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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

February 23rd: Ushuaia in Southern Argentina

On February 23rd 1976 I was in Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego in Southern Argentina.

By The Glacier, 2008:  Picture by Zhu, CC
I took an afternoon walk with a friend to the glacier up behind the town.  We found a nice spot for a picnic by the river soon after the waterfall.  Walking up the hill, we were asked for documents by police while they held rifles on us.  It was a strange place to be stopped but they allowed us to go on.  Gradually we got up to the tree-line and then the first ice: I could see the ice snaking up the mountain, shining turquoise on the glacier above the scree.  But it was getting pretty late and the weather was turning to hail and sleet.  There were lovely views back down to the Beagle Channel.  We found beautiful cold water to drink and huge mosses which we walked over.  Two austral parrots flew over, which seemed so out of place.  The descent was quick but very cold with evening arriving.  Finally it began to rain properly and we staggered bedraggled into a cafe for hot chocolate submarinos.

Ushuaia was very much on the tourist circuit so it was quite a social place with a reasonable cheap hotel (the Castellar) and decent restaurants and cafes.  Overland routes were difficult so like most people I flew in and out, but the flights were always subject to delays due to bad weather.   A steamer left on a trip to Antarctica, but the prices were cheap for locals and prohibitive for foreigners.  Argentina wanted to keep active its claim to territory in Antarctica: all Argentinean maps showed a strip of Antarctica as part of the mother country, just as they showed the Malvinas and various disputed Chilean islets to the south.  A further oddness was the constant billing of Ushuaia as the southernmost town in the world when every evening you could look out south across the Beagle Channel and see the lights in Chile in the area of Puerto Willams.

The fun in Ushuaia was walking and the birdlife, a bit like walking in northern Scotland or Norway perhaps, but different of course.  You could see geese and ducks and owls and so on anywhere near the front.  On my first day I headed east along the bay for my first sight of giant petrels and dolphin gulls, the black and white cormorants and black oyster-catchers, the kelp and upland geese; there were probably small albatrosses as well but I couldn't be sure.  The scenery was good: there was open grassland inland with windswept trees and I could walk across beaches and over rocks.

Another day I hitched a lift out to the Parque Nacional at Lapataria Bay where there is a more extensive inland area in front of the mountains.  I walked inland along the trail but the lake which is the focus was very quiet in the middle of the day.  So I walked back a different way to Lapataria Bay, past rivers and lakes all turquoise blue, under mountains, very pretty but not much wildlife to be seen except for hawks.  

The National Park:  Picture by Serge Ouachée, CC
Ushuaia, 2008:  Picture by Marko Tefani, CC

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