The path we have taken only reinforces the notion of how strange and extreme is the presence of Ushuaia in this almost Antarctic confines. Just a few kilometers from Route 3 to the houses of last of cities give way to the raw nature of Tierra del Fuego.
The route begins by entering the strip of Argentina between the great Lago Fagnano (to the north) and the Beagle Channel (to the south).
Take advantage of a wider opening in the broken sequence of the Martial Mountains and hitch a ride on the Larsiparsabk fluvial plain, a river that rises at the foot of the mountain range and twists over and over until, some 60 km to the east, it empties into the Beagle.
the journey of Ushuaia, along the eccentric Larsiparsabk River
Fueled by the constant melting of snowy peaks, the course of Larsiparsabk is barely contained. Here and there, it spills over into the lush smoothness around it. It irrigates multicolored peat bogs and swamps full of parched forest trunks that have succumbed to successive floods.
The lands we move through have an extraterrestrial feel.
Confronted with the abundance of beavers and the dikes that the tireless rodents erect with them, the villagers called them beavers. The influence of animals in the region's nomenclature does not end there. A few kilometers further on, we passed the base of a Cerro Castor. We arrived in autumn from these southern stops.
The first snows are on for days. Later in the year, Castor and its white slopes will become a winter sports resort and entertain the region's skiers.
The peat bogs are repeated. The marshes and marshes succeed each other, now north and south of the uncontrolled meanders of Larsiparsabk. We see them soaking the landscape and the route until, at a certain point, the 3 route gives way to the Ruta Provincial J. Toca an arm of the Beagle Channel and goes back into Tierra del Fuego's boots.
As trees Bandera as a harbinger of the Harberton estancia
Scenarios change. Instead of aquatic excesses, it is an unexpected windy dryness that makes them inhospitable. We feel the gusts from the Pacific sweep over the top of a gentle high.
It is the winds of a long time ago, the constant millenary gales that make navigation from east to west and south of Cape Horn infernal, just below the map, the same ones that valued the protected passage of almost 600 km that Fernão de Magalhães found and sailed in 1520.
The strength of these winds is such that the shrubs do not develop very much and the grass has a faint yellow tone. From that wilderness rejected by common vegetation, some slogans (nothofagus pumilio) intrepid made their nation. We got out of the car. We enjoyed them with the attention they deserved.
Instead of being stiff, these trees submit to the wind and make the trunks and branches grow horizontally, like long lateral hairdos in support. Argentines call them flag trees. They perfectly translate the motto of the pioneer settlers of Tierra del Fuego: bow yes. Never break. We were on the verge of the oldest and most notorious of examples.
Route J meanders for a few additional kilometers. It skirts the other two sea inlets of the Beagle Channel. We entered a twisted peninsula. Finally, we find Estancia Harberton on the east coast of this peninsula, which is more sheltered from the wind, if there is such a thing in these parts.
Finally, the Harberton Estancia Remote
Purplish clouds from the humidity pass at great speed over the green meadows. They filter the already soft light from those extreme latitudes and lend the place a bucolic atmosphere that seems to numb the senses.
In its heyday, many thousands of sheep dotted the pastures and guaranteed incomes never dreamed of by the owners.
For two decades, Tommy Goodall – the founder's great-great-grandson – followed the wave that invaded the last of the cities and converted the stay to tourism. Only a few sheep were kept in order to recreate the past and show visitors the ancient techniques of grazing and shearing.
The Sudden Decline of the Sheep Age
We peeked through a window with broken glass. In the gloomy interior, we glimpsed a large pile of lanky furs. Outside, next to a palisade that serves as a corral, another skin, still bloody, contrasts with the lush grass on which it sits.
Instead of the once abundant sheep, geese and ducks took on the faunal protagonism of the estancia. They circle, elegant and superb. So committed to the place that not even our approach makes them change course.
A century and a half later, the buildings (house, barn, stable, fences) all made of wood or painted metal, crown the landscape as if celebrating the triumph of obstinacy over the rawness of the elements. An old rusty-green Power Wagon truck also resists, parked at a time far removed from its best days.
Thomas Brides: missionary and pioneer farmer
Thomas Bridges, the founder of stay was the first to set up a farm in Tierra del Fuego. But he was not the first to take his life to the province.
In 1869, missionaries from the British South America Mission Society settled in the region for strictly religious purposes. Waite Hockin Stirling, the pioneer, arrived on his own and established himself among the Yamaná Indians. Others joined him. Thomas Bridges was one of them.
