Today started early! I think the next few weeks will be fuelled by coffee and very little sleep. After a 4:45am breakfast buffet we were loaded onto busses and driven to the regional airport a few minutes away. Despite the early, or maybe I should say late hour, there were countless people up and about, on their way home from last night’s party. It’s true what they say about going out in Argentina. We were handed tickets, walked through security and within 15 minutes were boarding our plane. I could get very used to this! Best part of the flight was definitely getting off though. Not because it was a bad flight but because we got to see Tom and Tyler (two other fellows who had done the expedition before us) through the glass. We were able to have a quick conversation and took a few “group photos” through the glass before being whisked off to our awaiting busses.
Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world, is located in the province of Terra del Fuego, in the region of Patagonia. Apparently it actually started off as a penal colony, much like Australia, earning it the nickname “Argentinian Siberia”. You can still see the narrow train tracks that would have taken the prisoners back and forth to their work.
Warning… I’m going to geek out in this next few paragraphs… bear with me!
We learned a lot about the ecology of the area during our hour-long bus ride to the Parque Nacional, where we would have lunch and a catamaran cruise. So much of it was applicable to our Science 10 curriculum (yes, even when I’m gone I think about it a little bit). The soil in the area is relatively young considering the last glacial retreat was only about 15,000 years ago. Due to this and the cool year round temperatures (range is 0C in winter and 10C in summer, moderated because it’s surrounded by water) the soil is thin and there are relatively low levels of bacteria resulting in slow decomposition rates. A single tree can take upwards of 70-80 years to rot! Fungus ends up playing a bigger role in this process, which was evident by the hundreds of trees covered by tumors and parasitic mushrooms.
When the road could go no further, and I do mean no further… we went as far South as motorized vehicles could take us… we disembarked from the busses and walked a few minutes to our awaiting catamaran. After yet another delicious meal we motored down the Beagle Channel, stopping to take pictures of sea lions, cormorants, terns, albatross and even a few gulls. As I looked around in awe of this beautiful scenery I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through Darwin’s mind when he first visited this place in his role as the naturalist upon the HMS Beagle. Was he as impressed by the mountains rising out of the sea? Did he recognize the path cut by the glaciers as they retreated thousands of years before? To be able to follow in any of his footsteps is a Biologists dream come true.
Quote of the day: “There are sunny moments not sunny days” our naturalists giving a rather poetic description to the fact that there are only 40 sunny days here a year