As we docked in Ushuaia (Ush-why-a) early this morning, there was an eager air of anticipation. It is high summer here…but stepping out on deck provided a necessary reality check. Granted it was above freezing (just) but the wind chill was something else. The mountain ranges (the Andes, no less) surrounding the Beagle Channel revealed fresh snow on the tops and most people scurried off to find some extra layers.
My chosen trip was a scenic route up into the mountains to find a hidden lake. What I didn’t know was that it remains hidden for a large part of the year because it is so high up and the clouds are often very low. Today, the sun shone, the clouds lifted and the lake was revealed. Thermal underwear would have helped when getting off the bus to take the photographs because the wind took no prisoners as it whipped its way through several layers of clothing. Just then, caught between the sun and a flurry of rain, appeared a rainbow. How very appropriate!
Ushuaia is also part of Tierra del Fuego, two thirds of which belong to Chile and the rest to the Argentine. Our guide told us that they only have two winters here and no summer. One of the winters is cold and the other one is colder still.
They are building ski resorts, and can offer some unusual outdoor winter pursuits such as sledging with huskies. Why do people live here and what brings them to what they claim to be the most southerly place in the world? The reasons were complex at first but now it is simple – money. The Argentinian government recognises that the conditions here are very hard and, when they wanted people to come here, they accepted they would have to pay them more… much more. Originally workers here were paid up to 5 times as much as those in other parts of the Argentine. Young people flocked to make money and take their savings home after a couple of years. Many stayed, however, and the city is now over-full. Currently they are paid a little less than the original 5 times more, but still more than double the wages in any other city in the country.
We also heard that this is the end of the Pacific Highway, which begins in Canada, carves its way through North America and right down through South America. Now that could be a trip for the future! I wouldn’t like to do it following in the footsteps of a Canadian we heard about. He literally walked it!! It took him two years and on reaching here he became an overnight celebrity.
As we slip our lines this afternoon we continue our transit of the Beagle Channel towards our next port of call, Punta Arenas. It will still be cold!!