Argentina – Ushuaia

February 28, 2008

(February 21,22,23) Ushuaia has named itself the “end of the world” and is proud of it. 

blog6410-350x233.jpgRoute 3, a major north-south road that extends in the form of one national route after another from Alaska, on the far side of town becomes gravel, enters Tierra del Fuego National Park, and eventually peters out with a sign announcing the travel promotion board’s signature theme.

For a place seemingly so far out of it, Ushuaia and its surrounding area is amazingly green. Forests of beech cover the blog1059-350x263.jpgmountains and lupin grows wild as well as in masses in many gardens. We even saw a flowering shrub that looked as if it might be freesia. All of this is because the sea acts as a moderating influence on the climate, which averages 1C in winter and 10C in summer.In addition to this relatively uniform temperature, there is no dry season. And, on our visit, we experienced summer through late fall within an hour or two, evidently a typical day in Ushuaia.It’s always interesting to ask, “Who discovered this place?” but of course it was “discovered” long before the Europeans showed up.

Unfortunately there is virtually no trace of the indigenous tribes that peopled the area. They were all quickly exterminated in the last decades of the 19th century. European sailors, fishermen and adventurers wiped them out even more efficiently than their racial peers did in the United States.

It is fascinating to visit the history museum in Ushuaia and see that 90% of it is devoted to the last century with virtually nothing to be said in way of apologies for the erasure of a pretty amazing aboriginal civilization that was here centuries before its genocide.

blog6413-350x233.jpgNow there is a thriving European population of some 70,000, growing so quickly in the last few years that community planning and housing stock appear not to have kept pace with the demand.

Most of the newcomers take up their initial residency in closet-sized, never-going-to-be-finished dwellings tossed together, often jammed in between more prosperous and not-so-prosperous housing built just a year or two before. Just now we are beginning to see multiple-family units that seem to make more sense as starter homes.

Not so surprisingly, one does not “dine” in Ushuaia, but one can eat well. Most of the restaurants, at both the higher end and what passes for the other end, offer crab, crab and more crab; as well as black sea bass and Antarctic scallops.

Crab, in all its guises, is prepared out of its shell, cold, ceviche-style, or in any number of sauces. No vegetables are ever served with it. That said, all the crab we have eaten is fresh, tasty and very reasonably priced (no higher than $US24 for a main course at the fanciest place in town.

That particular restaurant, called Kaupe, was recommended by everybody, from the guides to the hotel concierges, and touted as having been named the “Best Restaurant in South America. It did win an award, from the Argentinian Gastronomic Academy (as one of the best new restaurants in Argentina) but it is a real stretch to rate it as anything other than maybe the best restaurant in Ushuaia. But, hey, they are trying and it is worth a visit.

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