Today, they tell us, is a fiesta. No one can tell us which fiesta, in fact no one seems to particularly care. But they are certain: today is a fiesta; all the shops will be closed and everybody will be in church with their families.
I make my way to the ship along the deserted pre-dawn streets, trying my bad Spanish on the watchman on duty at the gate to the pier. The air is still, carrying just a tinge of whatever’s left from last night’s celebrations. The night before a fiesta, there are always celebrations, and this morning, even the gulls seem to have hangovers of a sort.
To the east, beyond the fishing ships and abandoned shoreline, lie the Straits of Magellan. It’s a place that exists only in history books, or stories about how hard things were back then, with the old square-riggers bound for San Francisco braving Drake’s passage, or risking the Straits to shave precious days of their record setting runs. It only exists in stories and yet…there it is.
And across the channel, on a low, wide, snow-covered rise to the east, lies Tierra del Fuego, also as impossible and imaginary a place as Timbuktu, or, for that matter, the South Pole. To be standing here feels magical in a way that is hard to find words for. My instinct would be that looking out on this sunrise should make the world feel smaller. After all, I’m living proof that, with a little luck and an understanding spouse, it’s relatively straightforward it is to go (as literally as possible), to the ends of the earth.
And yet the sensation is somehow opposite, as though the world has grown so large that my imagination can’t even contain it anymore. Because it can’t. Because there is an entire world here, a world of uncountable lives and stories – full of the unspeakable beauty of sunrises like this, day after day for as long as people have walked these sandy shores and looked out at the sea. And this is only one point on our unimaginably broad globe, one name out of everything I’ve forgotten from my history classes, a name that until now was no more real than Hogwarts, or Oz. A name now made real by the cold on my cheeks, the lazy slapping of waves, and the deep red fire of a morning sky in winter. And the thing is this: pick a place, any place on the globe, and it is as real as this one – I honestly can’t keep that thought in my head without getting dizzy.
(Sorry – I promise I’ll start posting pictures and stories about people and life on the ship once things settle down a little. There’s plenty of time. Right now, if it’s not clear, I’m still a bit mentally overwhelmed by it all. Mostly in a good way.)