The final chapter of our exploration of Patagonia was a visit to Bahia Lapataia (Lapataia Bay). Here you’ll find the southern most point of the Pan-American Highway, the longest highway on earth. At a parking lot beside the road’s end, you’ll find this sign marking this important landmark. It’s only about a 45 minute drive from Ushuaia, but is the farthest south you can drive in the Western Hemisphere.
We drove to the area, parked, and hiked a little through a swampy forest of beech and evergreens. Fortunately there were boardwalk trails through the wettest areas, so our feet didn’t get soaked. The weather was wet and cold and windy — not exactly terrific hiking weather, but typical of the area. The climate of Lapataia Bay is a subpolar oceanic climate, typical of coastal Patagonia. The average annual temperature is about 6 ° C , with only small swings between the seasons. It rains almost 200 days a year.
The mountains were shrouded in a fresh layer of snow and it being moist, we saw several types of mosses and fungi, as well as a few wildflowers. It really is a lovely landscape, though it doesn’t seem very hospitable. Still people have lived and even thrived here for almost ten thousand years.
Just north of us was Lago Acigami, a lake that borders both Chile and Argentina and which drains into the ocean via Lapataia Bay. There have long been border disputes between Argentina and Chile, including this land around here, but it seems that at the moment there is détente between the two countries.
Lapataia Bay is a fjord formed by the past actions of glaciers which have long since receded. The bay branches off the Beagle Channel (named for the famous British ship of exploration which carried Charles Darwin to the Galapagos). The land around the bay is now protected parkland and is a popular place to hike and explore nature.
From the Bay you can head south to Antarctica, take a right turn and go to the Pacific Ocean or a left turn and head to the Atlantic Ocean. None of these destinations are far away.
The area is still popular among bird watchers and nature lovers, and you might find a variety of sea birds, sea otters and dolphins, We didn’t see much wildlife except for these Magellan geese. The males are white and gray, and the females a darker color with light brown heads.
Located on Lapataia Bay is the Post Office at the end of the World, a small building on a dock know as Puerto Guarani (the name of one of the indigenous people of the region). If you like, you can mail a letter from here or for a nominal charge have your passport stamped (be aware that some countries say such stamps invalidate a passport, so think twice before you do it).
The bay was named by the indigenous Yámana people, and it means “Bay of Forests”. The Yámana were known to use fire as a form of communication between islands, which inspired the name of the park, Tierra del Fuego, or “Land of Fire”.
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