It’s been a while, I know. However, I’ve a fairly good excuse: Antarctic comms leave a lot to be desired, and it’s there where I’ve been the last ~two weeks!…
Quick rewind…: If you can remember that far back, my latest spot of continent-hopping had gone like this so far: Jersey – Saint-Michel – Paris. Well, next up wasn’t in Europe, but in South America: the city of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.
This city fascinated us. Actually, not the city itself – though it is perfectly ok; it was the skies there that blew us away. Some kinda crazy hurricanic-typhonic steel-colored uniqueness. Seriously southern, seriously stunning. Perfectly fitting for the world’s most southern city…
Ushuaia, ‘officially’ the southernmost city, is here. Other cities contending for the ‘furthest south’ crown there are, but they are very few; after all, in the southernmost reaches of the globe there ain’t all that many cities – as they’re ain’t all that much land at all down there – apart from Antarctica, but more about it later on…
The population of Ushuaia peaks at around 80,000 every summer, according to locals we talked to. The main industries are fishing and tourism. Regarding the former: yes, I can see why – the crabs we tried were out-of-this-world tasty. Regarding the latter: yes, the restaurant we ate them in is one of a great many here – to accommodate all the visiting tourists. Many of the eateries line the main avenue here, which is open for (touristic) business all year round.
The tourists mostly fly in from Buenos Aires, or sail in on cruise ships like this one:
A long, long time ago, it wasn’t fishing or tourism you’d have been into here, but sitting on your backside – in a prison. Or maybe strolling to and fro, truncheon in hand – guarding said prisoners. This historical specific is accordingly a bit of a theme here:
As you’d expect with latitudes this far south – it’s mostly chilly here in all seasons. There’s no Gulfstream warming things up – only freezing ocean everywhere, so folks need to wrap up well year round.
Though the climate here is decidedly tundra-like, the trees that grow here are, it seemed to me, un-tundra-like. I guess this point could be argued over aplenty. But at the same latitude in the northern hemisphere the climate can be distinctly temperate. Along the 54th parallel north we have Belfast, Yorkshire, Hamburg, Quebec, Minsk. The further east you go from the Greenwich meridian in the north – the harsher it gets. Well it’s the same on the other side of the planet, just the other way round: the more west you go – the harsher the climate. So don’t be fooled by the temperate-sounding ‘54th parallel south‘. It never really warms up, and there’s a hellish wind here all the time.
Here’s the central avenue I mentioned – Avenida San Martin:
Oh my gorgeous – the fish restaurants here! And Cape Horn beer – oh my glorious! The label says the water used to make the beer is exclusively glacial – from the Andes; the hops are grown on the northern slopes of Argentinian Patagonia; and the malt is also some kinda exclusive local ultra-pure sort. Oh my grateful.
All around (looking inland) there’s the backdrop of rugged mountains with white peaks – snow that hasn’t thawed in the short summer here:
But we’re heading not for the mountains; we’re off to the port. We’ve important business there…
… For example: buying souvenirs! All sorts of memorabilia made of plastic, stone, rubber or metal, all inevitably stamped with… penguins! Curiously – none stamped with polar bears!
I recall the souvenir shop in Anchorage in Alaska – the trinkets there had penguins on too, but also polar bears…
Whoah. Political. Not my thing, but, well, here you go:
So, British pirate ships aren’t allowed to moor? Of course – we just had to go and check for ourselves!
Ok, we didn’t see any British invader-vessels, but we did see this:
‘Ortelus’ has been painted over a former name – which is in Russian Cyrillic!
A little further we came upon a Euro-ship, but still no sight of any British ones:
We quickly forgot about seeking out Brits when we finally came to the ships – late-1980s Soviet research vessels – we were looking for: the Ioffe and the Vavilov (donning new licks of paint, by the looks of it)!
These days, besides being commissioned for scientific missions, the pair are also chartered by travel agencies, like when we boarded. Incidentally, right after our trip the Vavilov was used for a research expedition to Antarctica.
We cast off, and off we sail – southwards!…
Our first task was the safety drill. This included getting inside these here self-propelled bathyscaphes. Each one holds up to 60.
I got to thinking how we’d manage – 60 of us – in one such vessel in a storm somewhere near Antarctica for five days while a rescue ship arrived to save us. It didn’t bear thinking about…
…So we didn’t think about it; instead, we anticipated the adventure that awaited us over there – down there – south, from where the sun was shining. Antarctica, here we come!…