End of the Road

End of the Road

I'm in a bus station in the town of Rio Gallegos on my way to El Calafate. Yesterday was an adventure.

The national park outside of Ushuaia is a 15 minute drive, but you have to pay 50 pesos to get there via a bus service. The "bus" was in fact a van, and the 50 pesos included drop off at the park and pickup at set times throughout the day.

I paid the fee and made it into the park. There was a post office with a pirate flag at the start of a gorgeous hike along the coast. Along the trail were wild horses, an old well that was the only thing remaining of an old homestead, and lots of birds. When I stopped for lunch I dropped a piece of salami. A chimango, Argentina's ubiquitous raptor, flew down 10 feet away and looked at me. Knowing I shouldn't feed it, I threw it the piece of meat. It grabbed it greedily and flew away, crying as it rounded the coast.

Packing up my things, I made my way down the beach. As I stopped to take a rock out of my shoe, I heard a fluttering of wings. On a low branch 10 feet behind me was the chimango. He'd been following me.

Treading carefully to avoid the mud, I hiked in from the coast and past wetlands, back to the main road. The main road was Ruta 3, which winds its way through the park to where it ends, as far south as roads go. I followed it, walking past the "Laguna Negra," a nascent peat bog, and past beaver damns. I saw one beaver, but he was sly, so I only saw him for a second.

At the end of the road was a parking lot full of tour buses and two signs: one a map saying where you were, and one saying end of the road, 17,800km to Alaska. My pickup van wasn't going to be there for an hour, so I started talking to people. There was one guy leaning against a motorcycle covered with UK stickers. He had a coat covered with patches of most of the countries in north, central, and south America. His name was as British as you could hope for: Graham Styles.

Graham Styles had bought his motorcycle in California, ridden it to northern Canada, and then made the long drive south to the end of Ruta 3. I happened to get there on the same day he did. His camera battery was dead, so he couldn't take any pictures of himself. I offered to take some to send to him. He was thrilled. He also had a video camera that he was using to record a video journal. He set it up and started to record. I walked slowly away to try and give him some privacy. Across the gravel parking lot the wind carried his voice in gusts. "After 19 months and 30,000 kilometers, here I am at the end of the road." He was recording it several times, trying to get it perfect. I kicked at some gravel and looked for my ride.

"After 19 months and 30,000 kilometers, here I am at the end of the road."

It started to rain slightly. Mountains surrounded the bay, and I looked up at the nearest one. Its top was obscured by gray clouds. The wind picked up.

"After 19 months and 30,000 kilometers, here I am..."

I looked back at the bay. A rainbow had formed, ending back on the coastal trail I had hiked two hours earlier. The rain got heavier, as did the wind and the cold.

"After 19 months and 30,000 kilometers..."

It was 5:30, and my ride was supposed to be there at 5. Whether it was absent because it was a shady company or because I misunderstood the instructions, I don't know. The rain was coming down hard now, and I made my way back towards Graham, who was putting away his equipment. He said he could give me a ride, so I tucked my pants into my socks, put on my sunglasses, turned my collar to the cold and damp, and generally bundled up.

The ride out of the park was amazing. That far south Ruta 3 is just a narrow dirt road, but Graham was boldly passing cars and deftly dodging potholes. The wind whipped my face around my hood and sunglasses. In the side mirror I watched my face turn red and felt it go numb. My lips barely responded when I clumsily tried to answer Graham's questions shouted over the engine. Leaving the park on a motorcycle was a completely different experience than entering the park in a van. You could feel the light break through the clouds and hear the horses clip-clop their way out of the road. We drove past mountains and valleys where light illuminated snow, trees, and shadow, over bridges over rivers, through rain, dust, cold, and smells, back to Ushuaia.
I am so happy you're having such a good time so immediately, Sam. Like a fish to water. The quality of your writing is as revealing of your immersion as the experiences themselves.

Looks like this winter's out of the question for me, alas. It'll definitely be June/July. And forget the tour guiding through Japan -- reading this, it's clear that unless it's a new adventure for me as well, I'll ruin the whole spirit of the thing! Guiding's for another time.

Those pictures of the iceberg (glacier?) breaking off are incredible! That must have been so loud, and sort of frightening. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, or at least found someone to acknowledge that it was Thanksgiving with you:)

comments powered by Disqus