Stuck At The End Of The World: 11 Days In Ushuaia

Ushuaia is the Southernmost city in the world and it’s also the main hub from where ships depart for Antarctica during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months. Ever since I started planning my trip, the idea of traveling to Antarctica had been an ongoing debate in my mind. I really wanted to go, but it is also a really expensive destination. However, after changing my mind several times, by the time I made my way to Ushuaia, I decided I would go for it.

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I woke up early on my first day and walked out into the city, with the intention of booking myself a trip to Antarctica. My hopes were high. Unfortunately, I would soon find out that there was nothing available for the dates I was looking for. The only possibility was to wait for a boat that would be leaving 11 days later. My initial thought was that there’s no way I want to be stuck in this place for that long. Disappointed and discouraged, I gave up on the idea of visiting the 7th continent and I booked a flight to Buenos Aires.

Fast-forward 3 days. It’s supposed to be my last night in Ushuaia and I’m hanging out with some of my new found friends. Drinks with dinner lead to drinking games, which lead to beers at the Dublin pub, which lead to tequila shots, which lead to late night roulette at the casino, which leads to a 6:30am arrival to our hostel.

One of the guys who I was out with that night is named Wil. He had booked a last minute Antarctica cruise that wasn’t leaving for another week. From the time I met him, I felt like we had a great connection. I knew that he was someone I wanted to get to know better and that he was someone that I could learn a lot from. At some point during the night, I made the drunk decision and then the drunk statement that I would try to get a spot on the same cruise that he was on. I said that if there was a spot available the next morning, I would take it.

When I woke up, I didn’t remember much from the night before, but I did remember the declaration that I had made about Antarctica. One unique trait I have is that I will usually follow through on crazy statements that I make when I’m drunk. I also just love to make really spontaneous decisions. I walked into Freestyle Tour Agency, 3 hours before my flight to Buenos Aires was to depart, sleep deprived and hung over. I walked out 30 minutes later with a ticket to Antarctica and a big smile on my face.

At first I really did feel like I was stuck in Ushuaia. It’s a nice enough place, but I just didn’t think there was enough to do here to warrant staying more than a few days, let alone almost two weeks. I thought I would be counting down the days until the cruise departed.

However, over the 11 days I spent there, the little city really grew on me, and when it was finally time to leave, it was really sad to say good-bye. Looking back now, I see that it wasn’t the city itself that created such a positive experience for me and left me wanting more. It was the people that I was with and the memories that were made.

When I think about the Countries and place around the world that I view as my favourites, there’s one thing that almost all of them have in common. I’ve always been with great people. I think that this can have an even bigger impact on my experience of a travel destination than the destination itself.

Getting “stuck” in Ushuaia for almost 2 weeks allowed Wil and I to meet and befriend 3 or 4 different waves of backpackers that came through our hostel.  Now looking back, when I think about Ushuaia, it’s not the small little port town that comes to mind. When I think about Ushuaia, I remember the good times, spent with great people.

I remember spending one of my first days hiking Laguna Esmeralda with Charlotte, Hugo and National Geographic. National, got his name because he looked like a national geographic photographer. The name stuck and I think he liked it.

I had a lot of fun that day. I was used to trekking in National Parks where there were lots of rules and regulations, but here, we could do anything we wanted. We were jumping across rivers, climbing on rocks, walking across logs and creating our own paths through nature. That’s the kind of hiking that I love.

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National crossing a beaver dam

group photo in front of Laguna Esperalda

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Our group grew, as we were joined by the Brazilian couple, Diego and Bruna, and by the two British sisters, Jessica and Amanda, for our boat tour of the Beagle Channel the next day. The tour took us to view several islands within the channel by sail boat.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any wind, so we couldn’t actually sail until the last 15 minutes of the tour.  I thought it was a nice tour, with some beautiful views, but whether it was worth the price we paid is debatable. That being said, I had a really great day and we had such a great group of people that the tour could have been horrible, and I still would have had fun.

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Island “H”

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On our sail boat

Photo credit to Amanda Hartley – www.flightsandflipflops.com

I remember when I first met Wil. A group of us were playing drinking games and the beer supply was running low. Wil, being the nice guy that he is (He actually is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met), offered to go on a beer run, but somehow took an hour to grab the beer from the store just down the street. The conversation went from complaining about how long he was taking, to everyone cheering and celebrating as he finally walked through the door with our alcohol, as our hero.

