Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bulletins From BA #37

Bulletins From BA #37
04 diciembre 2014

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
  “Ushuaia/Tierra del Fuego”

Among the places in Argentina that we’ve most wanted to visit are the city of Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, popularly known as “Fin del Mundo” (End of the World). Technically, Cape Horn is as far south as one can go before bumping into Antarctica; but since that requires (1) a ship and (2) a boatload of money, A.J. and I opted for a more modest excursion.

Ushuaia - The port city of Ushuaia is the capital of Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur and is separated from the Argentine mainland by the Strait of Magellan. It has a relatively short, but colourful résumé including slaughter of the natives, gold fever, a penal colony, invasive beavers, sheep ranching, shipwrecks, a military debacle, and a flourishing tourist trade. Ushuaia is a prime point of embarkation for Antarctica and still has the haphazardly zoned feel of an outpost.

Our residence for the week was the Tango ByB, where we were hosted by Raúl, who happens to be an excellent accordion player. We calculated that between us we have roughly 120 years musical experience, so we had much to discuss, especially concerning Tango. It was a great pleasure to visit with him.

But we came to see the sights. Here are some of them.

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego - Getting in and out of the Parque was easy; we simply went to the “bus stop” and made arrangements with one of the tour operators. They dropped us off at various scenic locations, with a promise to pick us up at a prearranged time, which they did. We had no problem getting in some hiking, taking muchas fotos, and still arriving back in town before we got too cold and wet.

[Turista Tip - Fin del Mundo weather changes continuously; layers, including fleece, and a rainproof jacket with a hood are essential.]

I find it surprisingly tricky to describe Tierra del Fuego. It’s desolate, but not barren, with a real richness of flora. And one really does get the feeling of being at the end of… something. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

Canal Beagle - The Beagle Channel is 240 km long and navigable between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We arranged for a boat trip to see some of the islands near Ushuaia, an excursion that was delayed several times due to high winds. But we finally made it out of port and into the cold and exhilarating sea spray.

In addition to checking out the cormorants, sea lions, and Faro Les Éclaireurs (lighthouse), we had the opportunity to go hiking on “Island H,” a beautifully rugged place once frequented by the Yámana people. Theirs was a hardy tribe, living on a diet of mussels, birds, and the occasional sea lion. And, they wore no clothes.

Lagos Escondito y Fagnano - Thousands of years ago, most of Tierra del Fuego was covered in glaciers. In fact, you can measure their depth by looking at the tree lines on the mountains; which is totally cool. When the ice receded, Lago Escondito and the much larger Lago Fagnano remained. We decided to head north with a small tour group and have a look at the lakes, mountains, and immense peat bogs. And to lunch on possibly the best lamb asado (slow grilled over an open fire) ever.

Our leader was a woman named Isabella, who is one of the finest guides I have encountered in all my travels. She was well versed on all facets of the area (including plate tectonics, one of my faves) and managed to be appropriately informative at all times. Just outstanding.

Museos - There are several very fine museums in Ushuaia, perfect for down time between excursions, and I’m pretty sure we managed to visit all of them. Of particular note are the Museo Maritimo y del Presidio de Ushuaia (Maritime Museum located in the former prison) and the Museo Yámana, that features dioramas of the aforementioned hardy native people who inhabited Tierra del Fuego (naked) for 6000 years before the Europeans arrived. (Alas, 30 years later, they were extinct.)

And, on that cheery note, we wrap up yet another marvelous Argentine journey. Thanks for your kind attention. In case you’re wondering, we’ll be in Buenos Aires for the Christmas holidays, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new ambassador, thanks to the U.S. Senate finally doing its damned job.