Coastal Shot Tierra del Fuego

Friday, March 3

Today we docked what feels like a hop, skip and a jump from Punta Arenas, in the Argentinian town of Ushuaia (pronounced “oos-WHY-a” – silent “h” in Spanish.) Another delightful place and a great place to come (you can fly directly here from several cities around the world) and use as a base for a few days of nature activities and animal sightseeing.  We were here for just a half day tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Our weather was variable – I put that in bold to emphasize it but also to stress that “Fuegians” or the people of Tierra del Fuego say that on any given day they may have the weather of any given season. Calendar be damned! (Wisconsonites know exactly what this means!)

That we need to dress in layers, for both wind and water, is true throughout Patagonia.  If you intend to visit, be sure to include clothes that you can layer, as well as wind and waterproof garments, but don’t forget a hat (tuque is best) and gloves! “Sturdy” shoes with good grip and wool socks will also be essential.  This is a place you want to be outside!  Yes, it was 40 degrees and windy, but the landscape is dramatic and colorful, here at the end of summer.  We drove to three locations in the park via bus and had a little time to explore and take pictures in each.  Our guide provided commentary about what we were seeing and the history of Tierra del Fuego between stops.

The Tierra del Fuego National Park encompasses rocks, forest and sea.  The trees grow thickly, thin and tall, and are covered with lichens.  Other epiphytes decorate the bushes like flowers, and above, the trees host great balls of the hemiparasitic mistletoe (a berry-less version). It feels very primal.

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There is quite a bit of water in the park – mostly in a stunningly long lake (7 kilometers) part of which is in Chile and part in Argentina.  There are many boggy and peaty areas. (Peat is used as a fertilizer).

The roads are not paved. That’s significant because one of the roads we are on is the #3, also called the Pan-American Highway.  We got to get off the bus at the absolute end of the Pan-American Highway in Lapataia. From here you can drive all the way to Alaska! It is the farthest point south to which you can drive – by ship you can keep going, and we will tomorrow when we sail around Cape Horn.


Lapataia Bay, the end of the Pan-American Highway (looking south towards Antarctica)

We got to see some birds, notably two species of cara cara (hawk-like), a big goose, and an endemic red fox, who was almost the size of a coyote.  He appeared quite unfazed by all the traffic and humans, as it seems he was used to being fed. (Obviously a big no-no, but realistically we wouldn’t have seen one otherwise.)

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I mentioned the variability of the weather, and we definitely had that experience!  When the sun was out, it was glorious, but it also rained, and I am pretty sure at one point it was snowing (huge flake-like rain drops?) When we returned to the city of Ushuaia, the mountains above the town looked like they had received some snow, and I was convinced of it, so tried to get a “before tour” and “after tour” photo to prove it…but, well, you be the judge.

As I did Punta Arenas, I liked Ushuaia a lot and was a little sorry we were so rushed at the end of our tour that we did not get to take our picture at the “End of the World Banner” (a famous landmark) nor did we get to send postcards with the special cancellation stamp “End of the World.”

There are no native people left in Tierra del Fuego, and everyone who lives here comes from some place else in Argentina, according to the guide.  She commented that it is very quiet here, far from the political and financial upheavals of the rest of the country and generally crime free.  I got the impression that the people who move here, do so because they love the place, climate included, but I also got the impression that they go somewhere more civilized to die…

las malvinas sign

Las Malvinas – The Falkland Islands – are our next stop.

This photograph was taken at Lapataia.  We actually will see similar signs, bumper stickers, emblems, etc. in all the places we visit in Argentina.  The war in the Falklands did not end the dispute between Argentina and the UK, but more about that in the next few days. The Falkland Islands is our next port, but before that we have two days at sea – one in which we sailed around Cape Horn!