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Ushuaia, Patagonia Argentina

Ushuaia is literally the city at the end of the world. Positioned on one of the southernmost points of the American continent, it offers glaciers, mountains, woods and sea.

Found on the southernmost point in the map of Argentina you can find “Tierra del fuego”(land of the fire). You wont find in the world any state province to the south of “Tierra del fuego”. Although we shall see mostly glaciers, fog and icebergs this country receives it’s name because of the “Yamanes” Indians campsites. Their camp fires where seen in the distance by conquerors.

Ushuaia is the state capital of “Tierra del fuego”. The city´s architecture reflects the contrasts of very old houses made out of wood and modernly built buildings used mainly as hotels.

Ushuaia’s location in the map makes us think of a very tough weather, we are wrong. During the summer temperature is at an average 11ºC and it has sometimes reached the upper twenties. In the month of January daylight can last around 18 hours.

Towards the beginning of the 19th century the first expeditions started to get to “Tierra del fuego” soil. In 1832 Charles Darwin and captain Fitz Roy headed one of the world ´s most known trips here. These two gentlemen got here aboard the “Beagle”. The waterway path is named Beagle channel. Darwin collected fundamental natural testimonies which became basics for his revolutionary “Theory of the Evolution”.

Charles Darwin’s Adventures

>The voyage lasted almost five years and, as FitzRoy had intended, Darwin spent most of that time on land investigating geology and making natural history collections, while the Beagle surveyed and charted coasts.He kept careful notes of his observations and theoretical speculations, and at intervals during the voyage his specimens were sent to Cambridge together with letters including a copy of his journal for his family.He had some expertise in geology, beetle collecting and dissecting marine invertebrates, but in all other areas was a novice and ably collected specimens for expert appraisal. Despite repeatedly suffering badly from seasickness while at sea, most of his zoology notes are about marine invertebrates, starting with plankton collected in a calm spell.

On their first stop ashore at St Jago, Darwin found that a white band high in the volcanic rock cliffs included seashells. FitzRoy had given him the first volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology which set out uniformitarian concepts of land slowly rising or falling over immense periods, and Darwin saw things Lyell’s way, theorising and thinking of writing a book on geology. In Brazil, Darwin was delighted by the tropical forest, but detested the sight of slavery.

At Punta Alta in Patagonia he made a major find of fossils of huge extinct mammals in cliffs beside modern seashells, indicating recent extinction with no signs of change in climate or catastrophe. He identified the little known Megatherium, with bony armour which at first seemed to him like a giant version of the armour on local armadillos. The finds brought great interest when they reached England. On rides with gauchos into the interior to explore geology and collect more fossils he gained social, political and anthropological insights into both native and colonial people at a time of revolution, and learnt that two types of rhea had separate but overlapping territories. Further south he saw stepped plains of shingle and seashells as raised beaches showing a series of elevations. He read Lyell’s second volume and accepted its view of “centres of creation” of species, but his discoveries and theorising challenged Lyell’s ideas of smooth continuity and of extinction of species.
As HMS Beagle surveyed the coasts of South America, Darwin theorised about geology and extinction of giant mammals.

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Three Fuegians on board, who had been seized during the first Beagle voyage and had spent a year in England, were taken back to Tierra del Fuego as missionaries. Darwin found them friendly and civilised, yet their relatives seemed “miserable, degraded savages”, as different as wild from domesticated animals. To Darwin the difference showed cultural advances, not racial inferiority. Unlike his scientist friends, he now thought there was no unbridgeable gap between humans and animals. A year on, the mission had been abandoned. The Fuegian they’d named Jemmy Button lived like the other natives, had a wife, and had no wish to return to England.

Darwin experienced an earthquake in Chile and saw signs that the land had just been raised, including mussel-beds stranded above high tide. High in the Andes he saw seashells, and several fossil trees that had grown on a sand beach. He theorised that as the land rose, oceanic islands sank, and coral reefs round them grew to form atolls.

On the geologically new Galápagos Islands Darwin looked for evidence attaching wildlife to an older “centre of creation”, and found mockingbirds allied to those in Chile but differing from island to island. He heard that slight variations in the shape of tortoise shells showed which island they came from, but failed to collect them, even after eating tortoises taken on board as food..In Australia, the marsupial rat-kangaroo and the platypus seemed so unusual that Darwin thought it was almost as though two distinct Creators had been at work. He found the Aborigines “good-humoured & pleasant”, and noted their depletion by European settlement.

The Beagle investigated how the atolls of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands had formed, and the survey supported Darwin’s theorising. FitzRoy began writing the official Narrative of the Beagle voyages, and after reading Darwin’s diary he proposed incorporating it into the account.Darwin’s Journal was eventually rewritten as a separate third volume, on natural history.

