My Argentinian adventure wasn’t over yet. There was just one last bit more to do at Ushuaia – the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
No sooner had I reached the hostel & got back into wifi coverage that the phone started buzzing again as if awoken from deep slumber after a long time. There was a deluge of messages, amongst them being one from the tour company with which I had booked the Tierra del Fuego National Park trip that they would pick me up at 2.45 pm.
After a round of gift hunting & a hearty lunch of Risotto in the market I returned to the hostel & packed my essentials for the tour in a small sling bag. We were off exactly on schedule.
Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for “Land of Fire”) is the southernmost, smallest, and least populous Argentine province. The province had been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years, since they migrated south of the mainland.
The territory was first seen by Europeans in 1520 during Ferdinand Magellan‘s expedition. He named the area Land of Smokes (later changed to Land of Fire), as he saw what were probably the fires produced by the local Amerindian peoples for heating.
When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes. Within fifty years of discovery, only about 350 natives remained due to high fatalities from the endemic diseases carried by Europeans, such as smallpox and measles, as the natives had no immunity to these new diseases. In addition, in the late 19th century, ranchers and settlers committed genocide. The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning “bay towards the end”.
Even after Argentina achieved independence, this territory remained under indigenous control until the nation’s campaign known as the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, after which Argentina organised this section in 1885 as a territory. European immigration followed due to a gold rush and rapid expansion of sheep farming on large ranches in the area. Tierra del Fuego is the most recent Argentine territory to gain provincial status, which occurred in 1990.
There were 6 of us in the Chevrolet SUV. I was the 2nd last to be picked up & got a seat on the rearmost row. Amongst the others were also 2 old ladies, Freddy & Rosy, who were also on Ushuaia for the cruise & though we recognized each other from there we had never really talked. Freddy was from Texas, US & I must admit, looked rather intimidating. Meanwhile, Rosy, seeing my discomfort on the last row offered to switch seats with me & I came to be seated next to Freddy on the middle row. Oh no, I thought to myself! But soon she broke the ice & was inquisitive to know about my experience of the cruise & the more we talked the more I realized what a gentle soul she was behind that stern face 🙂
After picking up the last passenger, a tourist from Buenos Aires, we headed to the National Park. It was a drive of about 20 mins through the other part of Ushuaia which I hadn’t yet seen.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is a national park on the Argentine part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, within Tierra del Fuego Province in the ecoregion of Patagonic Forest and Altos Andes, a part of the subantarctic forest.
Here is the itinerary for the day.
Our first stop was at the train station popularly known as the ‘Train Station at the End of the World’. Iglis, our driver-cum-guide informed us that the original train track covered a distance of 30 kms transporting prisoners from Ushuaia city to the forests for labour but only 7 kms of it was kept operational now for tourism purposes.
In 1994, 40 years after it had been closed as a Prison train, the train was revived, refurbished with modern amenities, used as a heritage train, and claimed to be the southernmost functioning railway in the world. A new 2-6-2T steam locomotive (Camila, brought from England in 1995), another made in Argentina and three diesel locomotives serve on the line. The park can now be reached from the outskirts of Ushuaia from the Fin del Mundo station (8 km (5.0 mi) west of Ushuaia) by the heritage railway line and runs over 5 km (3.1 mi), covering the distance in about 50 minutes.
We next stopped at the Park entrance to buy the tickets. Hereafter the track was mostly gravel. We were informed that this road was the last section of the great Pan-American Highway which ran a distance of about 18000 kms through the lengths of North & South America.
After taking some pics we boarded the car again & headed to the Ensenada Zaratiegui Bay. Iglis informed us that this Bay formed a part of the Beagle Channel & the mountains visible in the distance were the boundary between Argentina & Chile which lay on the other side.
The Bay has a beautiful pier & a post office fondly known as what else but the ‘Southernmost Post Office of the World’.
After taking some pics we proceeded for a little hike along the coast on a well marked track. A beautiful rainbow added more colour to the scenery.
Iglis was also well versed in the flora & kept on showing us the variety of mushrooms & berries that grew there & even offered some to me to taste which I did with a bit of apprehension.
Our next stop was the Lapataia Bay. We again did a short hike here with Iglis pointing out the wild fruits that thrived in the undergrowth.
We soon reached a board marking the end of the road which Iglis pointed out was where the Pan-American Highway ended its journey.
We walked to the viewpoint at the Arias Port & took some great pics of the panorama in front of us.
Returning to the car, we proceeded further to the Acigami lake with its calm & serene waters where Iglis offered us some coffee & cookies which he had carried along with him from Ushuaia.
Five hrs passed by quickly & by 8 pm I was dropped back at the hostel. It was an afternoon well spent again.