After consuming ungodly numbers of Che Empenadas in El Chalten and getting a little too friendly with another South American Gray Fox near Lake Condido we braved the mangled guardrail road to Ushuaia. It was summer, but apparently the road was too much for many of the international truckers in the rain.
Legend has it that Tierra Del Fuego got it’s name from the fires that the explorer Magellen saw burning by some 12,000 aboriginals on the coast. The disappearance of these ethnic groups is one that is all too familiar across the world. My curiosity about the tribes peaked as I gawked at historical sketches of men in loin-cloths with sling shots aimed tword guanacos and fighting pumas. Who could survive in such desolate lands? Their survival relied on the fur and meat of guanacos and the oil of seals. These artworks hung in a truck stop near a ferry crossing. I was surprised to find explicit and widely-available literature was available throughout the archipelago about how these indigenous tribes were intentionally murdered to eliminate competition to their natural resources. The remaining native survivors were poisoned. There were no descendants left. I liked that the current historical narrative didn’t tip-toe around the mass extinction. There were no “accidents” in the land of fire.
Fin del Muendo means the end of the World. What does the bottom of the World look like? Naturally I’d assumed it looked like Antarctica. It had to be cold. There had to be wild ferocious beasts roaming the rugged landscape. Adventure, more adventure, my inner self screamed!
But I was surprised at the hospitality and tranquility.
The Port of Ushuaia hosts shipping vessels and Russian Ice Breakers headed to Antarctica. We kicked ourselves for not giving Antarctica a go.
Surprised at the charm of the adorable bed and breakfast property that overlooked the town, we labored through a Spanglish conversation with our adorable elderly hosts. They had a fat orange tabby cat who lounged on an antique chair with all four paws in the air. Then he frolicked in the garden hunting. I was an instant hit with the pair as I tried to wag him around like a little girl carrying a blankie. There were no wild animals here to pose threat to my new companion, only the foxes that roamed the hill.
They explained that the weather was actually pretty mild.
The couple had eclectic taste in art that hung in their home. Natural light spilled in during the long afternoons while Salvador sat in his office shuffling papers and checking his computer. His glasses spilled down his nose. They took turns visiting the local bakery for croissants. It didn’t get dark until about 11:00.
“I could do this,” I thought.
Back at the port we ran into a Frenchman with a rig. He had a world map on the back of a massive vehicle with stars where he had traversed. He’d began his journey in Canada and driven his massive vehicle all the way to the bottom of South America. He was waiting three months in the parking lot of the port for a cheaper excursion to Antarctica. When he returned back to Ushuaia he would pick his vehicle back up and ship it to India, Africa, then Australia. He and his wife lived in the rig year round.
“But I could also do this, a life with no roots” I thought.
Determined not to spend money on a Beagle Channel Cruise, we set out to find wildlife on the dirt roads East of Ushuaia. Evidence of the intense Antarctic winds were on every horizon.
A beaver became irritated as we tried to capture a good photo of him. It turns out that beavers, like whales, are pretty anticlimactic to photograph, just a big black tail in the underbrush.
We went as far south as any road would let us, confusing cormorants with penguins in the distance. We felt like idiots when they lifted their wings and flew from the rocks. Definitely not penguins.
There was something about how the Austral southerly light reflected on the water that made it appear as the land of glass.
The next day we refused to take a chartered penguin tour. It was expensive. And I mainly objected because it wasn’t environmentally responsible. Tourists got so close to the wildlife that they could (but weren’t supposed to) touch it. I felt sorry for the Magellanic Penguins who had humans invading their space daily.
We opted out for our last stop on our Patagonian road trip, Pinguino del Rey, my favorite stop in Patagonia. Stay tuned for adorable eco-friendly photos of huge King Pinguins shot from responsible distances. I can’t wait to write about it.
Or go back and check out my Patagonian backlog:
The Patagonia Chronicles Part 1: Backpacks, Bagualeros, and Torres
The Patagonia Chronicles Part 2: Is That Really Another Guanaco?
The Patagonia Chronicles Part 3: A Flamingo, An Ice Wall, A Rock Pile, & An Estancia