Ushuaia at Bottom of the World

On our way to and from an Antarctic adventure on the National Geographic Explorer vessel, my husband and I had a little time to spend in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It was an unexpected part of our expedition, but we found it was a city worth visiting in its own right and wished we had budgeted more time to enjoy it. 

Our first taste of the city was from a tour bus between the airport and a waiting catamaran that would be our introduction to the Beagle Channel. As we drove through town and then into Tierra del Fuego National Park, our guide shared with us some of the details that make this part of the world so unusual. Often a rainy climate where winds can blow up to 75 miles per hour, this is the only place in Argentina where the mountains, sea and forest all come together. This makes excellent terrain when rain turns to snow for visitors to ski, dog sled and enjoy music events that celebrate the longest night of the year in snowy June. The Andes make a sharp turn here at the southern tip of the continent and begin to run from west to east and then underwater down to Antarctica. 

Tree roots grow along the surface of this young land where only a few inches of soil rest on a surface that was covered by a glacier just 20,000 years ago. Beech trees adorned with wild mistletoe make up most of the forest. Sadly, the climate here is inhospitable to trees; it can take up to 300 years for one to fully decompose, and it takes up to 100 years for a new one to grow. A wild plan to increase residency in Ushuaia by introducing 48 beavers for hunters in 1946 went terribly wrong and now up to 100,000 beavers gnaw on those remaining trees without predation. 

Residency in Ushuaia has long been an important goal for Argentina as a way to exercise sovereignty so close to Chile. In fact, the entire territory of Tierra del Fuego is separated from the rest of Argentina by the Strait of Magellan and is only accessible by land on roads that traverse through Chile. Thus, it has been a priority of Argentina’s to entice residents to the territory and establish the country’s position there. The park through which we drove was established in 1960 for that very reason.  

Before that, other efforts had been made toward the same goal. There had been a native population, the Yamana, who had made Tierra del Fuego their home for thousands of years, but missionaries who had discovered them in the 1850s brought diseases that eradicated their population by 1881. Then, the first Argentinian flag flew in 1884. The small settlement the missionaries began didn’t really take hold until Argentina established a penal colony in Ushuaia in 1902 to further promote settlement. The thought was that jailers would bring their families along, and that would motivate schools, stores and businesses to support and grow the small city. 

The prison officially closed in 1947, but now a museum there depicts what life was like for the prisoners who were among the worst in Argentina. Small cells and strict rules were the way of life for up to 600 inmates who inhabited the 386 cells. In the first 20 years of the prison, inmates worked to build up Ushuaia. Not only did they build their own penitentiary, they built the city’s roads, bridges and a 25km train track through town and up to what is now the National Park. Their work groups provided services such as printing, firefighting, electricity and telephones to the rest of the city. It was almost impossible to escape this prison, and very few tried. Their stories are included in exhibits tucked into restored cells there. 

In other wings of the prison, art and culture of the area are highlighted. One exhibit expands on the historical information about the first Yamana people. We had become aware of these fishing people at an interpretive center in Tierra del Fuego National Park, but this museum uses more life-sized dioramas to explain different aspects of their story.  

The prison also devotes space to the special bicontinental relationship Argentina has with South America and Antarctica – one of only a handful bicontinental countries in the world. Penguin species from Antarctica are displayed in icy dioramas and explorers from the Heroic Age of Exploration are honored near plaques detailing their expeditions and models of ships that were important to the history of the area. 

Argentina’s efforts at settlement in Ushuaia have been successful. The population of this university town has grown from 4,600 in the 1960s to over 60,000 now. Downtown, shops sell outdoor gear to explorers headed into Patagonia for hiking or south to the White Continent. A Hard Rock Café serves loyal globe-trotting fans, and gift shops peddle marble penguins and mugs from the End of the World. Argentina still tempts settlers by exempting Tierra del Fuego from any federal taxes, but for us the natural beauty, warm welcome and proximity to so much outdoor fun is enough to lure us back. 


Albatros Hotel:

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Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at 2023 CREATORS.COM

Bold and Beautiful Buenos Aires

My husband and I recently had an opportunity to spend a long weekend in the city of Fair Winds in Argentina, Buenos Aires. This current name is an abbreviation of the city’s original name, Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Ayre by Spanish explorers who recognized the fresh air in the original malaria-free port of San Telmo, named for the patron saint of seafarers. 

