When it comes to driving around the world, obviously there are several different routes you can take because as far as I know, there is no one official path to take. I assume that if you make it a full 360 degrees from east to west, or from west to east, you can lay claim to driving around the world, barring of course the time and distance that you and your vehicle(s) spend crossing the bodies of water that lay in between. On our particular expedition, we are covering the appropriate east-west distance to fulfill our goal of driving around the world but in the process, we are also deviating quite a bit north of the equator and quite a bit south. Currently, we are in Ushuaia, Argentina which represents just about the southern most point in the world you can drive with a vehicle. Technically, Puerto Williams, Chile on the other side of the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia is the southern-most settlement in the world, but to spare you from going into detail on a sometimes contentious debate between Argentina and Chile, we will still consider Ushuaia to be the southernmost city in the world, lying at about 55 degrees south latitude.
So, we have driven to the end of the world as they like to call it here, but why not take it a bit further? It just so happens, that there is a scuba diving operation in Ushuaia, Ushuaia Divers, and they will gladly take you out into the icy depths of the Beagle Channel, beyond the limits of Ushuaia, for an underwater experience that you can not really get anywhere else. Carlos is a local who has run the dive operation in Ushuaia for more than 15 years and he was kind enough to take us out on an unusually pleasant spring morning and help us go a little bit beyond the end of the world… under it.
Snow and scuba diving… not necessarily a good mix
Scuba diving this far south presents some very unique challenges to divers of any skill set. Heading up the list of these challenges is, without a doubt, the water temperature. At five degrees (Celsius), venturing into water this cold for an extended period of time can be fatal, so extra steps are needed to ensure that instead of appearing to have suicidal tendencies, you are actually going in the water to enjoy yourself. A dry suit is the primary measure of protection in cold water scenarios, and at around $2,000 a pop, they are expensive, but it is hard to put a price on your life I guess. It was the first time Shoppman and I had ever used a dry suit in our diving experiences and it took a little getting used to. However, once you learn how to avoid having the dry suit cut off the circulation to your limbs and feeling like you are being vacuum sealed in shrink wrap, you are actually quite comfortable in the frigid waters. To avoid being crushed by the dry suit as a result of the surrounding water pressure and to avoid shooting up to the surface like a cork, you must regulate the airflow going into and out of the dry suit depending on the depth of the water you are in. This all takes some degree of skill on top of paying attention to all of the other factors when you are diving and judging by the marks and bruises on my arms and legs, it is obvious I need a lot more practice at using a dry suit.
Suited up and ready to go
Prepping the boat for the dive
The way Carlos was dressed made us feel like we were embarking on a special forces mission
Diving in the icy waters of the Beagle Channel is sort of a novelty, but you do get the privilege of observing some aquatic life that you do not get to see in most other diving environments. Visibly, there appears to be a lot less sea life here than compared to your typical tropical reef, but it is not that often that you get to swim face to face with giant King Crab, venture through giant forests of kelp and on the odd occasion, soil your dry suit at the sight of a curious sea lion or penguin zipping by to check you out. There are also quite a few underwater wrecks to explore in the channel, but doing so requires good conditions and when you are this far south, the weather is about as predictable as the stock market these days.
Seal lions and penguins are the only tourists enjoying the beach in Tierra del Fuego
Shoppman signals that he can’t feel his head anymore
Standing on the dock in Ushuaia harbor convincing people we are out of our minds
At the end of the dive, part of my mind was thankful to be back on the boat in the comparatively warm nine degree (Celsius) air but at the same time, another part of it was ready to get back in the water. It is an experience that is definitely not for everyone, and I am grateful to Carlos for giving me the opportunity to dive in arguably one of the more extreme environments in the world. When we were not fumbling around with our dry suits, we were actually filming the dive so stay tuned for a video segment highlighting our day with Ushuaia Divers.