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Argentina: Ushuaia is the gateway to the world of the penguins

Pinguine as an eraser, Christmas ball and flower vase, as jewelry, plush toy and as a cup. There are all kinds of penguins in Ushuaia. Also on T-shirts, fridge magnets and on postcards. The shops are full of them and outside, on the street, the birds dance over the walls as a street art comic.

Ushuaia, the small town on the southernmost tip of Argentina, is a penguin town – even if the birds don’t live here. The closest penguin colony is located on Isla Martillo, 75 kilometers away.

Ushuaia is also a construction site. Jackhammer thunder, dust covers the street white, a worker paints new wooden benches in the park. Everything should be pretty in the city, because although it is four hours’ flight from Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires on the island of Tierra del Fuego, there is a lot going on here: Behind the foothills of the Andes, a large pier, on which cruise ships lie, extends into the beagle -Channel. Here is the port, which city guide Laura Sortino calls with a smile the “heart of the city”.

Cruise ships bring us plenty of money

In fact, most of Ushuaia’s residents probably only live here today because the port is the gateway to the world of the penguins. In the summer months, cruise ships heading south, ice-safe expedition ships like the “Fram” or the “Nature” start from there.

70 percent of all cruise ships that target penguins, whales and icebergs leave from Ushuaia. The source of income for the city is correspondingly large – at least in the summer months.

Argentina: In Ushuaia, penguins are only available as souvenirs. The closest penguin colony is located on Isla Martillo, 75 kilometers away

The closest penguin colony from Ushuaia is 75 km away on Isla Martillo

Source: pa / Christian Ender

From the port of Ushuaia, ships such as the 300 meter long “Princess”, which can accommodate 2,000 passengers, travel around the southern tip of South America, Cape Horn, to the wild glaciers of Patagonia, to Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. “Up to 3000 cruise tourists come to our city every day in summer,” says Sortino.

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And they want to be supplied: container ships dock to bring fruit and vegetables to the south of the continent. There are hardly any farms and farmers in Tierra del Fuego itself, and neither meat nor other fresh food is produced here.

The Yamanas on Tierra del Fuego were exterminated

In the heart of Ushuaia, on the pier, cranes and forklifts push the goods into the bellies of the cruise ships. Half the city is on its feet, you sit in the small park and even the souvenir shops are closed. “It’s the fourth day in a row that it’s warmer than 15 degrees,” says Sortino. That is also unusual for a midsummer day. “That is why some stores open later, they make it heat-free.”

Work is still going on in the port, there is a constant back and forth of pallets and packages. Since the first cruise ships headed to Antarctica in the 1970s, Ushuaia has been the unofficial Antarctic base camp.

The service concept was not always capitalized in the city. An inglorious chapter in history began in the 19th century after English missionaries had entered Tierra del Fuego. They founded a first settlement on the banks of the Beagle Canal in 1848 and wanted to lead the natives, the Yamanas, to the right faith from there.

Argentina: English missionaries brought Christianity to Tierra del Fuego in the 19th century

In the 19th century, English missionaries brought Christianity to Tierra del Fuego

Source: Getty Images / Posnov

But the conquest of Ushuaia by the Argentine Naval Forces in 1884 could not prevent the conversion from going wrong: the Yamanas were exterminated. They were not hunted and murdered, as happened on the other side of the southern hemisphere in Tasmania and Australia. Nevertheless, there is only one Yamana woman living in South America today.

Their people were wiped out because the missionaries urged the unbelievers not only to believe the “right” belief and eat Western food, but also to wear European clothing. Not a good idea in a constantly damp, cold climate. The clothes dried poorly, the Yamanas died of colds and other diseases that the Europeans had brought in and which were also transmitted directly by the textiles.

Argentina established a penal colony

In 1896, the Argentines set up a penal colony in the remote location between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The first prison with small huts made of zinc and wood was built in 1902 Presidio Nacional relieved the national prison.

There were 76 single cells for violent criminals and multiple offenders, such as Cayetano Santos Godino, a small man with protruding ears who had killed several children and against whom the Ushuaias still warn their offspring today. “Don’t go outside in the dark, Godino is lurking, we say,” says Sortino.

Not only murderers, but also politically inappropriate people like the writer Ricardo Rojas sat in the cold, damp cells, which were particularly dark in winter. More than 600 prisoners sometimes lived on two floors – as many as the city had residents.