On a day-long private tour we visited this original port area and were surprised by cobbled streets and brightly mismatched buildings that harken back to the humble origins of this neighborhood. Originally an immigrant barrio first settled in the 1500s, the neighborhood eventually became a rough shipyard area. By the mid-1800s, it was largely filled with Italian immigrants. They could not afford paint for the rough shacks they built there, so they used leftovers from boats in port and cobbled together patchwork exteriors. More immigrants arrived from all over Europe, and in this raucous mix of culture the Argentine Tango was born. 

During our tour of the capital, we saw many of the wide boulevards and giant mansions that added to the city’s unofficial title of Paris of South America, and our Porteño guide took us deeper. Locals are called Porteños, or People of the Port in Spanish. Their Parisian ties began in the late 1700s when the French revolution influenced fashion and culture. Then, in the mid-1800s, a series of epidemics moved wealthy families out of the crowded city center to Recoleta where they built elaborate French-styled mansions. An especially large wave of Spanish and Italian immigrants moved into the neighborhoods they had vacated, and while Spanish influences had diminished after Argentina’s 1816 independence from Spain, Italian influences blossomed. The city’s pizza shops are said to be the best in the world, and hand gestures on the street reminded us of a recent trip to Rome. But other European influences also remain in places like Palermo’s meticulous Rose Garden, designed in 1914 by a French landscaper. 

Unfortunately, the growth and abundance of this city came to its knees with the 1929 stock market crash in the United States and still hasn’t recovered. Wealthy families who relied on cattle and agricultural trade were ruined and ultimately forfeited their mansions that now house embassies and other endeavors. We lunched by a fountain in the dappled courtyard of The National Decorative Arts Museum, a renovated mansion that is home to a small signed bronze Thinker by Rodin and a maquette of a fireplace section the artist had designed for this grand home. 

Rodin’s work is also featured just a few minutes’ walk away at the free National Fine Arts Museum. Tucked between rooms of paintings and statues from world-renowned artists are two rooms entirely devoted to Rodin. There we saw his drawings, small casts and large sculptures. I was particularly captivated by the small bronze and large marble sculptures of The Kiss. Elsewhere the galleries were laid out somewhat chronologically to illustrate the influence of time on the evolution of art.

Once in this Recoleta area of Buenos Aires, one is almost honor-bound to find time to wander through its cemetery. Once an out-of-town vegetable garden for priests, this 13-acre cemetery was eventually absorbed by the city and became another place where wealthy families demonstrated their affluence. Stained glass, sculptures and extravagant details adorn the mausoleums of presidents, military men, aristocrats and even the famed Evita Peron whose political impact is still felt today in families who remain divided about her.

Farther out of the city, Argentine culture takes a more relaxed turn. One afternoon we visited the Tigre Delta and had succulent fresh fruits served in a cup of orange juice at the Port of Fruits, the docks where fruit once entered the city of Buenos Aires. It is now an area of interior design shops, produce stands, craft stalls, and the wicker, cane and reed markets that are local specialties. We hopped on a tour boat that wound through the world’s fifth largest delta where there is no running water and groceries and water jugs are delivered by a market barge to summer cottages that now pepper the shores of this meandering estuary. 

Taking our adventure the opposite direction into the pampas, we spent an afternoon on an estancia, the Argentine version of a working ranch. Gauchos with jaunty berets led us on horseback through scrub brush and among cattle, and afterward we sat on rustic benches sipping beer and nibbling empanadas in the shade. Later, we were served a lunch that included seven roasted meats and bottles of local Malbec by those same ranch hands. We capped off the afternoon with traditional dancing to a lively three-piece band. 

Our guide had mentioned that Argentinians are passionate people when he suggested we take in a tango show. What had begun in La Boca as a forbidden men’s dance with its roots in the waltz eventually incorporated women into its sultry tangle. It is true that the culture, food, wine and history in Buenos Aires are passionate, but it is the people who bring that passion to life, and in that night of tango, we felt its intensity thrum through us with each movement of the powerful dance. 


Book a Guide: Emiliano Rossi

Where to Stay: Miravida Soho Wine Bar and Hotel

Take in a Tango: El Viejo Almacen

Enjoy an Estancia: Estancia El Ombu de Areco

Decorative Arts Museum:

National Fine Arts Museum:

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at