustenance and a car turned up at 0800 to take us, via a strange and circuitous route, to what felt like a very dodgy entrance to the departures bit of Aeroparque Jorge Newbery – it was surrounded by people who looked like they had no business there, but there was at least the reassuring presence of some people wearing high-vis vests and earpieces to counter any nervousness.
Any nervousness which had been dispelled was immediately rekindled on entering the place. It was a fucking zoo.
It really was difficult to work where one was supposed to go, since absolutely everywhere seemed to start with a queue. In the end, Jane spotted a desk with no queue marked “Sky Priority” and so we thought we’d blunder up and pretend to be ignorant British tourists, which was frankly not much of a stretch for our acting abilities. Remarkably, it turned out to be exactly the right place to get us checked in and we were on our way upstairs to the departure gates in very short order.
The departure area was a splendidly calm contrast to the barely-contained stress of all those check-in queues.
We treated ourselves to coffee and then pottered on to security. The journey through the vetting seemed to be going OK until an operative, seeing me about to pick up my backpack, came over and said “yours?”. When I said yes, he pointed to the tripod strapped to the outside and said something that sounded like “check or discard”. I didn’t understand and he found an English-speaking colleague who explained that tripods weren’t allowed in cabin baggage as they might be used as weapons, so my options were: take it back downstairs; or discard it.
This was a bit of a facer, frankly. I had travelled to, across and home from the whole of continental North America with a tripod strapped to the very same backpack with nary a murmur from the authorities. Since we appeared to have only about 30 minutes until boarding and I simply couldn’t face the prospect of going back down into the zoo, I was on the point of discarding the thing when another official did what officials are normally trained not to do – he came to the rescue. The tripod in question is a Joby Gorillapod, which has bendy, rubber-covered legs intended to enable setup wrapped around things or in other oddball circumstances. As such, he deemed it not to be a weapon. Its status as a non-weapon could be confirmed if we could fit it inside our carry-on rather than strapped to the outside, thus rendering it completely non-dangerous. Fortunately, Jane’s backpack had room and we could carry on with our tripod as carry-on. Blimey, what a carry-on!
The rest of the journey to Ushuaia passed off perfectly uneventfully, except for the service of some undistinguished sandwiches, some adequate biscuits and a drink that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea*.
After about three and a half hours we arrived at Ushuaia. It was clear that this was not a major international air transport hub from the baggage collection area.
A couple of minutes after we arrived by the carousel, the belt started and a quite remarkable thing happened.
My bag was first off the plane!
Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I’m rejoicing, here. It means that I’ve used up my lifetime quota of swift baggage delivery and it will never happen again! However, it was very satisfying for a few seconds there.
As usual with Sunvil’s excellent organisation, someone was there to meet us. She wasn’t quite up to speed with the details of our itinerary, but got us delivered to a car, which got us delivered to our hotel. The car reminded us that we had come a long way from the Big City, as its seating had seen many, many better days and it had cardboard squares as its interior mats. This latter, though, makes sense if much of the time your likely passengers are wearing heavy boots because there’s a lot of snow and ice around.
Our hotel, the Cilene del Fuego, is a modern and rather funky building
in which our “room” was more of a family suite – two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one of which featured a very modern, Japanese-style loo with a heated seat and technology to burnish one’s post-visit bottom) and a kitchen. It also had great views over downtown Ushuaia.
It was barely mid-afternoon by this point, giving us a good opportunity to spend a little more time walking round the town than we had six years previously. So we went for a walk. Obviously.
All the way round our walk, we were struck by the similarities between here, Iceland and some of the remoter towns we’d visited in Canada – colourful constructions,
and dodgy pavements. It was often safer to walk in the road because the pavements were chewed up by, we assume, years of freezing, thawing, snow and ice and were seriously trappy for the unwary pedestrian.
For me, it was quite strange; walking along, I was often sure I was in Reykjavik and it jarred when I saw or heard Spanish – a slightly surreal experience.
We walked along by the seafront and the port, where in places the barrier rails have been rather nicely decorated,
and where you can walk past the hulk of the tugboat St. Christopher,
which has a bizarre and incomprehensible back story. Originally HMS Justice and built in America, it is still a mystery to me as to why one would rename a sunken and abandoned hulk after the patron saint of travellers.
Given that Ushuaia considers itself the capital of Las Islas Malvinas (!), it’s also inevitable to pass references to the war of some 40 years ago.
After all that walking, we needed to find a late lunch and so we blundered about until we happened upon Kuar,
unfortunately just in the interregnum between serving lunch and starting dinner. With only 40 minutes or so to wait until the kitchen re-opened, it seemed a good idea to just take a drink and so we did, adding a local gin, Oid Mortales, to our repertoire as seasoned, nay pickled, gin drinkers. Its name comes from the “Argentinian” National Anthem, as it happens.
We eventually got some empenadas and salads which were only slightly affected by the fact that the kitchen had run out of lettuce. All in all, it was a genial, if slightly eccentric, experience.
As we headed back to the hotel, our final action was to aim to recreate a photo that I’d taken on our previous visit here, for comparison purposes. Here is how they look, side by side, now (left) and then (right).
This, then, was our time in Ushuaia – slightly more than the hour or so we had to wander about six years ago, and enough, particularly added to the places we’ve been and the sights we’ve seen since, to make us look more fondly on the place.
Tomorrow sees the start of the main chunk of this trip, as we embark on M/V Hondius to explore the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these pages about the early stages and you’ll stay with us over the next weeks. I’ll publish what I can as and when technology connects me to the internet to share our progress.
- Hat tip to Douglas Adams, HHGG#1