Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Week in the "End of the World"

Tierra del Fuego National Park-- Cerro Guanaco By the time I cross the tree line, I need a break. The sign behind me says I have climbed 614 meters. That means about 230 or so to go. But not until I have some water. So I turn around and take in the view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel, while sipping out of a leaky Nalgene imitation covered in plastic bags.

After a good rest, I get up and notice that there's another sign near the altitude one that has broken and fallen on its face. That's interesting. I lift it up, dust it off, and read: "Final de sendero señalizado." End of Marked trail. I look up at the steep slope of loose shale and moss. That's very interesting. There is an obvious choice here, one of the choices is sensible. Now which one do you think I picked?

Ten minutes later, almost to the top, I find an eagle hovering over the summit. I get envious-- lucky bird doesn't deal with sliding rock at 85 degree angles. But when I hit the summit marked by two sticks and massive gusts of wind, I felt I'd earned it.

Three hours later, I was sitting in the "microcine" underneath the city cultural center with the first piano I'd played in four months, learning tricks for playing tango music.

This has been my week.

There were two important things that happened in Ushuaia. First, I snagged a deal for an Antarctic cruise in such a way that by the end of it my travel agent was telling me all about her family, giving me tips on the best local trails, and offering me a free tent and sleeping bag to borrow ("They're my ex-husband's-- he's not gonna be using them in Costa Rica"). The second was finding a chunk of the local arts scene in a basement after following some outdated signs advertising tango lessons.

It started with music. There's a program in Ushuaia called "Hacelo Sonar," where people bring musical instruments and play them. The first time I came in and started playing piano, a boy about 8 years old came over just to watch. He refused to play until I finally got him hooked on a simple C-blues scale. One of the guys running the program came over, and between the two of us, we taught the kid basic blues progressions and a couple basic songs (including Heart and Soul-- may all those near him when there's a piano around forgive us).

Afterwards, I talked with the duo running the program for a while. And I do mean duo, Damien plays the Piano, Luisina plays guitar and sings. Together, they're Duo Huella sobre Huella-- they have some of their stuff online. They asked me if I'd heard typical Argentine music, then gave me a masterful private performance of sambas, tangos, and gatos. Haunting music, and I mean that in the very best way. The singing still goes through my head, along with the rhythmic tapping on the side of the guitar-- they use those whole instrument, not just the strings and frets. They taught me a couple basic rhythms and, as we walked out on the streets and they told me all about the town, they invited me to an advanced tango music session. It was kind of above my level, especially since in Spanish they teach music using Do Re Mi Fa etc. instead of C D E F etc.. But it did inspire me to grab the hostel guitar and spend some quality hours teaching myself how to play chords properly.

Then there were the other tango lessons, the ones that brought me to the little microcine in the first place. Dance lessons. I was a little surprised at the ages-- I'm guessing the girls' average age was about 16 and the guy's average age almost twice that-- but I learned a lot. Most impressive though was watching my teachers dance after our lesson. Argentine tango is legendary, and so different from anything I'd done or seen. It's all in the legs and the abrazo stance (literally "embrace"). The girl's forehead leaned against the guy's cheek, the girl seemingly losing balance against the guy until they turn, regain, and glide to the other side of the room. Everything is in the tension you feel between the two, like something just happened or is just about to happen, until with a flourish, it does, then back to the expectancy. It was privilege to watch that.

I've moved from my hostel to the hotel the the cruise company has put us in. In my room I found a offer for a free souvenir from HStern, and a list of services offered by the hotel's spa, including a "Sedative massage applied with chocolate and kelp cream" for about the price of three nights at my previous hostel. My immediate reaction was "where the hell am I and who stays here?" Later, I sat at one of the three free flat screen internet terminals. At the others, one very made-up fifty-something year old user asked the other, in English, what to do at the login screen of Windows XP, and the other looked over his bifocals and told her confidently "oh that's where you can do anything, search in Google there" (pointing at the text box for the password). Question answered.

The strangest part was when I was waiting to check in. An English-speaking couple in front of me asked where they could rent a car, and I after I helped translate a couple questions, the attendant told them that taking a taxi was better because walking outside was not safe. This is in Ushuaia. I was just told by Luisina and Damien that, six months ago, nobody locked their doors here. "Not safe"? Welcome to the tourist bubble.

Still, this is the bubble that's floating me across the Drake Passage, so I really shouldn't complain.

Check out this entry's Photos


  1. ""Not safe"? Welcome to the tourist bubble."
    This is regrettably common; I swear I've been safely in dozens of places in London and Boston where people later told me 'oh, we don't go there, it's not safe.' But it sounds like you hit a particularly egregious example. I'm very envious of your tango lessons and the chance to see real tango; I'm starting swing lessons here in Cambridge, but I doubt it'll be the fact, I'd be somewhat worried if it was.

    And good for you for going up the sendero no señalizado.

  2. Hola Joel!!!

    Me emocionó ver tu blog,leer tus diferentes experiencias anteriores y las alegra mucho que hayas tenido clases de Tango y que hayas tocado guitarra alla en Argentina, siempre toda la familia te recuerda.

    Saludos desde Cbba

  3. Count C- I´m gonna bet it's not going to be the last time I run into this either. I'll keep the funnier/ more impressive examples posted. Good luck with the swing classes, sounds great! I only ever took one, and it kind of devolved into salsa after a while (because that was what the crowd I was with really did) but it was a lot of fun. If they teach you an 8-part basic step, bringing the feet together each time, start worrying.

    Mary- ¿Cómo están todos? ¡Me alegre mucho oír de ustedes! Nos escribiremos mucho-- cuando me iré de América Latina voy a necesitar mucho más practica con mi español para mantenerlo bien. ¿Tal vez sus padres puedan usar esto blog para practicar su ingles? (Si no lograran, la intenta sería cómica para tu y Julio por lo menos, ¿verdad?). Claro que también siempre le recuerdo a toda la familia. Un abrazo para todos los seres humanos y para las mascotas un... no sé la palabra exactamente, pero lo que se hace para el tic de los perros... eso. Sí. ¡Saludos!

  4. Hola Joel!!!

    No sabes cuan felices estan mis padres por tus saludos...acá estábamos preocupados por ti, pues no sabíamos tu paradero...ok! trato hecho, tendras que escribir mucho en español a la familia eh?...yo se que no lo vas a olvidar del todo, ademas estare escribiendote en español cuando pueda...y si tu blog me enseña muchas nuevas palabras para mi vocabulario,por supuesto que muchas oraciones no las entiendo del todo! ;) pero esta bien, al menos tengo un entendimiento general de lo que escribes. Julio esta aún en Roboré-Beni, espero que vuelva, Nicolás empezó clases, el primer día se puso a llorar porque tenía mucha tarea(jajajajaja Risa), mis padres estan bien de salud, te mandan muchos saludos, mi mami dice que tienes tu ángel guardián, que te cuida estés donde estés...y yo termino las clases de capacitacion hoy día...aprendí cosas nuevas e interesantes, pero eso si...ojala tenga mucha práctica...jajajajja...ok ýa me despido...recibe nuestros mejores deseos y saludos...:)

    PD. ah esta bien que digas: Un abrazo para todos uds...(no es necesario:seres humanos) y sí tienes razón, el tic nervioso que tiene genial...ella te busca aún y quiere q le rasquen la pancita...