Ushuaia lays claim to being the southernmost city in the world. Some say that Puerto Williams, across the Beagle Channel, in neighbouring Chile, could give them an argument about that, but the Argentinians point out that Puerto Williams isn’t a city!
What Ushuaia can indisputably claim is having the southernmost railway in the world. This narrow-gauge track was built by convict labour, initially to carry materials to build the city, once a penal colony … the Argentinian equivalent of Siberia. Although it’s no longer where Argentina sends its bad lads, the prison still stands, and is now a military barracks. Outside it is a replica of the Cape Horn lighthouse; the ‘original’ is hard to see by daylight.
We were due to ride on the Southernmost Train in the World, but the tour had to be cancelled due to a monumental cross-up with the port authorities, There were delays getting clearance to go ashore; by the time we did, our train had long-since departed. Those who had booked a ride in the afternoon did get one, and afterwards, one of the riders said:
‘It was just a ride on a miniature train. Nothing to write home about!’
But hey, the Southernmost Train in the World? Surely, that alone would make it stand out from others?
We did what we usually do in the absence of a train. We took a bus. It was an elderly, British double-decker ‘Routemaster’ which offered tours around the city. NOT, they emphasised, a ‘hop on \hop off’ tour, but interesting nevertheless. The tour took us past the old jail, now a military barracks, with the replica of the Cape Horn lighthouse outside, I was particularly taken with the mural on the Post Office, which illustrates the city’s indigenous and convict past.
Like in many other places we’ve seen, some of the houses were brightly painted; I believe this is the practice in many coastal places, so fisherman and mariners could recognize their town from out at sea. Or, it could be that, as at La Boca, in Buenos Aires,they just painted their houses with any paint they could obtain from passing ships?
Then, they took us out to the headland, where the local flying club have a small airfield. We had a photo-stop, with some excellent views of the city and the harbour … and, closer to hand, a dilapidated old DC-3 in the process of being restored.
After the tour, we inspected the abandoned Saint Christopher tugboat. This ship, built in the United States, formerly the Royal Navy’s HMS Justice, belonged to an Italian salvage company, who came here in 1953 to recover metal from SS Monte Cervantes, which ran aground, and subsequently sank nearby in 1930. Unfortunately, Saint Christopher also ran aground; she was towed to Ushuaia, but was found to be so badly damaged, it was decided to just abandon her where she lay. It has now become a local landmark.