At The End Of The World
Selling World Travel|September-October 2016

Surrounded by mountains, breathtaking Alpine lakes and filled with adventure, Ushuaia—at the edge of the world, is different from what you might imagine.  

Gustasp and Jeroo Irani

We stood on a peak of the Andes mountain range and sipped champagne even as a wicked wind ripped into us like a samurai’s sword. We were surrounded by jagged peaks, huge seismic knots that bulged over the earth. Below us spread the Argentinian resort town of Ushuaia, a tumble of charming buildings on a steep hill, which bills itself as “the end of the world.” Our HeliUshuaia chopper stood by, blades whirring, and we felt like actors in a James Bond movie, ready to make a dramatic escape from a bunch of hoodlums.

And “End of the World” is not mere hype. Located at the tip of the South American continent, between the snow-capped Andes and the Canal Beagle which empties into the South Atlantic, Ushuaia is the gateway to Antarctica, a thousand kilometres away. It felt surreal and lonely on that mountain top, knowing that nothing stood between us and the icy wastes of the Antarctic, and even the sky seemed close enough to touch. We clicked the mandatory selfie and then flew back to Ushuaia, over the canal and the charming Bay of Ushuaia, aglow at dusk with an incandescent light. Soon after, the town’s restaurants, glittering stores and casinos came to life and its lively heartbeat seemed to echo our own. Ushuaia is a town that seems surprised by its own popularity, a former fishing village bursting a little at its frayed seams; a gangly teenager of a town but it has a swagger that comes from knowing that its geography makes it unique. Located on Isla Grande, an island in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, we were astonished to learn that only a third of the island belongs to Argentina and the rest to Chile, that dreaded rival in football. Inhabited for millennia by indigenous tribes who missionaries sought to “reform” by teaching the men cattle-breeding and the women, knitting, Ushuaia drew explorers like Ferdinand Magellan, naturalist Charles Darwin and more recently, writer Bruce Chatwin who was lured by its bleak other-worldly setting. What makes Ushuaia a must-visit for the modern-day traveller is its laid- back pace and the unbeatable sights that lie in its scenic “backyard.” In the late 19th century, a penal colony was established in Ushuaia and thus among the city’s first settlers were dangerous criminals, serial killers and pirates who were sent to what was then known as the Siberia of Argentina! Every day, prisoners travelled 30 km on a train pulled by oxen over rickety tracks to log timber to build a high security prison for themselves and the town of Ushuaia. The prison was closed in 1947, and is today an imaginatively done museum with one corridor of cells leftuntouched…peeling paint, creaking doors, eerie…. We definitely felt the chilled breath of a ghost (we think so!) as we walked down the corridor past the cells that once resonated with the groans and cries of the most forgotten of men. On our first morning in town, we travelled on the End of the World Train (the planet’s southernmost steam train) which was a replica of the convict train but fitted for comfort with grey-blue upholstery, mahogany fittings and glass windows to lasso the outdoors indoors.

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