Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ushuaia, Argentina: At World's End

After spending three days in Santiago, Chile, we flew with the rest of our group to Ushuaia, Argentina on the morning of November 20th. We also spent the last day of our trip in Ushuaia (on December 1st), so I'm going to combine those two days into one post.

Ushuaia's claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world (weakly disputed by a few other cities in South America). So everywhere you go there are "Fin del Mundo" or "Fin du Monde" ("the end of the world") souvenirs. There is even "a train to the end of the world" that prisoners built back in the day.

Prisoners, you ask? Yes, prisoners. For the first half of the 20th century, Ushuaia was not much more than the site of a prison for serious criminals. The Argentinian government was following the example of the British government and its use of Australia (" . . . and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you!"). Eventually The Powers That Be in Ushuaia realized that they had a pretty good location for a port, and that they also had some decent skiing areas, so they instituted some drastic tax incentives to get people to move to the area, and the city has now grown to about 64,000 inhabitants. It is the capital of the Tierra del Fuego providence.

We visited Tierra del Fuego National Park and went for a catamaran ride around Lapataia Bay while waiting for our ship to dock in Ushuaia. It was a little bit rainy out, but scenic nonetheless, and we got our first glimpse of seals. At first I thought all of those birds in the picture below were penguins (as did everybody else), but they were blue-eyed shags. If you click on any of the pictures you can see a larger version.

I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan of Ushuaia, simply because there wasn't much there and it seemed like not much more than a backpacker town. On our last day we did eat at a nice restaurant up on a mountain that looked down at the city and the port, but it's just not that picturesque overall--everything is still very much in development there.

Here is our ship, the National Geographic Endeavour, alongside a cruise ship (we're on the far left). Our ship only held a total of 200 people, whereas cruise lines hold thousands. However, these big cruise ships just go around the nearby waters and coastline of South America, they do not go down to Antarctica (for reasons I will explain in a later post, but that may be obvious after looking at this picture!).

The best thing about Ushuaia for me was all the pirate lore. At the Maritime and Prison Museum, there was lots to read about the famous pirates who once frequented the area--most notably Sir Francis Drake (everybody but the English considered him a pirate--trust!), after whom the Drake Passage was named (more on that not-so-calm waterway in future posts).

Finally, it was time for the real reason we came on the trip, to get to Antarctica. We boarded our ship the night of the 20th and were on our way... Penguins, here we come!

- e


Anonymous said...

Keep these coming e! Wonderful photos, cant wait to hear of more of your vacation.

Anonymous said...

gotta love the Princess Bride reference...