On a writing assignment in Argentina for the oil and gas company, British Petroleum (BP), several years ago, we extended our trip to include the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, on the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago.
It didn’t take me long to come up with the idea that would for all practical purposes, create a year-round summer living situation.
Situated along the Beagle Channel that connects to the Drake Passage and the Southern Ocean, Ushuaia is bordered on the west and north by the Martial Mountains that are similar to our Chugach Mountains. The city looks and feels very much like an Alaskan community.
I didn’t have a chance to hike the trails, some of which lead up to the Martial Glacier or take a fishing charter out into Beagle Channel. But standing on the shore, about 9,000 air miles from Eagle River and only 620 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula, I still felt as if I were home in Alaska, where I have spent my entire life.
For me, summer in Eagle River (61.3 degrees N. Latitude) lasts from May until about the end of September.
In Ushuaia, at 54.8 degrees S. Latitude, summer begins in November and continues until about March. The average summer temperature in Ushuaia is in the 50s (Fahrenheit). The coldest winter month, July averages in the 30s. Granted, it can be windy in Ushuaia, and its proximity to the ocean increases the humidity. But while our Eagle River streets and parking lots were encrusted with ice in late November, and weather forecasters began using a term I never heard of before, “wintry mix,” to describe alternating snow and rain, this southern location started sounding quite appealing.
I noticed the daytime Ushuaia weather report on November 28th of this year called for 63 degrees F. and partly cloudy. I wonder if they have earthquakes?
With a second home in Ushuaia and with this kind of weather situation, I would only have to endure one month of winter at either location. I’d need to brush up on my Spanish, sell my wife on a dual lifestyle, and figure out some kind of winter housesitting arrangement at both locations. But I wouldn’t have to completely give up winter sports in Argentina, such as cross-country skiing, because the Martial Glacier isn’t that far from Ushuaia. And I’d have about a month of possible winter activity (October) in Alaska before heading south.
Getting there: Motorcyclists and bikers have made the journey from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. A hiker, 58-year-old Holly “Cargo” Harrison, completed the 14,181-mile journey on June 28, 2018, a trip that took him 530 days. Follow this link to read the story: https://matadornetwork.com/read/meet-first-man-walk-14000-miles-argentina-alaska/
For less energetic travelers, however, it is possible to drive a car from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia via the Pan American Highway, except for the 54-mile Darien Gap in Panama. There are no roads through the Darien Gap, which means vehicles must be shipped. Driving an average of eight hours per day, it would take about three months to get from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina.
I don’t mention the obvious, air travel, because quite simply, I don’t like it much anymore. But for all practical purposes, that would be the travel mode of choice for my proposed annual migration that would compare roughly to that of Arctic terns.
With a population of about 71,000, Ushuaia’s economy is mainly tourism, and it does some electronics manufacturing. It plays a crucial role in supplying Argentina’s Antarctic bases and is well known for its Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Notable side trip: We had a free day toward the end of the BP business assignment, so early in the morning I split up with the photographer and his assistant to do some sports fishing on the Rio Grande River, to the north of Ushuaia and not far from Ted Turner’s famous San Jose Ranch. My guide didn’t speak English, but with a couple of years of junior high school Spanish under my belt, I muddled through. I caught a few steelhead trout, none trophy sized, which we quickly released.
No alcohol-free beer: At the end of the day the guide took me to the Ushuaia airport, where I would later reunite with my partners for our flight back to Buenos Aires. While waiting for them, I ordered my usual drink: non-alcoholic beer, or in Spanish, “no alcohol cerveza.” The clerk had no idea what I was talking about and called her supervisor. He didn’t “comprehendo” either and called yet another staff member. Before long there were four folks in lively conversation, with animated hand gestures, trying to figure out what “no alcohol cerveza” was. I think they were dumbfounded by the fact anyone would conceivably want to drink beer without alcohol in it.
I finally gave up and ordered orange juice.
The people of Ushuaia seemed very friendly, the air smelled fresh, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Martial Mountains, that at roughly 4,000 feet in elevation, looked very much like the Chugach Mountain’s front range bordering Anchorage.
But alas, it’s probably just a dream. It’s doubtful I could handle year-round summer. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have cold, darkness, freezing rain, parking lot skating rinks and ever-increasing property taxes to complain about.
I thought Ushuaia might be an escape from bone-rattling earthquakes, but then I learned that on October 28 of this year it was hit by a 6.3 magnitude temblor. So much for greener pastures in other hemispheres.
Editor’s note: Frank might have had more luck if he used “cerveza sin alcohol.” Just saying.