Here I am at the “end of the world,” Ushuaia, Argentina, and about to go even further. I board the Polar Star cruise ship bound for Antarctica tomorrow. I would be less than honest if I did not say I was a bit apprehensive. I am not sure which is causing me more angst, crossing the infamous Drake Passage or the roommate introductions, but I am ready to get them both behind me!
I have spent the last couple of days wandering around the little city of Usuhaia, which feels a little funky like the fictitious town of Cicely, Alaska from the old TV show, “Northern Exposure.” Lots of wood buildings, mountainous backdrop, and beautiful views of the Beagle Channel, with a very quirky, outdoorsy atmosphere. It is cold here, and it seems strange to be vacationing with this many layers of clothing without a pair of skis in my hands! It is hard to believe it is actually summer here! The locals are running around in jeans and windbreakers, while the foreigners are covered from head to toe in fleece. (That would be me!)
Ushuaia´s claim to fame is the southernmost city in the world. I hope they maintain that status for a while, as there is enough “Fin del Mundo” merchandise here to last a decade! Everything from ash trays to baby clothes, never mind the trekking gear. I didn´t realize trekking was so big here, but with the Tierra del Fuego National park just 15 miles away, it makes sense.
Keeping with the Alaska analogy, the Tierra del Fuego National Park feels very similar to Denali, where you can just jump off the bus at any hiking trail and walk through the beautiful vegetation until you reach the next bus stop. I walked for five straight hours through tall beech forests, along lakes and the La Pataia Bay, often with no one else in sight. I even saw some “wildlife,” as I would have loved to see a video of me yanking off my gloves and trying to pull my camera out of my pocket (stuck in the zipper!) as a beautiful silver fox ran unphased right alongside me! The park seems pristinely beautiful, with miles and miles of lush green mountains and rugged coastline.
I have discovered two indulgences while here — the VERY cheap Argentinean wines, my favorite being the rich red Malbecs starting as low as $3 a bottle at the local grocery store. The other decadent temptation is a local cookie called “Altaflores” which is like two pieces of shortbread with dulce de leche in between (sweetened condensed milk caramelized) with the edges rolled in finely grated coconut. Gee, I sure am glad I found those! (NOT!)
I ate the most expensive dinner of my life while in Ushuaia, but I wish I could do it all over again! When your friend who is a chef says, “Go there early so you can go there twice!” you know it is going to be good! “Kaupe” is reputed to be the best restaurant in Ushuaia. The menu items all looked so good that I couldn’t make a decision, so I had their tasting menu, “Tasting from the Sea,” four courses, each accompanied by an endless flow of Argentinean wine. The first course was King crab, followed by a hot crab and spinach au gratin, then the main course of “Sea Bass in Papiotte,” or sea bass cooked in a buttery cream sauce wrapped in parchment paper, and finally for dessert, lemon ice cream in warm champagne sauce. This came with three different kinds of delicious wine, finishing up with a glass of champagne. The restaurant is up on a hill with an incredible view overlooking the harbor and tiny airport. The cold walk home was welcomed after all that wine! It doesn´t get dark here until long after 10pm though, so even fine dining takes place in the daylight!