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Gate to the city of Ushuaia, Argentina

Gate to the city of Ushuaia, Argentina

“The end of the world, the beginning of everything.”  This is the motto of Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.  It is the capital of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) which is a large island off the southern tip of mainland South America shared by both Chile and Argentina. Ushuaia is located on the south end of the island between the Beagle Channel and the Martial Mountain Range. The island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, the primary shipping route around the end of the continent.

Southern Chile and Argentina. Note travel route from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia.

Southern Chile and Argentina. Note travel route from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia.

“We may not be able to cross the Strait because of the wind”, Gabriel said as we approached the ferry. The wind had been steady at around 40 mph all day across Patagonia Chile. Although the ferry crossing is located at the narrowest part of the Strait of Magellan, it was still a stretch of over one kilometer and the ocean was rolling!

This is now the 4th year I have visited far south Chile to work with folks at Mina Inverino, a large, open- pit coal mine on the island of Riesco just north of Punta Arenas (map). Several thousand acres of land and forest will be disturbed and re-contoured and must eventually be reforested with native beech. We have a number of experimental plantings near the mine, but we are still learning about the ecology of the species, especially its response to planting in open, unprotected areas. So, Gabriel, my Chilean colleague, and I were on a journey to “pick the brains” of a group of forest scientists working at one of Argentina’s research institutes located in Ushuaia.

The ferry was operating (not my film) when we arrived, but it was a wild ride to the other side. In all, the trip was a 10-hour drive in our Toyota Hilux pickup. Three hours from Punta Arenas NE to the ferry crossing, and another 7 hours south across the border to Argentina, out to the Atlantic coast, and on to Ushuaia (map). About one-third of the trip was on dusty, gravel roads shared by all vehicles from 18 wheelers to bicycles.

Ushuaia is a hodge-podge of buildings on steep streets, but the overall environment is striking with ocean, forest, and snow-covered mountains. I am not sure what all its 60K inhabitants do for a living, but tourism must be at the top of the list. Snow skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, and ocean kayaking are all popular, and the port is a stop for ocean-going cruise ships.

1. View of Tierra del Fuego from the ferry crossing the Strait of Magellan; 2. City of Ushuaia; 3. Southern-most post office in the world; 4. The way I want to travel to Ushuaia next time.

1. View of Tierra del Fuego from the ferry crossing the Strait of Magellan; 2. City of Ushuaia; 3. Southern-most post office in the world; 4. The way I want to travel to Ushuaia next time.

And, of course, there are the long-distance motorcycle riders, sometimes in groups of eight or more. It is not the aforementioned tourist amenities that attract these men and women riders; it is the ride itself and the quest of reaching “the end of the road”. Ushuaia is the south end of the holy grail of long distance riding in the Western Hemisphere; that is, the route from home, to Prudhoe Bay Alaska, to Ushuaia, and back home wherever home may be.

Gabriel and I learned a bit about the ecology of southern beech from our forestry colleagues at the research institute in Ushuaia. But during the 10-hour trip back I wasn’t giving much thought to that topic. Each time a BMW 1200 GS, V-Strom 650, Triumph Tiger Explorer, or KTM 1190 Adventure passed, leaning 20 degrees into the wind, weaving in the gravel, with bike brand hardly distinguishable due to several millimeters of dust covering bike and rider, I was awash with envy. “That is how I should be traveling this road”, I thought. “Should Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia be only a dream?”

“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”—John Barrymore