City at the Bottom of the World

Or so they say in Ushuaia, Argentina (54.8 degrees latitude south). You might hear something different in Fort Williams, Chile (54.9 degrees south.)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

We docked here last night, earlier than planned, and got to see the city lights as we were finishing dinner. This morning, it was cloudy with a 60% chance of rain so we donned our rain gear for this morning’s visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park. According to our guide, Sergio, Ushuaia experiences sunshine only 35 – 40 days per year. They get excited about sunny “moments” rather than sunny days. The average temperature during winter is about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and in summer about 50 degrees, not much of a range. There really is no summer here.

Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego Province in Argentina, boasts a population of about 40,000, compared to only a few thousand just 25 years ago. To solidify their claim to this land (Chile had tried to claim it in the past,) Argentina encouraged people to settle here by offering “hardship” pay. Although the pay here may be 50% or more higher than in the rest of the country, so are the prices. Ushuaia has one of the highest costs of living in the world. They do raise sheep here, but fruits and vegetables must be imported from the north. A stroll through town verified that prices are indeed high.

The town served as a penal colony for Argentina in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Ushuaia Penitentiary was constructed here in 1902, built by the convicts themselves. These prisoners also built the basic infrastructure of Ushuaia and laid the track for a narrow gauge railway. The penitentiary was closed in 1947 by President Juan Peron.

It’s also home to the southernmost golf club in the world – the Ushuaia Golf Club – with a 9 hole course.

The area is rich in natural gas, so heating is very inexpensive if you can connect to the resource. For those parts of the town that must use propane, it’s about ten times as high to heat a home.

We rode once again on the Pan American Highway, through the Beagle River Valley, to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which was created in 1960. The park covers 266 square miles. There are only three species of trees that grow here, two deciduous and one evergreen. Some of these trees can grow fairly tall but they have shallow root systems and are easily toppled during strong winds.

There is very little pollution here, as evidenced by the “old man’s beard” lichen that grows on many trees.

Unfortunately, beaver were brought here from Canada in the 1940’s to develop a fur trade. That didn’t pan out, and, without any natural predators, the beaver have proliferated. They have been destroying the forests to build their beaver dams.

We stopped first at Lapataia Bay, a saltwater bay where we were fortunate to see some dolphin along with other wildlife in the park.

Then on to Roca Lake with more wonderful views, including Chile on the other side.

We then visited Alakush Lodge for refreshments and more views, including several Patagonia black necked swans swimming nearby.

Our last stop was at Ensenada Bay and, yes, more fabulous view.

From here, back to Ushuaia town, where we walked around a bit looking for souvenirs. Didn’t get any – very expensive. I was surprised to see a Hard Rock Cafe here – they seem to be everywhere.

At about 3:00 this afternoon, the sun came out, for more than a minute or two. I think we now belong to the 10% club of Ushuaia. The blue skies above the snow covers mountains provided yet another gorgeous view, and the temperature is 52 degrees – a heat wave!

We enjoyed a show featuring local dancers again tonight, just young boys.

And, to end a beautiful day, a beautiful sunset.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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