Argentina. Ah! Argentina. yes, I'm beginning to understand. It is quite something to meet people so proud of their country, yet sometimes so humble in their opinion of the world elsewhere. This is a great place. And every day that I have been here has held a special treat. Dave and I have been invited here to attend the ECO-POLAR 2006 conference about IPY in Ushuaia.
Although I had only one night in Buenos Aires en route, I somehow found myself in a large, packed, concert hall, surrounded by crying, exclaiming, mesmerised fans of Mercedes Sosa. Elderly, and not too stable on her feet, but when she sang, solo, the voice of ten choirs erupted and the soul of the nation filled the air. Her last piece was the national anthem. I hope to never forget that passionate, tearful, audience on their feet, singing about their love for their country. What a great introduction to the country, and the people.
Next stop, Ushuaia, fin del mundo, 'end of the world, beginning of everything', as the city sign proclaims. Much larger than the frontier town I expected, there are currently 50,000 inhabitants, increased from 8,000 twenty years ago. Originally a tax haven, now a centre for Antarctic, and Patagonian, tourism. 80,000 tourists pass through here in a season. A third of them are heading South.
Arrival on a Thursday evening, greeted by a contingent of smiling faces keen to help us, thanking us for coming. It is us that should be thanking them for the invite, and the trip.
Friday, the main conference. Four hundred people maybe. Politicians from the state, province, and city. Shiny-buttoned military, educators, tour operators, businessmen, scientists, journalists, artists.. the whole community seemed represented. And better: excited. They know more about IPY than I do. It's on their doorstep.
Every speech is introduced and summarised, every dignitary recognised, every subject, over the next three days, attended to. Science, education and outreach, history, politics... and the audience remains attentive throughout their weekend. It was very humbling, quite overwhelming infact, and hard work.
But I was saying, a special treat every day. We were treated like royalty. I don't know why, but I didn't complain!
Friday night we thought we were going to a restaurant. We ended up instead immersed in the Centro Beagle experience. The centre is a replica of Darwin's boat, the Beagle. It also hosts a musical about the expedition and has a thematic restaurant, complete with whale bone cups, wooden plates, and a fire in the middle of each table. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
Saturday evening bested even that. The day had included smaller workshops with teachers and journalists, a visit to the tourist centre and first provincial parliament, and a wonderful excursion into the Beagle channel by catamaran. We were tired, but happy. Blissfully ignorant of the festivities that awaited us.
The VIP group included people from six nations around the world. We were taken to a reception in the old prison at 7:30pm, allowing us half an hour to recuperate from the day's adventures. Drinks, historic setting, displays, speeches, a great chance to chat informally amongst conference participants. At 10pm, we were taken to a reception with the Governor of Tierra del Fuego. At midnight, between starter and main, the dancers began. I had been told that Argentinians love a good show, but what a show! Dancing, speeches, presentation of certificates, incredible food and wine.. and where do they get their energy from? At 1:30 am I asked, as politely as I could, if it was normal for Argentinians to take a siesta. No, I was told: it's genetic. Well, they were sparkly-eyed until at least 2:30 when we crawled home, and I saw many of the same people the following morning when the day's focus on Antarctic history and politics began at 9:15. Impressive.
I spent Monday and Tuesday, after the conference was over, visiting various schools and meeting local journalists. Everyone was so excited and enthusiastic about IPY. Finally, the world was studying the poles, they seemed to say. Dave told me he had experienced similar earlier in the year when he visited Svalbard in the North.
Normally, when you go to a school to talk about Antarctica or the Arctic, the first half of the class is spent talking about where it is, and why anyone might want to go there. Not here. These kids live at the Gateway to Antarctica, they see thousands of tourists coming through their town every year with Antarctica as their sole goal. They did want to know about the science, however, and were proud to know that there are some things you can only learn about at the poles. And that polar science is critical to global science, to all of us. The younger kids were also keen to hear about their neighbours in the Arctic, people who live so far away but share so many aspects of their life. Out of these discussions, we started trying to think of ways that we can connect polar communities to each other, and highlight them during IPY.
Ushuaia must be one of the most beautiful towns in the world. Steep-sided mountains covered in glaciers pouring into the Beagle channel. The channel that connects the world's two great oceans. And if the mountains, forests, channels, and history aren't enough of an incentive to come here, you can catch a boat to the icy continent as well.
The thing that moved me most however, were the people. Everyone smiling, everyone welcoming, everyone wanting to help. I leave here with happy memories of new friends, classrooms of students, of mountains and ocean, and a huge banner covered in names and hand prints from a primary school class stating: 'We are going to work to communicate the importance of IPY.'
What is IPY
Thursday, 01 June 2006 00:49
ECO-POLAR conferenceWritten by Rhian Salmon
- Add to Delicious
- Digg this
- Add to Reddit
- Add to StumbleUpon
- Add to Facebook
- Add to MySpace
- Add to Technorati
Login to post comments
Calendar of Events
Friends of IPY
Fri, 02 Dec 2011Importància quiropterològica del delta del...
Fri, 02 Dec 2011Jornada «El 2012, de què...
Fri, 02 Dec 2011Missatge 12: Com era el...
Thu, 01 Dec 2011HAPPY ANTARCTICA DAY!
Wed, 30 Nov 2011L'estat del malestar