As we approach our landing in Ushuaia, I see mountains that seem familiar. The clear triangular shapes with white snow patches and some dark brown, almost black rock, remind me of the mountains of Iceland’s Trollpeninsula. There is the ocean below, just like in Iceland. Then I see trees with the clear tree line at the first third up the mountains, reminiscent of Colorado. This is what my mind does, looking for references in order to be able to read the landscape. It’s not so much making meaning, that’s a more intentional process I hold off for later. It just happens automatically. I am wired like that, seeing connections that reach far, that connect the dots to the big, really big picture. I think it’s rather a subconscious strategy to not get completely washed away by the flood of new sensory input. By referencing the new with the familiar I can keep myself at the center in order to then open my mind to the new and experience fully. It’s a bit like the red dot on the map that says “you are here.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the map on the monitor in front of me on the flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. It seems surreal to be flying to the most southern tip of civilization (although I feel that Antarctica might be much more civilized than most other places :), Terra del Fuego, Patagonia/Argentina, the Beagle Canal. I would read about this part on the edge of the world. I would dream about it thinking it would be out of the realm of the possible for me. Now I am here. Once we stepped outside of the airport terminal, that also seemed familiar in it’s modern design built with wood and glass, I felt like I had arrived in Spain. Small cars, men waving and talking loudly at each other and a bit of light chaos. All that with “Icelandic mountains” in the backdrop. I feel my whole inside beaming with delight. I am already completely loving this. Here we are standing with our bulky luggage. The big 50 lbs duffle bags aren’t the issue. These small cars that function as taxis here swallow monsters in their even smaller trunks. The ski bags and my daughter’s snowboard bag are interesting as they lay there on the side walk measuring the whole length of the taxi they are supposed to fit in. I was too immersed in the moment that I didn’t think of taking a photo. I wish I had. Three people folding seats and pushing bags somehow made it work. Throughout this process of team work, the owner of the car, the taxi driver who was built as slim as his car, was grumbling, complaining, shaking his head and throwing both arms up in the air between folding seats and pushing bags. He was clearly not happy. I think he could have been proud to make a physical miracle happen. Instead he charged us double at the end. So we take off to Ushuaia, the taxi with our ski-bags leads the way. The second equally small taxi follows, loaded up with three 50 lbs duffel bags, backpacks and the passengers: Einar our ski-guide par excellence, my daughter Maxine and myself. The taxi driver is round and mellow. The airport is situated on a small peninsula and we drive along the shoreline to reach Ushuaia. There is a small marina, sailboats are mored in the bay, and one wetsuit dressed windsurfer is out in the choppy waters. I hear myself thinking “I wish I had my paddle board with me.” I understand this place. Then, to our right, there is a mountain peak that stands alone between larger mountain ranges. It’s outlines are much more jagged than the rest. It’s Mount Olivia we learn form the taxi driver, who only speaks Spanish. I don’t know Spanish very well at all. I mostly put my faded French together with my faded Italian and add a few beginning words of Spanish I picked up from my daughters’ Spanish studies in elementary and middle school. The Spanish here seems softer. Maybe the language went through a similar transformation as english did from British to American English. Ushuaia has surprising steep roads, think San Francisco. The small car with over 200 000 kilometers under its belt barely makes it up the steep roads. We arrive at our hotel. Hotel Albatross, I have known about this hotel since I read the long-distance swimmer Lynn Cox’ book “Swimming to Antarctica.” She staid in this hotel before she stepped on the boat to ultimately swim a mile to shore on Antarctica. I envisioned it as a small dark place. Either it went through a major renovation since the 1970s when Lynn Cox was here or it was just the image in my head. We enter a bright lobby, windows opening views to the ocean. Our room has a window that opens. The air is spring like. crisp but not too cold and a few birds are chirping. Getting transported from late fall to late spring within 36 hours I hear myself think “wait, is this real?” wait, what’s happening? Although similar temperatures both in context with a bit of snow on the mountain tops, feels different to my body. Air warming up to 11 degrees Celsius feels crisper, fresher, than air cooling down to 11degrees Celsius. Then again, I am at the southern edge of the earth and everything seems more exciting and fresh to me at the edges.