Tierra del Fuego (Argentina): Figures on a facade commemorate Ushuaia's past as a penal colony

Figures on a facade are reminiscent of Ushuaia’s past as a penal colony

Source: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The inmates shared a shower and toilet room and only saw the sky through tiny windows or when they were sent to work in the woods. Thanks to their drudgery, Ushuaia even exists – the prisoners of the 19th century ultimately built the gate to the penguins.

To do this, they first had to fetch stones and wood from the Tierra del Fuego forests. Then as now, the wind drove rain and snow over the rough landscape, the muddy ground made every step a pain. Finally the convicts built it Xirocarril, a train that ran on wooden rails. Initially, oxen pulled the loads over the rails, later they were laid on 25 kilometers of Decauville rails and small locomotives were used.

“Train at the end of the world”: A museum train takes visitors through the swampy forests

Credit: Getty Images / Martin Harvey

Today, a museum train travels through the swampy forests with the “Train at the End of the World”. The silvery, weathered tree stumps that are left over from the clearing pull past the train window with tea and pastries.

Cayetano Santos Godino and Ricardo Rojas should not have heard of penguins. Only once has a living penguin appeared in Ushuaia. “He was lost,” says Laura Sortino.

Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina)

Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina)

Source: WORLD infographic

Tips and information

Getting there: Several airlines fly to Ushuaia, mostly via Buenos Aires.

Ushuaia highlights: The Maritime Museum in the former prison offers several exhibitions on subjects such as history, shipping, aborigines, prison and an art gallery (museomaritimo.com). The museum steam train “Zug at the end of the world” (trendelfindelmundo.com.ar) drives to Tierra del Fuego National Park Tierra del Fuego. Buses also start there from Ushuaia; Guided hiking and canoeing tours are part of some round trips (e.g. at studiosus.de; wikinger-reisen.de).

Travel to Antarctica: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, for example with the “Hanseatic Nature” or the “Bremen”, 14 days from 9633 euros per person (hl-cruises.de); Hurtigruten, for example with the “Fridtjof Nansen” or the “Fram”, 12 days from 7,524 euros per person (hurtigruten.de).

Further information: turismoushuaia.com

Penguins discover the camera and take selfies

These two curious penguins discover an unusual object that lies between snow and ice in their home. The camera is eyed extensively. This creates great shots!

Noteworthy ports worldwide

Warnemünde: The gateway to the Baltic Sea is also the starting point for cruises to Norway’s fjords, even for transatlantic trips to New York. Before that it is worth a few days on site. The seaside resort with the two-kilometer-long lake promenade, the fishermen’s cottages on the Alten Strom and the bath-style villas is nice for strolling, on new thalassotherapy trails and in the seawater spa of the legendary hotel “Neptune” you can experience the healing power of the sea. And the university town of Rostock, to which Warnemünde belongs, offers a lively gastronomic and cultural scene in addition to the old town and the famous zoo (warnemuende.de).

Dubrovnik: Croatia’s gateway to the Adriatic is not just a highlight of Mediterranean cruises: the picturesque port city that is ready for filming has been booming as a trend destination, at the latest since it became known as the location for the successful “Game of Thrones” series. The old town with buildings from the Middle Ages, Baroque and Renaissance is a Unesco heritage, you can walk around it on a walk on the two kilometers long medieval city walls, the best preserved fortification of this kind in Europe. With 250 days of sunshine a year, the clear water of the rocky coast and bays with sandy beaches, it is also ideal for swimming (visitdubrovnik.hr).

Miami: The Florida Gate to the Caribbean is also worth more than a shore leave. The beaches are world famous, but the US metropolis also surprises with culture. She advertises that she owns most of the Art Deco buildings in the world. In the Design District, galleries are lined up with exhibition spaces and creative restaurants, and in the trendy district of Wynwood, there are murals by street artists. Two national parks – Biscayne and Everglades – are great for day trips, and the Little Havana and Little Haiti neighborhoods whet the appetite for the Caribbean (miamiandbeaches.de).

Participation in the trip was supported by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/independency,

This text is from the WELT AM SONNTAG. We would be happy to deliver them to your home regularly.

WELT AM SONNTAG from February 23, 2020

Source: WELT AM SONNTAG

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