WILD, WILD USHUAIA

Ushuaia, Argentina is a wild, wild place.

Geographically, the city is located on the Tierra del Fuego island. Martial mountains on the north and the Beagle Channel on the south. One thousand kilometers from Antarctica. Mostly surly weather and breathtaking landscapes at this location several hundred kilometers south of the Magellan Straits emphasize the significance of the Portugese explorer’s 16th-century voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

View Across the Beagle Channel - Ushuaia
View Across the Beagle Channel – Ushuaia

The word “audacious” is a better descriptor for the outrageous accomplishments of Magellan and his crew, piloting a 100-ton, square-sailed ship across the Atlantic and through the perilous Tierra del Fuego climate.

In addition to the physical features and climatological factors, the workers of Ushuaia are naturals when it comes to expressing strong feelings or emotions. I discovered this as soon as I reached the airport exit doors – a line of passengers coiled out the door. A taxi strike; no transport from the airport to town. About three-quarters of a mile away, at the entrance road to the airport, a blockade of cars, vans, taxis, tents, and people whistle and chant demands and complaints to sympathetic onlookers. By the time my ten-day stay ended, three such blockades, extending a long Ushaian tradition of striking to end worker oppression. At the eastern end of Avenida San Martin, outside provincial offices, an encampment of workers protesting federal layoffs includes shacks, improvised parillas, and fires in metal barrels. I can’t find out how long they have occupied the street – they are prepared to stay for a long time.

We walked around the blockade.
We walked around the blockade.

At the beginning of a 90-kilometer excursion to Lago Khami (Fagnano), east of Ushuaia through rivers and along an Argentine version of Colorado’s Oh My God Road, our caravan of six 4 X 4 vehicles is stopped at the sunrise edge of Ushuaia, where another blockade, shacks, fires, whistles, and chants, has stopped a mile-long line of semi trucks hauling trailers, passenger cars, and motorcyclists. Again, no explanation or context for ignorant travelers – “We will see you down the road” said the English-speaking guide. And they did.

The blockade was still in place when we returned; however, different vehicles composed the mile-long line. We walked around, again.

Yesterday, I walked by this sign in shorts and shirtsleeves.
Yesterday, I walked by this sign in shorts and shirtsleeves.

Swift, erratic changes in weather are not new to any longtime Colorado resident. Blockades, in-your-face strikes and overt demonstrations lasting more than an hour and viewed in person are rare. The combination of the two is Wild, Wild.