I was the first one stirring. I woke up especially early, way before my 7am bus to Ushuaia, so I went out and walked around Puerto Natales before departing. The sun was rising, but still low in the sky because we were so far south. It cast horizontal shadows onto the facades of the corrugated metal buildings. It’s fun being the first person awake in a place. I returned to the hostel, cooked myself some chorizo that we had left over from the hiking trip and complimented with avocado and cheese on crackers. After, I ate a second breakfast that was provided by the hostel, then made my way up to the bus station.
It was a long bus ride through the desert. I was reading The Kite Runner, which was a strong emotional contrast to the landscape. I looked out at the sheep, condors, and the usual sights of the Patagonian abyss then returned to a boy desribing his native Afghanistan in violent turmoil. The bus got on a ferry and crossed a small channel to get us to the Chilean Tierra del Fuego.
The landscape here was called Tierra del Fuego because the region’s first colonial visitors looked towards the coast from their ships and saw small fires all over the place. The natives would walk around naked and keep all the fires burning to keep warm. Solid central heating system.
As we crossed the channel, some dolphins plopped about chasing the ferry.
Remember my story when I first arrived in Argentina about my trouble with the border control? If not here it is: https://citiesatsea.com/2013/10/31/buenos-aires-travel-to-and-first-thoughts/. That story hadn’t ended yet. It turned out, for want of a better phrase, that the guy who completed my file for the reciprocity tax completely fucked up that morning of October 29th. It all came steam rolling back to me here in late December. As it turned out, the nice young man who typed in my file, typed in someone else’s passport number. I had no idea, but I found out very quickly from the border control officer whose eyes pierced right through me like lasers. It got sorted, eventually after a little less than an hour. At that point, my bus was waiting–I was shocked it didn’t drive away–up the road close to the gas station. I had a great walk of shame towards it as all 50 passengers sneered at me. I nodded my head in thanks as I slumped to my seat in the back. The whole way, I received snotty remarks from the ‘organized travelers with their leather important documents folders.’
We eventually made it to Ushuaia. It was an 11 hour trip. Tierra del Fuego turned from barren land into pine forests and we got to the port town of Ushuaia on the Beagle Channel. I was in the southernmost city in the world on the second longest day of the year. Ushuaia is surrounded by snowcapped mountains. It’s harbor is filled with fishing boats. A few are now washed ashore, infested by seagulls and rotting away.
The next day, we did a tour out to an island that was inhabited by penguins. The ride out there was on an inflatable zodiac that cruised through the bay with its twin 250 hp motors. The captain let me into the back and said I could hang off the side of the boat. We blurred past swimming penguins. In the background, a glowing light illuminated the mountains. It was pretty special. On the island there were thousands of Magellan penguins, hundreds of Genko penguins, and three King Penguins (March of the Penguins kind).
Armony was being sassy on the way to the store to get food to cook for dinner, so I put her in the trash can.
On my last day in Ushuaia, I hiked up a ski hill to get a view overlooking the town. I sat there and stared off into the horizon, beyond the snowy mountain tops towards the southern abyss towards Antarctica. I wished that I could get down there, being so close. But that would have to wait. I drew a picture of the scene and had this overwhelming wave of contentment. Although I, more or less or completely, abandoned my project for the past three weeks, I felt invigorated, like I had succeeded in travel and discovery. I had never felt more comfortable in my own skin. That felt like an accomplishment. I look forward to going down to the ranch in San Martin and connecting back to the project with a new energy for research. I look forward to have a space and great environment for painting.
My flight back to Buenos Aires was on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the southernmost city. I walked to the airport because I had completely run out of cash at that point of my travels. On route to the airport, I passed the southernmost rugby field in the world. Above the gate, the banner read, “If rugby is only a game, then the heart is only an organ.” I continued to walk about an hour and twenty minutes, not minding the mountainous view off the road at all. Eventually, a taxi driver pulled over and offered to take me the rest of the way for free. I didn’t say no.
I passed through security and sat waiting at the gate, enjoying watching the setting sun on the longest day of the year. I watched the airplane technicians outside patch up a brown spot on the nose of the plane with a large metal bandaid. Society already is engrained with a fear of flying, so I thought it was an imbecile move to do work in front of all the passengers. Then the inevitable happened.
The voice of Aerolineas came over the PA system and I was informed that the flight at been cancelled. It was struck by lightning as it was coming down to land. That explained the spot. I felt gutted when I heard the announcement. I was eager to get back to BA because I was out of money and wanted to organize things before my sister flew in the next day. I waited for my bag and ended up last in line to get an accommodation. As it turned out, all of the 2, 3, and 4 star hotels got filled up, so I was stuck, along with all my other cronies in the back of the line, headed to Las Hayas, the nicest hotel in Ushuaia.
I was treated like a king to a 3 course meal of spinach soup, king crab ravioli, and raspberry tart and I didn’t mind taking a hot shower, and snoozing off in a king sized bed. The value of that one night alone, was worth more than my three previous weeks. I was on top at the bottom.
The airline wasn’t getting anything sorted out, so I into a cab and headed towards the airport. I waited in line and explained how my sister had just spent 10,000 pesos (of course exaggerating for dramatic effect) to come down and see my for Christmas and told them they were doing a whole lot of damage to a longstanding plan. They got me on a flight. Lucky for me. I heard that the others who waited idly in the hotel didn’t make it out until the next day, but they got another night in Las Hayas.
I got into Buenos Aires at three in the morning, relieved to make it back to the city. I took a nap at Paddy D’s apartment then headed to the airport to surprise Hannah at 7.