Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fen Del Mundo

Greetings from Ushuaia, Argentina which is also referred to as
Fen Del Mundo (the bottom of the world).

After some deliberation, we decided to fly south from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia saving us bussing all the way down. As much as we were looking forward to seeing some of the landscape, one way is enough and we decided we would get our fill as we work our way from Ushuaia all the way north...maybe too Peru. Arriving in the airport in Ushuaia was a bit of a shot to our bodies - after spending 6 weeks in warmer climates, we were greeted by the cold temperatures and high winds of southern argentina. We reluctuantly pulled our pants (and even our toques) which were buried at the bottom of our back-packs.

Ushuaia´s claim to fame is that it is the southern-most city in the world. The town has a small airport but more importantly serves as an important port town for people heading south to antararctica. Ushaia is located on the southern shores of the island of Tierra del Fuego. The island is seperated from mainland by the magellan straight, and Ushuaia is at the south end and looks out across the beagle to channel to a series of islands including cape horn. The area has seen a fair share of explorers over the years, including Darwin back in 1832.

Ushuaia is located in a region known as Patagonia. The Patagonian region is somewhat difficult to define, but is generally considered the land south of the Rio Negro which is shared by both Argentina and Chile. Patagonia is a region that we both wanted to visit badly, and thinking back it´s interesting to reflect on why. Niether of us knew that much about the region, but the word itself conjured up images of remote, untouched wilderness waiting to be explored. Now that we are here, we are able to learn more about the amazing diversificaty of habitat types (deserts, andes mountains, coastal forests) that can be found here. After settling in Ushuaia, we decided to explore some of the surrounding region and Patagonia has to offer.

A visit to the nearby Tierra Del Fuego National Park seemed in order. We decided upon a hiking trail in the park that was described as strenous, and not knowing what to expect in terms of weather we set out with our lunch and plenty of layers of clothing to add or peel off. The description of strenous was fitting, as the trail began at one of the lakes in the park and made its way uphill, eventually beyond the treeline, until we found ourselves scrambling on scree to the summit of a mountain. In the picture below, you can see the lake behind Chris that we started from. Pictures never seem to accurately depict scale, the photo was taken from a point that was already higher than the mountains on the opposite side of the lake.

The trail we were on was a little over 4 kms in length, and the gain in elevation was approximately 1000 metres. The trail took a little under 4 hours one way (and we were passing people), which means our speed was just over 1 km an hour! At the top of the mountain, we were greeted with snow, fierce winds, a beautiful view, and two french guys (just back from an arctic expedition) who agreed to take our picture.

After a strenous hike in the park, we decided to give our bodies a rest and take in a boat tour of the beagle channel. We booked with a small charter, and the only other people (besides the captain and guide) who joined us where a couple from the states.

Our charter headed out on the beagle channel, weaving in and out of small islands while the guide shared the local history of the area as well as described the flora, fauna, and wildlife. Several of the islands have become the homes of several species of wildlife including the South American Sea Lion, as well as the Imperial Cormorant. Because we had a small and quiet boat, we were able to get up fairly close to the islands without disturbing the inhabitants too much. The sea lions actually seemed happy to see us, and enjoyed barking at us and playing in the prop-wash of the boat.

After our boat tour, we walked around town and visited several musuems. One musuem was dedicated to remember Yamana people and their culture. The Yamana inhabitated the island of Tierra del Feugo for thousands of years. They were a nomadic people, travelling by boat and sustaining themselves mainly on a diet of sea lions and kelp. They did not wear any cloths, and instead rubbed the animal fat on their bodies to stay warm. They kept fires going in the middle of their canoes (on sand and clay) which were used for warmth and also used to help start fires when they went ashore. One early study that was done revealed the average body temperate of a Yamana was 38.5 degrees celcius. A core temperature that would indicate a fever to us appears to have been one of their many physical adaptations. In 1870, when the first missionary was established on the island, their population was estimated to be around 3000. By 1890, thanks to introduced disease(small pox, etc.) and rumors of some killings, the Yamana population was only around 100. Today, there is thought to be only one direct decedent of the Yamana left, a woman who is in her 80´s and lives in Puerto Williams.

After a day of rest on a boat and walking around town, we decided another hike was in order. Directly to the north of town and within view, lies Glacier Martial. This time we cheated, and took a chairlift about half-way to the observation point. Above the tree-line, we had to climb the remaining 400 metres up to the base of the glacier. The view of this glacier was actually not that spectacular, as the pitch was still quite steep and all we could see was a dirty face of snow. Perhaps more impressive than the view of the glacier, as the view back down the valley over the village of Ushuaia.

Ushuaia is an amazing place to visit. We look forward to heading north now and exploring more of what the patagonia region has to offer.

Argentina Fun Fact: Argintinians love their beef. Per capita, they eat nearly 70kg per person per year. Compare that to 43kg in the US and 31kg in Canada. Argentine beef is thought to be amongst the best in the world, because of the breed and also because of their diet. Argentine cows are free-range and feed primarily on pampas grass oppostded to corn and other food lined with antibiotics and growth hormones. This makes for a leaner, more natural-tasting meat.

Epinada Count:
Chris 25
Rebecca 24

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