KOTA KINABALU: Since his stint in Malaysia in 2016, Argentina’s ambassador, Manuel Balaguer Salas, has had a list of accomplishments ranging from the arts to bilateral trade.
But with his tour of duty ending in about two months, there remained an “insurmountable mountain” that he had not overcome.
On Tuesday, he finally did it.
Together with his wife, Guadalupe Cernusco, Salas, 57, scaled the majestic Mount Kinabalu, reaching the summit of Malaysia’s highest mountain in time to catch the sunrise.
They were delighted to finally tick it off their bucket list of things to do in Malaysia.
“We have always wanted to climb the mountain since my arrival in Malaysia. We saw it on the Sabah flag. It’s so iconic,” said Salas when contacted.
Recounting the experience, he said: “We arrived at the peak about half an hour before the sunrise.
“When the sun came up and the light hit the summit, revealing all the details of the peak, it was a great and memorable moment,” he said.
He admitted that he and his wife were initially anxious about the climb, as they had heard about the tough times that others went through in attempting to scale the 4,095m-high peak. As such, Salas said they had prepared well for the climb but were still rather concerned.
“We heard there might be a lack of oxygen, but we had a wonderful guide who gave us tips about walking slowly and controlling our breathing.
“We also received a lot of help from the local authorities, and the weather was great,” he said.
He said it was his first time at such a high altitude.
“We suffered a little bit, but it’s okay,” he said.
Salas, who will be returning to serve in Buenos Aires, said the embassy had scored a number of accomplishments together with the Malaysian authorities and private sector.
“Bilateral trade, which was already substantial in 2016, reached an all-time high last year of US$2bil.
“In 2020, after a decade-long hiatus, we were able to reopen the Malaysian market for Argentine beef, with record sales to date.
“Additionally, we were also able to deepen and expand the relationship between the hydrocarbon companies of both countries, YPF (Argentine state-owned energy company) and PETRONAS, leading to significant and important joint projects in Argentina’s Patagonia,” he said.
Salas said new Argentine companies had also settled in Malaysia, such as Bedson, Verion and Galileo, adding that there were also major Malaysian companies that were well established in Argentina.
And a collaboration with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia led to two Argentine books translated into Bahasa Malaysia – El Aleph by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and Argentine History by Luis Alberto Romero.
He also spoke about the official visit to Malaysia by the Argentine vice-president in 2019 and a trip to Argentina by high-ranking Malaysian authorities.
“During my term in Malaysia, we celebrated the bicentennial of Argentine independence and the 50 years of the bilateral relationship between our countries with various activities.
“Tango, arts, cinema, gastronomy, polo, literature and football were some of the activities organised over the years,” he said.
Salas said that in order to organise and institutionalise the bilateral relationship, a memorandum of understanding was signed in 2019 to establish annual political consultations between Malaysia and Argentina.
“But the most important thing was the meaningful human relationships that we have forged.
“Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the warm embrace and unforgettable experiences during our time here,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s vibrant festivals, cuisine, and harmonious coexistence of different communities had left an indelible mark on him and his wife.
“We’re not leaving yet, but we’re already missing you!” he said.