Friday, March 7, 2014

Ushuaia 3 and Post-Antarctic Depression

Still no photos...hopefully coming soon!

I was still feeling vaguely heartbroken when I woke up on the final morning on the Iffe. But at least the Ioffe came back to Ushuaia, so when I woke, there were big, beautiful mountains out the window.

Ushuaia is lovely for a city. But at the same time, it's a human stain in a wild landscape. A hard thing to return to after the purity of Antarctica. But at least it was Ushuaia, with its vistas of big, beautiful mountains. A shock, but not as big a shock as it could have been.

We all hugged goodbye in a big receiving line of staff and passengers when we offloaded from the ship. Many of us had spent the final night had been spent in the bar until the wee hours singing with Ari and Brandon on guitars, including the crowd favorite Wagon Wheel, which I believe they played three times that night, and which lodged itself in my brain as an unshakable Uhrwurm for the following week and a half.

When I walked off the ship and was dropped off at my hostel, it was too early to check in and I felt too weighted by sadness to stay there, so I went for a walk to the only place there is to walk to: the waterfront. My legs felt like jell-o, both from the lack of sleep that night and from the transition from sea to land. Turns out I had gotten my sea legs, and now had to work on getting my land legs back. There on the waterfront, sitting on a bench with the Ioffe parked across the water, I broke down crying.

Everyone else, it seemed, was going home. Those few who had traveled alone were returning to husbands or wives or significant others. People seemed sad to go, but simultaneously relieved. I felt abandoned, and deeply lonely. The Ioffe had become my happy home, and the folks onboard my family, and all of the sudden I was thrown back out on the street and everyone left. Plus, I was tired, and hormonal, and worried about the fact that I was now on my third month with no period--having never missed a period before in my life. So I cried, and cried, and cried.

I was interrupted by Jan and Jim, who happened to also be walking along the waterfront, and they gave me a big hug and suggested we meet up for dinner. That gave me the relief I needed to get up, go back to the hostel, change into sports clothes, and go for a long run. The run didn't cheer me up any, but left me feeling better nonetheless.

After I showered and was able to check in officially and take a nap, I woke up and made myself lunch and was interrupted in my hermit rituals by a good-looking and utterly charming guy from Manchester, whose witty conversation cheered me up quite a bit until it turned into a bizarre, sexually-charged monologue that led me to write him off as a vaguely creepy manwhore (I don't know where guys get the idea that bragging about their exploits makes them attractive--does that work?) and excuse myself. I spent the afternoon working to recover photos from my fried hard drive with little success before meeting back up with Jan and Jim for dinner.

They are absolutely lovely people, and I enjoyed my conversation with them. They talked about growing up Mormon and distancing from the church, surprising their coworkers and friends by being "moral athiests", and how their daughter's cancer had shaped them. They apologized for the depressing conversation, but I hadn't found it depressing so much as touching, a story of how going through Hell makes people more beautiful, more gentle, more empathetic, and more human. I hugged them goodbye and walked off to meet some friends from the ship (they didn't all leave that day, it turned out) at a pub--it was great to see some of them again.

On the way, I walked down a street where the city was celebrating Carnival, and I was there early enough to catch the tail end of the parade. As I walked, I watched the kids running around spraying eachother, and me, with some sort of canned soapy foam, and the colorful dancers twirl and sing their way down the street. I noticed that the crowd looked significantly different than the pale tourists who usually fill the streets of downtown Ushuaia--the locals had come out of the woodwork. I reached into my bag to pull out my GoPro to film a snippet of the parade when I noticed that my good camera--the one I had been trying to revive--was missing and my bag was unzipped. Everything else still appeared to be there but the camera was gone. It must have been cursed.

I went running again the next morning, unsuccessfully trying to shake the blues, but at least feeling like the blues were warranted in this situation, and it was fine to feel it for now. I also went to the police station to file a police report for the camera at the suggestion of the hostel owner. It was a remarkably painless process. I managed to book my bus tickets onward, but then failed to make progress recovering the photos from my hard drive while trying to ignore Manchester, who was trying to convince me that "my problem is that you are missing a good shag". By the end of the day, I wondered where the time had gone.

My third morning in Ushuaia I was feeling very dark indeed. I was finally able to pick up the package full of Antarctica clothes that my mom had mailed me two months prior, and was charged a fee for the honor, and then told I could not send the package back home because the post office wasn't accepting packages that day. I had no luck sending the camera gear that had also come in the package and was now useless without a camera. I did manage to exchange some dollars for pesos at a stuffed animal store, but was in a sour mood when I walked back to the hostel along the waterfront again, but this time with no Ioffe. I was sad about the loneliness, upset about the camera, angry at the stupid post office, and was probably glowering when all of the sudden I heard opera floating through the air.

I looked up, and a woman dressed in street clothes was standing in the balcony of the local museum singing a piece from Carmen, she was incredible. I listened, then sat down on the sidewalk as she continued to sing three more arias that I didn't recognize before disappearing. I went into the museum to ask about her, if she accepted donations, when she walked down the stairs. She recognized me and asked if I was Italian--probably assuming I must be if I enjoyed opera, since I was the only person who had stopped to listen--and I had tears in my eyes when I thanked her as best as I could in Spanish for giving me something beautiful on a blue day. She was touched.

I had dinner alone at a restaurant called El Viejo Marino (The Ancient Mariner) on the waterfront, a plasticy diner with surprisingly good food, but the name of the restaurant and the decor reminded me of when I had read the book, years ago in the bed of someone who had fallen out of love with me, and the memory made me sad again as I watched the sun set over the Beagle Canal and said goodbye to a place that had meant so much to me.

I was rebelling inside--wanted to run back away to the hills, to those mountains with their always-open arms. I felt like my soul was screaming: "Why? Why would you leave? You came back to civilization? Why? Why would you do that?"

But I had to leave, and caught my bus at 5am the next morning, saying goodbye to my beloved South.

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