In addition to being the southernmost train in the world, it also recalls the story of the convicts confined to the Ushuaia prison, the very same prisoners who contributed to building the city and populating the area.
The railway station, located 8km from the city inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park, was packed with tourists. In the hall, the quartet from Tierra del Fuego called “Del '65” was interpreting classic tangos live, entertaining us while we waited. But as soon as the whistle called for us, we got ready to get on the train. At 9:30, the “Camila”, one of the steam locomotives that lead the tour of the southernmost train in the world, was expecting at one of the platforms.
In 1994, after 42 years of a forced and silent retirement, the end-of-the-world train resumed its old circuit.
I made myself comfortable on the first car, sitting next to Mónica, the guide that would escort us during the tour, which started very slowly, just like 100 years ago.
The Days of the Prison
“...The days pass without any change, as if time had stopped since we arrived. It is always the same: from the prison to the camp in the forest and after axing all day long, back to the prison, on the same train...”
Macarena Cascade Station
La Porta, ready to go
Among the peat bogs and river
Testimony logging of prisoners
Park Station end of the ride
Preparations in Zubieta
Maybe that was the mind of some of the 90 convicts that arrived in Ushuaia. Since 1883, when President Roca passed the law authorizing the settlement of the prison in Tierra del Fuego, until 1909, when the railway branch lines were laid and the new city grew at the pace of the recidivist offenders prison. The new train played an essential role for the building of the prison to guarantee the necessary firewood used for cooking and heating all year round. The branch line would cross the eastern slope of Mount Susana and then the central part of the Pipo River Valley. Such water course was named after a convict who escaped and disappeared in the current. In those days, the first steam locomotive had been given the nickname “La coqueta” (Coquette), for she would hop along the rails.
We were traveling at 7km per hour through the El Toro Ravine, bordering the river until we crossed the bridge from where we saw the traces of the old crossing. Some meters ahead, we reached the “Cascada la Macarena” station, where we stopped to admire the wild beauty that the Tierra del Fuego National Park still preserves. This used to be a mandatory stop to load water for the locomotives.
As the whistle was heard, we went back to the train to resume our journey. Before entering the subantarctic forest, we passed by the tree cemetery. Mónica told us that the higher stumps (part of the tree trunk that remains joined to its root) are from the trees the prisoners would cut down in the winter.
In the final stretch, we bordered the peat bog, characteristic of this natural environment where a kind of moss of the genus called sphagnum grows almost exclusively. The Estación del Parque, the final stop of our ride, was not far. As we arrived, the locomotive was unhooked and changed the rail, and then recoupled at the front to start its way back.
I got off at the station and continued touring around the national park. But before that, I waited for the train to leave. We had traveled 25km over the rails that lock the stories of those convicted to dwell and give shape to a city in the confines of the country.
Mónica Pons / Jorge González
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