(January 4– written by Dave)
The title of this blog could lead some to thinking that we’re wading into political territory, commenting on the US government shutdown over border issues. Sorry to disappoint – that dispute will not be mentioned again. Switch to CNN now if you’re looking the latest discussions on walls/fences/skirts/mounds of dirt/beaded curtains/etc.
You don’t need to stay in North America to find border disputes. In fact, when you travel outside North America, you start to realize that borders and land ownership cause issues everywhere. Here in Rio Grande they have dedicated the waterfront to a memorial of the battle for the Las Islas Malvinas – otherwise known as the Falkland Islands.
We wrote about the Malvinas earlier in this trip when we first entered Argentina. At the time, we were not sure if the issue of the islands still had the same resonance it did 30 years ago. Well, when you come to places like Rio Grande – on the coast, large military presence, more rural, probably more conservative – you get a feeling that it is still very important to the Argentineans. The memorial is certainly large.
We’ve also written about stresses between Chile and Argentina. These issues go well back to the Spanish leaving in 1818 but there is also an unresolved border issue that still causes irritant today. We discovered this issue when we looked at our Chilean map – there was a box over part of the border where we were riding which didn’t make sense to us – this turned out to be disputed territory. Today 50 kilometers of the Chile–Argentina border, between Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Murallón, remain undefined. In 1941, both governments agreed that the border line would run along the high peaks and watershed of the Andes but there is an area under the Patagonia ice sheet that is somewhat hard to map. To date, this section remains in dispute. You don’t expect countries to go to war over this but then again, the Falklands – small rocks in the middle of the Southern Atlantic – don’t really seem worthy of an international shoot-up either.
And as we travel further south, there is of course, the elephant in the room known as Antarctica. Chile and Argentina both claim the same section of Antarctica but it doesn’t end there. In fact the UK and Brazil also both claim areas that overlap with the Chile and Argentina’s sections. In total, eight countries make territorial claims to Antarctica, but the Chile/Argentina/Brazil/UK section is where all the overlaps occur, and where disputes could come up. Luckily today, most countries build research stations on their own lands, reducing risk of border issues. It is interesting to note however that Russia and the USA have more stations and research bases in Antarctica than all other nations combined – even though neither of them claims territorial ownership.
Right now, Antarctica is mostly frozen rock and ice. The long-term question of global warming, however, creates all sort of opportunities for conflict over new found mineral and petroleum resources.
Besides having a look around the Malvinas monument, we specifically took today off to avoid riding in forecasted high wind conditions. Walking in the winds on the waterfront today took on almost comical proportions. We were both being blown around like matchsticks. I couldn’t wear my hat and even had my sunglasses blown off once. And that was this morning. Peak winds are scheduled for early this evening at 70 KPH. For us today, the winds would have been cross winds– meaning we’d have spent the day trying not to get blown into the traffic lane. In addition to being safer, believe me, Nancy is a lot happier here, watching CSI re-runs in our nice apartment.
Those old enough to remember the Apollo moon landings will remember that they used a metal rod to keep the flag horizontal in the moon photos. Well, today in Rio Grande, no rods were needed. All of the flags are being blown fully horizontal. In fact, it looks like many of the flag poles are getting a right workout. Winds are supposed to die down overnight and even better, they are supposed to swing around more to the north. Tomorrow we ride southeast, then south – fingers crossed on the wind switch.
We have about 220k left to ride before we reach Ushuaia. Tomorrow we head to Tolhuin – a small town south of here. It’s a little over 100k, probably our last “metric century” of the trip. We plan on two short days riding from Tolhuin – short days to make sure that we don’t arrive before our AirB&B is available but also to make sure that we have time to soak up the finish of our trip. Pretty soon we have to stop as we run out of road (and no, we are not turning around and riding back into those Patagonian winds – we may be crazy, but not that crazy!)