Ushuaia, Argentina; Fin del Mundo, Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego

Latitude 53.16117°S Longitude 70.91673°W

Saturday, February 22, 2003

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Diary:

It's the "End of the World" as we know it
(But we feel fine!)

Welcome to Ushuaia, on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego: the southernmost city in the world!

At the extreme south of South America lies the great island of Tierra del Fuego, literally, the "Land of Fire". Divided evenly between Chile and Argentina, the island earned its name from the distant shoreline campfires tended by the indigenous Yamana peoples, visible far off shore to explorers navigating through these southern channels.

The story of the Yamana people (and the other indigenous Fuegian tribes such as the Ona, Haush, Alacalufe and Selk'nam), all now extinct, is fascinating in itself. When Darwin sailed through these parts in 1832 on the Voyage of the Beagle, he was convinced these local tribes, existing in such a primitive state, were living examples of human "missing links" in his nascent theory of evolution. These hapless tribes were completely wiped out by Spanish missionaries in the 1800's, most succumbing to foreign diseases such as smallpox, but amazingly also to some diseases brought about by a failure to adapt to certain cultural changes, such as the necessity to wear clothes, which the Europeans imposed upon them (in the name of "decency"). I guess these people were doing just fine by themselves for thousands of years before Organized Religion found them; now the only remnants of their existence and culture are a collection of dusty, faded sepia tones in some museum.

Ushuaia was originally founded as a penal colony. Forget about Alcatraz; if you were sent to the prison in Ushuaia, you were there to stay. In its entire history there was not one recorded case of escape from this prison, due to its location in this remote and forbidding corner of the world. Nowadays tourism powers Ushuaia's economy and it's status as the city "fin del mundo" (world's end) is a major draw card for tourists.

The journey to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas by bus was dusty, long and tiring. We crossed the Magellan Straits on a bus ferry in Chile at Punta Espora and entered Argentina at San Sebastián. We arrived in Ushuaia just at dusk, and were dropped off at the port just as a spectacular sunset had faded away and all the lights were coming on. A huge cruise liner was docked as well as a collection of rusted fishing vessels - some of them looking like ancient whalers. Being the closest city to Antarctica, Ushuaia is the setting off point for expeditions south to the continent of ice and snow and nearby destinations such as South Georgia Island, and a research ship was in dock being provisioned for her next journey. Though Antarctica is only around 1000km away from Cape Horn, getting there is an expensive proposition. Berths go from an off-season "discount" price of USD $4,500 to over $10,000, for a 2 week excursion! It was tantalizing to be so close to the south pole and we would have loved such a diversion. But the cost would have put a serious kink in our budget for the rest of our trip and so we sadly resolved to leave Antarctica until "next time".

We spent several days in Ushuaia, enjoying its peaceful setting on a large bay on the northern shore of the Beagle Channel, surrounded on all sides by glacial peaks soaring thousands of meters. The daily tempo of the place seemed governed by its extreme latitude; an easy, languid cycle perfectly fitting the diminutive orbit of this southern point on the globe. We enjoyed a great day of hiking in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, located at the southern terminus of Argentina's National Route 3 - literally the end of the road. Here we also found the world's southernmost post office where we dispatched a handful of postcards on their long journeys to other distant corners of the globe: north, east and west.


Photos: (click on images to see full size)

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego
The "City at the End of the World"In the Museo Marítimo, site of Ushuaia's old Presidio (prison)Ushuaia's portHome to fishing vesselsAntarctic research vesselsAnd huge cruise ocean liners
In Tierra del Fuego National Park,
we finally reached the "end of the road" together!A huge beaver dam in Tierra del Fuego N.P.The world's southernmost post office on the Beagle Channel


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