At the end of the world as we know it

Guitarist Walter MalosettiI’ve been in Ushuaia for four days, but it’s taken 96 hours for this trip to sink in and come together in my mind. Here for the Jazz al fin festival headlined by Argentine guitarist Walter Malosetti and Cuban musician Yusa among others and attending alongside other Argentine media, I’ve taken the End of the World train whose wooden railway track was built by anarchist convicts; snorted with laughter at the playful seals leaping merrily through the freezing waters from aboard a catamaran; prayed to the god of brutal elements for a smattering, even a sprinkling, of the right white stuff, which doesn’t seem like much to ask for; and of course, been subjected to some good, bad, ugly and incredible jazz in the most southern city in the world.

But it took a visit to the Maritime and Prison Museum for this austral city to make sense. Located on the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is in Tierra del Fuego province whose very name incites passion, desire and a need to conquer and unravel the mysteries that this Argentine island holds. And at 1,000km from Antarctica, closer still to Cape Horn, a home to pirates and prisoners, seals and penguins, Malosetti’s nephew, the guitarist Raúl, summed up the city’s beginnings, which start in 1896, in an interview. “Those inmates were the reason Ushuaia came into existence. Guards and security followed those prisoners. And then the prostitutes arrived.”

And although that is the simplistic reason for explaining the city’s foundation, the multi-functioning museum tells the stories of the almost-naked Yamana Indians who were forced into man-made clothes by colonists and died out within a matter of years, navigational dramas courtesy of steely sailors attempting to put their surname on a slice of the new world, pillaging pirates who felt protected by the Beagle Channel, the Norway-England battle to reach the South Pole first as well as the marine life which has always called Tierra del Fuego home, and of course the ball-and-chained prisoners who wore Xeneizes stripes and hacked down trees come rain or shine to build a railway line.

Man continues to try and outdo nature but after a mere six days in one of the toughest climates in the world and witnessing Ushuaia’s winter intensify, the best Man can do is attempt to keep up with it. But even the harshest of weather hasn’t keep music lovers away from the six-day jazz festival.

Photo by Horacio Sbaraglia
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Part two to follow, if, of course, the World Cup doesn’t get in the way.

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