Sadly, we left Buenos Aires, and were thrown a huge curve regarding our trip. Our trek south in Chile could not be done in the off season, since the ferries were not operating. Our only choice to get to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, was to fly. We would worry about heading north later. Hint: It would not be easy!
Not realizing Ushuaia was a winter ski destination, hotel rooms were not exactly plentiful. After two or three tries, we found a decent one just outside of town, on a hill overlooking the city. Again, our superior negotiating skills resulted in two very nice rooms in a ski chalet type of hotel, with lots of ski bunnies.
No sooner did we arrive, than we sought to arrange our trek back up the Chilean backbone. Rather than fly back, we were left with just one option, a twelve and a half bus ride up to Puerto Montt, in the Punta Arenas region. The good news, yes, the bus ran in the off season. The bad news, it only runs twice a week, still three days away!
But here we were on the famous Beagle Channel, the area made famous by Chuckie Darwin on the HMS Beagle, a five year journey that began in 1831. Without much to do, we decided on a cruise of the Beagle Channel in the biting cold of winter. And no amount of layering, warm clothes, and blankets would be enough to appreciate Darwin or any of his adventures. Another equally crazy couple joined us.
Darwin later called the Beagle voyage “by far the most important event in my life,” saying it “determined my whole career.” When he set out, 22-year-old Darwin was a young university graduate, still planning a career as a clergyman. By the time he returned, he was an established naturalist, well-known in London for the astonishing collections he’d sent ahead. He had also grown from a promising observer into a probing theorist. The Beagle voyage would provide Darwin with a lifetime of experiences to ponder—and the seeds of a theory he would work on for the rest of his life. (Scientific American)
Maybe the best part of Ushuaia was the food and beverage opportunities. Meat of almost any kind, particularly the preserved, salted meats, were available, relatively inexpensive, and always paired with beer and wine. Even better, the stores stocked a huge supply of warm clothes, particularly alpaca and cashmere sweaters! Of course, I bought one.
With so many snow bunnies around, our meal times were dominated by ski stories. They enjoyed hearing about my days when I skied the famous places like Aspen, Vail, Snowbird, and Squaw Valley. We were soon offered several opportunities to join them on the slopes. But my skiing days were behind me, thankfully, and we did not have proper clothing.
I have never taken a 12.5 hour bus trip before or since this long trip from Ushuaia to Puerto Montt. I also forgot to tell you our cab ride to an old gas “station” was more comfortable. We boarded an old, rickety bus at 5am, with about a dozen other brave souls (we were the only gringos), thinking this was our home for the day. Fortunately, this bus dropped us at a real bus station about a half hour away.
This bus was much nicer, but not quite to the Greyhound standard. More passengers appeared. But they soon passed out horse blankets, since it was so cold. Fortunately, most of us on board had both seats to lounge upon for the long ride. A few minutes later, we were served a cup of hot tea and a cold cheese sandwich. Life was good!!
Several hours later, we finally hit the Chilean border. It seemed to take forever to get through Argentine Immigration. We boarded the bus, and proceeded another 500 feet to Chilean immigration. Both consisted of old, dilapidated (remember the Three Pigs?) buildings, with lots of armed border guards, cheap souvenir shops, and a snack bar of sorts. We bought some cold sandwiches, water, beer, candy bars, cookies, and perhaps the sorriest looking brownie or cake I have ever seen. It was delicious!
The freakiest part of the trip came after many, many hours in the Argentine countryside. We saw nothing but cattle ranches, and barren land. Somewhere, crossing back and forth between the two countries, the bus stopped. Slowly, we could see we were rolling onto a ferry. Nobody told us about this! Did I tell you the ferry had more rust than the rust belt of our midwestern US? But the good news, we were getting closer to Chile. I think.
Finally, our ordeal was over. It was probably not as bad as we thought. It was worse. The Puerto Montt bus station was packed with people. We found a cab to take us to a fairly decent hotel in town, found online at the last minute. It was time for a nice dinner!
The story should end here, but there is more. Mike and I found a nice steak place, after having mistakenly wandered into a really rough bar. Our seats at the window provided an excellent view of some Chilean holiday festival. About the time our wine arrived, we spotted big trouble.
The police were stopping all vehicles, though we were not sure why. One family was stopped, the husband arrested, cuffed and thrown into a paddy wagon. His wife and kids were left standing on the street after they towed away their car!
So, what does Mike do? He heads down there, telling me to follow after telling the waiter we would be right back! We offer to help, pay for her cab, give her money, but she refuses. The cops were not amused, and she did not understand our poor Spanish. It obviously ruined our dinner, and left us rather stunned!
And though we slept well that night, we wondered, the next morning, what happened to that poor family. In fact, I still wonder. Maybe we could have done more?
But we were back in Chile, ready to head north to Patagonia.
Here is a great question: Has anyone else been to both the Cape of Good Hope AND Cape Horn??