C'MON DOWN!

To the Restaurant at the End of the World
I think it was plane geometry that first got me interested in Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia. I was always dreaming about places at the other end of the world in that class. Ushuaia, (You-swhy'-ya), Argentina lies near the southern end of the group of islands collectively called Tierra del Fuego and might rightfully be called the town at the end of the world. Lying at 54 degrees south latitude, it is the southernmost town on earth. It lies on the Beagle Channel, the Channel named for the ship, H.M.S. Beagle, that sailed these waters in the 1830s during its voyage around the world. The Beagle was made famous by a young man in his twenties who accompanied her, and according to his uncle was “fond of natural history." The young man was Charles Darwin. Darwin accompanied the Beagle as the ship's naturalist to collect, observe, and note anything worthy. It was during these voyages that he observed the vast panorama of South American life, both living and extinct, that set him on the road to The Origin of the Species. Like Darwin, I too was making a scientific voyage to Tierra del Feugo and Ushuaia. Unlike Darwin, however, my journey was of a more contemporary nature. I was looking for the restaurant at the end of the world. "You're looking for what ?" my wife asked. "You heard correct," I said, "the restaurant at the end of the world. Haven't you ever read Douglas Adam's book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Don't you even know Harry Dent is?" "I'm sorry," she confessed. "I've been spending all my time reading Darwin's, The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of the Species."

2 I had to explain that it just might be interesting to seek out the southernmost restaurant on earth since we were going to be there. Ushuaia, located at the southern end of the Andes chain, was founded as an Anglican mission by a group of English settlers in 1871. Their settlement grew to Ushuaia, now a city of 25,000 and the capital of Tierra del Fuego. The inhabitants, many of them English speaking descendants of the original settlers, earn their living from sheep-raising, lumbering, fishing, and trapping. Huge sheep ranches nearby fed an active industry in meat packing and wool processing. And believe it or not, Ushuaia is actually becoming a tourist mecca of sorts. Several cruise ships now travel around the southern tip of South America passing through the Strait of Megellan, The Beagle Channel, and Cape Horn. Most of these ships stop at Ushuaia or at the Chilean town of Puerto Arenas farther north on the Strait of Megellan (the Chileans say that Puerto Arenas is the southernmost city in the world since Ushuaia is only a town and not a city). My wife and I were visiting Ushuaia aboard the cruise ship, the Seabourn Pride, a bit more cushy than the great sailing vessels that plied these waters in the past, such as the English Beagle in the 1830s, Sir Alfred Drake's Golden Hind in 1578, and the first, Magellan's Trinidad (and four other ships) in 1519. According to Darwin's log, his cabin in the Beagle consisted of a corner of the chart table in the poop cabin. His bed was a hammock over the chart table. When he slept it was necessary for him to remove the top drawer of a cabinet in order to have room for his feet. Our cabin aboard the Seabourn Pride had somewhat better accommodations; a color television with worldwide satellite reception, a well-equipped bar, a huge picture window, a double bed, a walk-in closet, a large marble bathtub, room service 24 hours a day, ... Our cruise left from Rio de Janerio and eight days later we entered the Strait of Magellan. After proceeding westward through the Strait, we zigzagged south through a myriad of

