Plane trip number seven and certainly the most hair raising with a rough entry over the mountains into the most southerly town in the world, Ushuaia. It was noticeably colder and wetter but still just as windy. After leaving our bags at Cilene del Faro we found Restaurant El Viejo Marino on the waterfront. The front window was a tank full of king crabs and Simon’s eyes lit up, Bel’s not as much. The crab was extracted from the tank and carried past us, with a small detour via Simon, into the kitchen. It returned on a platter accompanied by two pairs of scissors. The paella and pasta marinara were spectacular but I think we all agreed that good old mud crab is better.
Nat forced us all to battle the wind and rain to have our picture at the tourist “Ushuaia” sign. We wandered through town back to our hotel via the donut shop. After a weird subterranean spa experience we had dinner at Almacén de Ramos Generales, an original general store building built in 1894 by a Lebanese immigrant. Sunset 10:45pm.
I know we keep mentioning the wind, but as we left our hotel this morning a large metal plate bin as big as 3 wheelie bins was blown off the footpath into the middle of the road with a very loud crunch, nearly taking out a taxi and a bus! With our heads down to avoid the wind and the driving rain we walked several blocks straight past our bag drop off point for the cruise (eventually realising and backtracking with the wind and rain to our backs). Once checked in, we had a free day and thought we would head to the end of the world – Tierra del Fuego. It was not quite as straight forward as tourist information had led us to believe and required a fair amount of negotiation in Spanish not only on price but also to make sure we would be back in time for our cruise departure.
The main island of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago was first occupied by humans some 10,000 years ago. The local people that inhabited this area were the Yamana. It is hard to believe that people could live in this hostile environment. The Yamaha were taller than the Portuguese and Spanish, and covered in pelts, with belts tied to their feet – looked like big footed giants – and hence the ‘Patagonia’ (‘pata’ for foot – big feet). Tierra del Fuego was Charles the 1st of Spain’s alternate name after the the explorers referred to is as the land of smoke (Tierra del Humo, after the smoke for the Yamaha shelters) – he wanted a stronger name to scare off the English and Dutch.
It appears the main cause of the disappearance of this culture is the impact of the arrival of the first Europeans in 1890. They brought disease and, according to various chronicles, the locals were also hunted down by explorers and poisoned by colonists in order to have easy access to local resources including sea lion colonies.
The forests covering the archipelago consists of subarctic southern beech woods including high Andean steppe, deciduous lenga and evergreen guindo. There is limited fauna, some birds including a number of species of geese.
Arriving at the trail head, the weather seemed to clear but within minutes the rain and wind returned and we donned our rain jackets, put our pack covers on and headed along the wet and slimy trail. Beavers were introduced into this area from Canada in 1946 for their pelts, and while they are industrious builders, they have caused significant damage to the environment with their dam construction (flooding) and teeth grinding and bark stripping. We couldn’t stay long to admire the beavers work because we were about to be carried off in a swarm of giant mosquitoes.
We had a great lunch with unexpected giant beers at the only cafe for miles around – and found ourselves a little concerned that our driver turned up on time as we were pushing it to be back in town to board the ship.
We boarded Stella Australis (no later than 6pm and no earlier that 6pm! – as instructed). We were all shown to our cabins and then met in the 5th floor Darwin Lounge for a welcome to our home for the next 4 days. We departed at 8pm and as the lights of Ushuaia came on, we had a drink or two in hand, we sailed into Chilean territorial waters.