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Argentina: Tierra del Fuego National Park

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Tierra del Fuego National Park | Argentina | Americas

[Visited: April 1994, November 2011]

Tierra del Fuego - I had been there, a long time ago: in the early 1990s, while discovering the beauty of Patagonia and the far south of South America. Only old pictures, and memories that had almost disappeared with time remained; but now, on my way to Antarctica, I was back in this part of the world. Back to Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world, I realized how, 17 years later, the world had changed, and I had changed with it; I had lived life with its ups and downs, and had traveled an awful lot ever since my first visit to Patagonia. Inevitably, I searched my mind for old memories, but then, I realized that this was partly futile. Ushuaia is not the quiet town it used to be: according to its inhabitants it had tripled in size since my visit; it did not make much sense trying to revive days gone by. But still, when our minivan pulled out of Ushuaia, I had images in my head of Tierra del Fuego National Park. Back then, I had rented a bicycle in Ushuaia and paddled to the very end of the road. I had considered doing the same, but decided to do a one-way hike instead in the national park. Joining me today was a French girl I had met the day before on the bus ride from Puerto Natales.

Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Beach with crystal-clear sea water with the Beagle Channel in the background

The day was perfect: it was sunny, warmer than I had thought, and we walked down to the sea in our T-shirts. A beach with incredibly transparent water awaited us; we had reached the Bahía Ensenada, with the Beagle Channel in the background. Before our eyes, the tranquil waters extended to the other side, Chile: snow-capped mountains marked the horizon. On a small wooden pier: a small shop selling stamps and other items, and also a stamp in our passports, "The End of the World". That is how Ushuaia is selling the region. But as long as our planet is round, how can there ever be an end to it? Yes, of course this region is very remote, and almost everywhere else is far from here. Then again, this goes for more places in the world. In any case, the stamp is there to prove that I have been to Tierra del Fuego. This is also a trailhead for a great hike, mostly along the coast. It follows the Bahía Ensenada and the Bahía Lapataia, sometimes going a little inside, into the lenga and guindo woods, beautiful subantarctic southern beech woods; somehow giving a feeling of being very old and sturdy, able to brave the harsh climatic conditions here. Then, we would exit again, and find ourselves on a small, protected beach, always with that crystal clear water, always surrounded by birds, and always with the snowy mountains across the water to remind us that despite the summer-like conditions, we were actually at the southern tip of the continent.

Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): The end of Ruta Nacional 3 is the end of the Panamericana

While the quiet waters give the impression of being a lake, I had to be reminded by my friend that we were hiking along the sea as we continued our way west. Once upon a time, though, what is now the Beagle Channel was actually a huge glacier, which developed into a lake; only at a later stage, with the rising of the sea level, a link to the sea was established. It explains the landscape of rocks and mountains: this basically is one gigantic moraine. Small inlets of the sea, with islands, proved a paradise for birds of which we saw many. Above and behind us, now, we could see snow-covered hills: the snow-line was still very low; so was the tree-line. We were now approaching the end of the Ruta Nacional 3, which is also the end of the Panamericana highway, leading down the Americas all the way from Alaska. Memories came back: I had seen a pole with worn shoes, left by people who had walked all the way down the Americas, notes by cyclists, and other memorabilia, near a small sign in the woods at the very end of the road. However, things looked very different now. A parking lot could accommodate both cars and buses, while a path continued beyond the end of the road; there was no sign of anything left by those travelers who had made it all the way from Alaska. Moreover, a small crowd was waiting for a minivan to go back to Ushuaia on the complicated transportation system. We walked the boardwalk over the boulders - which offered fantastic views over the Bahía Lapataia and beyond. Yes, things had changed here, but then again, what remains is the desolate landscape of islands, rocks, trees, mountains, snow - giving the environment a timeless, centuries-old feel.

Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Bahía Lapataia with small islands
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Transparent sea water with the Beagle Channel and snow-capped mountains of Chile in the background
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Stretch of beach in the Tierra del Fuego National Park
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Woods of lenga and guindo trees are common in Tierra del Fuego
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Inside the woods of Tierra del Fuego with lenga and guindo trees
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Snow-capped mountains across the sea, rocky coastline in the foreground
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Small inlet of the sea at Bahía Lapataia: paradise for birds
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Looking through the trees: protected beach in the middle of the southern beech woods of Tierra del Fuego
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Typical landscape of Tierra del Fuego
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Landscape near the very end of Tierra del Fuego, Lapataia
Picture of Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina): Landscape at Lapataia, the end of Tierra del Fuego National Park

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