Wednesday 3rd February
Originally we weren't due into Ushuaia (pronounced oo-shy-yah) until lunchtime, but because we didn't go to Punta Arenas we arrived half a day early at 8am - it was dull and cloudy and the lights were still on in the city when we got there. The city was backed by high peaks streaked with snow. We later learned that all the fresh water for the city comes from a glacier on top of one of the peaks. The Marco Polo docked alongside three other ships but this time we were the largest.
Ushuaia is the Argentinian capital of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and known as the southern most city in the world. The island is divided in half with a line north to south with the other half belonging to Chile. Argentina also considers Ushuaia to be the capital of the Malvinas - The Falkland Islands. There was a sign in Spanish at the entrance to the port saying something about 'English pirates'.
It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere and today it was around 12 degC, just a little below their average summer temperature of 14 degC. It was also raining heavily but we walked the 300m into the city and got a map from the Tourist Information Office. It showed a viewpoint at one end of the main shopping street so we walked along to it, going in and out of the souvenir shops on the way. There were lots of outdoor gear shops too as Ushuaia is also a gateway to Antarctica and lots of expeditions go from here. The viewpoint was up several flights of uneven wooden steps and we were disappointed to not be able to see very far due to the mist and rain - I didn't even take a photograph! We walked back along the main street and stopped for a cup of coffee and get some relief from the rain. Then we went back onto the ship for a change of clothes and a quick lunch before our excursion.
We were off to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. There were four coach loads of passengers on this trip. We drove through the town and the outskirts for a short distance before we were in the countryside. It was still raining so I have some more waterlogged photos out of the coach window. The drive to the park was only about 40 minutes and there was a short delay when we got to the entrance of the park for the reception to stamp our tickets and take a survey of where we all came from to help with their research. The coach drove us through gravel roads of the park and we made photo stops at three lakes, the last being at the end of the Pan-American Highway that starts in Fairbanks in Alaska, 17,848km away. Through the mist at second lake we could see there were peaks in the distance beyond the end of the lake. We saw black necked swans and birds of prey, but if it had been clearer we may have seen condors, giant black carpenter birds and southern parrots. There were also thousands of beavers in the park, but we didn't see them either! I asked the local guide on the coach if she had seen the park in the sun. She said she was lucky that she came into the park nearly every day so yes she had, but usually it was like it was today. She took pictures of us with our umbrellas as they don't use them here as it is normally too windy - she said that is how they spot the tourists in town, with their inside out umbrellas! Luckily the wind was holding off where we were so we were able to use them. Whilst we drove back to Ushuaia the guide told us about the area - Ushuaia was settled in 1870 (that's only 150 years ago!) by mainly missionaries hoping to convert the local Yamana Indians. Unfortunately the Indian population was decimated by typhus and measles brought by incomers to the area hoping to find gold - but there wasn't any. It has also been a penal colony and a base for the Argentine Navy. It is currently a centre of manufacturing for white goods and technology. Companies were given huge incentives to set up in Ushuaia and so were the employees. Those employees were mainly young twenty somethings several years ago and now have families and there has been a population explosion. Last year in Ushuaia there were 1600 deaths, but also 16000 births. Schools have to work in shifts - primary in the morning, middle school in the afternoon and seniors in the evening - as there are not enough schools or teachers.
We weren't sailing until 10pm so had time to go back into Ushuaia which was good as the shops didn't shut until 9pm. The rain had stopped but now it was incredibly windy! We went to the same cafe bar that we had been to in the morning and used the wifi. There was an English couple at the next table who were off to the Antarctic on the ship berthed next to ours - how exciting!
The lights were still on in the city and as we sailed away we could just make out the peaks in the background.
First thing tomorrow morning we would be taking a look at Cape Horn - winds of 30 knots predicted, and sea conditions 'moderate to rough'. Oh joy!