Tierra del Fuego “Earth of Fire” – the birth of a bird watcher!

After spending over two weeks in the smog of BA, arrival at the most southerly point of the world instilled in us a huge amount of excitement and trepidation given the fact that, as per usual, we were massively unprepared for any climate below 20 degrees. Thankfully we had found some cheap sportswear on sale during our last day in the city to avoid looking like complete muppets in only flip-flops and shorts!

The approach into Ushuaia did not disappoint; with the airport nestled onto a small island off the foot of the main port, the view from the plane is spectacular with the ragged snowy mountains of the Andes meeting the Atlantic.

Given the proximity to the antarctic we were aware that the weather here can be unpredictable at the best of times particularly during the spring; when you can experience all 4 seasons in any given day . Thankfully we have managed to escape the rain which has been a god send since Andre is hiking in tracksuits bottoms, a water-resistant (not proof) fleece and his trusty work out trainers which don’t enable him to wear any socks!

We have spent an action packed three days exploring, each day being completely different.

Day 1 – Sailor for the Day

Crammed with 3 other couples, we spent the day on rustic (and rusty!) fishing boat, island hopping along the Beagle Channel, which forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina.

The amazing surroundings providing some real Planet Earth moments; this is the closest we have felt to feeling like Sir Attenborough, particularly given the nomad tour guide we had for the day (I apologise now if I get all geeky in this post…there just slot of info I wanted to jot down before I forgot it all).

She was a delightful character, even though she was a Frenchie of the worst kind…a Parisian. Interestingly, very much like us, she was disillusioned with life as a sales assistant in a Parisian camera store and decided to go traveling for a year…11 years on and she is still here!)

Whilst we are on the topic of the French, I have to mention the amount of French tourist here! They come in droves in every age group, whether it be the elderly types ( as you will see from pics of our tour group) or as young travellers who seemed to takeover of our hostel.

For those of you who read my BA post, we have begun to live more frugally; meaning we are cooking dinner every night and preparing our pack lunches for our daily treks. Now I know the popular Lurpack advert portrays the French as being experts in the kitchen but this is no excuse for being soo rude! I have never had to deal with such a rude bunch or arrogant bitches before in my life! Slurping their red wine, completely taking over the 4 of the 8 cooker hobs that an entire building have to share, spending far too long cooking smelly cheese, wearing their tight chinos and polo shirts. To top everything off, they frequently decided to let everyone wait for them to finish eating before they bothered to wash the 100 dishes they used whilst cooking their 3 course meal!

Sorry for the rant but I really did need to let it out….back to the tour on day 1

Stop one was to see the Sea Lion colony (which I would just like to add, was nothing like seeing them at the zoo!) who have no real predators here (…apart from the odd whale from time to time!)

This colony is particularly large which in itself was interesting, since there were in addition to the huge dominate male, another 4 teenage sons; all fighting for the attention of the 100 or so women on the island.

Very much like Norwich, they must all be somewhat interbred since colonies work a little like harems with the dominate male spending most of his time spreading the love with his besotted wives. Much like a Roman epic the father will eventually be over thrown by one of his sons in a fatal battle! All of this over a bit of ‘fresh fish’ so to speak….given my persuasion I just can’t see the need to be honest, but hey that’s how god ironically has intended it to be I guess.

The sea lions share the island with a large colony of King Cormorant who equally thrive on the rich waters; a result of the Pacific meeting the Atlantic (specifically around cape horn which is at the end of the channel).

The next stop was Isla H; a privately owned and protected nature reserve home to the more interesting specie of the Cormorant, known as the Imperial Shagor or shitting birds, as the locals call them. Apart from the obvious difference in colour, this specie nest on cliffs (as opposed to the planes of the King Cormorant) with the colony being made up of pairs ( husband and wife) who much like parrots or penguins will spend their entire lives together. Mating season had finished a couple of weeks ago, so the couples were busy taking it in turns to incubate their eggs ( usually two or three) and feeding.

The pics below should help explain why they are known as the shitting birds…as you can see their preferred choice of building material is their own shit! Clearly the more intelligent couples are those choosing to nest at the top of the cliff!

Whilst there were some other birds such are hawks, atlantic doves and some peculiar looking geese, I will save you all the pain of me getting ‘all anorak’.

I will however, spend some time explaining the fascinating story of the indigenous people (the Yaghan people) that were living on these islands as recently as the early 1930’s.

At their peak there were 3000 people from different tribes who were all nomads jumping from island to island living from the land and sea ( mainly sea lions and berries since nothing else much grows in this harsh climate). Unfortunately ever since the arrival of the White man, there is only one true blood native left ( an elderly lady), who I hear has become somewhat of a tourist attraction on the Chilean side ( in Port Williams where most expeditions to the Antarctic begin).

These people remarkably lived naked until their contact with the Europeans. They survived the harsh weather by building fires everywhere, including in their boats which were wooden canoes. It’s for this very reason that the passing Europeans gave this archipelago its name, Tierra del Fuego or Earth of Fire.

The Europeans persuaded them to wear clothes which obviously got wet, leading to them catching the flu which has sadly wiped out the majority of them over the years. Perviously they only had animal fat and shelter from rock formations to withstand the Arctic winds. Interestingly they had evolved a higher metabolism than normal humans; resulting in a degree higher body temperature.

Ironically the only thing missing from the islands was drinking water. Much like the early humans?? They had developed tools which also included straws using the bones of the Antarctic Doves which they used to dig into the ground to drink the ground water…to my utter surprise we came across one of the particular shelter points on the island which still had old bones and evidence of where they had built their fires!

If you’re wondering why I am crouching this way, it’s because they actually sat like this reduce their surface area and conserve heat.

Looking around the town of Ushuaia today you can see the descendants of these natives since they tend to be shorter, stockier with Mongoloid features. Strangely, the town has a vibrant youth culture that have created some impressive walls of graffiti (better than what we spent hours worth of walking trying to hunt down in BA!)

After learning about the Yagahans, I found the piece below, which is on the side of a bank, even more intriguing.

After doing some reasearch on Wikipedia (I know I know I am turning into German Andre!) I discovered that during then time of Darwin ( who was linked to their study) a group of them were shipped over to Europe to be put on show and to be ‘civilised’. 2 of the 4 unfortunately died, sparking controversy in Britain and so the remaining two were returned to be integrated back into their communities to be missionaries and ‘civilise the savages’! A period of our bleak history that I think is portrayed quite well in this image.

This particular thought has made me think of America, which leads me to day two, which was spent trekking with our American room-mate (thankfully he turned out to be Canadian and a fire fighter in a national park, so a great person to hike the imposing mountain range that leads to the Glacier Martial).

Although an experienced outdoor type, our new Canadian friend must have not read the warning in the guide books of the effects of the hole in the ozone layer since he tuned bright red.

Day 3

Consisted of hiking in the regions namesake national park… I will let the pics speak for themselves!

My favourite bird so far…anyone remember woody the woodpecker from when we were kids!


One comment on “Tierra del Fuego “Earth of Fire” – the birth of a bird watcher!

  1. Pingback: Sunday Jumble Spoiler – 11/20/11 « Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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