Difference between revisions of "Tierra del Fuego"
Revision as of 14:09, 26 April 2009
Tierra del Fuego  is an archipelago off the south of South America, separated from the mainland by the Magellan Strait. The 73,753 km² archipelago was divided between Argentina and Chile in 1881. The eastern part 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.
The five medium sized islands and numerous small islands, islets and rocks include:
"Tierra del Fuego" (Spanish: "Land of Fire") got its name from Ferdinand Magellan who, on passing the archipelago in 1520, spotted a number of fires burning along the coastline. These fires may have been made by the archipelago's aboriginal inhabitants: the Ona, Alakaluf and Yahgan (commonly called Yamana). Four aboriginals were taken from Tierra del Fuego in 1830 by Robert Fitzroy, and were sailed to Britain to meet the King. The three survivors later returned to Tierra del Fuego on the Beagle, with Charles Darwin, who believed the native Fuegans to be "the missing link".
The arrival of missionaries, introduction of sheep farming and the discovery of gold in the 1880s led to European, Argentine, and Chilean immigrants, which gradually killed off the native Fuegans. An excellent book on the history of the Yamana and their demise is The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges, the son of one of the early missionaries. His father, Thomas Bridges, documented what he could of the Yamana language and found that it had a larger vocabulary than the English language.
Today, the economy is based on petroleum, tourism, textiles, electronics and, to a decreasing degree, sheep-farming.
The western parts of the archipelago form the southernmost tip of the Andes range. The eastern parts are an extension of the Patagonian plateau. Based in the south of Patagonia, the climate is cold but warmer than many assume; in winter, the average temperature is -2. In summer, it can climb to 30, although in reality it rarely rises far beyond 10. There are frequent high winds and much rainfall, especially in the coastal areas.
There are regular Aerolineas Argentinas flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and Rio Grande. Air services also link major settlements to Punta Arenas in Chile. Buses from all over Argentina enter Tierra del Fuego via Rio Gallegos. NB Buses running from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia all pass through Chilean land, so include two border crossings. A regular ship, the ferry Melinka, links Porvenir and Punta Arenas, and naval vessels supply Ushuaia and Isla Navarino, Chile.
Roads are poor in Tierra del Fuego, and, apart from the tourist tour train, there are no railways. There is little public transport. However, tours / transport can be booked through the Tourist Office (on San Martin, Ushuaia) or through many of the hostels. Taxis are another option, costing, for example, Ar$7 to get from the city centre to either the airport or Glaciar Martial. There are also several car / bicycle hire companies in Ushuaia.
A regional specialty is King Crab, called centolla in Spanish, and seafood is usually excellent. Otherwise, local cuisine follows the tendencies of Chile and Argentina in general. Fruit and vegetables have to be transported from thousands of miles away and, as such, are rarely tasty.
Ushuaia has several bars and one nightclub.
Crime rates on Tierra del Fuego are very low. If hiking or trekking, it is important to take warm, waterproof gear.
Flights can be booked from the Aerolineas office in Ushuaia. Buses to Buenos Aires and other destinations (apart from Puerto Natales) all stop at Rio Gallegos. It can be cheaper to just buy a ticket to Rio Gallegos and purchase an onward ticket from there.