Thursday, February 14, 2019

7. Ushuaia, Argentina


Ushuaia is sometimes called "The End of the World".

Ah, it's not so bad. Actually, it's pretty cool, I mean, a very interesting place, to visit.

Port of Ushuaia at the base of the Andes, the southern tip of the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego

The map display is a large scale view of our route. Ushuaia is the small dot at the tip of the continent. Just north of Cape Horn, it is the southernmost town in the world, about 60,000 residents. We are still in Argentina here. Ushuaia is on the western border with Chile. 

For centuries this was an important supply  and service port for whaling fleets. There was a large penal colony here in the early 1900s (more on this below). Today it is a major port of departure for voyages to Antarctica, for scientists and tourists.

National Geographic's Orion 
for modern day Antarctica-bound explorers

The Orion was at the dock besides us to pick up passengers and provisions for its cruise south. What fun that would be. 
Ah, for the price of a ticket ...

Christmas on the streets of Ushuaia 
Ushuaia is a calm, safe port in the Beagle Channel, way protected from the wild waters of the Strait of Magellan, that passage named after Ferdinand, the first to navigate around Cape Horn, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Remember in 1520 he was the first to circumnavigate the world?

La Cantina Fueguina for fresh seafood.
Notice the stack of boxes by the door?

Charles Darwin came to Ushuaia through the Beagle Channel, eponym of the British ship that brought him here, probably on his way to the Galapagos Islands, during which time he was reputedly making notes on what was to become "survival of the fittest". (check it out)

Note the varieties brewed

Cape Horn and Beagle beer are not to be missed. Not only does Argentina make great wine, but the beer is also terrific, thanks to the German immigrants, we were told. 

Strategically located at the end of the dock for all foreigners entering Ushuaia by sea, is the sign below.
Not sure what is sticking to the sign,
maybe some English toffee gone green?
The casual tourist or the uninformed foreign national  may use the words, Falkland Islands, in a casual conversation with a citizen of Argentina. Be prepared for a quick, perhaps unexpected response; for example, "There is no such place. Perhaps you men the Malvinas!" For a very lively engagement in a bar, bring up the subject, especially if you are British. Be forewarned. Argentinians are very passionate about their claims, and about Thatcher's 10-day butt-kicking in 1982. To use contemporary non-speak, to some locals, that event was just fake news.

Ask an Argentinian seagull if she
has been to the Falkland Islands
and you might get your eyes pecked out 
Ask a Chilean about the Malvinas you will probably get a shrug of the shoulders and some grunting about the Argentinians, who have purportedly claimed some Chilean islands too. There is no love lost between the neighbours on either side of the Andes Mountains. Foreign relations between Argentina and the UK have been on again, off again since 1982. 
did not eat the moustache here

the southern Andes above Ushuaia 

We are going to catch a train now for an excursion into Tierra del Fuego National Park. A toy train - El Tren del Fin del Mundo - well, small gauge anyway, meanders alongside the Rio Pipo at zero grade. The tracks for this, now tourist train, were laid by prisoners in the first decade of the 20th Century. The purpose was to transport the murderers, thieves, recidivist n'er-do-wells, from the prison on the edge of town, into the river valley to harvest the forest.  

Her throat or my camera
- what was more valuable?

At the estaciĆ³n we were accosted by a couple of big jailbirds who unhanded us after fleecing me for 10 bucks for the photo (not over- priced actually).

I felt I was in the land of Lilliput (Swift), the trains were so small, as were the engineers.

In the  ancient, but well- kept coaches we rubbed shoulders - literally with the other Brobdignagians, many of whom spoke our northern language.

Engineer Zubieta's Engine
the controls

All aboard!

Lots of well-worn brass and patina, and smoke and whistles

Engineer Porta's machine

Back at the ship now and one last shot with my telephoto lens. 

This  towering Matterhorn-like peak makes me thirsty just thinking about the gruelling climb to the top.

It's December 27. At 5 pm and we sail away. The sun will not set tonight until 10:15. Temperature is about 52F/12C. The Patagonia Amber Lager sure goes down well.


next blog post is: Punta Arenas, Chile

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

6. Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Puerto Madryn

We are almost half way now from Montevideo to Tierra del Fuego, the tip of South America. Puerto Madryn is a small port city at the northern end of Patagonia.
Argentine Sea

The Argentine Sea is one of the world's largest seas, stretching from Rio de la Plata to the Magellan Strait at the tip of South America. It is relatively moderate in temperature. I should know, I swam in it.

Flag of Argentina with the Sun of May

For those of you who are interested in vexillology (a new word for most readers: the study of maps), there is much information available about Argentina's flag. Centred, is the Sun of May: from the Inca sun god, or from the May Revolution in 1810 when Argentina gained its independence from the Spanish Empire?

How does it differ from the Uruguayan flag? They are  similar, yet different. This is all quite vexing. Sorry, I did not shoot the Uruguayan flag. You'll have to find it yourself.

At the Malvinas Heroes Monument
 we respectfully removed our hats.
This we learned to do at the San Martin Mausoleum in Buenos 
Playa Luis Piedrabuena (aka beach by the pier)

I don't think I got the name of the beach right but that's where I had a quick dip, rather than a swim, because I don't like to swim around ships, especially the older ones that do not have holding tanks for you-know-what ...
Anyway, the water was warm. This is summer in Argentina, after all. 

