WEDNESDAY FEB 26 DAY 32…
So we are now cruising the last portion of the Chilean side of Patagonia ….on our way around Cape Horn…..stopping at the southern most port of Argentina….Ushuaia
but first ….we will sail through “The Ring of Fire“. Sounds like a Johnny cash song.
The Ring of fire is an area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. This area has over 450 volcanoes (more then 75% of the worlds volcanos and 90% of the earthquakes). In the last 11,000 years …almost ninety percent, of the worlds largest volcanic irruptions occurred in the Ring of Fire.
The earths movement from this region has been so strong that it actually shifted the direction of the Andes….East to west…..rather then north to south…..because of this Ushuaia is the only Argentine city on the other side of the Andes ….to reach the Ushuaia from Argentina you have to go through Chile and take a ferry.
This area was first inhabited by the Yugans, a native tribe who survived 6000 years without contact from the outside world……..(turns out they were better off that way)
Yugans named the area Ushuaia …. the “bay that penetrates westward”
Ushuaia is located on an island named by Magellan …. Tierra del Fuego.
Magellan, named the island Tierra del Fuego…. “the land of fire” while sailing in 1520 ….he saw smoke from fires set by the natives along the shoreline ….thus the name. In 1881 Tierra del Fuego was divided between Chile and Argentina. …
British Missionaries founded Ushuaia in 1870, 300 years after Magellan discovered the straits….they traveled through a body of water that flows from the bottom of Chile and Argentina connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific ….this became known as the Beagle Channel.
The water in this channel ranges between 60 and 600 ft…. enabling large ships to travel the waterway
The Beagle Channel is a primary route today for tourism and trade. The channel gets its name from the ship “the Beagle” used to discover the area. The beagle was named after Queen Victoria’s dog.
By 1884 Argentina took over Ushuaia and made it a penal Colony….incarcerating the worst of criminals and political prisoners. In 1887 the Argentines set up a naval base and declared Ushuaia a city. By the 1940’s the penal colony was gone and the native Yugans were basically nonexistent.
In 1990 Tierra del Fuego became its own province with Ushuaia as the capital of the region…a governor was put in place in 1991.
To attract people to the area, the governor made the province tax free for cars, cigarettes and alcohol.
The area today owes its existence to the prison…….inmates had built the infrastructure…the town railway, hospital and port.
Ushuaia has a population of 70,000. It is a busy port with steep streets and a mix of buildings …it is tucked between the Beagle Channel and the snow capped Martial Mountains
Colorful clapboard houses with numerous staircases and unusual angles…mixed with block/concrete homes.
It is known as a frontier town with lots of character…. a quirky mix of outdoor life and a cosmopolitan feel.
Penguin Souvenirs are everywhere… carved ones, stuffed ones, marble. porcelain …. in every color shape and size. The Penguin is Indigenous to the area… and a large colony resides on a nearby island.
Local cusine is Spanish…. empanadas, pastry wrapped chicken, beef or lamb, local fish from the bay and numerous coffee and chocolate shops….. meals are typically served with wines from the region.
Mate is a special tea that Argentines enjoy. It originated in Northern Argentina from one of the indigenous cultures. The tea drinking is a social ritual …the tea is a mixture of seeds and leaves…it is put into a gord … one person adds boiling water from a thermos and is in charge of serving…a metal straw, bombilla, is used to sip the tea … holes are in the bottom of the straw filtering the seeds and leaves. It is passed amongst friends with each person taking a sip through the straw….passing it to the next. (Not sure I want to do that with Corona virus)
It is really potent… I guess it is an acquired taste.
With snow capped mountains year round …the region has one of the longest winters in South America, six months, May to October …. the mountains are deceiving in size actually only 3000’ feet high ..the highest 4200’ …but it looks like a majestic postcard from the Swiss alps
The backdrop of hills, mountains and valleys is always changing due to constant weather fluctuations,…..rain and high winds daily …temperatures range between 32F to 50F.
Beech trees are found everywhere … they are indigenous to the area and can survive in shallow soil…about 2 ft deep in the forests…..
Wild animals (mammals) do not exist on the island … but they do have beavers …..introduced in 1946 to establish a fur industry ….. the industry never panned out but the beaver population, having no predators, exploded…. destroying thousands of trees.
Despite the problems with the beavers….the unspoiled landscape of mountains and valleys draw people from around the world to enjoy the outdoors….hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, camping …..
Dogs have been brought here for the popular sport of dog sledding…..easy transportation through the snow covered trails in the winter….
…we went to see the dogs used for sledding ..I was thinking I would see big fluffy Siberian huskies… a Dr Zhivago kind of thing…
I did not think these dogs would pull the sleds.
that aside …it is an outdoor paradise …. attracting people with the same kind of pioneer spirit that first discovered the area.
Today Uschuia is growing in popularity like wildfire… it attracts people from all over the world who come for tax breaks and plentiful jobs. Local residents are welcoming and friendly with a hardiness and quirkiness that probably comes from living at the “end of the world.”
So Ushuaia is considered the “End of the World”… but in reality it is the gateway to a whole other world…. Antartica… 600 miles down the road …a future trip I hope.
Next stop….. around Cape Horn to the Falkland Islands