Bridges' story couldn't be more unusual. As a baby, he was found abandoned by a bridge in England and was adopted by a missionary. In 1856, aged just 13, Bridges was taken by his adoptive family to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) to participate in the establishment of an agricultural mission station.
In that southern archipelago, he learned to speak Yaghan, the dialect of the natives of Tierra del Fuego, many of them in the meantime displaced to Falkland to be trained in different jobs.
By the time of his first trip to Tierra del Fuego, in 1863, Bridges was already communicating with the natives. This virtue of yours was crucial in establishing a new Anglican mission in Ushuaia. In a flash, stimulated by a few marriages, the population increased. The first European child to be born in the colony was one of Thomas Bridges' children.
The Crucial Role of Bridges in Settlement of Missionaries and Other Settlers
The Bridges have always played a pivotal role in the integration of newcomers among the indigenous people. One of the rooms of the first house they built in Ushuaia was, in fact, occupied by a Yamaná couple.
But Ushuaia's era of quiet proselytizing did not last as long as the Bridges and other pioneers had counted. From 1880 onwards, rumors spread that the fields around Ushuaia they were rich in gold.
Countless prospectors, auxiliaries, merchants and their families flocked to the city only to be disillusioned. A few years later, the construction of the Southern Fueguino Railroad, today called Fin del Mundo train.
In 1884, Bridges hosted the first of the official Argentine expeditions to Tierra del Fuego, carried out with the aim of establishing a sub-perfecture there.
Just two years later, as a reward for his work with the natives, for his support to shipwrecked sailors in the vicinity of Cape Horn and to scientists, explorers and other settlers, he received a plot of land and Argentine citizenship from the Argentine National Congress.
The Abandonment of Proselytism and the Rural Retreat in Far Harberton
At odds with the Anglican mission that had sent him to the New World, he resigned from his duties to settle in a stay. He called it Harberton, after the English village where his wife was born.
When we passed through, the property belonged to Will and Lucas, great grandchildren of Thomas Bridges. It was managed by Thomas D. Goodall, another great-grandson (4th generation).
He and his family lived in the Bridges' original house, built with obvious architectural influence from the cottage British field, with the exception of the whale jaw bones arranged in an “A” as a portico and for others, from different parts of the cetaceans that we find at the edge of the Beagle Channel, in the way of garden decoration.
We continue to unravel Harberton. We round a corner. On the other side, on a porch crammed with agricultural and livestock tools, a septuagenarian employee with a machete cuts large pieces of meat and attaches them to hooks hanging from the ceiling.
Nearby, another chops wood and adds to the gigantic pile with which the people of Harberton will warm themselves in the months to come.
The Amazing Resilience of Bridges in the Farthest reaches of Tierra del Fuego
The Tierra del Fuego winter is serious business. All of a sudden the temperature dips to -20º (or below) as the wind whips the landscape mercilessly. The weather can reveal itself in such a wild way that, especially Argentine and Chilean visitors, knowledgeable about the climate of the depths of their countries, are surprised to find that someone has decided to set up camps there.
And seeing how the Brigdes family not only survived but thrived, despite outbreaks of typhoid fever, periods when the wool price went into free fall, cattle theft and attacks by wild dogs. And despite a winter in particular, more recent, so cold that it exterminated 80% of the cattle and encouraged the family's commitment to tourism for a long time in Ushuaia and throughout Tierra del Fuego.
raid penguinera to Martillo Island and a Flood Return to Ushuaia
Also the Martillo Island, located in front of the stay, became an attraction. It is home to a vast colony of Magellanic penguins. We are told that they began to settle on the beach shortly after the herds disappeared from the surrounding pastures. Later, a few tour operators were allowed to show them to outsiders.
We walk to one of the pontoons that serves the farm and climb aboard a fast semi-rigid. In a few minutes, we disembarked on the gray gravel that covers the island's coastline. They give us an exceptional opportunity to get up close and photograph the animals.
Accustomed to the incursions of different ships, penguins no longer run away from humans as they did at first. Some specimens reveal a patience that is almost confused with photographic vanity.
We started with just us and the other semi-rigid passengers. Eventually, two modern catamarans anchor at the imminent beach. A small crowd flocks to the bow and, for a good 15 minutes, competes for the penguins' best prospects.
We return to Harberton before these vessels set sail back to the Beagle. Under a sky that turned purple to the eye. When we get into the van, a few drops are already falling. We covered the 80 km route back to Ushuaia under one of the relentless rains typical of the ends of the world we walked.