Patagonia makes you work for it. From boarding our first plane in Missoula, Montana, my Dad, Robert, and I dedicated forty-two hours to get to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost town in the world. Arriving at 8 AM, we started with an introduction to the city with our Adventure Life Guide, Augustine. Ushuaia is a tax-free area in Argentina, the government needed to populate the region of Tierra del Fuego in order to claim the end of the continent from Chile, so they incentivized moving all the way south by eliminating taxes. This results in zero taxes on imported goods, including cars, so everyone in town drives a shiny, fast car and the locals say that the two biggest pastimes in Ushuaia are driving your car on Avenida Maipu and drinking locally crafted Beagle Beer.
One of the most welcome surprises upon arrival was meeting my longtime friend Cori Bucherel, who just happened to be at the end of the earth at the same time as my Dad and I. Cori is traveling around the world for a year, and as a lovely twist of fate we were able to bring our paths together! Cori joined us for a full-day tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park, hiking and rafting through Patagonia's immense and wind-swept wilderness. Our guides, Norby & Valentine, were full of positive energy and were absolutely hysterical from start to finish. We hiked 5 km through the forest, and then circumnavigated the Montana Condor on the White River in inflatable rafts. We saw numerous red foxes, and were lucky to have fantastic weather. Yellow Patagonian orchids were scattered across the forest floor, and we spent nearly half of an hour admiring the Magellanic Woodpecker - the largest in all of South America.
We learned about the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, the Yamani. The Yamani were an extraordinarily tough people. They lived in the harsh Patagonian environment completely naked. That's right, naked. The Yamani built seal skin canoes and huts, and would fish in the protected bays of the Beagle Channel, collect mussels, harpoon seals, and somehow manage not to freeze to death. Standing on the shore of Lapataia Bay, I'm wearing thermal long underwear, a down vest, rain jacket, gloves, and a knit hat. This is the height of the Patagonian summer, and we're fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day with temperatures soaring to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. As Norby explains the strange wardrobe preferences of the Yamani, I feel goosebumps cover my body and start to shiver. Anthropologists guess that due to the constant rain and wind, the Yamani found it was much harder to maintain their core temperature with wet garments covering their bodies, so they elected to just go naked. This way, if they got into the water to collect mussels or had to brave a rain and wind storm in their canoe, their skin would dry much faster than cloth or fur, and they would be able to stay warmer in the long run.
At the end of the day, we made it to the very end of the Panamerican Highway, 18,000 km from Alaska and the farther south you can drive in the whole world. Not a bad start to the trip!