We approached Ushuaia around midnight. It looked like a brightly lit island since it is surrounded by high mountains and the sea. There was still a streak of light in the skies. So it felt less odd that we still had no place to stay. We trekked the empty streets passing busy restaurants uphill to try our luck at Hotel Rio Ona, although our reservation was not until two days later. And luck we had.
Rio Ona turned out to be a rather traditionally run hotel, but really comfortable, very warm and extremely quiet, with owners eager to help. Also the price was unbeatable for Ushuaia: 135 Pesos or 30.7 Euros for a double room with private bath, far less than many hostals. Even though we missed some of the commodities traveler hostals often offer like Internet or kitchen-use, it was still a very good choice.
The scenery around Ushuaia is completely different than the flat steppe we watched for hours during the long bus ride from Punta Arenas. This city is encircled by high, snowcapped mountains on one side and the Beagle Channel on the other. So the surrounding is quite scenic, whereas the city itself is a bit dull. The most exciting experience for us was that the sun did not set until like 11.30 pm.
So what makes throngs of tourists come all the way down here? Firstly, it is its trademark “City at the end of the world”. But it is also the gateway for all tourists and scientists going to Antarctica, adding a notch of exotic flair. We even met an American traveler at the Freestyle Hostal who wanted to “hitchhike” to Antarctica. He was determined to do a lot to get there.
Fortunately we do not have the time to go to Antarctica, so we do not have to wreck out brains whether we should spend the 4.000 to 5.000 USD to do the trip or not. For Heidi, it would have been an even more difficult decision: How many pills against sea sickness can one stomach support? And did not a cruise ship go down only a month ago? But why not save some dream destinations for later, if the very place has not melted away by then.
As planed, all of Gilles’ immediate family met in Ushuaia on the 23rd at night. It meant a very long trip for everyone. Joel, Rebecca, Anna, Helene and Raphael came from San Francisco. Alain, Genevieve and Guy came from Paris, and finally Alexandra from the south of France. Even though there were some problems with Guy’s plane delayed / cancelled and his luggage lost for days, everything was fine for Xmas.
Christmas time in Argentina is much more pleasant than in Europe, simply because you do not see this mad shopping sprees and opulent decoration that have become the norm in Europe every year. We actually hardly noticed it was getting close to Christmas, with only a few decorated houses and shops with modest plastic trees around. It seemed so much healthier than the excessiveness that usually surrounds us every Xmas season.
Since Xmas seems to be a true family event in Argentina, almost every restaurant would be closed on the evening of the 24th. The very few places that stayed open offered special dinners for mind-buggling prices, with set meals without drinks for more than 100 USD! So after consulting our host, we all agreed that we should have dinner at our hotel. We found a really helpful catering shop where we bought delicious food, naturally enough to feed an army, and enjoyed a nice and peaceful dinner “at home” sampling excellent wines which Gilles’ parents had bought in Mendoza when they visited Bodegas.
All in all, it was a very nice experience far away from the consumerist frenzy we hate so much in Europe!