Today is Christmas Eve. 
From the Marina's daily newspaper we read:

High 85F/29C
Sunrise 5:39 am. Sunset 8:54 pm

The latitude is about 42 degrees South. The California/Oregon border is approximately the equivalent latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. I usually do not  swim in the cold Pacific waters of Northern California. Even way south, the LA surfers wear shorty wetsuits. The warm Brazilian current warms these waters of the Argentine Sea. I did not expect to be able to swim in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of northern Patagonia, just 175 km north of the largest Magellan Penguin colony on the continent!

So what do we do on a hot Christmas Eve shore leave in Patagonia? 
Mas Amor Por Favor Dress Shop

Buy my wife a Christmas present. I had been procrastinating again. 

1. An open credit card at the Mas Amor Por Favor (More Love Please) dress shop for little local blonde girls?


2. Buy her a whole selection of local Argentinian craft beers?
Antiguas Costumbres 

Beagle Beer

Antares + Two
Antares + Four
Surprise Labels


3. Offer her carte blanche at the local wine store for the best Argentinean wine on the shelf?

Descorche Vinoteca

She chose the wine. It was a very special limited Malbec that is not exported. It was our Christmas dinner wine at the  Marina's  French restaurant - JACQUES.

Piattelli is exported, though not this 2017 Reserve, I believe. High elevation vineyards? Don't know much about that but we trust our taste for wine. She has the glass at home now for the pretenders and for the memories.

Me? I got fingerless wool gloves for Christmas. A perfect gift for the photographer guy when we got further south into the cold.

Headless photographer. See gloves.

(after 49.5 yrs of marriage who needs bigger gifts? Actually, the cruise was the gift - Christmas and Anniversary)

the fingers of Punta del Este

Speaking of fingers, I forgot to place the fingers on the right in the Punta del Este blog posting.

What? Look them up. I'm not going back. Gotta move on.

Little did we know that the waters around Puerto Madryn are the breeding grounds for the Southern Right Whale - the "Queen of the Patagonian Waters". We just missed them. They had left these waters in early December with their calves for the feeding grounds southeast of here - above the north coast of Antarctica. 
One of several information panels at the whale interpretation centre
Had we been here only a few weeks earlier we probably would have seen these very inquisitive mammals. We learned that all three species of the right whale are endangered. Here are their estimated numbers today:

1. Southern Right Whale - 10,000 - 12,000
2. Northern Right Whale - 450
3. Pacific Right Whale - less than 100 (near extinction)

These horrifying numbers are the result of more than a century of whaling, now almost completely shut down.

I was a little surprised, and happy, to learn that all shipping traffic along the coast of Argentina must stay at least 50 miles from the coast, and reduce their speeds. This, to minimize danger and trauma to whales. Such rules now apply in most coastal countries.

World reduction in the whaling industry has reduced the harvesting of whales, their mortalities continue to  with whale/ship collisions, noise pollution, fish nets, toxins, and more.

While on the subject of preservation of species, I must say that Argentina is certainly doing its bit. In fact, The government flexes its muscles on the Argentine Sea. 

A small military type ship was berthed near our cruise ship. It was the coast guard, the Prefacto GC-28.

Argentina's coast guard is called the Prefectura or Prefecto. As with all national coast guard services, one of its major responsibilities is to protect its national waters from human piscivores, namely, poachers of its fish. 

The images painted on cutter's upper starboard bulkhead really caught my eye. (zoom in please) What is that fleet of 20 ships? What's with the mad gun-toting shark?
Prefecto Derbes GC-28 - Coast Guard cutter

I asked these questions of the local wharfinger. He had little English and I, little Spanish. We engaged in   a sort of pantomime to extract information and meaning but alas, all the gesticulations, grunting, ahh-ing and umm-ing, mouth breathing, and dancing about came to nought, except perhaps, some unexpected  entertainment for passers-by. 

After the last shrugging of shoulders I took some photographs. I did sense that the Argentinian was proud that I did.

This is what I learned when we got home:

The scary anchor-riding shark with the automatic rifle  is the coat of arms of this cutter. The crown of stars probably represents successful engagements with the shark's prey.

The boats on the wall are fish boats, most of them  Chinese. What they all have in common is that they were caught fishing in Argentine waters by the Prefacto GC-28 - not a good thing. In some cases the interlopers were scared off, escaping into international waters. Some, however, were not so lucky.

The pictures of the boats on the GC-28's bragging  wall represent engagements, or "kills" (by the nasty shark?), just like we used to see on the fuselage of WWll fighter planes.

The name of each ship and the date on interception is indicated.

Of particular note is the  LU YAN YUAN YU 010.

From Wikipedia: It was sunk on 15 March 2016 off the coast of Argentina by the Argentine Coast Guard during a territorial fishing dispute. There were no fatalities. According to trade sources, the ship had been involved in disputes over fishing rights before.
(There is more juicy information about the incident than this).

Don't mess with the Argentine Prefectura!


next blog post is: Ushuaia, Argentina