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TIERRA DEL FUEGO

Tierra del Fuego, for those reading this name for the first time, may evoke an image of an area full of volcanoes, with relaxingly warm thermal waters, however, the fire lies only in the name of this remote and cold island, sharing sovereignty between Chile and Argentina and surrounded by the Antarctic, the "White Continent".

The reason for the name has nothing to do with the climate or the smoking, active volcanoes, but rather with the bonfires which were lit five centuries ago by the Ona and Yaghan tribes, who were the owners and masters of this island. Due to its globally remote location, it has up to 23 hours of sunlight every day in summer, but this does not warm it up much.

The gleaming bonfires were seen by the famous navigator Hernando de Magallanes (Magellan), who coined the name of Tierra del Fuego without imagining that those red tongues of flame served to give warmth to the natives who, in spite of the cold weather, walked completely naked.

"You come with bare faces - for us it is the same, our whole body is like our face", answered a native Ona, when a curious European asked him why they walked naked on the cold land. Later, evolution theorists would explain that the island people had developed a higher body temperature than other men.

At present it would be nice to be able to ask the natives many questions. Unluckily, the history of this ethnos is only found in books, because the natives were mercilessly exterminated by the island settlers.
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    Today, there are no bonfires in Tierra del Fuego. Only nature remains unspoiled, and sometimes savagely uncontrolled, as when rough weather beached many ships trying to round Cape Horn , the ocean route mainly used before the Panama Canal was built; at other times, it is quietly inviting, tempting you to walk along trails abounding with flora and fauna.

    Whenever nature is at ease, the traveler can challenge the slopes by walking or cycling, climb up sharp stony cliffs on ancient ice, try fly fishing, visit the cowboys on their cattle ranches, or sail through the Beagle Channel, while always imagining that he or she is at "the end of the world", as did Darwin, Cook or Magellan.



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