Mitre Peninsula, the uttermost end of the Andes (by Ana Gandino)
Reaching the end of the world is a seductive idea, and in this search, many have come to Tierra del Fuego. However, the last note of the symphony of the American continent is forgotten in the uttermost corner end of this legendary island. When I arrived at Tierra del Fuego, I met Nahuel, a fellow adventurer who told me about a place in the confines of the island where you could see the end of the Andes disappearing into the sea. This place was the southernmost tip of the American continent, a wild and inhospitable place, with a hostile climate and of which only a few stories were known. In this unique environment, my experience of how to move in the mountain would of little use, except for the stamina to carry a heavy backpack for days. This magical place is the Mitre Peninsula, a land hidden from economic predators. Its wild nature is fairly well-preserved thanks to its remoteness. Still, it is very fragile and vulnerable, relying on the consciousness of those who pass through it.
One of the most beautiful views of the Mitre Peninsula: Bahía Valentín and its golden beaches.
Photo taken from the Black Mountains. (Photo: Nahuel Stauch)
Almost 30 years ago, various organizations began a careful work to obtain a law that protects this unique Peninsula and declares it a Protected Area. The interests of successive governments failed to understand the importance and great value it has for all humanity. One of the latest studies highlights the importance of its soil as a great mitigator of climate change. This peninsula is made up almost entirely of peat, and therefore capable of storing a formidable amount of carbon, effectively functioning as a sink for this gas that we are producing without control. Also, there is an enormous diversity of species that inhabit its land and coasts. An emblematic example is the Huillín (Lontra provocax), an endemic and endangered otter, perhaps even more threatened due to the lack of knowledge of the population about its very existence!
Huillin (Lontra Provocax), it is very rare to be able to observe them, they inhabit very restricted sectors of the southern coast of Mitre Peninsula. This photograph was "donated" by Sergio Anselmino to be used for scientific dissemination and conservation purposes. (photo: Sergio Anselmino)
The waters that surround the Peninsula are part of the migratory routes of penguins and many other species of birds, as well as whales and other marine mammals heading towards Antarctica. This Peninsula is still full of secrets, and its landscapes hide testimonies of native peoples that date back 6,000 years.
The King Penguin is usually found solitary on the coasts of the Peninsula. (Photo: Nahuel Stauch). In the centre, the remains of occasional stranding of marine mammals on the North Coast. (Photo: Ana Gandino). And to the right, the Montes Negros, in the culmination of the Andes Mountains, with condors and Guanacos, the great gifts of this beautiful mountain range. (Photo: Nahuel Stauch).
I didn't need any more reasons to go exploring these 300,000 hectares. 15 days were enough to leave me enchanted. Since that first time, I have returned in December of each year to the Peninsula in search of new passages to connect one coast with the other, passing through the heart of the peat bogs. Or to stand at the top of the Cerro Campana (the highest in the eastern end) from where you can see the Strait of Le Maire, the Staten Island, and numerous condors flying over the sea.
Cerro Campana is the highest in the area with almost 700 m. From its summit a 360° view is achieved over the entire Peninsula Mitre, including Staten Island. (Photo: Nahuel Stauch).
Jumping into the unknown to find out what is out there and experience it in full consciousness, is a way of protecting our heritage. "Don't let them tell you about it", Don Oyarzun, an icon of the Peninsula, would say. Discovering this place made me realize, once again, what great treasures we have in Argentina and that we do not value enough. I believe that this is due to the sum of ignorance, the misinformation of the media and the constant and instituted look outwards, towards other places that we take as ideals. If we do not know what we have, it is impossible to take care of it, protect it. If we do not take care of our land, no one will do it for us, it will remain headless, at the mercy of predators who seek for new places to extract whatever they can.
Estancia Puerto Rancho, better known as "Casa Vieja", is the remain of what was an attempted settlement. It is the first post/refuge you will find after 15km of walking. Located on the coast of the Beagle Channel. (Photo: Nahuel Stauch)
That is why we came to the conclusion that the best way to protect the Peninsula was with action. We decided to bring people closer, accompany them to experience it, make this territory accessible and destroy the misconception that "it is only for a selected few". With this purpose in mind, we created a series of workshops where participants acquire safety tools, planning and "leave no trace" techniques to be able to explore the Peninsula and any place they want to. Some schools were also part of these workshops, where we adapted the program for teenagers. During the workshop, the participants discover the place, its particularities, experience this paradise, and encounter both the raw beauty and the impacts resulting from the lack of protection. By making this place your home for a few days, you learn to value and take care of it. This experience transforms ourselves into multiplying agents, who understand the importance of protecting these places, committing to the cause and discovering that we can all contribute a grain of sand. This grains will end up forming a great beach, full of wills, actively participating in protecting hour heritage. Not only for us but also for the generations to come.
Classic "mitrero" landscape. Entering the North coast. (Photo Nahuel Stauch)
Now is the time for action, exploring within ourselves, looking for the grain of sand that we can contribute to the cause of caring for our place. It is time to leave our comfort area to see beyond and understand the real value of the land. Crowded into cities, we lose sight of the vast expanses of paradise that surround us. This model of life imposed by consumer society is obsolete. This model is a short-term and reproductive model, constantly inducing us to follow its guidelines. But it is also clear that YOU/we can change the course of things, it is not necessary to be famous or a bad-ass. We only need to dive inside ourselves, discover our strengths, set a clear but small objective to start, and take off. More wills will appear and join in the way. We are all responsible for where we live, we have the power to create a better space, it just takes some determination and a lot of love.
Only those who have enjoyed lying on their back looking at stars, birds or shapes in the clouds, know the importance of the existence of those
An attempt to capture the beauty of the Peninsula. North Coast. (Photo Nahuel Stauch)
About the author
It is not easy to put into words the motivations that lead one to act for a social cause. These types of actions are part of an internal search where questioning is constant. However, this process is necessary to put our own beliefs under the microscope, an essential exercise to rebuild ourselves. Searching for words that can transmit passions is not an easy thing, many times, I feel that all words are too small. To quote Humboldt: "what is directed to the soul escapes our measurements". That is why my motto as a "facilitator" (the word teacher or educator does not represent me) is the constant search for the creation of spaces where people can experience the land, experience themselves, live and sense themselves. This creates an imprint that remains on the body, and that generates a new point of view from which it is almost impossible to escape. Although we can try to ignore it when we return to civilization and everyday life, at the end the body does not lie. Sooner or later, that experienced truth begins to guide our decisions.
The mountain as a way of life appears in my life at the age of 26, in Mendoza, with the immensity of the Andes and the colossal Aconcagua. I had to get to know myself at high altitude, then, skiing slowly appeared, and one day I realized that in my life passion and work were just one thing in a delight of intense sensations: frustration, overcoming, the feeling little mice in my head, meeting my ghosts and hug them, there was nothing left to hide. Each mountain is a miniature representation of life itself: the excitement of facing something huge, giving everything to overcome it, exhaustion, frustration, perseverance, and finally reaching the goal, or not. To learn to withdraw when it is due, learn that every experience in itself can generate absolute happiness and finally, the most gratifying feeling of all: that extreme tiredness. That tiredness is the result of having tried really hard, that fatigue is the one that gives peace and motivates us to go for more. After all, we know that we will return with an enduring experience and more wisdom in our backpack.