El Fin del Mundo: Ushuaia, Argentina (10/17—10/20)
When people ask me which of the places that I visited in South America was my favorite, it will be impossible to answer the question. Thus far, every place that I have been to has been entirely different in its own ways. I am thankful for that because I've enjoyed doing and seeing so many different things that make South America unbelievable. Ushuaia is no different from this, because it was another one of the most unique places in the world.
Hey everyone, as usual, I hope everyone is doing well back home. This afternoon I got back from Ushuaia, Argentina after a great weekend at "The End of the World." First thing's first, Ushuaia is pronounced "OO-SH-WHY-YA". I know some of you were wondering how to actually say it, so that is the best way to understand it. Ushuaia is located on the island of Tierra del Fuego (Fire Land in English), which is the southernmost Argentine province. Being relatively secluded from the majority of mainland South America, Argentina shares the area with Chile, as they own some portion of the island as well. Tierra del Fuego was first founded over 10,000 years ago by a group of indians called the Selk'nam Indians. Of them, a smaller group called the Yamana Indians settled in Ushuaia at the southern edge of the island on the Beagle Channel. The area was largely colonized by different European countries, ..no surprise there, but specifically the British held several areas throughout the region beginning in 1833. Note: no Argentines had even visited Tierra del Fuego and established settlements yet.
In 1873, the first Argentines came to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, as the Argentine President at the time created a penal colony for second-offense criminals from the country's mainland. The president created a prison on the desolate end of Tierra del Fuego, which was torturous enough with its bitterly cold temperatures for 90 percent of the year. During the 1880s, Europeans heard of the rich lands of the region and came in search of gold, as well as stopped in Ushuaia during main voyages to Asia and the west coast of the United States. From this integration of people, disease and famine destroyed the native inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego and decimated the Yamana people.
Over time, the Argentine government promoted the region and wanted citizens to live there to increase their population size to claim sovereignty over the island. To make a long story short, the penal colony and prison became the center for Ushuaia, and the population increased dramatically throughout the 20th Century bringing it into fruition. The prison closed and the inmates were moved back to the mainland of Argentina, but the city of Ushuaia remained to be seen as an important strategic location for the Argentine Navy and government.
The city of Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, so what does this mean? In comparison to another part of the world, it has the same climate of most parts of Alaska. Since this is the case, it is also the gateway to Antarctica and proudly boasts that tidbit of information. Cruises to Antarctica normally stop at the Bay of Ushuaia and its port. Surprisingly enough, we lucked out with the weather while we were there, because that had unseasonably warm temperatures for their Spring. It was roughly 50 to 55 degrees all three days, so I was not complaining because it could have been a lot worse.
After taking a brutal 4:45am flight from Buenos Aires on Friday (10/17), my friend John and I arrived at about 8:30am in Ushuaia. The pictures below do not do the area justice, because it was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been (even though it was still cold.. and I prefer warm weather). The first day in Ushuaia, we mainly just explored the city. It was very relaxed and had a nice "hometown" kind of feeling with small shops, bars, restaurants, and museums. The weather on the first day was typical of the area, as our hostel friends described it as bipolar. It actually snowed for a few minutes, then changed to sunshine directly afterward. Classic. It was also interesting that the tourist information building in Ushuaia offers visitors with the chance to stamp their passports with the "Ushuaia: End of the World" Stamp. So that was good enough for me for the day. That night, we went out with some new friends that were traveling from Buenos Aires as well, so it was good to meet more people because that is the best thing about staying in hostels.
On Saturday (10/18) we visited the Maritime Museum and Old Prison located in the center of Ushuaia. It was good to learn about the area even further and see the actual cells that mass-murderers stayed in while they were held in Ushuaia. I learned that the waters around Tierra del Fuego were frequented with the passage of pirates during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is because ships heading to Asia or the western US had to pass through this area, so pirates would hide in the coves and bays of the area waiting for their prey.
After the Maritime Museum and Prison, we took a 5 hour boat tour from the Port of Ushuaia through the Beagle Channel toward the Atlantic Ocean. We saw sea lions, cormorants, and eventually PENGUINS. The boat tour was definitely one of the best things that I have done in South America, because the views around the water with the snowcapped mountains and unique animals made it awesome. And the indigenous penguins that we saw were DEFINITELY worth all of the hype. Their penguin, or pingüino in Spanish, colony was located about 2 hours from the Port of Ushuaia, and they migrate to the area from northern Argentina/southern Brazil during the springtime. On the way there, we also passed the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse which is a classic tourist icon at the End of the World.
On Sunday (10/19), John, our Scottish friend Rob, and I ventured to Tierra del Fuego National Park which offers some other awesome viewpoints over the Beagle Channel, surrounding mountains, and eventually brings us to the end of the Pan-American Highway. We hopped on a bus at 10am and were inside the park and trekking throughout the coastline and forests by 11am. As if anything is ever structured in Argentina, the National Park was no different. The paths were marked by small yellow sticks in the ground every 100 feet, or so. Again, as Argentine as it gets, we were left to figure it out for ourselves but we managed just fine. The pictures only do the park so much justice, and I can say that I will never see mountains as beautiful as those ones in Tierra del Fuego. In total we trekked for more than 5 miles, but it was fun doing so and the weather was perfect for it.
After talking to one of our hostel owners, Ana, we started to talk about life in Ushuaia and how different it is from the rest of the world. Apparently the citizens of the Tierra del Fuego Province feel completely secluded from the rest of the country and they like it that way. It helps them forget about many of the continual problems that their government and economy experiences. Ushuaia does not have as many inflation problems as the rest of Argentina because their prices for things are already higher do to the majority of the visitors being tourists and they need to import a good majority of their products. As for the winter months, they are accustomed to the lifestyle of continual cold weather that it does not bother them, but on nice days (also known as days that have a temperature above 45 degrees) people are ecstatic.
One of the pamphlets that I was given when I stopped at the tourist information building on the first day in Ushuaia is called "Malvinas Argentinas: por que?". Just figured that I would mention this because it is an area of debate throughout all of Argentina versus the rest of the world. The Malvinas are known as the Falkland Islands located off the coast of Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are currently under legal British occupation and have been for many years following their colonization of the New World. However, Argentina believes that the area is rightfully theirs because they say that they claimed the Falkland Islands prior to the British arriving in January of 1833. Since then, Argentina continued to whine about how they were unfairly overtaken in the Falkland Islands, until they finally invaded the British at the Falklands in April of 1982.
A ten week war ensued, leading to a British victory over the Argentines.. again. Nearly every major city in Argentina has some sort of propaganda and memorial about las Islas Malvinas and always argue their sovereignty from the UK. This was very obvious in Ushuaia, as everyone in Argentina believes that the Falkland Islands are rightfully theirs. One of the last pictures you will see is a sign in Ushuaia basically slandering the British for their occupation of the area.
Thanks for taking the time to read all of that and, again, dealing with my rambling. Ushuaia was another unforgettable experience and I cannot be thankful enough for having the chance to visit "el Fin del Mundo". It is sad to think that I may not ever get the chance to go back there considering how far it is from the rest of the main points in South America, but who knows? All I know is that I went to the End of the World, and that is just fine by me (for now). Be great, everyone.
"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." — Ernest Hemingway