After The End
The strange thing about a goal is that once you reach it, you need a new one – almost immediately. The magic force that pulled you is all of a sudden gone. There’s nothing ahead, which creates a slight sense of empty panic. It’s the road that makes a journey worthwhile. The goal itself almost doesn’t matter…
In the case of Ushuaia — the southern most city in the world — this was quite literally the end. The end of the road South. It is rare to experience the end of something in such a physical, literal way. Sure, there are a couple more miles, and you could also jump onto a boat and visit Antarctica if you happen to have won the lottery, and quite technically Estancia Harberton is even a bit further South, but somehow even the most stubborn travellers realise here, at the end of the world, that the point of return has come.
Return?! Isn’t life supposed to move forward?
The journey has become our life and it wasn’t clear to us how to move on. What next? Where next? Our first thought was staying in South America just a bit longer, or going back “home” to California as planned. But with a one year old puppy and a new family member in development (yes, traveling boosts your courage and does unexpected things to your life!) we needed to make some choices… And they weren’t easy.
One choice we didn’t have to make was which way to steer. There was only North. So we did that first. Taking it one step at a time…
It was a strange feeling to head North for the first time in almost two years. We had to wait for a ferry to leave Tierra del Fuego and head back to mainland Argentina. The waves and current became so strong on this narrow passage, that the ship wasn’t able to dock, and they called everyone to a pier a few hundred meters upstream.
Staring at emptiness. We spent a cold night at a windy lagoon after crossing back into mainland Argentina.
For the next few days we would travel north on a long boring stretch. The Ruta 3, the main highway, was interrupted several times with blockades lasting many hours. Workers protested that they hadn’t been paid for months. We actually had to talk and ask them what the protest was about, because they were not vocal about it. They were just using the highway traffic to spread their problems hoping that it would reach the right ears. Long lines of cars were kept waiting until it was decided that the suffering was sufficient. Many gas stations ran out of fuel because the trucks that were supposed to refill them were held up for hours. After passing hundreds of kilometers and several service stations with long lines and no fuel, the journey back up quickly became a bit of a nerve-wracking game. Will we make it far enough to find a gas station that actually has gas?
Tara was fascinated with all the animal life of the Pampa. There are tons of wild guanacos. Sadly there are also tons of fences on either side of the road, and many of them get trapped or injured and separated from their herds.
We pulled over immediately when we spotted this little beast on the side of the highway.
Behind the heavy armor, lies a fragile scared little soul that does not want to be bothered by anything other than food.
We met a young German traveler named Hannes and his companion on the road and decided to join forces to tackle this long monotonous stretch of highway. A stunning starry night camped by the beach was followed by a little morning adventure to get his truck unstuck. Perfect flavors to carve an otherwise boring day into our memories.
Bahia Camarones hosts a penguin colony large enough to make tourists like us drive its sketchy roads. The recent rains had made the route even more exciting to drive on. Mud looks good on us.
We are all used to the sight of penguins from documentaries. Probably the first thing that hits you when you visit a penguin colony, is the stench! The closest thing to it, would be a chicken farm with the farmer’s corpse decaying in it.
After this long muddy, dirty detour, and some commemorative dust drawings, we realized something was wrong with our car. A terrible noise made us stop and we expected the worst. We slowly made it to the next big town looking for a mechanic, but shops were all closed so we camped at a gas station for the night. All to find out we have a holiday weekend ahead of us with no help in sight. We expected to be stuck for a while and started to research online what could possibly be the problem with these symptoms. If we had to order any parts, we’d have to wait for quite a long while. Later that night, Erdem suddenly crawled out from underneath the truck with a big smile in his face! The terrible sound that felt like a broken bearing, turned out to be a small tin piece rubbing the drive axle as it rotated. Erdem managed to simply put it back into place. Yet another obstacle had solved itself easily. What a relief!
With the good news we were able to go see Peninsula Valdez.
We expected a desolate wild life refuge, but it happened to include also many vacationing humanoids.
At sunset, we were stunned by a beautiful double rainbow. “What does it mean?” Tara couldn’t care less about this amazing phenomenon.
Tara enjoying the warm rocks while still healing from her operation. We had finally brought up the courage to have her sterilized in Ushuaia. It felt terrible doing this to her, particularly while we ourselves were expecting, but we were tired fending off her boyfriends and would feel worse with a truck load full of puppies we couldn’t take care of.
An ambitious penguin waiting to be launched into outer space.
We spent a couple of days on the desolate half-island and visited many animal colonies. The area is famous for orcas as well but we weren’t amongst the lucky ones to see them.
