Monday, November 15, 2010

The End of the World (aka Ushuaia)

We greeted the morning on the other side of the river from Los Antiguos, Argentina. The sky was clear and it was promising to be a sunny day. We boiled water to make tea and took our time to pack up camp. When we were walking over the bridge we saw something moving in the water below. ¨Grass?¨, no. ¨Salmon!¨ Huge fish were swiming below us. There were at least ten of them, about 50 cm long, swiming against the current, remaining in one spot, dark moving shapes.
We walked to the end of town and assumed our usual position, with one thumb out of four pointing towards the sky. Half an hour passed before a young beautiful mother stopped. She was driving a big truck with three young kids in the back seat. She was really friendly and her kids too. ¨Where are you from?¨ asked the youngest of them as soon as I plunked on the seat next to him. ¨Ugh, Russia, I guess¨. ¨Where is that?¨ followed an immediate question. How do you explain to a three-year-old where is this land called Russia? In Spanish?
The girl dropped us off a few clicks down the road, at the police post. ¨This is where everybody hitch-hikes from¨, she said. This is where we got stuck for four hours. There was a steady flow of traffic towards Perrito Moreno. Moreover, they all came to a stop to be questioned by the policeman on duty. We could overhear the conversation:
Policeman: ¨Where are you heading to?¨
Driver: ¨Perrito¨
Policeman: ¨Ok, you may pass.¨
There was no other settlement or a turnoff before Perrito, but nevertheless, ALL the drivers gave us the hand signal that they were going only a few clicks further, turning left (or right) very soon. After a few hours it became entertaing. We could hear the driver yell ¨Perrito!¨ to the policeman and then show us that he was turning off soon. In four hours of observing this phenomenon we came to a conclusion that if you want to meet some insencere people, your best bet would be to go to Perrito Moreno, Provincia Santa Cruz, Argentina.
On the fourth hour a car pulled over. Two young lads were inside. As soon as we got into the back (it was a kind of a sedan converted into a cargo van), the driver offered us a beer. The passenger handed us a thermos. What a clever way to keep beer cool on a warm spring day!
The guys were cool, they listened to good music and the 67 kms to Perrito passed fast. We passed a few of the shameless liers on the way, they were sadly and slowly putting along, staring blankly at the road ahead of them.
We walked through Perrito, only stopping in a convenience store to refill our supply of bread. On the exit of town we met a man hitch-hiking. He was wearing black clothes, had about 50 years of age and had three crosses hanging from his neck. ¨I lived 22 fuckin´years in Alaska, man!¨ he told us with a heavy Spanish accent, three minutes into the conversation. ¨I ran into some problems with the law there, so now I work on this ¨estancia¨ in the middle of nowhere in Argentinian pampa for three years now.¨ We wished him luck and took our place 200 m behind him. He took off in under 20 minutes with a truck. A few vehicles passed after , but we guessed that they were infected with the ¨Perrito¨ syndrome: there was nowhere to turn off to for 120 kms, but the people were only going ¨around the corner.¨ We went to sleep outside of Perrito Moreno that night.
In the morning a road engineer pulled over. ¨I´m going to Baja Caracoles, 120 kms further¨ he said. Alejandro was very intelligent and he told us about the indigenous people who inhabited the plains 8000 years ago. He presented us with a skin scraper of the Pre-Welcho period which was uncovered during the road construction, under his supervision. ¨I have a whole lot of arrow heads and spear heads at home, have this scraper as a present from these lands, ¨ he said with a smile. He said that sometimes the excavator pulles up a mummyfied skeleton from the ancient burrial ground while digging for the new road. Then, the whole construction process has to come to a stop and wait for the archeologists to arrive and assess the site.
Alejandro dropped us off at Bajo Caracoles. What a hole. We got stuck there for three days, two nights. The traffic consisted of four or five tourist vehicles going by in the morning and then only the construction trucks, going only 30 kms further. The tourists mostly did not notice us, only some of them making sorry grimmases and driving by with their back seats perfectly empty.
We would limit ourselves to saying that the highlight of our record-breaking three-day wait at Baja Caracoles was a sighting of an armadillo crossing the road. It was strolling along at a leasurely speed. At the sight of it, we sprang up to our feet, glad to be woken up from the desert lethargy. We ran up to the animal. It got scared (naturally) and bolted as fast as it could. To us, it was a matter of leasurely jogging to keep up to its pace. It would run across the desert as a tank, maneuvering around the bushes of pampa grass as a war machine. It was keeping a steady course towards its hole. As soon as the armadillo reached it, it dove in and dissapeared from sight. We sighted and returned to our waiting spot, on the side of the empty dirt highway 40. It was only a few days after that we learned that armadillos are notoriously easy to catch (even easier than porcupines) and that their meat is delicious. We missed out on a feast that day.

