Thursday, May 9, 2013

A virtual tour of Ushua, Argentina

(Please be aware as you read this essay that we were neither allowed into the country of Argentina nor allowed to dock in Ushuaia on this cruise---because we had previously visited the Falkland Islands (and Argentina is still fighting their war against the Islands).  What you will read here is a virtual tour of the city—as if we had visited it, but we did not!)

Ushuaia (pronounced oo-shoo-AYE-ah) is an Italian word meaning "a bay penetrating westward."—the port we missed—is a city of 80,000 people and is the southernmost city on earth and forms the end of the Panamerican Highway. I have written this "virtual tour" of the city as if we had visited it.

We docked at the Puerto Ushuaia and rightly chose to take a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area, however, the location of the port (Ushuaia overlooks the Beagle Channel) is truly picturesque. The city is set against a backdrop of snow-capped, densely forested peaks, the Martial Mountains, and the view you get is spectacular with glittering seas, glacier-clad mountains, and the last islands of the continent.

The city has long been described as the southernmost city in the world. According to

Wikipedia, "While there are settlements farther south, the only one of any notable size is Puerto Williams, a Chilean settlement of some 2000 residents (mostly families of the nearby military bases). As a center of population, commerce, and culture, and as a town of significant size and importance, Ushuaia however clearly qualifies as a city."

Tourist attractions in the area include the Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay. The park can be reached by highway, or via the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo) from Ushuaia. The city has a museum of Yámana, English, and Argentine settlements, including its years as a prison colony. Wildlife attractions include local birds, penguins, seals, and orcas, many of these species colonizing islands in the Beagle Channel.

There are daily bus and boat tours to Estancia Harberton, the Bridges family compound. One reviewer at Trip , had this to say about their visit to Estancia Harberton:
"...Exploring its buildings and hiking trails, seeing its involvement in marine research, the many wildlife sightings, including a beaver, sleeping in the shepherds’ house, and absorbing the family’s inspiring past – far exceeded our high expectations. Every aspect of the adventure was unique from the moment that we arrived by boat and were met by Gaston, our personal concierge, to our departure two days later. The food is plentiful and delicious, and the service outstanding. The scenery is pristine and stunning. We came to hike, and weren’t disappointed. We spent one wonderful day hiking with Gaston to an enchanting river gorge, where we enjoyed a picnic and sat mesmerized by the rushing water – with no one within miles of us. Our last day, we took a boat to penguin island and had a marvelous time watching the penguins up close. Most special of all though was spending time talking to the owners, Natalie and Thomas Goodall about Natalie’s research and Thomas’ ancestors. Wow! We came away truly touched by the whole special experience."

There are also tours that visit the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. Les Eclaireurs is sometimes confused with the "Lighthouse at the End of the World" (Faro del fin del mundo) made famous by Jules Verne in the novel of the same name; but the latter lies some 200 miles east of Ushuaia on Isla de los Estados (Staten Island).

We chose to stroll about town and spent time browsing through the shops on the main street (Avenida San Martin). We did not sample steaks, fresh seafood, or pizza (we can get pizza onboard our ship!), at one of the many downtown restaurants, and we did not sip a beer at a confiteria while sitting and watching the action of the street.

There are a number of museums in Ushuaia. Some of the passengers roamed through the Territorial Museum, sometimes called Museum at the End of the World (Museo del Fin del Mundo) at the corner of Maipu and Rivadavia Streets. There, we were told, were relics from missionary and early settler days as well as Indian artifacts, and photos of Usuaia and its history.

At there is a complete description of the museum. The site explains what can be found in each of the halls and display cases—along with pictures, I might add—and when you enter one of the rooms, you find yourself in a general store "highlighting the importance of these venues in those days when everything could be bought there, from food to musical instruments, books and clothing."

According to the information on the museum:
"The most impressive exhibit is the famous prison. Located in present Ushuaia Naval Base, the construction of the prisons for first-timers and recidivists began in 1902. The uniforms worn by the wardens and prisoners, as well as other objects are on display.
The remaining halls hold a vast collection of native fauna. The most complete exhibition in Tierra del Fuego comprises one hundred and eighty bird species with specimens from sea, shore and forest ecosystems."

Many of those who visit Ushuaia come for the wildlife. There were tours to Hidden Lake (Lago Escondido), which lies about 30 miles north of Ushuaia and is reached by an unpaved road that crosses the Alvear Mountains.

There are tours, too, of the Beagle Channel or to Tierra del Fuego National Park. The tour of the Beagle Channel is taken aboard a large catamaran that makes stops at the Isla de los Lobos to see sea-lions and fur seals. It stops, too at Bird Island (Isla de los Pajaros) which is a nesting site for marine birds such as grebes, giant fulmars, oystercatchers, as well as cormorants, terns, and gulls. The third stop is at a series of rocks where cormorants have made a home.

Tierra del Fuego is the southernmost national park on earth—240 square miles of very rugged country. This is an area where the timberline is low, glaciers are common, fjords are deep, long, and spectacular, streams and rivers flow year-round, and rugged mountains jut up several thousand feet directly from the ea. Tierra del Fuego is home to several of the world's largest birds, including the rhea, the condor and the albatross. Large animals include guanacos, otters, seals and sea lions.

We enjoyed our brief stay in Ushuaia, but we found the city fairly lacking in distinctiveness. Since we did not take a tour, saw little of nature, and stayed close to the port, we did not get the same feel for the place those who came just for the wildlife might have. None-the-less, we enjoyed the picturesque nature of the city with Mount Olivia as part of the mountainous backdrop of the city.

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Images for Ushuaia, Argentina, are at the website:

Wikipedia offers all the regular entries for different places and spends most of its time on the history of Ushuaia:

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Copyright May, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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