At Sea in Ushuaia: "El Fin del Mundo"
Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
43Trip End Sep 12, 2010
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In any case, Ushuaia, with a population of 64,000 hardy souls, is larger than we expected. This half-moon shaped cluster of weathered houses, shops and hotels lies huddled between Ushuaia Bay and the snow-capped Marshall Mountains, the last of the Andres, which here taper off the continent into the Antarctic Sea.
Ushuaia Bay is within the Beagle Channel, so named for the HMS Beagle, which sailed in 1831 to explore the wild coastal waters of Patagonia
Ushuaia's picturesque bay and bustling main street resemble a New England seaside hamlet. However, cruise ships, not lobster, are the lifeblood here. Savvy locals have memorized cruise ship schedules and are open for business any time a ship calls to port, night or day. Upscale shops and restaurants cater to well-heeled passengers on expensive cruises to the Antarctic or around the horn. From shop windows, multitudes of penguins in the form of glass, ceramic, precious- and semi-precious stone, and all sizes of stuffed toys, peek out at passers by. Also in the harbor, bulky ice-cutter passenger ships that ply the southern waters between Ushuaia and Antarctica. There's also a small commercial port for fishing vessels and cargo ships. Even the Queen Mary calls here a couple of times a year.
The sea is where we found the magic of Patagonia. On a boat tour to uninhabited Island "H" in the Beagle Channel, we walked among colonies of cormorants and visited middens and other sites of the region's first human inhabitants, the Yamaha. The range of wildlife was spectacular, and the animals unafraid of humans, having never known them as predators
Tierra del Fuego was settled over 10,000 years ago by the Ona people, a group of which, the Yamana, lived in the Ushuaia area. The Yamana were a nomadic race. They hunted in canoes and wore no clothing, preferring to slather their skin with seal blubber and keep fires burning day and night for warmth. It was these fires, first spotted in 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan, that led to the region's name, Tierra del Fuego, meaning Land of Fire. The arrival of Europeans brought clothing to the Yamana, as well as the inevitable small pox and other diseases. These days, only a few Yamana remain on the Chilean territorial island, Isla Navarina.
In Tierra del Fuego National Park we meandered along a coastal trail through thick beech forests and along pebbly shores. Today the weather cooperated, and we hiked in the sun under blue skies. The views in all directions looked like picture postcards. Fantastic rock formations and towering snow-capped mountains framed a broad, pristine bay, whose bright blue water hurt our eyes with its brilliance. A passage at the bay's far southern edge leads to Drake's Passage and the open sea beyond. As the last of the sun's rays cast long shadows on the sand, we sat on the shore, and skipped perfectly smooth pebbles on the still waters of the bay. Truly, the sea gives us all we need.