Friday, December 23, 2011

In which a symbol of Canadian industriousness wreaks havoc in Southern Argentina

The city of Ushuia, Argentina really does feel like it is at the end of the world. And yet a lot of people live there – it is a major jumping off point for Antarctica and for the beautiful parks in the area. There is also oil and gas production and a surprisingly large manufacturing area. One of the guide books I read dismissed it as an uninteresting and dusty town. I’m not sure about uninteresting, but dusty – yes. We were there on a rare warm and windless day. In fact when we got on our tour bus most people were gasping for air. The driver announced that this was the first time –ever – that he had put on the airconditioning. This led to half the bus wailing ‘Madre de dios es frios!’ while the other half was gasping for air. Lots of negotiating over the AC. Fortunately we had lots of stops so people could bail out and either warm up or cool down.

Anyhoo, the point of our tour was to see the park and then take a catamaran cruise to see the sea life.  As were were touring through the park our guide was explaining the trees, the shrubs, the birds. And then we pulled over so she could show us a beaver dam and lodge. To which we said to each other ‘Beavers? Our friends Castor canadensis? They’re down here?’ Well, it turns out they are and it is a tale.

Back in the 1940’s the Argentinean military decided it would be a good idea to start up a fur trade, and who better than the good old beaver. They live as far north in latitude as Tierra del Fuego is south, so – why not? Now, in 1845 we might excuse such thinking but by 1945 they should know better. But I guess there is no arguing with the Argentine military, so ‘help yourself’ said Canada and 25 breeding pairs were sent south.

You know this isn’t going to go well, right? Turns out that lovely glossy fur is a result of the cold. Which it isn't here. Not cold enough, not long enough. And soon enough the beavers are on the loose. But they have no natural predators. And it is warm, so they don’t have to doze the winter away in their lodges. And now there are some 150,000 of them. Wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. And they’re huge! 15 to 25 kg is the norm in they’re natural habitat. Some as big as 60kg have been caught down here. Just a reminder that mother nature puts things where they belong and if they aren’t somewhere else – there’s a reason!

After driving through the Tierra del Fuego park we arrived at the end of the road, which is the end of the Pan-American Highway.


Yep – turn around and it is a mere 17, 849km back to Alaska.

At the end of the highway a catamaran was waiting to take us on a sea tour:


It really is a beautiful part of the world, with the mountains rising right up from the ocean, lots of birds to see. Out in the Beagle Channel are rock outcroppings (I’m not sure that they are big enough to qualify as islands). The first one we visited was shared by sea lions and cormorants.



Is there anything more relaxed than a sea lion?


Beautiful place….


The city at the end of the world.

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