January 22 Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia
The ship docked at Ushuaia in the middle of the night, so when we woke up this is the view that we saw. Ushuaia describes itself as “the southernmost city in the world”. With a population of about 40,000, it sits on the south end of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, at the tail end of the Andes.
We had a full day in Ushuaia, so we took a tour out to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. In the first half of the 20th century, Ushuaia was a prison town. The prisoners would take this narrow-gauge railway out to the logging area, which is now the national park.
The forest in the national park was mostly open lenga forest, perhaps because the convicts had cut down all the really big trees fifty years ago. Our group walked a trail about two kilometres long over a hill; in the forest we saw these white orchids and the magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker.
This was the first time we had seen the famous calafate bush; they say that if you eat its fruit you will return to Patagonia. This particular specimen didn’t have fruit yet, but we did eat calafate jam several times. It tastes much better than jam made from its North American relative, Oregon Grape.
We came to an old beaver pond and were reminded again that the Canadian beavers had been imported to Tierra del Fuego in the 1940s, and ever since had been a pest species with no predators. Canadians had nothing to do with this, though. It was Argentinian businessmen who brought them, hoping to earn big money in the fur trade. But the weather wasn’t cold enough to make good beaver fur, so they just turned them loose. Now there are 60,000 beaver in the area.
At the high point of the trail we looked across the Beagle Channel, to the Murray Channel cutting between Isla Navarino on the left and Isla Hoste on the right. The Murray Channel is the direct route to Cape Horn, but until about a year ago it had been closed to civilian traffic by the Chilean navy.
Our hike took us back down to the coast and along to Bahia Lapataia, which is almost at the Chilean border. Although they can’t be seen in this picture, there were actually Black-browed Albatrosses soaring over the bay.
We were at the end of everything here, so why not the end of the road as well? In this case, the end of Ruta Nacional 3, which is part of the Pan-American Highway. It starts in Buenos Aires, probably as a 6-lane highway, and ends as a two-lane dirt road here, 3063 kilometres later.
Lupines are a common garden flower in Patagonia. The cultivated varieties come in a couple of hundred different colours. These are outside Patagonia Mia, the restaurant just outside the national park where we had lunch.