Friday, 30 December 2011

A little bit about Ushuaia...

The first stop on my Antarctic trip will be right on the tip of South America  in the  Argentinian settlement of Ushuaia, dubbed as ‘the most southerly city on earth’. With regular flights arriving from Buenos Aires, and Antarctic cruises departing from the port, summer will be particularly busy in this end of the world destination.

Street-life at the bottom of the world, by Luis Argerich
The capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province, Ushuaia is overlooked by the Marshal Mountain range and set beside the Beagle Channel. First settled by the Selk’nam Indians around 10,000 years ago, HMS Beagle reached Ushuaia in 1833, and British missionaries began settling here from 1869 onwards, living amongst the indigenous Yámana people. Today, Ushuaia is a well-established settlement with schools, hospitals and an efficient transport infrastructure in place.

Cruise boats waiting in the Beagle Channel, by Liam Quinn

The prison buildings
1873 saw the establishment of Ushuaia as a penal colony for notorious Argentinian criminals and re-offenders; the first prison opened and received inmates in 1896, with a second prison opening in 1906. The prisons were later combined, and life in Ushuaia in the early 20th century revolved around prison life and employment. They were closed in 1947 due to poor practice, and the buildings became a Spanish Naval base until the early 1990s. Today, the buildings house the well-respected, Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia.

A reminder of the city's former inhabitants, by Longhorndave

The southernmost city in the world?
There are settlements farther south, but Ushuaia is considered the most significant - the Chilean settlement of Puerto Williams is a close contender, though it lacks city status.

Temperatures in Ushuaia range from around 1.6 °C July to 10.4 °C in January, although lows of −25 °C and highs of 29 °C have been recorded in the past. Surprisingly humid, Ushuaia is subject to strong winds and snowfall.

Penguin spotting in Tierra del Fuego, by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo
Fishing, oil extraction, industry and sheep farming are all important occupations this far south, but in recent history, Ushuaia has firmly put itself on the map as a base for eco and adventure tourism. The Tierra del Fuego National Park is one of the main tourist highlights in the area, and visitors who come for hiking and wildlife watching often choose to access the park via the historic ‘End of the World Train’. Ushuaia’s more adventurous visitors might also try scuba diving or sea kayaking and, in winter, Ushuaia boasts the southern-most ski resort in the world, Cerro Castor. Though many come purely to appreciate the penguins and seal colonies that populate the Beagle Channel, enjoy bird watching and whale spotting, and soak up the atmosphere at the bottom of planet earth.

Photo by Leonora Enking

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