For the Passion of Patagonia

Article excerpt

Last April 28, a small plane bound for Patagonia crashed in the predawn, taking the lives of ten people. Four of them were bound, in the minds of those who knew them and their work, with that wild region that was their destination. They were journalist German Sopena, businessman Agostino Rocca, author Adrian Gimenez Hutton, and ex-alpinist and national parks administrator Jose Luis Fonrouge. They were on a patriotic mission that Sopena had organized to raise a flag on the peninsula, appropriately called Punta Bandera, which naturalist Francisco Moreno had discovered in 1877.

True to German Sopena's down-to-earth demeanor, he never aspired to greatness or fame. He used to say he wanted to become a truck driver, so he could travel the world, or a newspaper vendor, to at least be the first to learn what was happening in it. Instead, he ended up becoming a prizewinning journalist. All the same, he didn't venture far from his boyhood dream. Never trained as a journalist, Sopena occupied several positions at Argentina's newspaper of record, La Nacion, before being named its managing editor in 1999. Prior to that he served eight years as a correspondent in France for several Argentine publications while earning a graduate degree in political science at the Sorbonne. In recognition of his distinguished career, he won several awards, including the prestigious Konex Prize for economic analysis, and was last year named a member of Argentina's National Academy of Journalism. A gifted writer, Sopena was best known for his hard-nosed opinion columns, which regularly pierced through the distracting headlines of the moment to provide a more pensive look at societal trends.

"He never wished to be anyone's leader, but everyone wanted him to be theirs," recalls Fernan Saguier, a close friend and La Nacion executive.

The same innate inquisitiveness that led Sopena into journalism accompanied him in his numerous travels around the world. He was a particular fan of trains and rode rafts as far as Siberia and China before recording his travels in a 1990 book, his first of three, called La libertad es un tren.

But despite being so cultured--he spoke five languages--and well traveled, Sopena never bored of exploring his own backyard, and in particular, Patagonia. Those who knew him best say his fascination with Patagonia, and with it an interest in trekking and climbing, began accidentally relatively late in his life. A political dispute between Chile and Argentina in the early 1990s over conflicting claims to the strategic continental ice cap was the pretext with which Sopena led a fact-finding mission to the area. …