crossing the Strait of Magellan
I've been traveling exactly one short month, and I've just learned something. Long trips are microcosms of normal life in ways that vacations could never be. They have their ups and downs, surprises, failures, regrets, redemptions, weird phases and the whole lot. This seems logical. The longer you travel, the more traveling becomes your occupation, and the vessel for all your experiences. Yet, the prospect of endless idyllic bliss (like we might meticulously manufacture for a weeks holiday) seemed possible when all this was dreamt up; exotic adventures, infinite freedom, boundless opportunities found and exercised, free love, sex, drugs and easy listening. Perfectly planned vacations don't have room for missed connections, unexpected downtime, dumpy towns, grey weather or traveler's envy; so why should traveling? A very wise high school physics teacher once told me “your life will be a series of ups and downs.
it's about time
Try not to let either of them control you.” I never knew that while traveling I'd need to keep this muscle fit; the one that helps you choose rationally, put dissapointment behind you, wait out grey days, and not ride too high when a wave of good fortune comes. Somewhere between Puerto Madryn
, the ride go interesting.
Rio Gallegos is a shithole. Other than a nice restaurant recommended by the guidebook I didn't have (and thus couldn't visit), there's nothing redeeming. An unfortunate consequence of geography, many must stop here en route to the far south.
Gauchos in the void of Tierra Del Fuego desert
Border crossings are only open by day, it takes 18 hours to get anywhere from here, and Tierra Del Fuego
is an island. All of these factors contribute to the first low point in my trip (*astute readers will notice that today's extra-long banter results from my refusal to dignify Rio Gallegos with its own blog entry). A private room in a roach motel kept my vital signs steady while I recovered from a much less glamorous “Coche Cama” bus ride (as comparted to the first), complete with numerous overnight stops and no movies. I know...”Wa wa wa, what do you have to complain about.” Nothing, except that I left the seemingly impathic uberhostel of ease and plenty (preceeded by a few nice beaches) to pay for this place.
48 bus hours later...
This is getting long, so I'll summarize: Closed tourist info, no internet, no map; cab ride, roach motel, being alone; supermarket, cold milanesa (schnitzel), roach motel, “kitchen” with no microwave, nor oven nor stove; liter of beer, feeling like an alcoholic, cold shower, sleep. Bienveniddos a Rio Gallegos. Perhaps I should work as a guide.
Why stop at 36 hour when you can have 48? This was my attitude as I boarded the next 12 hour bus to Ushuaia, self-proclaimed 'bottom of the world' (though not realy). Somewhat recovered and rejuvinated by the roach motel and some decent scenery, I was astonished to find that, even in Tierra Del Fuego, it's mostly desert. It's not until three hours before Ushuaia, after 4 immigration stops (line, x-ray, line, stamp) for a minor incursion into Chile (my first), a ferry (on which the bus rides), and a few empanada stops that I saw my first tree.
Ushuaia from the attic of Freestyle Hostel
First tree in four days, that is. There are no fancy buses this far south, and the ride is purely utilitarian. It's only when you begin to add the aforementioned hassles and empanada costs diligently together that the plane starts to look nice. But no matter , I'm on a mission: to conquer Patagonia by land. “These 50 hours (give or tak are just the beginning, young Skywalker. Soon, the bus will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Content to remain with the dark side, I compromised by allowing myself to stay a while; to dawdle for the first time since Uruguay (wait, that was only 5 days ago). And things started looking up.
Traveler's envy started in Uruguay with tales of Bolivian Amazon tours for pennies, subtropical desert campsites for $1, and remote oases in Uruguay I just didn't have time for.
marine mammals secretly cohabitatting
Anarctic envy deserves it's own spot in the dictionary. Everyone and their brother in Ushuaia just came back (plus a few just leaving). Each one naturally feeling obliged to love every minute of his $4000 expenditure, they've all got 100,00 pictures to show, and downtime to show them. Normally I'd abhore this, but the envy didn't set in 'till later, and with the picture show followed revelry I'd not had since San Francisco, and comraderie as good as any on the trip thus far. A wild pack of traveling expats, hailing from New Zealand, German and the UK provided more hangovers than I care to remember, and another excuse to stick around too long.
So, life at this little outpost began to resemble Buenos Aires, at twice the price.
a hawk eying our lunch (Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego)
Overpriced excursions by day, overpriced beers and skillfully-pooled alcohol purchases by night, a tip off I got on the best hostel in Ushuaia ('Freestyle') turned into a riot. We took that hostel for all it was worth: gorgeous panoramic views of the watery landscape that recalled trips to Norway, massive spicey meatball dinners, staff parties, easing the house rules (or ignoring them), and a few minor transgressions I'll conveniently omit. I think I needed this (see previous paragraphs). Let's just say that by the time I left I felt it was a genuinely good idea not to sleep before my 5AM bus... and didn't.
So, what did I DO in Ushuaia then? Well, I started by deciding, unlike the others, not to defile my passport with some feaux 'end of the world' stamp invented to sap one more tourist peso.
epic hike to a not-so-epic ice cave
Rather, (besides nursing hangovers) I took my first hike of the trip in lovely Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, cruised the Beagle Channel amongst sea lions, fur seals and cormoranes (after faliing to secure a free boat across to Chile), and took a magnificent tour of ice caves, nearly sans ice cave.
This brings me to the next revalation of the traveler's credo: you very quickly become very cheap. Money becomes relative to the numbrer of extra days you can stretch your little era of irresponsibility; in cheap places, it stretches easily. I keep Thailand in mind when spending money, and before I know it I'm spending money like the 22 year old Israelis just out of the military (who, incidentally, are half the population of Patagonia, locals included).
don't mess with Dad's 1977 ski hat!
I've managed with a tiered approach to frugality, leading from 4 star hotels between flights and taxis, to private hostel rooms and comfy buses, to dorms and the cattle car (the chicken bus should be next). This seems obvious, given the objective, but with the frugality also comes a nack for intense scrutiny of every offering (what's included, what's not, what's the duration, what's the weather policy, what kind of BBQ at the end. etc.) which I never knew I had. Like blogging, saving money is a sport that helps keep the traveler's mind sharp. Often it comes in the form of finding the 'local' bus, for which there is no schedule, terminal, ticket or concept of reservation. The most intense scrutiny and discretion in making the purchasing decision, usually, is reserved for items one perceive to be “on the tourist path.
Dad's hat reaches the end of the world
” The tie-in here is that although the heralded ice cave was only 3 meters high and 20 meters long, the preceeding five hour hike and asado (BBQ) to follow were so spectacular (aided by pleasant company and weather, granted), that I really didn't care that this final day at the bottom of the world turned into a 250 peso ($70) affair. After all, I wasn't sleeping at the hostel (50 pesos), making dinner (10-20 pesos) or paying any park entrance fee (50 pesos). And so, kids, today's lesson is that with all this heightened scrutiny and frugality of this traveling life, not caring is finding something really special. Lest we forget, that's what we're here for. Sounds better than Rio Gallegos, eh?