In Cape Town Darwin and FitzRoy met John Herschel, who had recently written to Lyell praising his uniformitarianism as opening bold speculation on “that mystery of mysteries, the replacement of extinct species by others” as “a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process”. When organising his notes as the ship sailed home, Darwin wrote that if his growing suspicions about the mockingbirds, the tortoises and the Falkland Island Fox were correct, “such facts undermine the stability of Species”, then cautiously added “would” before “undermine”. He later wrote that such facts “seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species”.

Land of Fire, Argentina and Chile

The “Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego” (national park) is located 18 kilometers from Ushaia. This park shows a mélange of mountains and seacoast. The geographical boundaries with Chile are seen here.

The national park of Tierra del fuego is only 18 km west of Ushuaia. Its area is somewhere around 63 thousand square kilometers. Only 2 thousand of this square km is dedicated to the recreational uses of people. Inside the park there are six camps dedicated to receive humans that want to get in direct contact with nature. 

Six kilometers is the length of the Beagle channel that go thru this park. Also, the mountain ridges stretching between lakes and rivers (south and north of the park) create barriers that divide incredible valleys of difficult human access.

Plains here are where you will always find red foxes, rabbits, beavers and guanacos. The park’s coastline is the place to see the black head albatross bird and the petrel bird; you shall also see other kinds of sea mammals. The flora of this park includes among others, big cinnamon trees, woodchopper trees, “ñire”, “lenga” and “guindo”. During the summer (October-march) violets, orchids, “siemprevivas” and Margarita’s make of this beautiful landscape, a multicolor picture.

Summertime also offers the opportunity to take time off to embrace one of the many offered activities. You can examine nature’s gifts venturing thru organized trips, trekking, and mountain
Bikes, kayaking and sport fishing in the crystalline lakes or rivers. 

Inside this national park different paths in existence, are prepared for our biking or jogging experiences. The difficulty levels do not require prior training. These pathways are entrances to small paradise like country sides, including the “Castoria”, the “Lengas”
Circuit (that has a panoramical view to the Lapataia bay) and the Hito XXIV (marks frontiers with Chile).

Ushuaia southernmost city in the world.

The Presidio at Ushuaia is known as “the jail at the end of the world”. We can find it in “bahia Golondrina” and now its visited as a museum. From 1902 to 1947 this jail held some of the most wanted outlaws in South America. Another visit you have to do is the Train at the end of the World that goes thru woods, mountains, rivers and valleys.

Because of weather conditions the summer is the ideal time of the year to be at Ushuaia. You can take trips thru the Beagle channel (observing sea wolves and Magallanes penguins at Cape Horn) or you can take cruises that include all of the “Atlantida Argentina”. There is a good possibility that you might want to try one of the many extreme adventures offered here (trekking, horse rides, mountain bike, sport fishing, etc.)

Nightlife at Ushuaia is prepared to meet many types of fun. The length of San Martin Avenue holds restaurants, shops as well as very peculiar pubs and teahouses. After tasting some of the food specialties in the area (thornback crab, shellfish, fire lamb, etc.) many take a trip to one of the six Casinos in town holding Black Jack and crabs tables.

The Yaghan people, tierra del fuego.

Ushuaia is a land filled with history. From Indians being colonized, outlaws and jails to travelers expeditions in the 19th century. Showing the evolution of mankind and societies. We find out that in Ushuaia there are still many mysteries uncovered.

At the present time Ushuaia has a population of 60 thousand. Before this city was civilized, stories about Indians, colonization and world travelers looking for unexplored territories took place here.

The history of Ushuaia takes us back thousands of years when the “yamanes” Indians arrived on canoes. These Indians lived on both sides of the Beagle channel, and surrounding channels that led to Cape Horn. Their lives were based on the hunt of sea wolves that provided the skins for the survival of extremely cold winters.

Around six thousand years later the “yamanes” way of living started to be disrupted when the first explorers sailed for more territories (expansion wave of the 19th century). In 1832 the ship commanded by captain Fitz Roy anchored outside what today is known as Ushuaia. The Beagle was the name of this ship. Giving name to the channel that allowed this trip. Charles Darwin was on board.

Darwin’s voyages thru Tierra del Fuego served greatly for his theory of human evolution. Samples he used in the theory came from here. Many scientists and social experts say this theory changed the preconceptions of our evolution.

In 1871 the first mission of the Anglican Church was established. Father Thomas Bridges headed this settlement. In 1884 the government of Julio Roca occupied the region. 18 years later the “Jail at the end of the world” was created. This of course started changing all the ways of Ushuaia.

Built by the same outlaws that gained their imprisonment to this jail at the end of the world. From 1902 to1947 the most dangerous criminals were sent to this jail. The duties and jobs prison mates had, supplied services (like wood and metal works, lumberjacking, crops gathering) for town. Prisoners here also built roads, repaired the pier and established the first railroad tracks.

In our days this prison has become a museum filled with memorandums. You can see black and white pictures that reflect history.