It’s the world’s southernmost city and the gateway to Antarctica—but why does nobody stick around in Ushuaia? Matthew Teller went exploring and discovered a town that had forgotten its own story.

Down here, you can almost feel the edge of the earth pulling you forward.

Nailed onto the southern wall of Tierra del Fuego island, Ushuaia is Argentina’s—and, give or take, the world’s—southernmost town. From Buenos Aires, you fly south over water, for hours. Then you approach low over snow-streaked valleys, where ice smooths the cavities of sunless slopes far into December’s summer.

This wedge of dwellings and sharp-edged warehouses turns its back to the unimaginable wilderness of the Andes. Half an eye checks the cold waters of the Beagle Channel, but mostly Ushuaia paces back and forth where it can, tracing and retracing its own streets and tracks and pathways.

Almost all tourist trips to Antarctica start from here. Passengers, like me, fly into the long-runwayed airport—where Concorde once landed, but mostly now hosting workhorse A319s and B737s—before transferring, like me, to one or other of the cruise ships that line the dock, for the voyage south, past Cape Horn into the ice.