The End of the WorldPosted by in Places - 27 October 2012
I was lonely and tired as the solitary boat ferried me slowly but steadily across the grey Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego – Argentina’s Land of Fire. Having travelled south overland all the way from the equator at Quito, Patagonia’s glaring and desolate beauty seemed suddenly to highlight the glorious futility of my journey. Never was I happier to be alone, wearied, and on the road.
An archipelago at the southerly tip of South America, just under 1000 km from Antarctica, Tierra del Fuego’s otherworldly landscape is a mixture of marshy flatland, soaring peaks and windswept forests. In December, the height of summer, the sun graces spectacular scenes with an almost ubiquitous presence, dipping briefly below the horizon before rising again like a forgetful child caught up in the joys of play.
Famous as a destination of the Beagle, the hallowed ship that carried an inquisitive young man named Charles Darwin on a fateful journey almost two centuries ago, the area is awash with familiar names. Inspired, I jumped on a boat from Ushuaia, the main island’s capital and world’s southernmost city, and retraced my hero’s adventure along the Beagle Channel.
Despite the rough waters, cold air and jagged banks typical of a place so close to our white and unforgiving continent, that aqueous artery is breathtaking. Welcoming seals signaled their approval with a round of applause, colossal condors kept an eye from above, while their flightless cousins, the King Penguins, entertained at the shore. Back on land, alienesque arboreal asymmetry provided more proof, if any were needed, of the strength of the elements at this merciless latitude.
Once upon a time, back when the Earth was presumed flat, explorers approaching this island believed they’d reached the end of the world; and I for one don’t blame them. The Land of Fire’s rugged finality is all at once apocalyptic and comfortingly sublime.