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Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego

 

 

 

Tolhuin is an ideal off-the-beaten-path destination whose charm resides in its small-town feel and breathtaking natural surroundings. It is also a welcome relief from the monotony of sheep ranches that dominate the rolling hills and plains of northern Tierra del Fuego.

 

 

Located between the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, the town offers rugged mountain scenery without Ushuaia’s tourists, as well as one of the most well-known bakeries in the world, La Unión Panadería. From here it is two hours by car to either of Tierra del Fuego’s cities, Río Grande in the north, or Ushuaia in the south, and most visitors are Argentine truckers en route to other places, or residents of La Isla (Tierra del Fuego). In fact, the town is well-removed from the tourist circuit, and its few dirt-road streets are lined by low-slung houses and wood cabins.

 

 

Tolhuin gives the visitor a chance to experience being in one of the southernmost regions of the world, without feeling like just another tourist. Here, in what E. Lucas Bridges deemed the Uttermost Part of the Earth, the sun no longer rises in the east and sets in the west, but hovers longingly in the north. At night, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere emerge luminous in the obsidian skies, and the Southern Cross wordlessly points the way to Antarctica. The wind howls and shrieks, penetrates clothing, bends trees, and sways signposts.

 

 

Nature dominates.

 

 

In fact, the raw power of the gale-force winds of Tierra del Fuego that howl in from the South Pacific cannot be over exaggerated. Birds flap their wings in the air yet move in reverse. Small sheep tumble over on the hills. Exposed trees are gnarled and deformed, one side absent of branches and leaves, while the other side reaches towards the heavens in supplication.

 

 

This region of Tierra del Fuego is the Andes’ last hurrah, their final majestic stand before sinking into the frigid Sea of Argentina and the South Atlantic in a tangled maze of rock and glacier. The unbroken white of the southern Andean Cordillera spreads from west to east here, just south of Tolhuin, and morphs into geologically young, sharp white peaks. To the north of the Cordillera lies Tolkien-esque forests of lenga and beech, innumerable routes to Mordor, which come to a dead end at sheer vertical cliffs which dramatically and precipitously drop off into the shimmering aqua waters of the 100-kilometer long Lago Fagnano.

 

 

One draw for interested travelers is fishing in Fagnano’s glacial waters or hiking the marvelous and (mostly) uninhabited surrounding mountains. Of course, empanadas and cappuccino at La Unión must top-off any visit; the bakery is known for its delicious European-style pastries, inexpensive Argentine delicacies—such as the lamb empanadas—and coffees. Tolhuin is the perfect destination for those looking to experience the mountains and scenery of southern Tierra del Fuego without the tourist traps of often visited Ushuaia.



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