I remember doing the glacier hike with Hugo, Rodrigo and Marco right after booking my ticket to Antarctica. The glacier wasn’t spectacular, especially after the Puerto Merino Glacier, but there was a great view of the city at the end of the hike. What I’ll always remember is watching Hugo playing in the snow, like a child, with the biggest smile on his face. It was his first time ever touching snow!

View of Ushuaia from above

View of Ushuaia from above

Hugo celebrating his first time touching snow

My Brazilian friend, Hugo, celebrating his first time touching snow

I remember spending another fun day hanging out with Amanda and Jess one last time before they left Ushuaia to continue their South America adventure. Amanda ended up abducting and then falling in love with our hostel owners puppy. Wil had the privilege of carrying the puppy all the way back home once it got too cold to walk on it’s own.

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Wil and his new friend

I have some great memories of hanging out at the hostel during the days and then out at the Dublin pub during the nights with Bailey, Jon, Steve, Ben, Rach, Toos, Seaton and everyone else I’ve already mentioned.

I remember having some spectacular group dinners, especially the amazing Asado (BBQ) that the Brazilan’s prepared for us on their last night in town. We really did eat like kings during our stay here.

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A delicious French meal prepared by Charlotte

Funny story… On my last night in Ushuaia, the hostel owner played a not so nice practical joke. He put a poster up that said, “Last Minute Deal – Antarctica $3450 USD.” This was for our boat, which was leaving the next day.

First of all, our boat had been full for the past week and secondly, this price was $1500 cheaper than what any of us paid. I knew that Ben was trying to get on a cruise and that he would take this offer in a second, but I couldn’t find him anywhere at the hostel.

I knew there were only two places he would be. I ran all the way across the city, in jeans and a dress shirt, to the casino. He was nowhere in sight, so I made my way over to the only other place he could be, the Dublin Pub. Covered in sweat and exhausted from running around the city, this is where I finally found him.

The two of us proceeded to run back to the hostel together. We woke up the hostel manager, to get our tour agents cell phone number, so that Ben could reserve the spot, only to find out that the whole thing was a big joke. Ben played it off pretty well, but I felt bad for him. He really thought he was going to be joining us the next day in Antarctica.

Then after all of this happened, Ben tells us that his name isn’t really Ben. His name is actually Seaton. Someone started calling him Ben (Possibly me) and he just went along with it. We had all been calling him Ben for 3 days at this point.

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There is just one more thing I want to talk about before I bring this post to a close. I was recently at a leadership course where we discussed how we all leave a wake behind us as we live our lives. Just as a boat will always leave a wake as it moves forward, so do we. We are always influencing the people we come in contact with.  The question is, are we having a positive influence or a negative one?

A person may achieve every goal that they ever set, but if they leave a trail of people who feel disempowered, discouraged, mislead and underappreciated behind them, would you call this person a success?

Here is an example of leaving a wake. This is also a preview of my next post. Antarctica!

Here is an example of leaving a wake. This is also a preview of my next post. Antarctica!

I challenge you to take a deep look within yourself. Ask yourself, what kind of wake are you leaving behind you? Are the people that you come in contact with in your life better or worst off because they met you?

I know that when I did this, it had a big impact on me. I thought I was a great leader and that I was making a positive difference in many peoples lives. After this process, I realized just how much room for improvement I have. Some big realizations for me was how I had been living a very self centred and emotionally closed off life and because of this many people in my life had suffered.

I always did care about my customers and my employees achieving their goals, but when I take a deep, honest look, I can see now, that my personal goals were usually put before theirs. I also spent the majority of my life emotionally closed off, never taking a relationship past the surface level. As a result, my close friends and family never received the deep, meaningful relationship with me that they deserved.

As hard as it was to discover these things about myself, I think it’s really important to understand and accept my flaws.  Now I can work on changing. The first step in change is awareness. If we don’t know that something is wrong, then there is no reason for us to do anything different.

Developing a more selfless attitude, opening up emotionally and learning to be vulnerable are just a few of the things that I am working on during my year abroad. If I didn’t take the time to reflect on my life and ask myself the hard questions, I doubt this would be the case.

The reason I was inspired to write about this now is because of a person I met in Ushuaia that positively influenced my life. Not by anything specific that he said, but just by being who is is. If not for him I would not have started writing this blog, I would not have ended up in Antarctica having the time of my life, I would not now be putting such a big focus on really trying to see things from other peoples perspectives, and I would not be quite so inspired to learn how to be of service to others.

I feel like I am a better person because I met him and I see him as an example of someone who is leaving a positive wake as he moves through his life. His name is Wil.

Me and Will. Another preview of Antarctica!

Me and Will. Another preview of Antarctica!

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