Finally! About twenty years ago we took a cruise around the bottom of South America from Valparaiso to Buenos Aries with a stop here at the very bottom of the continent. Our ship made it to the mouth of the harbor, but high winds prevented us from coming in. We peered at the town through binoculars gritting our teeth. Finally, the captain gave up and sailed on. Today it took us only about three hours to fly here. Finally.
Thanks to huge subsidies this town has become a city with 70,000 residents. The Argentinian government decided that it was worth it to bribe people to come here. Otherwise they never would. Temperatures rarely are above 50 and it rains constantly. Salaries are five times higher here than they are in the north and pensions even more. People heat their homes year round and pay about $5/month to do so. There is no sales tax as there is in the rest of the country. As the new federal government struggles to keep inflation under control, new austerity measure have locals protesting in the street. At times they have shut down the road from the airport to town, but today they have taken over a block of Main Street, lighting fires to keep warm and stringing tarps to keep themselves dry. The Chinese are shipping cell phone components here for the locals to assemble. We can't imagine that this makes economic sense, but it's happening nevertheless.
When most people first come here, their intention is to accumulate a grubstake and return home again, so a home is merely a place to sleep for a few hours before going back to work. But it has begun to dawn on the second generation that they may be here to stay and we were welcomed to a local home for snacks that was beautifully decorated and had great views of the harbor from its hillside perch. This couple had traveled a lot and had walls full of souvenirs, a collection to rival our own. The weather was unusually superb today with no rain and temps warm enough to send the locals to the ice cream shops. We hope that lasts.
We met with a Falklands War veteran who spoke to us about his experiences on what he calls the Malvinas. It is clear that for Argentinians the war is not over. The war was a fiasco for Argentina. The military sent a SEAL team there to conquer the place and pulled them out leaving a crew of teen aged conscripts behind. They hoped this confrontation would bring the world's attention to the fact that these islands so close to them should no longer belong to Great Britain. Margaret Thatcher did not agree. Her harrier jets blew the one decent military ship the Argentines had out of the water, sending 600 sailors to their graves. The soldiers like our veteran were poorly equipped and trained and after a month of living in the peat bogs with little to eat, they surrendered. The young soldiers were traumatized and felt like they had let their country down. They were also disappointed that the Chileans had not helped them, but they had almost come to blows with them four years prior, arguing over the borders here at the bottom. After heading south the Andes take an east west turn and crumble into the sea. Sorting out which chunk of rock belongs to who was a challenging task.
Ushuaia is a major staging town for Antarctic expeditions and its downtown is full of outdoor equipment retail stores. Tomorrow we will board a small ship for a four day exploration of the inlets, glaciers, and fjords in the area. We understand that the ship has no wifi, so more news will be delayed.