The morning, as usual, began with every too early “Good morning, Good morning.” However, this time, it was a little different. It was our last morning wakeup call from the Expedition Leader. She was gentle in stirring the boat to get everybody up, to the kitchen and off the boat to begin the last parts of our expedition.
After breakfast, we all scurried about getting our bags in place to be picked up. Boarding the buses, we all began to realize this was all coming to an end. It was a very bittersweet moment. We were so proud of the things that we had done, seen and feats conquered that we never thought we could begin. There was a planned tour at the Ushuaia Jail and Military Prison. This was a very somber experience. The jail was originally started in 1896. Argentine prisoners and political “offenders” were brought there to actually build their own prison. It was thought of as the “Siberia of Argentina.” Walking into the complex, it became clear that it was a place that no one ever wanted to set foot in. Cells were so very small – 4 foot by 4 foot square. Originally, there were supposed to be two men to a cell. Capacity in the prison was twice the original plan; four men to a small cell does not seem humane.
The lighting dark and you could imagine the dread that a former inmate would have walking down the dark, tile floor. There was a putrid smell that seeped through the air creating staleness with every breath. Heaters that were in place clearly could not do the work needed to provide basic heating conditions. Jail it just depressing. It is a good thing that the Argentine government made this facility a museum and no longer uses it.
After finishing up the tour, the group made its way to a coffee shop in a nearby hotel as we waited to make our way to the airport. There was a jewelry store attached to the hotel that was handing out cards where we could get a free penguin charm. Many of the people of our group were collecting their free token when I saw a couple looking at a beautiful gold necklace that had a sophisticated, artisan craftsmanship to it. I admired it and could not hold myself back. Most of you don’t know that I formerly worked in the jewelry business, and admire quality pieces when I see it. I, of course, butted my nose into their private viewing and gave them my thumbs up – it was just spectacular! I was beside myself when the wife approached me when we were boarding the bus. She said, “Tom, every time I wear this piece I will always, always think of you. Your voice helped us make the decision to purchase the piece. It will be something that I wear, my daughter wears and the children beyond.” It was a touching moment to accidentally be a part of someone’s surprise commemorating our triumphs over the white continent.
Mr. Sanders and I had a relatively calm flight back to Buenos Aires. Tonight, we are staying in a hotel that is the former residential site of Eva Peron – a very famous political and social figure in Argentina. I am so excited to begin the tropical portion of our adventure and share those experiences with you! Rio is next on our list. It promised to be full of new experiences and cultural learning!
Mr. Szymanski is a 1st grade teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School in Chicago, IL. He is bringing the world to his classroom with the help of National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Here, he chronicles his adventures to Antarctica and South America in December 2014.