As a kid, looking at certain features on maps and globes always intrigued me. One of those features happened to be the southern tip of South America, known as Tierra del Fuego. The thousand of little islands along the narrow strip of land were also the closest of any other continent to Antarctica. The only thing that stood in our path from reaching Tierra del Fuego was a 34 hour journey on two buses, a ferry crossing, and a border crossing into Chile and back into Argentina on the same day. And that was if everything went smoothly.
Everything started off wonderfully and without a hitch, if you consider a 20 hour bus ride wonderful. After leaving Puerto Madryn at 11 a.m., we did our best to stay entertained, which normally means until the book is finished or the iPod batteries run out. Dana and I have realized that our threshold for getting annoyed on a bus ride is approximately 16 hours, give or take an hour or so if it was an overnight bus or not. (We still have plenty of bus travel left in South America to smooth out our bus travel manifesto). The bus from Puerto Madryn arrived in the sleepy town of Rio Gallegos at around 7 a.m., right on schedule for us to switch buses on the remaining leg to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
As we unloaded our stuff, we noticed a very crowded bus station that looked to be out of the ordinary. After a few minutes of asking around, we learned that there was a bus strike in Chile, preventing anyone to travel between Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia. Most of the people had been stranded there for over 24 hours. Awesome. having no idea what to do, we managed to get wifi from a coffee shop inside the bus station and try to find out what was going on, with little success. After about 3 hours of sitting around the station, a crazy French guy from our first bus found out that buses were starting to run again, and had me follow him (read: skip everyone in line) to the counter to get our newly assigned seats. He called this ¨How the French wait in line,¨ and I wasn´t about to disagree with him. Within a half an hour we were back on the road, four hours later than scheduled but way better than being stranded for a day.
Our original estimated arrival time into Ushuaia was at 9 p.m. Tacking on four hours to that made the earliest arrival time 1 a.m. As we approached the first border crossing into Chile, someone either was vomiting blood or having a seizure in the back of the bus (we never did find out which). Obviously, this did nothing to speed things up. The entire bus had to get out and wait until an ambulance showed up for the sick guy.
Back on the road again, with wide open expanses of land that looked like they had never been inhabited before. In flat areas, the horizon stretched for miles and miles. Before long, the bus pulled up to a mile-long stretch of cars waiting to get onto a ferry to cross the strait of Magellan. Luckily, buses get to pass all of the cars and board the next available ferry. The ride was pretty smooth, but the high winds drenched our bus in saltwater, making it look like it was driven through a snowstorm after it dried.
By 9 p.m., at the 34 hour mark, we reached our second border crossing back into Argentina. The only thing that made us skip pulling our hair out or jumping off the bus at this point was a grilled sausage stand at the border. With apologies to the midwestern United States, I may have not experienced a better brat in my entire life.
Unfortunately, the effects of the sausage wore off rather quickly, and the final six and a half hours were a haze, falling in and out of a fitful sleep. We arrived safely into Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world at the dead-to-the-world time of 3:37 am. Looking like zombies, we trudged ourselves up a few hilly blocks to our less-than-amazing hostel, where we checked ourselves in a got ready to get some real sleep in a real bed.
Before we got to our room, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. There was a flyer on a bulletin board advertising a 10-day cruise to Antarctica, as a ¨buy one, get one free¨ promotion. That couldn´t be possible, right? That´s way too good of a deal to one of the most mysterious places on Earth, and my eyes had to be playing tricks on me… I mean, really… a trip to Antarctica? Nah……