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Today was another beautiful day in Ushuaia, though slightly cooler (in the 50s) and a good deal windier than the prior day. Nonetheless, sunny and dry—given what is typical for Ushuaia—makes for a very nice day. We mostly wandered about the town. It has an interesting vibe… aside from the language of the signage on buildings, one wouldn’t immediately think they were in South America. Instead, it feels more like a somewhat rundown alpine village filled with tourists and travelers (most of the cruise ship variety, but also of the neo-hippy, new age, and eco-tourist sorts).

Actually, Ushuaia reminds me—as crazy as this will sound—of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But instead of being the “Gateway to the Smokey Mountains,” Ushuaia is the gateway to Antarctica. Both cities benefit from a proximity to national parks and natural scenic splendors. Both are filled with a similar mix of establishments and sights: relatively uninteresting minor museums/cultural centers, tacky tourist shops (selling all manner of themed trinkets and trash though of a “polar” vs. “hillbilly” theme), more useful “outfitter” shops (for those that came unprepared to trek to Antarctica vs. hike the Appalachian trail), and a number of low-end eating establishments. Indeed, both cities even offer sightseeing ski lifts! Thankfully, Ushuia isn’t overrun with international chain brands (which increases its charm), and it mercifully lacks a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Tonight, we’ll depart Ushuaia for Cape Horn, Chile. We’ll make a brief call—only a “technical stop” as passengers don’t disembark—at Puerto Williams (in Chile) in order to get our paperwork sorted out so that we are able to sail through Chilean waters. Given that we’ll be cleared by Chilean authorities, sailing through Chilean waters, and viewing Cape Horn (which is in Chile) tomorrow, I’ll have to consider whether or not we can (or should) count Chile as another country visited. While I was perfectly fine with a “sail by” of Antarctica (which is predominately made of water—which fluctuates in its state seasonally), I have more complicated feelings about what should constitute a visit to Chile, which clearly has a native culture and a permanent population of residents in its cities. However, had we flown into Ushuaia, trekked the 10 miles or so across Tierra Del Fuego National Park (or even more easily kayaked along its coast in the Beagle Channel) only to set foot on Chilean soil, and then immediately flown home: I could unquestionably have claimed a “visit” to Chile. Yet, we wouldn’t have really changed the nature of the visit in any qualitative way from what we’ve already done. That is to say, I would be no more familiar with Chilean culture or its wider geographical diversity. Moreover, we’d have skipped the brief visit to Puerto Williams, cruising the better part of the Beagle Channel, and seeing Cape Horn. This is why it’s difficult to precisely define what constitutes a “visit” to a “country” (which, as I’ve written previously, is also surprisingly difficult to define)—how much or little does one need to experience in order to have been to a place? Something to ponder…

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a picture of the Beagle Channel (and the Chilean Andes in the distance).


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