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The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world
(Photo exhibition - Marcelo Gurruchaga)
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The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores

Ever since my childhood I had dreamt of visiting Staten Island. My usual reading –the Robin Hood Collection, Emilio Salgari’s adventure stories and, of course, Jules Verne- awoke in me the need to go out, to travel, to know and photograph.
At the age of twelve The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Verne came to my hands and I found out, in surprise, that the plot took place on an island which is part of my own country, Argentina.
I had to know that place. I had to travel there.
One November morning- shortly before the end of the school year- I asked my mother to take us out on vacation to the island. She had no idea where it was located. Until that moment she had not even known about its existence. My sister and I looked it up on the map and found its exact location. Feeling excited about it, we went on with our investigation ... and there came the frustration: it was not possible to visit the island.
From that moment on, the scenery of Verne’s novel was forever part of my consciousness of life, of the world. Since then, that piece of land surrounded by the sea became a goal, a place to reach.
The years went by. The passion for travelling and photography turned out to be my profession and my way of living. Many places, one after the other, and thousands of pictures were kept in my camera. The remembrance of Staten Island was latent some place in my memory where I could only reach in my dreams.

The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores

One evening, while I was watching a series of documentaries on television, I saw one about Staten Island. The views were exactly as I had imagined at twelve, when I read Verne’s novel. Thirty years later there it was, intact, the wish treasured in my childhood.
Shortly afterwards the unexpected occurred: I was invited to visit and photograph the island and its legendary lighthouse, on the occasion of its anniversary and re-inauguration ceremony. Some days later I found myself in the southernmost city of Ushuaia, ready to embark the Argentine Republic Navy “A.R.A- Sobral”, the ship that would take us to the so much fancied Staten Island.
How to describe the emotion that invaded me at the harbor, when the ship set sail? I was starting the so much desired trip. The Beagle Channel appeared most beautiful, as usual. In a couple of hours we would leave it behind, to reach Good Success Bay in the Mitre Peninsula, the last stop before crossing the Strait of Le Maire. The island was now looming in the distance.
To us, privileged visitors, the journey is a source of pleasure and delightful surprises, whereas the crew works really hard to keep the bases running. I witnessed how the boats were rolled by the waves, during disembarking and when transporting the heaviest of charges ashore. Definitely, the inclemency of the weather and the cold of the water do not dispirit the men of the “A.R.A. Sobral”.
The following morning we were crossing the Strait of Le Maire. How many stories of wrecks, how many adventures. Fear and pride of being there.
We navigated towards the north of the isle. My dream was now at my hand’s reach.
Our first destination was Luis Piedrabuena Navy Base, located in Port Parry. We spent the night there and at dawn we had the 25th of May’s celebration. I am not easily moved at the thought of dates and anniversaries, but being that moment on Staten Island, practically the farthest edge of the country, was for me something I cannot describe. At mid-morning the following day we were ready to land.

The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores The island of the lighthouse, a fantasy at the end of the world - Tierra de Exploradores

The moment had come. It had taken many summers, but in the end I was there. I had come to Staten Island.
At disembarking in those latitudes, there came the surprises. Some days before my arrival in Tierra del Fuego, I had been taking pictures of animals in the Province of Corrientes at Esteros del Ibera. In that trip I took several pictures of a night heron. In Port Parry, the first photograph I took was that of an animal quite similar to these herons.
Was it possible ...? At checking the birds guide I confirmed what I thought to be absurd: both birds belonged to the same species. This heron inhabits the country from the Argentine littoral to the Austral extreme of the continent. Can anyone imagine a forest of a jungle aspect and as dense as the Amazone, to exist in these latitudes? Well, right then I was photographing it. Many pictures present the aspect of a tropical area.
The second harbor in our cruise was the mythical “lighthouse of the end of the world”. We sighted it near the Cape San Juan de Salvamento. Jules Verne was by my side.
On the ship’s deck a ceremony is organized and all of us present there sign the lighthouse re-inauguration bill. I am part of its history, the history of the confines of the world.
The crew launched a boat and several of us got aboard, but the boat hit with violence against the cask of the ship, and many quit the cruise. Only a few of us remained.
Some minutes later we were aboard a small boat, navigating the seas of the extreme Austral Atlantic. Being so near the lighthouse, we could see it in the same way as did the mythical navigators from ancient times who gave their lives to explore and discover these lands. By then, it was already sunset and the leaden gray of the sky encouraged the evocation of those corageous seamen.
It was the time to come back to Ushuaia, but there was still more to be discovered. The south side of the isle, exposed to the Antarctic winds, was appearing before our eyes. It was marvelous to circumnavigate the isle. Spaniard Port and Ushuaia were waiting for us on Great Island.
The trip was coming to the end, other places succeeded one after the other. The weather changed, the seasons turned, we got to know –and I photographed- other landscapes with their views, their history and most of their flora and fauna. I especially remember one crossing of the Strait of Le Maire at sunset. It was the time when the birds return to their nests. They were heading for Staten Island, and at that very moment I understood why the original inhabitants of the south of Tierra del Fuego -the Yamanas Indians- called this land “Chuanisín”, the land of abundance.
Staten Island became a dream come true.

 


© Verónica Willenberg, all rights reserved.

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