The history of the southernmost point of the AMERICAN continent has always been linked to seamen and adventurers, frontiersmen and mythical native inhabitants such as the Patagones or “Patagonian Giants”.
The Portuguese seaman Hernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan) arrived at the area in 1520 and baptized it with the name Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), after observing the bonfires the Onas or Selknam natives kept burning in their canoes to navigate by night and keep themselves warm. I also think the sunsets may have lead in part to the Land of Fire idea.
This is an area of vast indomitable landscapes, islands and channels.
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the south of South America, separated from the mainland by the Magellan Strait. The eastern part of the island belongs to Argentina (the Territory of Tierra del Fuego) and its main towns are Rio Grande and Ushuaia. The western part belongs to Chile (Magallanes province) and its main towns are Porvenir and Puerto Williams. Cape Horn is at the southernmost part of the archipelago, in Chilean land (Wikepedia).
Ushuaia Argentina is the tourist center of Tierra del Fuego, and base for most excursions, treks and trips to Antarctica. Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world.
Ushuaia itself is a cute town, but for backpackers, it is very touristy. Many boat and cruise ships dock here from Chile, other parts of Argentina, and many, if not most, cruises to Antarctica leave from there.
There are a few museums town. One that’s pretty cool, literally speaking, is the Prison Museum of Antarctica. I can’t believe they really needed a prison for bad boys – it seemed like the good guys could just load up the bad boys and take them on a short boat ride over to Antarctica in the winter, not give the prisoners any down coats, UGGS, food or shelter. That would probably be all that was necessary to cool down the bad boys – you’d think!
Anyway, the Prison Museum was pretty interesting. In 1896 the prison received its first inmates, mainly re-offenders and dangerous prisoners transferred from Buenos Aires, but also some political prisoners. During the first half of the 20th century, the city centered around the prison built by the Argentine government to increase the Argentine population and to ensure Argentine sovereignty over Tierra del Fuego. The prison was intended for repeat offenders and serious criminals, following the example of the British in Tasmania and the French in Devil’s Island.
Click HERE to visit the TTS store filled with original products!
Escape from Tierra del Fuego was difficult, although two prisoners managed to escape into the surrounding area for a few weeks. The prison population became forced colonists and spent much of their time building the town with timber from the forest around the prison (Wikipedia). They also built a railway to the settlement, now a major, stunning, and not-to-be-missed tourist attraction known as the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), the southernmost railway in the world.
The prison operated until 1947, when President Juan Perón closed it by executive order in response to the many reports of abuse and unsafe practices. Most of the guards stayed in Ushuaia, while the prisoners were relocated to other jails farther north.
Much of the early history of the city and its hinterland is described in Lucas Bridges’s book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948). I recommend this book if you are going to the end of the earth or are hoping too.
A CRUISE AROUND THE TIP
Cape Horn is where I went on a 3-day very small cruise ship – a trip of a lifetime. Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island. Although not the most southerly point of South America (which are the Diego Ramírez Islands), Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage and marks where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. For decades it was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard (Wikipedia).
The need for ships to round Cape Horn was greatly reduced by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Sailing around the Horn is widely regarded as one of the major THRILLING challenges in yachting. A few recreational sailors continue to sail this route, sometimes as part of a circumnavigation of the globe. Several super ocean yacht races, notably the Volvo Ocean Race, the VELUX 5 Oceans, and the Vendée Globe, sail around the world via the Horn. Speed records for round-the-world sailing are recognized for following this route are a big deal. In 1987 The British Cape Horn Expedition, headed by Nigel H Seymour, rounded Cape Horn in the worlds first ever ‘sailing kayaks’ called ‘Kaymaran’ two sea going kayaks which could link together with two sails mountable in any four of the sailing positions between the two kayaks…
I and the other passengers were supposed to take a Kodiak (small rubber raft) from our little ship to the Cape Horn monument – a very touristy thing to do, but awesome. However, the weather was so bad we only got to take pictures of the monument from the ship. The pictures below are both nice days, not the day we went, however.
Opps, another map – I just want my audience to be oriented. Just think of your globe turned upside down. See how close Antarctica is to the tip of South America. I am not a real geography guru, so I find it very interesting to learn where places are in the world. I guess I slept through those high school classes.
Oh, and did I mention the penguins. Yep! There are some penguins at the southern end of the earth and they like to stand on the shore and greet the human visitors.
The penguins are just standing on the shore waiting as your Kodiak full of anxious tourists comes gliding in to shore. Some of the islands and shores are protected from humans, meaning you can just look from your Kodiak, but its illegal to get off and walk among them. AND THAT’S O.K. TOO!
To raft among some icebergs is thrilling if you have never done it before. I admit you can do something like this in Alaska.
Of course the sea lions are here also. They DO get to walk, snooze, and swim among the penguins. It looks like they are all buddies – I guess the sea lions don’t eat the little penguins.
Though this trip did not get me to the Continent of Antarctica nor did I get to see or trek where the Emperor Penguins are, I did have a trip of a life time in the region of Patagonia and the archipelago of Terro del Fugo & Cape Horn.
Before I left for South America, I didn’t think I would ever go back – but I know now I will – and very very soon.
Til Next Time