Concert at the End of the World

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Crossing the choppy Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas to Porvenir is reputedly quite an ordeal for queasy stomachs, and the severe, biting winds before our departure left us feeling somewhat uneasy. However, lady luck must have been travelling with us as the waters during the ferry crossing were eerily calm and we arrived without mishap on the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. This is an island about the size of Ireland, and was described by Darwin as the 'uttermost part of the earth'. With great anticipation, we started out on the final 450 km of the Panamerican Highway towards Ushuaia, on the shores of the Beagle Channel.

Almost as though someone had flipped the switch, the calmness dissipated and we found ourselves once again facing the unrelenting winds. Intermittent sections of brutal washboard were the norm on the gravel road leading to the Argentinean border, but we stopped suddenly when we continued to experience a washboard sensation on what appeared to a smooth stretch. We were surprised that we had not had a flat already somewhere along the way, but the powerful blowout caused by a sharp stone made up for the delay - and the tyre was totally destroyed! Changing a wheel with gale force winds howling around us, and in the middle of the pampa where there were no large stones to block the wheels, was an "interesting" experience that we would not like repeated too often.

The northern area of Tierra del Fuego can generally be characterized by its "prairie-like" flat pampa, oil wells, and incessant winds. After hours of driving through this rather dreary landscape, we were astonished by the total transformation provided by the windswept city of Río Grande - somewhat akin to finding an oasis in the desert. The jungle gym brightly coloured pipe sculptures that line the city streets were nothing if not bizarre, but fortunately the more sedate - but definitely functional - garage was able to quickly equip us with two sparkling new rear tyres.

Continuing southward, the barren landscape was gradually transformed into forests of lenga and ņirre, all dressed in their fall hues of rusty-red, orange and yellow, and comfortably draped in old man's beard. Still further south, the crystal clear lakes presented a picture of beauty, as they were dwarfed by the looming snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Darwin and the Sierra de Beauvoir. These are the final stunning peaks of the Andes range as it heads east towards the Atlantic Ocean. Then just 31,060 km and almost exactly 15 months after leaving Ottawa in January of 2004, we reached Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Nestled beneath the picturesque jagged mountain peaks, Ushuaia is not only famous as the gateway to southern adventure, but it is also the former home of many of Argentina's criminals and political prisoners in its notorious penal colony.

Having already made our trek to Antarctica, and not being particularly interested in becoming an integral part of Argentina's prison system, we were most fortunate to encounter our own special event in Ushuaia. We were thrilled to get tickets for the premiere concert of the first ever International Music Festival at the end of the world - a fifteen day event which was scheduled to start a couple of days after our arrival. A collaborative effort between Ushuaia and Austria, this ambitious enterprise features the Symphony Orchestra of Salta as well as an impressive slate of trios, quartets and soloists. The program for the opening night included Mozart's Violin Concerto No 5, with Wolfgang Brand (first violinist of the Vienna Philharmonic) as soloist, as well as Dvorāk's "New World" Symphony. Despite the late start due to an interminable series of speeches, it was an invigorating evening with a spirited performance by the young musicians - even if not quite up to the standards of Pinchas Zukerman and the NACO!

With the temperatures inside our van reaching the freezing point during the night, and with snow falls becoming an almost daily occurrence, we might have decided on a quick departure to warmer climes further north. Instead, since Argentinean campsites generally provide a plug-in, we decided to purchase a small space heater. Now warm and cozy, perhaps this will be a suitable location to finalize plans for the next stage of our journey.....STAY TUNED!!
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