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The Mother of Nostoi

It is not the grand ferocious edge of the world you might expect but rather a gentle sigh that ends in a calm and quiet bay. Even the name sounds passive: oo-shoo-ay-ah. All those open vowels, that sibilant "sh" passing over the lips like a whisper, ending in a weak "ah" that seems to trail off like a dying breath.

Despite its claims, Ushuaia is actually the second-to-last town in South America (Puerto Williams, across the Magellan Strait, is the last) but has marketed its way to the boastful title of "The End of the World" and thus become the destination for those seeking to punctuate their wanderlust. And so it serves as an apex and a nadir. Where all hence become thence. The end to so many journeys and the beginning to as many more. It is the mother of all homecoming.

Standing at the literal end of the road of an entire landmass that for so long was the world's blind corner around which so many men temerariously turned, you can't help but think of Magellan and his demise, something that reads like a fabled fall portended by an old gypsy woman in a bustling Mediterranean port. You think of Shackleton and the ferocity and aplomb with which he conquered that Long Night adrift in a sunless sea of ice. You think of Sir Francis Drake. Of Cook. Of Lewis and Clarke. Of Livingstone. Of Ted Simon.

And you think back on Colombia and its sweet delights that now feel like an unrecoverable dream. And you think of all those august suns setting over the Pacific---in San Blas, in Sayulite, in Mazunte, in Playa El Esteron, in San Juan del Sur, in Tamarindo, in Santa Catalina, in Montanitas, in Punta de Lobos---how each would hover an eternity on the edge of the world until every drop of color was bled from its fiery heart and whole crowds of people would stop to stare as if witnessing the final spectacular death of the universe. You think of that masked catrina in León that pulled you from the crowd and danced with you to a country burlesque and then disappeared into the mob as mysteriously as she arrived, like an apparition passing through this world on its way to the next. You think of that night in a Bogota bar as old as the country itself, a grand colonial villa where a caramel-skinned nightingale sang in a language that even after eight months was still foreign to you but you didn't need to know the words because it was as if two centuries of woe in that house had finally found release in her sad and soulful voice. And you think of the father and son you stopped to help on the road to Cafayate, and how disappointed you were that your tire pump did not fit the valve on their cartwheel because you wanted to be a good citizen and reach out across cultures to sew another stitch in the fabric of the world, and how they too seemed to want the same unspoken thing, but it didn't fit and they thanked you profusely and you thanked them endlessly not wanting the chance to connect to end but it did and you rode on.

And the tide of memories continues rushing in as you stand on the crest of an entire continent looking out over a placid bay beyond which, after 456 days of pushing on, you cannot push further. So you wipe the bugs off your face shield for thousandth time and swing your booted paw up over that pillion once again and turn your grimy forks north, away from the impenetrable sea and towards the beckoning light of a new unknown.


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