After the first night in Ushuaia and breakfast in our hotel we explored the town.Walking up a steep street to its end we discovered that each residential house has its own mounted trashcan, or rather metal basket right next to the front door. This rather smallish basket is mounted on a 3 foot high pool. 3 thoughts: 1) What animal roams the streets frequently enough and can’t climb pols that warrants this structure? 2) This is very considerate to the people who remove trash. It’s a good ergonomic height that makes it easy on the body 3) The people living in these tiny houses also create a tiny amount of trash. Thinking about the sizes of houses and of trash at home makes me cringe.
There is lots of construction going on in this town. Concrete is mixed in small turning machines that I remember from growing up in Germany. Each concrete post, which makes up the supporting structure of a house, is cast individually with concrete being shoveled into the wooden forms by hand. Labor of love and patience. That must be the reason for so many unfinished houses and construction sites that seem to have been there for a very long time.
After we reached the top of the street and enjoyed the view over the Beagle Channel with Chili in the background we walked down again and turned into the main shopping street. The first block of the street consisted mostly of tourist stores with heavy weight on the penguin theme. This progresses to outdoor gear - and clothing stores continued with some small bookstores and a noticable amount of baby and kids clothing stores which reminds me of Mediterranean cultures where children are treated like little princesses and princes. The Spanish influence or the fact that it is a southern country, or is this far south not considered equal to north? This is where confusion of perception sets in for me. It gets more confusing when I notice the christmas decoration along the street. What’s the meaning of christmas lights in a town that is entering summer and will celebrate the equivalent of summer solstice around christmas? And Santa will be sweating in his fuzzy outfit which also is displayed in a shop window right next to the catholic school and catholic library.
After the row of childrens shops we find the local supermarket. The entrance of the supermarket is guarded by two armed police officers. We enter. I always like to visit local supermarkets. It gives me a glimpse into peoples’ lives. Their priorities, their favorite products. Here we first encounter several isles with bathing suits, underwear, shoes and toys. This is followed by several isles of alcoholic beverages which is followed by laundry detergent, cleaning products and then personal hygiene products. After that we find ourselves in the isles of coffee, tea and other beverages, then the cookie and cake isle. After that we get to more basic and nutritious items with fresh produce in the most back corner of the store. The candy displays are spread out next to the check out registers.
After our little adventure in the supermarket we find a local healthful store. It’s a small isle worth of space tucked between a pizza place and a clothing store. The owner of the store greets us and asks us where we are from. When we say Vermont he immediately asks us about Bernie Sanders. Thank you Bernie :) I ask him about the election in Argentina which I knew was happening around now. He tells me that the election happens in two steps and that it looks like the Nationalist rightwing party might win this time. “Complicated times” he says waving with his hands while tilting his head slightly to the side. Then he shows us the locally grown and self picked cranberries and mushrooms. He points in the direction of the mountains. I think of the cranberries growing in MA and on Cranberry lake in NY state. I am curious but my Spanish isn’t nearly good enough to enter into a detailed conversation about growing cranberries. By now the store is packed since three new customers walked in. I buy a small bag of dried Mango upon the store owner's recommendation “The weather here in Ushuaia changes constantly. You need Vitamin C.” I also buy a small bag of dried and candied green grapefruit for the sake of its color. Then we make our way down to the water front where we sit on a bench that is kids size height and watch the activity of the little harbor with the tip of Chile reaching into the ocean behind the harbor. Out there is the Drake passage we both say and I get a bit of a fluttery stomach.