Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire is the huge island group at the very tip of the southern cone of South America. The majority of the area is claimed by Chile but the two big cities there are on the smaller Argentinian side: Rio Grande and Ushuaia, the later of which is the proported southern-most city in the world somewhere around 53° Latitude.
But actually there is a smaller fishing port, Puerto Williams, on the Chilean side that is just a bit further south of Ushuaia… but its all about the same to me: Very. Far. South. And with no public transport across the Beagle channel to get to this town, Ushuaia was a suitable last-stop for me.
The month of May is the begining of low season in this rincón del mundo because now begins the austral winter. and believe me folks, it is cold there. But first a little of how we had to arrive at this beautiful and mystical place and the huge expanse of argentinian nothingness along the coast on the road to the End of The World.
Well we had a plan. The idea was to go south from Bariloche along the beautifully unpaved, washboarded-out, and rarely used Ruta 40 through the patagonian steppe plains with the mountains lining the view to the left. It could have been done, if we had arrived a few months ago in peak season. There is no public transit down this expanse of dirt and gravel highway because frankly there’s not a whole lot going on there, civilization-wize. The native animals reportedly dont run away from your car as you drive by because they see so few of them. We really wanted to take a south american safari, but since we dont have la plata (the $ilver) or the willpower to go through the ordeal of buying a car down here (and renting a car is not worth the price either) we ended up as having to catch a bus to the coast and take the more developed, i.e., paved route.
The more direct route to the south takes you to Comodoro but that bus had left 20 minutes before we wandered into the bus station… so much for planning. We sat there for about another 20 minutes trying to figure out what to do. Staying around was just not an option so we just caught another bus to another town further north but at the coast just the same, thinking, hey at least we are going somewhere. The destination, Trelew, (more or less pronounced tre-le-YEW) we left in the late afternoon on an overnighter… (god, I love those) and they woke us with a shake promptly at 7:30 am when we arrived at the station. We went inside to see what we could do about getting south… well, first we knew we could go south and we knew the buses didnt leave till afternoon, so we found some benches and slept sitting up for a few hours.. fun, fun fun, ESPECIALLY to the sound of hammers and ban saws attacking wood and metal on the floor above us. After an extremely good rest (and i mean that in the worst way possible) we got some tickets to Rio Gallegos… further south, leaving in the evening so we had a few hours to walk around the town. It was foggy and cool, not much to see and not exactly on the ocean so due to a lack of real waves, we went to internet cafe and surfed the web for a while, had some interesting chinese (or was it??) buffet, and hopped our next night bus.
Ok to skip the boring details… had to shack up there in Rio Gallegos for the night because we arrived on a Sunday morning, the ONLY day that NONE of the 4 or so bus companies run busses to Ushuaia. Now we thought Bariloche was a bit chilly, this place was down right frigid. A thick perma-fog in the air kept the ground and ears and face rather humid and COLD. Its amazing how cold it really was, and I cant imagine how much worse it could have been had the wind been blowing.
So we finally arrive in Ushuaia on Monday night, after 3 and a half days of travel and over 40 hours on buses. Oh yeah, we arrived very late because the bus never showed up at the Rio Gallegos station until 2 hours late because they had to change the windsheild so they told us, which was protected by a huge steel wire mesh interestingly enough (to keep rocks from flying up and cracking the glass… go figure). The moral of this story, which shall be learned and demonstrated again and again: expect everything and anything to work against you when you travel in the off-season. In the end we saw only bus station postcards of the famed and envied Ruta 40.