We have finally decided to go to Europe for the birth! Particularly because it seemed to be a good time to be with our families. The port of choice to leave South America for Europe would be Monte Video, Uruguay. However there was a big problem facing us. The Zika virus.
This mosquito borne disease is mostly known for causing cranial deformation in babies of infected pregnant women. It seems to have originated in Brazil and has been spreading throughout the continent. Since the beginning of the pregnancy, we were able to spend all our time in Chile and southern Argentina which are uninhabited by the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. We did not want to take any risks by traveling in the dangerous zone. The choice was obvious. We would be crossing the continent to go to Chile. I would take Tara with me and fly out of Santiago, avoiding the mosquito areas. Erdem would then be driving alone back to the Atlantic coast to ship the truck from Uruguay to Germany. A big undertaking with lots of bureaucratic arrangements…
On our way north we went to visit the cabin of Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Etta Place. The famous American bank robber and his companions had lived here peacefully in their chosen exile. After seven years of quiet life, herding cattle, they couldn’t sit still and decided to rob the bank in Rio Gallegos. This last job was enough to alert their headhunters and resulted in their assassination shortly after. The cabin now is barely marked and hard to find. It’s an interesting little building with three rooms, each of them with two (escape?) doors and large window openings to the outside.
The farmer who takes care of the place invited us to spend the night on the property. We were alone with the ghosts trying to tell us how hard it is to leave the past behind and lead a new life.
After a brief stop at the self-proclaimed “hippie town” of El Bolson we entered once again the lake region around Bariloche.
We had met Buchuk and Noemi months ago in a campground on the Chiloe Island. Having spent only a few hours together, they had invited us over on our way back. We took their offer and stayed in their stunning home, overlooking the Nahuel Huapi lake. Being a doctor, Buchuk organized a medical check-up for Sarah. We were relieved to learn that everything was on track. Bariloche was the place where we had confirmed the pregnancy a few months ago. It is also here where we found out the sex of our baby! The doctor cheerfully wrote “Pito” on the ultrasound output, while joking that we’re in big trouble… It’s a boy!
Further up the road, a fly-fisherman is demonstrating his skills on the Lamay river. Fly-fishing seems comparable to the art of puppeteering. A colorful array of baits imitating insects are moved on the water surface in an attempt to lure the fish. If the show is successfull, the audience is literally captured.
Erdem is practicing his dog-fishing skills. This little rest area by the Lamay river felt so nice and peaceful, we decided to stay one more day. Days like this feel like they are stolen from time.
“Lucian” is a beautiful name.
We visited a very small museum ran by a local woman. This map of indigenous tribes once present in Argentina was quite useful to understand the demographic distribution of the cultures we had been hearing about.
A sculpture left looking as tragic as the murder it was meant to commemorate. By now it’s very clear that Tara hates figurative sculptures. She barked her guts out as if to say: “Move if you dare!”
This river is called Alumine, as in illuminated, luminous and probably also aluminum. We peacefully drove along its banks and even found somewhere to buy some fresh trout. Our camp for the night was among ancient monkey puzzle trees. Trout laid on a tray with olive oil and a bed of potatoes, buried inside the amber of fire proved to be a delicious meal for the night.
It was scary how fast the monkey puzzle branches that we collected caught on fire. These trees must have a lot of resin in them. Erdem carefully attends our dinner being cooked in the hyper-safe bbq pit we constructed.
The hand of a wild monster roaming in the region!
The araucaria, or monkey puzzle tree, is an ancient, endangered species, sometimes described as a living fossil.
Not surprisingly, the next day, we drove by a gigantic fire spreading over the fields. These areas are so dry, a tiny spark can cause big distruction…
The midpoint of famous Ruta 40.
We camped at this family’s property, following a sign leading to “thermal baths”. We came to a desolate place, owned by a very poor family. We were hesitant to stay but it was already late in the day and we were very tired. The father of the house welcomed us and guided us to a dirt patch next to a waterhole of strong smelling sulfury water. The many kids were very curious and kept us constant company. The bigger ones were left to take care of the smaller ones. They were very friendly, and particularly interested in whether we were married or “just living together”. To entertain them we took some photos and gave them polaroids of their gang as a parting gift…
A genius Argentinian invention: BBQ boats!
This reservoir was full of privately owned boats, built for the sole purpose of cooking meat. We thought it may be a great place to spend the night but none of them were available for rent.
Having driven hundreds of miles on unpaved roads, we had lost some screws and found replacements in Malargüe at a mechanic shop owned by an indigenous man who also happened to be a shaman. We received a casual soul cleaning experience free of charge as part of our car service. The ceremony was performed in such a secular and earthly manner, that it made complete sense to get it done at the garage.
