The Only Way Is Up

This post was originally published in March 2009 Confused?
During one of my moments of meditation sitting staring at the cruise ship (seriously, just how do those things float?) I decided that I was going to head back to Buenos Aires for a variety of reasons. Send me a stamped SAE and I’ll tell you what they are. This of course meant deciding how I was going to get there. I had a few days so just 3 hours on a plane felt like overkill, plus goes against my principles (yup. I’ve grown principles). There is a weekly boat which went up the side of Chile from where I could get a bus back to Bariloche and then on to BsAs. But for some South American reason, they decided to skip a week in the schedule. No boat, so that was that. Which meant I was left with the bus, which didn’t feel right. So I decided to hitch hike the 600k back up to Rio Gallegos and then get a bus from there.

I set out on Friday morning (after 4 hours sleep), took a picture of the sign which told me I had 3040k to go, and stuck my thumb out. Took 5 minutes of walking and thumbing to get a lift to the Police Checkpoint at the edge of town, where I put my backpack on the ground, turned round to see a lorry pulling up, and the driver asking me where I was going (um, North please). I hadn’t even put my thumb out! This was the way to go! So, I trucked the 200k to Rio Grande with Manuel the chain-smoking, mate drinking Chilean feeling like king of the world. Didn’t have as much luck that afternoon in Rio Grande (and to be honest felt a little awkward hitching next to the Memorial to the Fallen Soldiers of the Falklands War) so after an hour I called Matias, a guy who lives there whom I’d met earlier in Ushuaia, and he helped me find a room for the night.

Ended up having a grand old night out in Rio Grande, drinking for free in a private bar, run by some friend of Matias’s uncle’s coke dealer’s accountant’s window cleaner or something. The owner was hugely excitable and wouldn’t stop telling me that I was the very first tourist he’d ever had in his bar and insisted on taking lots of pictures of me against various signs and bits of furniture to prove I’d been there.

Rio Grande Crew

The next day I headed off (4 hours sleep again) and walked for an hour to get past the bloody War Memorial to the next strategic hitching point, where a couple of fisherman picked me up and took me to the Police Checkpoint where after about half an hour a Belgian couple stopped and told me I could ride in the back of their pickup truck they’d hired. Yeah! Proper travelling. I leapt at the chance and jumped in the back and settled myself against my backpack and away we went. What I’d overlooked of course was that I was in Tierra del Fuego, and it might well be summer, but Tierra del Fuego is cold. God, I was freezing, but it felt fantastic. I loved it.

Cold

Even when we got the gravel road and I slowly became coated in a fine film of Fuegian dust. Even when a 20 peso note fell out of my pocket and blew over the side of the truck. Even when the Belgian guy was driving too fast, skidded off the road and we ended up in a ditch with a burst tyre. A shout must go out to the 3 amused Chilean truck drivers who stopped, towed us out of the ditch and then changed the wheel. These boys could work for McClaren. I was so impressed.

The Rescue

Finally at 9 in the evening, after 36 hours on the road eating dust, I arrived dirty, shivering but very happy back in Rio Gallegos. Took the Belgians to the same hotel I’d stayed in the week before where I was met with a cheery “Hola Senor Jonathan” from the nice lady. Took a good, long, hot shower and fell into bed, happy to be home.

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