Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world. It is situated on the gloriously named area of Tierro del Fuego, which translates as the island of fire. Unfortunately, it isn’t as dramatic as that. Instead after the ferry crossing, the Patagonian wilderness was almost left behind, instead replaced by twisted trees and lots of sheep. Unlike in Patagonia these were separated into fields with fences. Yes I had found the organised farming of the Argentinian South!
Ushuaia itself is a strange place. It has a spectacular setting, surrounded by the last remaining Andean mountains. Fundamentally it exists as a port, with huge container ships, as well as other large vessels preparing to make their way to Antartica. This brings a very varied group of people. Unlike in most other parts of South America, the middle aged outnumber the backpacking crowd sizeably as they await their cruises to Antartica. Money flows here. For a country with such strict import and export regulations, it is unusual to find many recognisable brands. But in Ushuaia you can browse a North face store and buy Merrell stores. But, despite the relative richness of the town, away from the Main Street it still feels like a normal weather beaten town which became home to me for a few days as I awaited my flight to Buenos Airies.
I didn’t do anything too exciting when I was there. The national park provided some nice walking, but cannot compete with El chasten or Torres del Paine. I also visited the glacier above the town, with Maria and Ramon, who I had previously met in Salta. Again nice, but not essential. The only not nice walking I did was to the local stoney beach, through industrial estates and along a dusty road. It did provide nice views when i arrived though.
In the centre of the town is a Falklands/Malvinas war memorial, which I happened to walk past. Ushuaia is where the General Belgrano ship departed from. It was also where many of the soldiers were from. A fire burns in the middle of the memorial, next to a large Argentinian flag. Around it is a serious of images, which capture the faces from both sides of those who fought. Little captions read alongside each picture, which are fairly neutral in their tone. It is a poignant reminder as to the loss on both sides and showed what idiots the Top Gear producers were for pulling their stunt. Argentinians are some of the most friendliest people I have ever come across, but it is a subject which burns deep and is not mentioned. However, with the main challenger in the elections wanting closer ties with the UK, both this and the memorials tone suggest reconciliation may not be such a distant hope.
I was desperate to leave Ushuaia in the end. The temptation to throw money at Antartica was strong every time the boats were in port. It was hence a relief when the day of my flight arrived and I headed to the capital of Argentina – Buenos Airies.
Buenos Airies is a very liveable city. It’s very pleasant to stroll about and the steak dinners live up to every expectation of Argentina that I had. But that is about it. Dare I say it, but Argentina feels a little overrated. It’s nice, but not a lot else. Over the four days I was there, I did a couple of free walking tours, which were a revelation for me. In a city, whose sights are modest, it was great spending time with enthusiastic local tour guides and hearing their insights both into the city itself and the country as a whole.
Of particular note was visitin La Recoleta cemetery. Containing namely 5000 vaults, it is considered one of the best cemeteries in the world. I can’t disagree. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll, enjoying the elaborate decorations and designs as well as some of the grizzly interiors.
Probably the highlight was visiting the area called La Boca on my last day. It’s a strange place, because you can’t go very far without putting your belongings and indeed life in danger. There are though a few colourful streets, which have been pacified enough by police to become an important tourist sight in Buenos Airies. Of course the overly touristy shops were not what I was interested, but rather an opportunity to visit Boca Juniors football stadium.
Despite the tour being in Spanish, the stadium spoke for itself. It is the best stadium I have been in. A tiny, compact stadium, which manages to hold 55,000 people. I couldn’t get over how close the fans are to the pitch. So much so that from several places you are sitting over the pitch! It’s a beautiful place. The only slight disappointment was that we didn’t get to see the away dressing room. That might seem like a strange thing to get disappointed but everything about the stadium is designed to make it as threatening for the away team as possibly. This includes having the dressing room directly beneath the main terrace, where the fans jump up and down before the match, causing the room to shake. The home dressing room is full of sofas, wide screen TVs, sound systems etc. It’s unlike any dressing room I have been in before. I’m guessing that the away room would not meet such generous specs.
Buenos Airies marked the end of my time in Argentina and indeed South America as a whole. I came with mixed feelings and left with many fantastic memories. It’s been a great three months. I do feel ready to leave though. The sights which I have seen have been on a par with ones I have seen anywhere in the world. However, culturally it has felt quite similar to Europe. Traveling is fundamentally easy and whilst nice, I do miss the challenges and spontaneity that I’ve experienced in other areas of the world. And so it was with that in mind that I headed to Africa. Like South America, a new continent to me and one that I was sure would herald a whole different type of traveling experience.