With clean souls, we headed towards the Libertadores pass over the mountains once again. Only this time, we were harassed on the road by a raging pick-up driver. Apparently he wanted to get us in trouble because we had passed him on the road earlier. He was so angry and determined to take revenge (!), we had to involve the police. In fact, we were very lucky that there was a checkpoint with two cops on the side of the road just as the ‘chase’ was becoming aggressive. Turns out the crazed driver was a high ranking official at the customs office of the border we were heading towards. The police simply told us they could not do anything and wished us luck at the border. We assessed our options of using another border but nevertheless decided to move on. We never saw the man again.
We eventually made it back to Santiago and to our friend Lorraine’s place where we planned to stay for a month to organize the big move over the Atlantic…
Our dear friends Vincent and Sidonie were just resuming their journey from Santiago after a brief interruption. It felt so good to spend a few days with them, winding down, having never-ending breakfasts and laughing our asses off over jokes too stupid to recite.
Whilst in Africa Lorraine needed someone to take care of her dogs. And we needed a place to stay put before leaving the continent. It was a perfect match and we felt grateful for the opportunity.
Lorrain’s dogs are wild and often go to hunt rabbits. We made and effort to distract Tara so she wouldn’t learn this skill.
We started a competition with Vincent and Sidonie, to see who can make the thickest yoghurt. This one was thick enough to serve as a makeshift birthday cake. We win Sidonie!
A visit to the town hospital for a check-up revealed that there could be some complications with the pregnancy. Bed-rest it is!
Days went by walking the dogs, feeding them, cooking, gardening, chopping wood, cleaning the house, doing laundry and making arrangements for the big departure. One of us was working hard to maintain order, while the other was imprisoned in bed. Both wishing they could do a little bit of the other. Nevertheless, these were beautiful days. They were also the last days we had as a couple before becoming a family.
A few weeks later, Kate and Cory arrived as our replacements. Just in time to relieve us from some of the daily responsibilities and give us some good company. They slowly took over the tasks of walking the dogs and taking care of the house, before our departure.
The day of departure arrived just as any other day. We said our goodbyes and headed to Santiago. Within a few days, I was sitting in an airplane seat flying over the Atlantic to the old world and Erdem was on the highway, driving towards the eastern shores of the continent. The continent we fell in love with so many times and in so many ways. I wonder if and when I will set foot here again. And what things will look like then.
Dani and Loreto, to whom we were introduced by our friends Paula and Renan, were fantastic hosts in Santiago. These angels took us under their wings for the last days before Sarah and Tara’s flights and Erdem’s big drive across the continent.
Erdem crossed the continent in only a couple of days clearly zoned out of the traveling mode we used to live in for the past two years. The trip was eventless except two funny incidents. One with a prostitute, the other with a radio host.
There was a can of dog food left in the car. Erdem wanted to find a hungry street dog to feed it to. On the second day, as he was driving under an overpass, he saw a white dog walking in the rain. He stopped and reached over to the back seat to find the can. A few seconds later, he was startled by a woman knocking on the passenger window, asking him to roll it down. He did, and asked her in his broken Spanish, what she needed. She said “I’m working.” He said “OK?” She said “You stopped…” He didn’t say anything. Because now he understood the extent of the misunderstanding. He kindly tried to explain the prostitute that he actually had stopped for the hungry dog and had not noticed her. Hoping that she believed that he did not change his mind after seeing her up close. She said: “Yes, I know. The white dog. It’s OK.” Erdem took off without even feeding the hungry dog.
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Immediately after arriving in Monte Video, Erdem lost his credit card. He had already spent the stashed safety cash on the shipping procedure and the back-up credit card had expired. In an unbelievable lack of luck (or focus), he was left without any money. He made arrangements to receive some cash in a few days using an insurance service, but had to find a place to sleep until then. He made a deal with a garage to park the truck there and sleep inside. So he started spending his time there. One day, a man approached him after parking his car. He was a radio talk show host. He asked to interview Erdem on the national radio. Erdem refused because he did not speak enough Spanish. But the man insisted. That is how Erdem ended up broadcasting his horrendous Spanish to an entire South American nation for 45 minutes. He still does not understand most of the conversation, but they gave him a torta in the end.
Off to the boat. We shipped with EUKOR to Bremerhaven in Germany, which worked really well. Ignacio Ricciardi in Monte Video was a fantastic shipping agent to work with. The only downside was the surprising exuberant security deposit that the customs in Germany request. This is not the case when arriving in any other European port or with a European registered vehicle.
Erdem spent a few days wandering the streets and cemeteries of Buenos Aires, applying for a visa to Austria, and reuniting with our Swiss friends Luzia and Michael, before catching his flight.
That was the end of South America for us. And the beginning of a new journey…