Feb. 17 – Almirante Brown Antarctic Base

Almirante Brown Antarctic Base is an Argentine research base. When we visited, there was “nobody home” but I suspect that really isn’t the point of these kinds of stations. On our journey we saw active bases, inactive bases, and rescue huts… all operated by different countries. While a lot of important research happens on the continent, I suspect that many of these facilities are actually there as “sovereignty” place markers… pieces on the territorial claim board should the status of Antarctica change. Currently the Antarctic Treaty System designates Antarctica as “ a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.”  According to the Environmental Protocol in the treaty, “All activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research, are forbidden.” Essentially, Antarctica is currently a giant park that several countries have land claims upon, but in the interest of peace they’ve all agreed to get along, even where claims overlap. In that context, the stations are there just in case the treaty falls apart.

When in Doubt, Build a Prison

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA (Feb. 9) – We started our cruise to Antarctica from the small port city of Ushuaia, Argentina. However, we did not have to gather to board the Sea Spirit until 3:30pm, so my cabin-mate and I used the opportunity to explore this city at the “End of the World.”

In no particular order, here are a few of the things I will remember about my visit to Ushuaia:

1) You really must have been terrible or ticked someone off to be sent here.

Talk about the middle of no where!

Ushuaia Maritime MuseumWhat does this southernmost city in Argentina (arguably the world) have in common with Tasmania? Both can trace their settlement roots to prisons; Ushuaia was actually modeled after Tasmania in that regard. The idea was to create a presence around a prison to help maintain claims of sovereignty over the region. (The notion of building things to establish national sovereignty was a running theme of our journey; more on this in a later post). Also the idea that Chile and Argentina have been historic rivals for a long time! The prison is a museum now but, in it’s day, repeat offenders and political prisoners were sent here to be incarcerated and used as labor. That was when there was no other way to get here other than by ship! Yes, it is still in Argentina, but is just short of 2300km away from Buenos Aires (think Vancouver to Winnepeg)! That’s a whole lot of “you’re out of here!”

Sunrise Over Ushuaia

Sunrise over Ushuaia, ArgentinaI think I awoke to whale song. You know that distant tone humming from the highway… low, growling? I heard that in the distance this morning. The only thing is, there isn’t much of a highway to speak of in this sleepy little wonder town at the end of the earth.* One of my fellow cruisers said he saw a humpback thundering in the bay yesterday. It was an amazing way to start the day. I just wish whales had the decency to sing at a time other than 3:30 am. Must be have been teenagers.

I arrived in Ushuaia yesterday and the journey was relatively smooth. I had an 8:10 flight and had been encouraged to wait until 6 or 7 to get to the airport, but I’ve been trained to get to a flight 3 hours early. I should have listened. I left the hotel at 5 and was checked-in and through customs by 5:38! Talking to others, things did eventually got busier, but that has to be some sort of record.