Saturday, 3 January 2009

Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego National Park 03/01/2009

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Day 7 January 3rd 2009

We are 1500 miles further south here than we were at Buenos Aires and in a new time zone (three hours behind GMT as against two in BA). Last night it got dark (ish rather than black) just after midnight local time and certainly was getting light by 4 am. As we head further south, darkness at night will go completely when we officially cross the Polar Circle on Tuesday (probably).

Wow, amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, so beautiful etc etc. Having got that out of the way, some explanation.

This morning we went on a bus tour to the Tierra del Fuego National Park (TdF). We had not expected it to be anything fantastic, it was more a way of filling in the time before the boat sails but we were so wrong.

There were only about 10 of us on the trip and therefore the guide was not overworked with keeping us organised. Hence we are now statistical experts on Tierra del Fuego, knowledgeable on its history, the people who currently live here and lived here in the past etc.

Ushuaia means "a land looking towards the west" and surprisingly, there are 70,000 people now living here, mainly working in the tourist trade for about 6 months of the year.

The area was first visited by westerners in 1866 when Anglican Missionaries came to the area to introduce religion (and one assumes to put a halt to the fact that the Yamana did not wear any clothes or shoes and kept themselves warm by covering themselves with Seal fat. It was a penal colony from 1902 to 1947 (like Hobart in Tasmania) and the convicts constructed much of the area.

Our first stop was the southern most post office in the world (the post office is at the green blob in the map below and the map shows the Beagle Channel separating Argentina from Chile)

Map showing post office location

where naturally Pat sent off postcards - Sam there is a special one coming to you although it will take a few weeks to get back from here.

Southern most post office in the World

As you can see, it is on a pier going out into a lake. They also do a thriving trade in official stamps in Passports.

Most of the mountains in the area belong to the Andes (Ushuaia is at the southern end)


One of the most fantastic things were saw was a Beaver Dam.

Beaver Dam (1)

This was built about 10 years ago by an estimated 6 beavers in about 7 weeks. Beavers live within the dam (lodge) and only come out at night. They chop down trees with their teeth in order to create the dam to live in and also in order to eat the wood and the leaves. You can see how effective the dam is from the difference in water levels. They are regarded as a pest in the area (not being native to TdF) and are hunted as such although the bounty per beaver is so small that no one really bothers.

Woodpeckers abound here (a lot of bird watchers come here specifically to see them)

Woodpecker holes

and the holes in the trunk of this tree were caused by local woodpeckers.

Wild mistletoe abounds as you can see in this tree

Wild Mistletoe

Mistletoe (2)

and in this picture you can see "Indian Bread"

Indian Bread

a sort of growth that occurs naturally on trees but was eaten by the Yamana tibes 8000 years ago.

One of the most stunning views is at the end of the Pan-American highway (note we are

End of PanAm Highway

End of Highway Map

now 17844 kms from Alaska at a place called Lapataia Bay (forest of the good trees - so

La Pataya Bay

called because the natives used the trees to make canoes) and here are two natives contemplating the view from lower down in the Bay at the very very end of the highway.

Two Natives at La Pataya Bay

and this is the view they saw

The view the natives saw

The final place we visited was a lake (Lake Roca) miles from anywhere with one of the most stunning views available.

Lake Roca

After lunch we went back to the Hotel to post the blog and then went to a local museum featuring the history of the Yamana tribe (who lived in the Ushuaia area. They were living perfectly reasonably on their own until Anglican Missionaries arrived in 1868 to "civilize them" and teach them religion (and also in the process introduce them to clothes since they had no need of them and preferred to cover themselves with Seal fat in order to keep warm). The success of this noble venture is indicated by the fact that in 1907, there were so few left alive that the Missionaries packed up and went home.

1550 and time to go onboard the Academic Ioffee (named after a Russian Physicist).

Ioffe loading provisions

Ioffe Loading Provisions (2)

The boat is full with 109 people on board. Our cabin is "compact" but seems serviceable. There is a surprisingly wide age range of people on board but we soon are in conversation with others of our age over a welcoming glass of champagne.

Lifeboat drill is next - the theory is that when the emergency alarms sound, we get into our cold weather clothes and get into one of two

LIfe Boat

66 person lifeboats (for up to three days they say) and await rescue. Some people have great difficulty in following complicated instructions such as "leave your cabin door open when you head for the lifeboat so we do not have to check if your cabin is clear".

Once this test is over and passed, a fire engine comes along side to help pump


drinking water into the ship because the Captain is anxious to set off and another large merchant freighter comes into port.

Maruba Aldebaran

We set off shortly afterwards, dinner follows immediately, sea sickness tablets are taken, and we kit out in boots for shore landings. At bed time, the Pilot has just left we are sailing up the Beagle Channel at 14.8 knots heading for the open sea (current course 124) and then in a hour or so, south at 198 degrees. 

Sick bags appear

Sea sickness bags appear in the corridor neatly tucked behind picture frames - we go to bed.

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