On the third day a tourist couple pulled over. They were elderly doctors from Buenos Aires and they have been all over the world, including Russia (in ´84). They rescued us from Bajo Caracoles and deposited us in Gobernador Gregores. There, we had a shower at a gas station, did laundry and bought bread and cheese in a local supermarket (all things unheard of in Bajo Caracoles) and camped out for the night.
In the morning the ride to Puerto Julian came fast. The man worked for the mining industry and was in charge of the safety at the mine. As most miners that we met, he was not into talking. We passed the three hours in almost complete silence, which was only interrupted by him slowing down for us to take pictures of guanacos and ostriches grazing in the pampa.
He dropped us off at the service station on Ruta 3, the bloodline of the country. The sight of freight trailers rolling by filled us with joy. There was movement, after all! As we were walking to the take off spot, a tuned-up car pulled over. We ran up and plunked on the back seat. The regular questions and answers were exchanged and we roared off. The driver put on some ¨punchy-punchy¨ on (electronic music, his own expression) and we dissapeared into the emptyness of the pampa.
The guy dropped us off at the road-side gas station near Piedra Buena. There we waited for a bit to be picked up by the most silent drivers of all. He drove a black Honda Civic, with six gears. He asked us a few questions before getting absorbed by the driving. His cruising speed was 160, peaking at 183. He drove good. He slowed down to 140 when he saw guanacos grazing on the side of the highway. ¨These are dangerous,¨ he said, ¨they can jump under your wheels and then you are dead.¨
He dropped us off at the turnoff to Rio Gallegos. The crossroads was in the middle of nowhere so the only thing we could do was to start walking towards Rio Gallegos. Almost every vehicle that passed us honked, but it was not untill half an hour later that one of them came to a stop and gave us a lift to town. We walked throught the outskirts of the wind-swept town and camped out amongst some chimneys, weirdly constructed in the middle of nowhere, some of them already falling apart without having ever been used.In the morning, the icy wind had us almost frozen solid when a truck put its four-ways on and hissed its breaks. We ran up and found ourselves in the company of Carlos ¨El Mono¨, the most classic trucker we have ever met. His animated face indeed resembled that of a makaka, his huge smile stretching from ear to ear, revealing his bad teeth. He had 32 years of trucking experience and he was a happy man. He joked, told us trucker stories and served us mate all the way to Ushuaia.
We arrived to Ushuaia late, around 9 pm. Carlos parked at the YPF (a gas station) at the entrance of town. The sun was only beginning to touch the horizon, so we had time to find the internet cafe and send a message to our friend Jonathan Mouette (cristened Johnny in Ushuaia). Carlos offered us to camp in the shade of his truck for the night, which was exactly what we did. In the morning he invited us to come have mate with him before we leave.
I was chatting with Carlos when Anastasia showed up, smiling broadly. ¨We are doing ok,¨ she said. Allright, I had no doubt about that but it was a slightly strange thing to say, with such a glowing face. The thing was that while Anastasia went to the bathroom at the gas station, she met Ana, a gas station attendant. Ana invited us (including our French friend) to stay at her house for a MONTH, free of charge!!! No wander Anastasia was smiling like crazy!
We had a good mate with Carlos and wished him happy trails. We then headed to town to meet Jonathan. After we reunited and exchanged the latest news, we headed to the YPF, to meet Ana, who was getting off work. She guided us to her house and made us feel at home in her small house on the hill, in the middle of the Lenge grove.
Now I am writing these lines on Ana´s personal computer, sipping on a beer, late in the night, sure of my abode for the next few weeks. Who would have thought that life would present us with such a wonderful gift in Ana´s welcome at this culminating point of out trip? Life is great and the horizons amaze us, every one of them being grander that we have ever imagined. Ja!


  1. Your reports are always a pleasure to read, keep 'em coming!

  2. wow amazing scenery indeed.
    Hope you keep updating during your little "break" :)

  3. Sure, we won´t abandon the blog just because we are not on the move. We´re glad you liked the scenery, but you were not referring to the pampas, were you?:)