[Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina].
What a singularly hectic day. The plan was to buy sunglasses and an adapter, then head to the domestic airport for my flight to Ushuaia. No sweat. I even confirmed my new flight details the night before with the travel agent. What could possibly go wrong?
Lesson One: Murphy always wins.
Poking about the street next to the hostel, I did indeed find an adaptador. After some impromptu Pictionary I manage to explain the exact type of pin I need, and the guy actually gives it to me gratis. When was the last time I walked out of a shop with something completely free? Heading back to home base, it felt a little surreal with the early morning sun shining down the alleys. Indeed, it felt a little “Cairo“.
I rush to the airport, once again callously ignoring the “did I forget something” feeling– only to realize at the airport that I’d left my thick down jacket back at the hostel.
Lesson Two: There is always something in that “did I forget something” feeling.
Lesson Three: One does not leave for Antarctica without a jacket.
In a bizarre twist (or not, since the “star” airline of this story is Aerolineas Argentinas) just 1.5 hours before the departure time the flight has been moved to the OTHER airport that is one hour drive away. Who does this?!! 160 flights and this is certainly a first for me. Murphy must be gloating right now.
As Providence would have it, the flight has now been delayed by 1.5 hours (buying time for all the poor lost sheep to make it to the other airport, I suspect) and there’s my chance to go back to the hostel to grab that warm, life-sustaining jacket of mine.
I storm through the hostel’s main entrance to a very bewildered receptionist. Then, it’s the third taxi ride in the past one hour. “Rapido, por favor,” I plead, and rapido we go indeed, beelining the international airport in two-thirds the usual time.
After much hassle, the flight finally takes off on a most frightful journey in which I questioned my mortality on several occasions. The flight attendant announces that the flight cannot land in Ushuaia for reasons beyond my Spanish proficiency, and we are re-routed to Rio Grande instead. An extra 15 minutes’ flight translates into 3 hours’ bus ride from Rio to Ushuaia. And so it came to be that a 3 hour flight turned into an 8 hour ordeal. I haven’t even seen Antarctica yet and already I understand what they mean by it being “remote”.
Strangely enough, I wasn’t even aggravated or tired by the time we were hustled on board the coach bound for Ushuaia. There was a strange sense of adventure amid the flight passengers. We craned our necks left and right to take in the new landscape outside– it felt like we were on a tour! When we finally do arrive in the big U, it’s a delightful little town that looks like southern Skagway (as confirmed by a bona fide Alaskan I meet later on).
The hotel is gorgeous, with split level lobbies and a handsome Christmas tree still sparkling bright and a restaurant with a view of the Beagle Channel, which opens up to our path to Antarctica.
Dinner was a plain pizza affair turned into a wonderful conversation with Shane, an Alaskan who was solo travelling through the regions. He was done with his pizza by the time I got there, but we managed to discuss everything from death, religion, bringing up children, and burial methods (cremation or coffin?). We spoke of the turtles of the Galapagos and the monkeys of India, the Dalai Lama (who apparently has body guards with machine guns), the “live and let live” attitude, and how the bucket never seemed full… we spoke effortlessly and endlessly until the sun went down (this being no small statement as the summer Ushuaian sun doesn’t set until 11.30pm). And when at last we shook hands and introduced ourselves and bade farewell, I understood the Y (“why”) in “fly”.
I travel for the worn down pedestrian stripes on a scorching Buenos Aires road; I travel for the beautiful conversations with strangers at unsuspecting moments, I travel for the simple beauty of a plait curtain tied up in a knot inside a pizza restaurant…. I travel for the common and the not so common, for the sights and the stories, for the people and the places; to hear the heartbeat of the world, and to beat in tune with it.
To travel, in short, is to understand the meaning of Life and all that’s in it.