Tuesday, December 30
4:30 – dawn. I look out woozily at the sunrise and take some pictures from inside my dream state before falling back asleep.
7:03 – another province crossing, which means another stop to check passports and documents. Yesterday we crossed two provinces – Chubut and Comodoro Rivadavia. Now we’re entering Santa Cruz. As far as I can tell, there’s still a possibility that I’ll get to Rio Gallegos in time for my next bus, but every time we stop I get a little anxious.
9:50 – against all my worries and expectations, we arrive at Rio Gallegos with an hour to spare before I have to catch my next bus. The bus drivers distribute migration forms for Chile, and I realize we’re going to pass through the southern tip of the country on the way to Ushuaia. I feel a little dumb for not realizing we would pass through Chile; they are strict about fruits and vegetables so my enormous supply of oranges will get me in trouble at the border. I trash them and now I’m down to half a bag of rice crackers to last me the next twelve hours.
11:10 – Chilean border crossing. A group of travelers on our bus must have gone grocery shopping in Rio Gallegos. They have a shopping bag full of cucumbers and carrots that they’re peeling and eating quickly outside the hut that houses the border officials and security line. On the other side of the arch displaying the Chilean crest, I can see guanacos grazing in the field.
Chile is strict about food crossing its borders. There are piles of apples, a peach, and a jar of honey abandoned by other travelers in little corners of the border crossing hut.
12:16 – we cross the border and I’m in a new country. Under the arch a grey fox loiters waiting for scraps of food and looking elegant and sleek like all foxes do. Back on the bus, we pass rolling hills covered in the same low vegetation I’ve been seeing for the past few days. There are few trees. I see lots of guacanos in the fields (they are of the llama family but light brown in color). I also see a huge ostrich-like bird that I think is a Rhea, surrounded by fuzzy awkward looking chicks, and lots of sheep.
12:56 – we arrive at a terminal where a ferry waits to take our bus across a narrow channel of water. Oscar, my seatmate on the bus, tells me that here the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans mix together. We’ve reached the end of the continental landmass and are heading towards the islands of Tierra del Fuego.
15:00 – I’m meditating when I feel the bus turn around. We’re probably 10 kilometers down a gravel road through picturesque farms and countryside, and now we’re heading back the way we came, back toward the direction of the ferry crossing. I ask Oscar, who used to live in Ushuaia and made this crossing many times, if he knows why we turned. He shrugs, not concerned. I relax a little too. Maybe it’s the mediation, or maybe I’m finally starting to get it through my head what it means to be outside the US, to be in a place where things don’t always happen on time down to the second, where sometimes the gravel road floods and you take a different route and arrive a few hours late. It happens and you shrug and don’t let it ruin your day. I guess I thought this was already my philosophy – don’t let a change of plans ruin your day – but it’s more challenging to apply to travel, when you have bought tickets in advance or made reservations or have to meet someone at a certain time.
17:20 – border crossing back into Argentina. This one is weird. Instead of the usual desk with two border agents seated next to each other, this time I get my exit stamp from Chile and get told to get back on the bus. I assume I’ll get the Argentine entry stamp later and try not to fret about it – we drive for a few kilometers and stop at a different building for the Argentine migration. It’s raining now and the gently rolling green countryside reminds me of Ireland, especially with the rain.
19:15 – Rio Grande bus terminal. They have a bowling alley for some reason. I say goodbye to Oscar. He spent the last leg of the trip telling me about his life in Jujuy, where he lived on an Indian reservation for some time, and teaching me some words in Quechua, an indigenous language. My favorite is “uj”, the word for one, which sounds a little like “oof”.
220 kilometers to Ushuaia. I go back to reading Richard Harris’ biography of Che Guavara.
20:51 – we pass a large body of water surrounded by mountains. It’s beautiful, and reminds me of Tahoe. I think again for the thousandth time that Reno really is one of the most beautiful places I’ve lived.
22:15 – we arrive in Ushuaia and I hop a taxi to the house of some Couchsurfers where I’m staying for a few days. They’re three guys who work in tourist agencies around town, and from the second I step in the door they treat me more like a roommate than a guest. I’m sleeping on a big comfortable mattress on the floor of the living room and after we visit for an hour or so I curl up exhausted under the blankets and pass out.