Northern California meets southern Argentina

At 55 degrees south latitude, Ushuaians claim to live in the world’s southernmost city, although the Chilean town of Puerto Williams on the southern side of the channel is a legitimate challenger. Ushuaians note that theirs is a true “city,” but the word wards persist. Ushuaia is Argentina’s fastest growing city, partially because of economic opportunity and partially because of its status as a duty free port.

Ushuaia’s houses are painted in pastel colors to brighten things a bit. Winter temperatures drop well below zero, and the sun rises only briefly during the season. Summer, the climate is pleasant, and it can even get warm. Strong winds can and do blow up in an instant and calm in the next, especially in summer.

The Argentine Navy once operated a penal colony on Isla de los Estados, a tiny island off of Tierra del Fuego’s eastern coast. The prison at Presidio de Ushuaia functioned during the Devils’s Island era, and was considered escape proof. Argentina was vying with Chile for the disputed territories in the area and the penitentiary offered a plausible excuse for maintaining military presence. Residents at the time were mostly nomadic hunters and trappers who considered themselves not Chilean or Argentinian, but Patagonian.

After the turn of the century, the jail was relocated to Ushuaia and it became a favored holding place for political prisoners until after WWII. Though it has a rather unpleasant history, Ushuaia owes its existence to the institution. The train that brought in prisoners returned northward with local wood. In 1947, the prison became part of the Naval base, and has now been restored as the Museo Penetencario.

I spent the early morning today working out, having a late breakfast, and then heading into town with Wayne after washing up. We walked down to the Falklands War Memorial (right by the one casino in town), headed up to the Anglican church, Iglesia de la Merced, billed as the southernmost Anglican church in the world, and then up to the Presidio. Once we finished walking about, we wound up at Galway’s Irish Pub, where we hoped to get a pint of Ushuaia’s own Beagle Beer. Unfortunately, they were out, and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to taste the beer named for HMS Beagle.

As luck would have it, we found a three pack at duty-free as we headed back to the boat, so we were able to sample the beers over the rest of the day.

The big event of the afternoon was the decontamination of all our outerwear for the trip to Antarctica. We had to wash the soles of our shoes, and then vacuum all the remaining outerwear and our backpacks in order to avoid bringing in any foreign flora with us to the continent. We will be a group of 40+, and only 20 people are allowed on King George’s island at any given time, so I think there will be quite a bit of downtime on the continent tomorrow, given that we are able to make the flight due to visibility and winds. Wish us luck!

It was still light at dinner (sunset is after 9 pm), so our evening meal with Ivan and Sue was more than pleasant. Glaciers still abound as we move out of the Beagle Canal and towards the Straits of Magellan.

Wish us luck!