Sunday, May 18, 2008

Guest posting: A Southern Perspective‏

Hola from el fin del Mundo! Well, not literally the end of the world, but that´s what they call this area of Argentina, the tip of the South American continent. The end of the world seems to be happening in other parts of the world, though, with floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and volcanoes. Last week, we were inBariloche, near the Chaiten volcano in Chile while it was erupting. One morning we awoke to a thin layer of ash covering everything. It had been 9000 years since it last erupted and we picked the week it awoke from its slumber! The ash, which dispersed eastward, played havoc on the transportation system ofArgentina, cancelling flights to and from Buenos Aires and buses to and from Bariloche (buses that would takeus to our next destination of Comodoro Rivadavia.)

But the day we picked to head south to Comodoro, the bus left as scheduled and we made it (luckily) to theAtlantic oil port city 13 hours later. Tired and achy, we explored our two options, another 20 hour busride leaving at 2 pm or a possible plane ride south to Ushuaia Monday morning, for just 4 hours and a little more cash. Hmmmm... plane ride!

Monday morning found us refreshed and ready for a more relaxed journey than countless hours on a bus. At the stop for the number 8 bus that would take us to the airport, we found out our plans might be changing. A taxi driver had been robbed the previous night and this morning there was a protest. All the town´s taxis, remises, colectivos, buses, etc, were striking to demand better protection from the police... thus there was no way to get to the airport without a private car.

Short of stealing a car for the quick ride, our options were limited to hitching a ride, which Erika was open to (despite requests from back home to not partake in my favorite travel pastime). We started walking on the protest-blockaded main highway out of town (which happened to be the road to the airport). Our future seemed bleak since the road we needed a ride on was empty of any vehicle, filled only with locals in the same situation as us, walking to where they needed to go. Ahh, Latin America, if it´s not a volcano disrupting your travel plans, it´s a protest the morning you really want to (and need to) get out of town. But good for them, in the states, it seems, we´d have a cow because we couldn´t get to HEB for the 8th time in a week.

After about 15 minutes of walking, we neared an intersection where cars from town had found a way around the blockade and were heading north. We quickly set up at the best spot and stuck out our thumbs. I had Erika move to where she was a bit more prominent... more likely to get a ride with beauty than with my suspect looks. Within minutes, a car stopped, and our hopes raised. Alberto was heading towards the airport and we could ride along. And, as you can see in the photo of the Fokker F-27, we flew south, and for that matter, on the only plane out of Comodoro Riviadavia that crazy Monday.

And now, now in Ushuaia. "Tierra del Fuego" and "El fin del Mundo" it´s called. Exciting names for a town that reminds me of Juneau, Alaska... plus 3 hour afternoon siestas. At 54 degrees south latitude, the sun rises late and sets early, and skirts low across the northern sky, just above the mountain peaks that frame the city... the entire day filled with a photographer´s best lighting.

It was here, in March 2003, in the middle of my South American travels, that my Antarctic escapade began. A Russian painter who was on an Antarctic research/tourist ship in port was staying at the same looney casa de familia (Hilda Sanchez and herwild-haired husband Pedro) that I was staying at. She invited us to tour the ship and that´s where I began my inquiry on how to get to Antarctica. This time around we didn´t stay with her, but Erika and I did see her one day and we ended up having dinner with her at her house.

It's an interesting feeling to be back in a place where so much started. Where a simple thought turned into 3 seasons in Antarctica and one in Greenland. I never thought I´d return, but as always, things change! Erika was intent on getting as close to the Ice as possible, so Ushuaia it is. With cold blue skies and snowy mountains as our backdrop, it is easy for her to understand that if we hopped a boat headed south, we´d hit the Palmer Peninsula of Antarctica, or an iceberg, and either way it´d be much colder. At least there would be no strikes or road blocks to hinder our journey.

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