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Tierra del Fuego National Park

Written on: Tuesday February 12th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Ushuaia, Argentina 

Author: Kevin 


Ushuaia is arguably the furthest southern city in the Americas with the exception of the tiny towns of Puerto Williams (a Chilean Navy Base) and Puerto Toro (Argentina) with 36 inhabitants. Although, if we are discussing cities and not little towns and villages, Ushuaia wins the award for the most southerly. It borders the Beagle channel which flows into both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It is accessible by a series of ferries from Puerto Natales, by cruise ships navigating up the Beagle channel, by air from several international locations. The most adventurous choose to arrive from long distances on dusty, pack-laden motorcycles and bicycles after travelling down the famous Patagonian gravel road of the Carreta Austral. 

The indigenous Yamana and Ona canoe people first settled in Tierra del Fuego?s  Isla Grande over 10,000 years ago. Their diet consisted mainly of seafood and their clothing, limited to leather cloaks, were often naked, even during the cold winter months, as proven in photos taken at the turn of the century. Being from Canada, I wondered how this could be, how could they walk around naked in the winter? Wouldn?t things freeze and fall off? Well as it turns out the temperature in this area does not get as cold as we would think. While we get temperatures as cold as -30C/-40C in Ottawa, down in Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego it only reaches an average low of -10C. The first European settlers reported seeing hundreds of fires burning along the shore and throughout the island, which is how Tierra del Fuego got its name of Land of Fire. The indigenous people, due to their limited clothing kept fires burning at all times near them, including in their canoes as they fished. 

Magellan first visited in 1520 in search of an easy pass from Spain to the Asian spice- lands, but it wasn?t until 1880s when European settlers began to arrive. And like many other stories of colonization, for sport began shooting exercises of the indigenous people, killing two-thirds of them in 10 years. By 1910, they were less than 100. The Spanish were notorious for their fixation and fascination with gold and the city of Ushuaia was quickly developed and regional forests were stripped of their lumber.  In 1950 a naval base was constructed and now tourism drives the city?s economy.  Ships to Antarctica bring in big bucks at a minimum of $4500USD per person but most passengers spend closer to $10,000. There have been rumours that last minute deals can be acquired for as low as $2000 USD but this year it wasn?t possible with the sinking of two ships which forced the prices up. Each tour company rents out a boat for a fixed amount of time and runs tours to the great white continent. With two less boats, the law of supply and demand kicked in and the prices rose.    

In 1960, Tierra del Fuego National Park was created and fortunately we had time to spend there. On February 12th, we started out late in the day and at 1:30pm we finally walked to the tourist information office to get our passports stamped and to obtain information on the best hikes in the park.  We took a collectivo from the bus terminal to the park entrance and paid our 30 peso ($10) entrance fee.  Our drivers dropped us off at the start of the trail and let us know that the last bus back to Ushuaia was at 7pm.  That would be just enough time to walk to the end (Chilean border) and back.  We decided to walk along Roca lake, a flat trail through Lenga (beech tree) forest.  The start of the trail was already lush with wildlife.  Rabbits, hawks and white geese were not bothered by our presence.  Strolling down the gravel pathway, we hadn?t walked very far before we started to pull out the camera equipment.  The river?s edge, grassy bank and aquamarine water, flowing from the glaciers above made for picture perfect postcards. It soon opened up to a bay with a green forest on the right and snow capped peaks on the left. The breeze was constant and Julie mentioned that it would be a great place to windsurf. Many trees in the forest have fallen over because of the winds and the shallow soil. We walked along thinking of the Gatineau Park and noticing how similar this forest was to it. Similar plants but different variations were found in this oh-so-familiar environment. 


From Maria Phillips on May 9th, 2008

Hey Kevin, Hey Julie I'm having a hard time finding any entries after Feb 14th. Chris thinks you are in New Zealand but your blog puts you still in South America. Send me a link! Miss you. Maria xo