Ushuaia, The end of the world - Day 442
Now, I am not complaining, but going from 37 degrees heat in Buenos Aires to 12 degrees in Ushuaia, the end of the world, is a bit of a shock to the system. And people were walking around in short sleeve t-shirts and shorts. Are they mad?
Let me share with you some information about Ushuaia. It is known as the “end of the world”. Well, it isn’t. The world is round, so there is no end; plus Puerto Williams in Chile is further south along the Beagle Channel, and the Antarctic is 4,649km away. Ok, Ushuaia is the furthest south city, I will give it that!
Our first impression of this small remote city is that it’s a bit like a ski resort. Snow-capped Mountains surround the area, despite it being summer. However, there’s a feeling of poverty here; many of the houses are tiny and made of wood or corrugated metal sheeting. We wondered if they had any insulation, it must be freezing.
Our first port of call was to book a trip along the Beagle channel for tomorrow. Before we went travelling, Tim had read a historical novel called “This Thing of Darkness” by Harry Thompson about Captain Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle, so this boat trip was a must.
As we walked along the town we came across an old London bus! How did that get here? We didn't go on the tour however, did come across a museum called Historia Fueguina, which was surprisingly good. We were given an audio guide and walked around the two floors that had many scenes with over 100 life-sized and life-like figures representing the history of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan named the area this after he saw many fires burning along the coastline as he passed the archipelago in 1520.
The museum first covered the life of the native Shelknam, Haush and Yamanas tribes. Despite the cold climate, these nomadic people would often be naked, and it transpired that having lived this way for thousands of years they had developed a higher body temperature than we have today. They also would eat 10,000 calories each day to keep warm as they had a physically demanding lifestyle, hunting and fishing all day.
It was fascinating to learn how the Shelknam men would paint their bodies and perform secret rituals that the women were not allowed to see. Death would be the result if any female sneaked a peek. The Yamanas would fish, using canoes made from tree bark and branches with a fire raised on earth and stones in the middle to help keep warm.
The next section was about Robert FitzRoy sailing in the 27.4m long HMS Beagle to do cartographic research with a crew of 74 including the young naturalist Charles Darwin. Between 1831 and 1836, they circumnavigated the world, sailing south of Australia, around Cape of Good Hope, up the West of Africa to England, then around the coast of South America.
Onto the third part. Just like Alcatraz and Robben Island, Argentina also had an island to put all the naughty people on – which was here in Ushuaia. So, in 1903 a large high-security prison was built here. The museum described some of the inmates, such as Cayetano Santos Godino who was said to be the first serial killer of the country. He died in 1944 in prison, according to the official report, from a strong ulcer, unofficially it was said that he was beaten to death by fellow prisoners for killing their cat. There were several attempts to escape prison, but none successful for a few reasons. Wearing a blue and yellow striped outfit means you stand out quite a bit, you are on an island surrounded by freezing water, and even in summer, it's cold here.
Lastly, Ushuaia is the “door to Antarctica”. There was a lovely section about Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). His famous advert asking for “men for dangerous trip, with extreme cold, constant peril, not assured returning and other attractions” resulted in 500 applicants. Were they mad? The exhibit told of Shackleton’s exceptional leadership qualities; he valued hard-work and loyalty, and his team’s well-being was his top priority. Without a committed and united team, they wouldn’t be able to achieve their goals. Mmm…I think some leaders of today could learn a thing or two from Shackleton.
All in all, it was a fascinating museum, full of interesting stories and facts, got us involved and was sensory rich. Well done Historia Fueguina 10/10.