My heart filled at first sight of Ushuaia, not only because of the beauty of Tierra Del Fuego but because for me being here is momentous. It is not a dream but a dream realized. To stand at the tip of South America waiting to embark on a ship bound for Antarctica is something I have tried to imagine for thirty years. So now there is no more imagining, only being, and already I feel a deep connection to this place. Fittingly, dogs rule this town. A long haired black lab was chasing cars on the main street last night and elsewhere dogs roam freely, following me for a while on my walkabout then veering off when something else catches their attention. There was a sliver of light at half past midnight when I went to bed and the sun was well up when I opened my eyes at five.
One hundred years ago Amundsen had reached his goal of the South Pole. He was on his way back across the Antarctic plateau, successful. Being in Ushuaia to me feels like I have been successful too. Today, I leave for Antarctica. What significance there is in being able to say that. All the other travels, all the other things I've seen along the way in Santiago, and Rio, Iguazu, and Buenos Aires seem to matter more for contrast; going there was not going to Antarctica. Yes, I'm still a tourist and will be for the next two weeks, but Antarctica is not just another destination, not just another stop on the map. By this evening, I'll be heading out into the pounding waves of the Drake Passage bound for a place that I have dreamed for years.
I was up late because my suitcase was left behind in Buenos Aires. The plane was too heavy so they took bags off. As much as I prefer the airline's caution, I was anxious last evening as I waited for my things. My bag has all of my Antarctic gear: boots, sweaters, gloves, toques, snow pants. Amundsen was an expert planner, and as we left the Ushuaia airport sans gear, I thought back to making these plans. I wanted to be in Ushuaia for at least twenty-four hours before boarding the Polar Pioneer in case we were delayed or luggage was lost on the way. So I have planned for just this contingency. “It's not the end of the world,” I joked with myself. Yet all of my clever planning was small comfort when I was faced with the fact that my stuff didn't arrive. So imagine my relief returning to the hotel from a late dinner to find my possessions waiting by the front desk. Who knew long underwear could make me so happy?
In a few hours, I will board the ship and head off to make unknown wonders known. I feel already the distance from everything familiar, and the large satellite dishes I can see across the bay make me think I'm not the only one aware of the feeling of isolation down here. Ushuaia would be an excellent place to come to escape the rest of the world.
Despite the new wave of tourism in the past decade, there are still relatively few people who have travelled to Antarctica and even fewer who have had the privilege to land there. Lucky, lucky me.