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Published: January 12th 2010
(The end of the world, a new beginning)
You can view the pictures that go along with this story at my Flickr site
I arrived in Ushaia on December 19, about 3 weeks ago as I write this. Ushuaia bills itself as the “Ciudad mas Austral del Mundo” and “El Fin del Mundo” (most southerly city, and the end of the world). In reality, it is really not that far south. It is a minor bit of hyperbole that plays well to the tourists that now are the primary focus of the economy in this city that once supported the whaling industry and transoceanic shipping before the Panama Canal. Today most tourists come here on Cruise ships on their way somewhere else, as a starting point for Antarctic tours, and many like me, to see the end of the road.
The latitude in Ushuaia (54 degrees south) is about the same as where I live (in degrees north), in what is usually referred to as southern Canada. However, the land mass does not extend further south on the other southern continents of the world such as Africa and Australia. If you are heading south by road, this is the end. It doesn´t go any further and I guess this is why I am here.
I think my journey here started sometime in 2006 when it became evident that the cancer my wife Joan was fighting would not go away. I spent a lot of time waiting in clinics and hospitals where my mind would play out endless scenarios about what life would look like if Joan did not survive. The mental turmoil that occurred during this time was far more complex than I could even begin to describe here. It was mostly based on the realization that after more than 30 years of marriage, at some point I was going be alone again and searching for new meaning and goals in life. From this mental chaos emerged a potential path for my escape from those dark times, by diverting my attention to travel, the study of a new language, and immersion in a foreign culture. Ushuaia became for me both a symbol and a goal.
Ushuaia sits in a stunningly beautiful setting, surrounded by snow-clad mountains and the Beagle Channel. The Beagle Channel is named after the boat that Charles Darwin sailed through this area on in the mid 1800´s on his epic journey that forever changed our understanding of life and evolution. On the other side of the channel to the south lie more mountains on islands that are in Chilean Territory. My first thought when I arrived here was that I´d found a place even more lovely than Valdez Alaska, which previously held the top of my list of beautiful places I´d been.
I settled in the Martin Fierro Bed and Breakfast and met Javier, the owner and manager. His B&B is a three-floor building with rooms on the first and third, and a living area, kitchen, and dining room on the second floor. My room was on the third floor, and my window has a harbour and mountain view. It is really going to be hard to leave! Javier immediately made me feel at home, offered to do my laundry, the use of the kitchen. He said he wanted me to feel that it was my home too.
Javier is a lawyer by profession. He runs his B&B during the summer tourist season, and works a bit as a lawyer in the winter. He is very animated guy in life, action, and speech. When he gets excited, which is often, his speech goes up to warp speed and I don´t have a hope of understanding him. When he gets in this mode, I try to listen carefully, try to pick out a word somewhere, then interrupt him to ask what it means. Then I can usually turn the conversation back to what he was trying to tell me at a slower pace. When I first arrived at his B&B, I found Javier glued to the television watching the “Simpsons”. He won´t miss an episode, and knows all the channels and times when it can be seen, including a 4-hour marathon every Saturday. The show (in Spanish) leaves me in the cold most of the time because, without some context to a conversation, I usually have a hard time following what is being said.
Ushuaia is the site of an annual pilgrimage of motorcycle enthusiasts who arrive around Christmas for an impromptu get-together. For most of these, like me, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Many of the moto travellers camp at local campgrounds, but I decided before leaving that I was not interested in camping. I met and saw many motos here, and was surprised that the vast majority were from Germany. I also saw a lot of what I call “expedition vehicles” from European countries, again mostly Germany. These are curious box-like campers with few windows mounted on the back of large diesel truck frames, with huge tires and four wheel drive. The only other place that I have seen these vehicles was in the Yukon and Alaska. Far-off places seem to attract strange vehicles!
During my trip south, I met physically, and via the internet, many other moto travellers. A few of them arrived here in time for Christmas, including Eric Stieglitz from Edmonton, who I met in Quito and again in Huaraz. Javier put on a big asado supper on Christmas eve, and about a dozen of us sat down for a huge meal close to midnight. Also there were Brian and Sandra, from the UK, who I met in Panama, Ricky from Oklahoma who I rode with from Lima to Puno Peru, and Dirk from Germany who I met on the ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales Chile. On Christmas eve, I prepared the traditional “Christmas Morning Wifesaver” dish which we ate in the morning. My Argentinian friends thought it was pretty strange, but really liked it.
This is the first Christmas I have spent without my family and close friends, and that part was difficult. It just didn´t seem like Christmas here, the signs are all different. Of course it is summer here for one thing. The lead up to Christmas is much less commercial here, it is not all over the place in-your-face like it is at home. Decorations are sparce. I was able to connect with my family and friends a couple of times on Christmas day with the Skype video-phone program. I took Motosan out for a ride on Christmas day and visited some of the other moto travellers in a campground, then had pizza for supper!
I have been in Ushuaia for nearly four weeks now, including the side trip to Antarctica, and have found myself strangely stuck here. It is not the kind of place that would usually hold me. The climate is harsh, with summer days only reaching 10-15 degrees. It is very windy most of the time and rains frequently. While the scenery is breath-taking, it is a tourist town, and I am staying half a block from the main road that is usually jammed with both people and cars. So, what is holding me here? I think my problem is, I don´t know what will come next. With Ushuaia as the goal, I didn´t really extend my thoughts to where I would be going afterwards. I have some broad plans: meeting Mariette in Santiago, Megan in Lima, and a visit to Ecuador again before heading home by June. I thought what would happen in-between was to be figured out here in Ushuaia. It has been a slow process, and is still not resolved. I have decided that I have to stop fretting about what comes next and just get on the road back north and see where it takes me.
In my next blog I will describe my trip to Antarctica.
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