"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Twenty-nine, Changes

Ernest Shackleton, after seeing his 27-man crew rescued without loss of life, is greeted in Puenta Arenas, Chile,  with crowds cheering loudly for he and his men.   He remains in South America for a few months, trying to raise funds to pay his large debts.  He also arranges for relief of the Ross Sea group that was to lay supply caches inland for Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic trek.  The men were stranded after their ship broke loose from its mooring on the pack ice.
He lectures, writes two books, and collaborates with Frank Hurley on a lantern slide presentation, all the while repeatedly offering his services to his country in the war effort.  While he performs a few small commissions, none of them come with wearing the uniform of Britain’s military forces.  One book, “South," is critically acclaimed and sells well, but Shackleton receives no royalties from it as they are taken by one of Shackleton’s benefactors for past debts.

He drifts from one enterprise to another, until 1921 when he is again overcome with the siren song of Antarctica.  Several of his former crew join him and the Quest sails from London in September of 1921, bound for Antarctica and some ill-defined purpose


If I thought I was charmed by Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands, this city of Ushuaia (oo-SHWY-ah) utterly captivated me.

I am surprised that we do not have to go through passport control when we dock in Ushuaia.  One of our program managers explains that as far as Argentina is concerned, we had never left Argentina, all due to the country's continuing claim that the Falklands and South Georgia actually belong to Argentina.  Early last year, two major cruise ships sailing under the British flag were refused tie-up at the dock in Ushuaia.  On the other side, it was only last year that people traveling with Argentine passports were allowed to travel to the Falklands and South Georgia.

Be sure to read the last paragraph.

The bustling city is a port of call for many of the world’s cruise operators.  It’s the gateway for tours to the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as the Falklands/Malvinas, and South Georgia. 

Our program managers ask us to respect the feelings of the locals and NOT wear any hats or tee shirts with the word “Falklands" on them.

Note the large, very visible sign "Capital de las Malvinas." 

The strikers blockading the pier to any motor vehicles.

On the back of a jacket.
As far as the Argentine transportation strike went, it works out fine for me because I got to spend a full day exploring this city at the "end of the world," as it likes to be billed.  There is a wee problem with that, because an upstart town in Chile, Puerto Williams, on Isla Navarino across the Beagle Channel and farther east from Ushuaia (00-SHWY-ah),  claims it is the southern-most city.

Kathy with part of the town behind her.

That leaves population and which country advertises the most to settle the claim.   Puerto Williams has a population of around 3000, while Ushuaia’s is near 60,000. 

But, Argentina and Chile are always having dustups about one thing or another.  After refusing to accept binding international arbitration over the ownership of three islands located at the strategic eastern end of the Beagle Channel, the whole mess was dumped in the lap of Pope in the Vatican, who decided the islands rightfully belonged to Chile.  (I am not making this stuff up.)

Why was this so important?  The Drake Passage, Beagle Channel, and the Strait of Magellan are the only three ways of maritime passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the southern hemisphere.   Drake Passage and Cape Horn are wicked, but the Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan also have their demons, like katabatic winds and narrow passages.

The main drag,

Back to the strike.  We have to tour Ushuaia on foot, though.  Men and stacks of wooden pallets block vehicle access to the pier and the waiting ships.  Foot passengers are allowed free passage, and I observe many Chinese tourists hauling their own baggage to a ship next to us.

Took me a while to translate the English on this gift shop sign.

The Three Gauchos help those who want to visit the southern-most national park in the world. With bus drivers affected by the strike and not working, the only transportation is by taxi.   I pause to listen as we walk by a line of waiting taxis.  The cost was $120.00 to get to the park (just a few miles away) and $40 an hour after that.  I have no idea why taxi drivers are exempt from the strike.  Perhaps they weren’t union members.

Kathy and I opt for the town and the prison museum.  And lunch off the ship.  I think we hit every gift shop in town, and then have lunch at an Irish Pub.

The Irish pub where we had lunch.  It seems to be a favorite of the cruise ships crews, too.

Pepperoni pizza with unpitted green olives.

Kathy's hamburger.

After that, a visit to the prison museum.

The first explorers, followed by missionaries, to reach this place were British.  Though Tierra del Fuego was known to Europeans in the sixteenth century, it was not until Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle, explored the waterway that became the Beagle Channel in 1833, and made the first significant contact with the indigenous peoples.  

The Europeans were astonished to find the Yaghans (also known as Yámana) survived with no clothing, and anecdotal evidence suggests they became ill when wearing clothing.  This is a sub-polar maritime climate, not tropical.   Temperatures average between the mid-twenties and mid-fifties.  Snow and rain are common, as is wind.  Some sources suggest the Yaghans had developed a body temperature a degree higher.  While the Europeans shivered under blankets, the Yaghans slept naked on bare ground with no coverings.

I started out with a jacket, but soon stuffed it in my purple bag.  Temps in the high 40s or low 50s and very windy.  I was comfortable.  Yes, those are tee shirts in that bag.

In 1896 a penal colony was established at Ushuaia, Argentina’s version of Devil’s Island.  Re-offenders, dangerous criminals, and political prisoners were held there.

Forced labor by the inmates built much of the town’s streets, squares, and bridges, as well as a railway which now is a popular tourist attraction known as End of the World Train.  The prison was closed in 1946 by Argentine President Juan Peron, after many reports of abuse and unsafe practices.

Today, the prison is a museum, occupying a prominent place on the edge of downtown Ushuaia.

One row of prison cells.

Portrayals of political prisoner at left, convict at right.

Prisoners in leg irons.

On the second floor of this wing, we found the polar explorers exhibits.

There was, of course, Shackleton.

A replica of the Endurance with the James Caird at left.

The James Caird.

 And, wouldn't you know, I ran into my old friend Capt. James Cook.

Capt. Cook's vessel,  HMS Resolution

If my long-ago high school Spanish serves me correctly, I think this plaque commemorates Cook's circumnavigation of the Antarctic Continent.

And then a stroll through town, back to the ship.

Almost every shop in town displayed one of these things for smart phones--can't remember what they're called.

Restaurant display.  They call them king crab here.  In Alaska, we call these snow crab.  They're smaller than our king crab.

Tomorrow, the first of my five flights in a row to get back to Alaska.  But, first, we will return one more time to Grytviken on South Georgia Island, in this blog, if not in actuality.  We have a ceremony to attend there.

(NOTE:  For excellent reads about Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego:

Rounding the Horn by Dallas Murphy who sailed in these areas and wrote a delightful book.
Uttermost Part of the World by E. Lucas Bridges, born in Ushuaia in 1874 to missionary parents.)


  1. I, for one, will be suffering from withdrawal after tomorrow.
    Thanks for all these days of joy.
    Your friend, Missy

  2. Well I too am back .. I too will suffer some withdrawal when this sojourn cometh to a conclusion .. Oh You Talk of Shackleton's SIREN CALLING back to antarctica .. I too am living my own SIREN CALLING to Hong Kong and to India .. also fraught with at least some danger .. and THE YAGHANS .. how could a body temperature elevation of one small degree possibly account for them being able to survive with no clothing .. astounding to read of the things you write for us .. WHEW ! .. Cap and Patti ..