February 5, 2020, Ushuaia, Argentina
I feel right at home in Ushuaia. The town runs along the channel and streets rise quickly from the front street. Snow capped mountains tower above the town, boats are in the harbor, cruise ships are tied up along the wharf. Souvenir shops crowd the streets, same shitty weather. Except here people speak Spanish and the souvenir shops sell penguins instead of totem poles. It’s the capital of the largest province in Argentina that includes Terra del Fuego plus the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands (so they say) and a pie wedge of Antarctica all the way down to the south pole. (The claim is based, in part on the Pope’s early 16th century line of demarcation that split the world between Spain and Portugal “to the ends of the earth.” The Eastern boundary of Argentine Antarctica follows that line to 0o S.) Portugal does not have a claim, neither does Brazil, although it does have an Antarctic base.) It has the second coolest state flag in the world (after Alaska’s) The flag has an albatross cutting it diagonally from the top left to the bottom right. The top half is blue with the southern Cross, the bottom half is red. One difference is that Ushuaia has a population larger than all of Southeast Alaska, it is Juneau on steroids. (Another difference, the fleet here is made up of trawlers.)
While walking in town Tuesday night a woman asked us “How do you like our Ushuaia summer?” It was overcast, 40 degrees with 40-mile winds.
I said “Feel right at home.”
“Southeast Alaska.” I got a smile.
Gabriela, one of our Antarctic Expedition team said that Ushuaia was at a comparable latitude with Sitka (Actually it is at 54o S and Sitka is 57o North) and went on to say. “Like in Alaska there is a caste system based on how long you have lived here, or how many winters you have spent here. The highest caste is like me, born and raised here.” She said there are even designations equivalent to Alaska’s Sourdough and Cheechako. One other similarity, tourists ask “Can I spend American Money here?” (The answer in both places is “yes.”)
Tuesday night we got off the ship to walk a little through Ushuaia. I think everyone wanted to get off the ship. Since we skipped the Falklands stop, we’ve been on the ship for 10 days. Some of the crew especially felt the need to find some inexpensive wi-fi. (The ship’s is costly and hasn’t been working so well in these southern waters.) There is am monument of an albatross sheltering the peoples of Terra del Fuego that is striking. I think last time I was here there was bust of Evita in the same place.
On Wednesday we did what many cruise ship tourists do in Southeast Alaska. We took a Catamaran wildlife tour to see two different breeds of cormorants (Imperial and Black Necked), petrels who prey on the cormorant chicks, skuas, and lots of southern fur seals. The sun broke through and we had some blue sky and a chance to see the town from the water.
Afterward we took a daytime walk through Ushuaia, stopping for some hot chocolate that came with a stick of dark chocolate that you stir into the drink. For some reason Ushuaia is noted for its chocolatiers and this may be the second-best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. (Slovak friends will know where to find the best.)