3 small islands until we reached the Beagle Channel, from there heading eastward until reaching Ushuaia. Most cruise ships that travel to Tierra del Fuego make at least on pass through the Strait of Magellan that separates the Patagonian mainland to the north from Tierra del Fuego to the south. Any person sailing through the Straight cannot help but be satiated with a sense of history, dating back to 1519 when Ferdinand Magellan first discovered this Strait, allowing humankind to make its first circumnavigation of the earth. The morning the Seabourn Pride was to enter the Strait, I was on the promenade deck at 4 A. M., straining my eyes to the west. I couldn't help but think what Magellan's chronicler, Pigafetta, wrote as he described the activity aboard the Trinidad on the morning of October 19, 1519 when the crew first saw the open waters to the west, " ... as the Trinidad rounded the tip of the promontory, her crew caught their breath in amazement. There in front of them lay a deep-water strait; and a strait which this time gave no indication of petering out, but ran westward through the encircling mountains as far as the eye could see." From where I stood I could look down on the bridge deck below. The captain of the Seabourn Pride who had been to sea for forty years was also looking to the west. I've been told there are few places on earth that are as hallowed to a seaman as the Strait of Magellan. A few hours later I saw through the early morning mist the deep-water strait that was seen by Magellan almost 500 years earlier. As exciting as it was to pass through the Strait of Magellan with its towering cliffs, an occasional penguin and sea lion swimming in its icy waters, it is not nearly so beautiful and dramatic as the Beagle Channel a hundred miles to the south. The Beagle Channel separates Tierra del Fuego to the north from small islands (including Cape Horn) to the south. Charles Darwin describes the Beagle Channel in an accurate and elegant manner in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle: "... the lofty mountains on the north side compose a height of between three and four thousand feet. They are covered by a wide mantle of perpetual snow, and numerous

4 cascades pour their waters, through the woods, into the narrow channel below. In many parts, magnificent glaciers extend from the mountain side to the water's edge. It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow." By the time the Seabourn Pride docked next to an Argentinean battleship in Ushuaia I was getting itchy to begin my search for the restaurant at the end of the world (looking out our cabin window down the barrel of a 10 inch cannon made me a little itchy to get off the ship too). Later, on the main commercial street in Ushuaia, Avenida San Martin (what else, all main streets in South America are Avenida San Martin) we viewed a boom-town atmosphere. The street was lined with shops selling everything from hardware goods to local crafts. It must have had a resemblance to the boom-towns of the old west in the 1800s. I personally have outgrown all the garish tourist items one finds in a place like this. I did, however, pick up a tasteful little milk pitcher shaped in the form of an Emperor penguin. You just hold it by its flippers, tip it over and the milk runs out of its beak. "That's even more ugly than the carved troll they stuck you with in Trondheim last year," I wife groaned not appreciating a true local craft. "By the way", my wife asked the store owner, "Just were does Santa Claus live ?" "The South Pole," he said, not batting an eye. "Not the North Pole then ?" my wife replied. "Why would he live way up there ?" he asked. "Good point," my wife agreed. "I'm glad you got all that settled," I said to my wife as we continued down Avenida San Martin.

5 Summer days in Ushuaia are long. The season lasts from November to April and on the longest days the sun rises at 3:30 A.M., not setting until 11 P.M. We visited Ushuaia in mid February and it was sunny and 70 degrees at noon. The local people told us it doesn't get any better than this. Just then I saw it. The most southern restaurant on earth! It was even more stereotypical than I had envisioned. Just a quaint little diner framed by the snowcapped Andes. Blazoned across the front was El Tipico Chocolate. "There it is," I said as I pulled my wife across the street, "Shangri-La, Atlantis, .... El Dorado!" "Unfortunately," my wife said as she pulled at the door, "El Dorado is closed today." "Closed ?" I gasped, "how can that be?" I grabbed the first person that walked by and pointed towards the restaurant. Other than non comprende I do not know a word of Spanish. He just shrugged his shoulders and hurried on. Fortunately, the next person knew a little English. "For sale, for sale," he said pointing to a sign tacked to the door. Well that's it. I traveled to the end of the world just for you and the place is for sale ! "Another restaurant down there," the man pointed down the street. Let me tell you about the second-most southern restaurant on earth. It's called, La Don Juan. In the window a side of beef was turning on a spit over an open fire. We each had a barbecued steak that covered our plates and a glass of local wine. It was the best steak I ever ate. Well, that's about it. My wife learned that Santa Claus actually lives at the South Pole and I learned you can get a great barbecued steak at the second-most southern restaurant on earth for only $3.00.

6 - the end -