April 13th – Tomorrow, after fourteen weeks of adventure (and sometimes non-adventure) in Chile and Argentina, and after over a year-and-a-half of glutinous travel around this world and within my own country, I fly from Buenos Aires back to the United States where I will begin the process of trying to convert into everyday life again. Tomorrow will also mark exactly a year since I started the Appalachian Trail, and exactly six months since I finished it.
It’s been a month since I finished the Torres del Paine circuit, and wrote my last update on my travels. I haven’t had a camera, which in some ways has been nice because the moments have been my own, and I have tried harder to take them in.
I left Puerto Natales on March 17th and headed three hours south by bus to Punta Arenas, a city of about 100,000 and the sourthern-most in Chile. The drive there was a barren one. Punta Arenas is much more spread out than Puerto Natales (only about 20,000) – not really doable on foot, as I found out when I walked east to a museum whith old relics from the late 19th century, and I couldn’t help but feeling like I was in the Old West. I paid to tent in someone’s small yard with a number of others. But I just wasn’t feeling Punta Arenas for some reason. It felt a bit dead and depressed.
Early on the 19th I decided to take the 12-hour bus ride, including a ferry ride across the infamous Magellan Strait, down through Tierra del Fuego all the way to the southern-most city in the world – Ushuaia, Argentina. I sat next to and chatted much of the way with a guy in his late 20s from Worchester, MA. In Rio Grande, about three hours north of Ushuaia, we changed from a comfortable bus to vans, and I was scrunched in the back with a nice young couple from California. The scenery began to change from barren North Dakota-like plains to mountains and rivers, and we came down into Ushuaia as it was getting dark – the lights of the city with the Beagle Channel behind it, a-hard-to-forget site.
I spent four days in Ushuaia. I climbed up to the glacier and had great views of the Beagle Channel looking over to what is Chile – there is nothing there, just mountains for as far as the eye can see. One Chilean settlement called Puerto Williams does exist across the channel, but about 50 miles to the east, a town of about 5,000. Further to the east there is a lighthouse with an Argentine military present. But that’s it. No other civilization. The tip of Antartica lies 600 miles to the South. The price to get to Puerto Williams is very high, and to Antartica – astronomical, so this was the end of the line for me – 55 degrees latitude south. The glacier at this southern-most city has nearly melted and has less than 10 years left, maybe five.
The next day I took a four-hour tour of the Beagle Channel and saw all sorts of birds and sea-lions. A storm came in quickly and we had a rough go on the last stretch getting back to port. Big waves and wind. But it was so worth it. Just an amazing spirit-moving four hours at the edge of the world.
That night the power was out in the hostel and all across the city. I met a lot of cool adventous people including a woman from London who was about to “get a ride” on someone’s sailboat to the Faukland Islands, hundreds and hundreds of miles off the Argentine coast. The Faukland Islands are controlled by the UK. In Argentina they call the islands Las Malvinas, and they tried to take them back from the UK in the early 80s with a military invasion that failed. Argentines are still very passionate about bringing them back under the Argentine flag.
I visited a few museums the next day. Ushuaia was a penal colony in its early days. Escape was difficult because…where are you going to go? One guy did make it all the way to Punta Arenas before being caught.
On the 23rd, I traveled 15 hours back to Puerto Natales and two days later back to Chalten, Argentina to do the Huemal Track – a four day circuit trail where I was going to see the Southern Ice Field. I only lasted two days. I was uncomfortable using a harness on my own to cross a torrent river high above a narrow section of a glacial river. I was also getting sick. I felt exhausted and developed a pretty bad sore throat.
I got a bus north – a 24 hour ride to Bariloche, a beautiful small city in the lake district of Argentina. Only a few hour before arriving in Bariloche the land remained barren but soon beautiful pine trees presented themselves on the landscape. I spent most of my time camping at a hostel 13 kilometers outside of the city. It was a relaxing place surrounded by beauty, and an amazing array of birds that made all sorts of sounds that I had never heard before, my favorite being a pair of birds that seemed to laugh unenthusiastically together as if at a third rate late night comedy show – that’s what awoke me most mornings. And I got to know some folks from different parts of the world – a young German woman traveling around South America for 10 months with her two dogs, a Swiss couple, a guy from Wales, and two young Americans from Austin, Texas, one of whom grew up partly in Germany who was very good at ping pong. The hostel owner was a merry older gentleman with a soul as jolly as Santa himself.
However, I spent the whole week in Bariloche sick. I couldn’t shake a horrible cough and am pretty certain I had bronchitis. (I still haven’t completely recovered). All the outdoor activities that I was looking forward to doing were put on hold day after day. I read a couple of books from the hostel to pass the time and visited the Swiss Colony, a touristy little area 20 km from the city, that showed little to no remnants of any remaining Swiss settlers but had cute little artisan shops and grottos.
On the 5th, I took another 24-hour bus ride to Cordoba, the second largest city in the country at 3 million, where I was able to stay a night with (follow this) my cousin’s wife’s mother for a night and then spent another couple of nights in a hostel in the city. I also got some antibiotics from her sister in law who is a doctor at the hospital in the city center. I think they helped.
I have been in Buenos Aires since Monday. It is a very impressive, very large city with beautiful architecture, good food, and a lot of energy. I saw some impressive tango and took awe-inspiring bus tour of the city. I am staying in an affordable hotel in a French style mansion in San Telmo, just south of the city center.
So that is that. My travels here have come to an end. I feel like there is so much I didn’t do in Argentina and Chile and that one day I’ll have to come back. South America is just a huge continent.
Truthfully, though, I am ready for something new. It’s been such a privledge to be able to travel for as long as I have, and to have met new people, and experience so much of the world, only to realize that there is so much more to explore, that I will never ever really satiate my desire to visit as much of the world as possible. There’s just so much to see, and it’s just so complex, with so many languages, cultures, and ideas that one never really gets passed the tip of the iceberg, no matter how much or how long one travels. At some point, weariness takes its toll, and one longs for a more settled life, one that has assurances, and familiar faces.
I am anxious for my flight tomorrow as my medicine for the plane was compromised on that night my tent was flooded with the high tide. I was able to get a prescription here but am not sure the quality is the same or whether the medication is legitimate at all. – traveling with an anxiety disorder can be a pain, but it’s hard to complain too much.
Thanks to all who have followed along on my journeys and offered support and comfort, especially during times when I was a little down or a little lonely. I am ready to be a part of something again, to give back, to be there for others, as many of you have been for me. I am grateful. Thank you, and till we see each other again…