On the road: Argentina
Cell blocks and Island H
Saturday 03 May 2014
"You know, this is quite warm for us," says the lady at the tourist information desk when I comment on the full-blown hailstone shower that had been whacking me in the face all the way into town. Ushuaia, Argentina's Tierra del Fuego outpost, sits snugly below snow-capped, jagged peaks, overlooking the Beagle Channel. At this latitude I found it best to wrap up. I couldn't help but feel for the hapless criminals who came to serve time here in bygone days.
Although founded by British missionaries in the 1870s, Ushuaia's population only became really permanent when a penal colony, modelled on that of Tasmania, was opened in 1896. The huge facilities, closed in 1947, can be "enjoyed" by the curious visitor, but there is also a more light-hearted way of experiencing the city's history. I opted for the latter, the "themed gallery" on the main street. Life-sized – sometimes uncannily realistic – mannequins are on display on two floors, depicting Fuegian history from its early indigenous inhabitants and colonisation, right through to Darwin and Shackleton and its time as a penal colony. An audio-guide explains each historical stage. The gallery's façade is crawling with "fugitives" wearing stripes, while dangling from windows and balconies are baton-waving law-enforcement officers.
After a morning of hail and history, I was greeted by a pale afternoon sun and opted for a good dose of flora, fauna and sea-faring lore, sailing the Beagle Channel. There are plenty of boats to choose from, but tour operator Tres Marias is the only one visiting H Island, so named because of its shape. Sailing along the Beagle Channel, I took to the top deck for some wildlife spotting and, before long, a large colony of sea lions came into view. The boat sailed past abundant birdlife before making landfall on H Island. The contrast from all that penal history was stark. A prisoner of cell-block H? Far from it.
Footprint's Argentina Handbook is out now, priced £15.99 (footprinttravelguides.com)
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...
£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...
£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...
£18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...