At the end of the world.
In Punta Arenas, souther most town of significance in Chile, the end is near! Tierra del Fuego island is on the other side of Magellan Strait and too far away to see, the native Selk'nam people, who nakedly gathered round the fires in the harsh cold don't exist anymore. They allegedly gave the land the name 'Land of Fire', but were hunted down in the sheep and gold rush, and extinct like everywhere else, by the end of the 19th c.; not so long ago.
En el fin del mundo, you might think that figuring out where the end is, is easy. But as in real life, as in the end of a long journey, or the end of a love affair, the end that signifies change to something new is blurred, you slide while in a state of denial. In the south the lands end but the Andes continue in form of the island Andes, and there are always more islands further south, and the Patagonian island glaciers empty into the ocean, such is this huge inhospitable archipelago.
Ushuaia, which is Argentina's most southern significant on Grande Tierra Fuego island, is not the end either, south is Beagle canal and south of Beagle canal is Puerto Williams on Navarino island and it belongs to Chile again, where the guns point still north. Cape Horn is a group of islands further, again south, it is expensive and complicated to go and this is the official end of the world, before the Drake Passage and Antarctica.
Hitching the long way north.
So C. and I one morning when sun dawns take a taxi in Punta Arenas, then take a small plane into the clouds to Puerto Williams, two days later the boat to Ushuaia while sea lions cross our paths in Beagle canal. In Ushuaia all pubs are Irish, our hostel hosts nuts and tourists too happy in festive drinking mood. This is end of March, I can almost sense the coming cold, soon these lands will be white, circled in by the southern winter storms. Bizarrely I only fear the weather while we head out to hitch hike the 3,500kms long road north, C. rolling her trolly, me carrying might light pack, and the hitching of rides goes well, and the feeling of freedom prevails, a glory never sensed before, and for 12 days it lasts, the climax that engulfs just before the end, the end of this FabTrek journey, the end of C. and I, I fail to see how near it all is.
And better so, hitch-hiking 3,000kms from chilly Ushuaia over the windy flat Patagonian steppe and its oil rigs and pumps, all the way to the corn, soy and sunflower fields around Bahia Blanca and Mar del Plata, all in just 7 days, and on some 30 rides the tales and stories of Argentina at this moment in time come to us.
The timing of renewed Malvinas/Falklands rhetoric could hardly be worse while at the same Easter weekend Argentina struggles with rogue holdout investors in a US court. Argentina is different than the rest of South America, notably Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Chile who all seem to have laid their past to rest; Argentina, a G20 with just 40 million people should be the richest country but is an interesting mess, and has not changed for all the many years; inflation runs at 15% or (much) more, and the blue (why not call it black market) Peso hits record lows as we go north; yes the books could have taught the Cristina Kirchner government that exchange controls don't work, but destroy confidence, home and abroad. 'Everybody virtually lives in a prison' we hear all the way, as getting your hands on the dollar is difficult and traveling abroad taxed. But the gas at the pump is still flowing as the oil is Argentinian, and even that changes, and the shelves in super markets are all still full and we discover the great Italian and Spanish heritage in jamon crudo, olives and wine, and their pastelerias and famous parilladas libre (eat as much as you like grill restaurants), and they are all full at night as Argentinians prefer to spend than save (inflation as a lubricant for the economy).
And then on day 6 the torrential rains reach us, and the news of more than 50 killed by the floods in Buenos Aires and La Plata, all just a bit more north, and I think that we might have escaped the harsh south just in time before the snow starts.
My still lady C., not la presidenta C., has done well; the self coined 'modern mochilero' (backpacker) pulled her trolly every day between 4 and 8 kms, out of towns, over rough terrain and through the winds and the rains. The real star is her trolly which, made to roll on marble from an airport to a taxi, did not fall apart, break or shed a wheel.
The end comes fast, love, it isn't over till it's past.
C. and I reach Buenos Aires and split up; the Gods hideously hit with a big stick from behind the clouds, spook through a dream to make us run for our new destines, hole up and never talk again.
4 days later, still confused and aimless, I take a boat to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay to meet Cat and Jean in Montevideo, friends from the Bolivia adventure, and I still can't see the neon signs at the walls.
On a glistening, white-sky heavy, tired day, and the friends have left for France and the US, I step out without fear into my new Montevideo Barrio-Sur environment, disregarding my very own basic No1 FabTrek rule, 'in the first days in a new country/city be humble, move slowly, learn the damn rules, look around and judge, for a few days/a week'. For this fatal mistake of disregard I pay on the spot and dearly. Two blocks away from the hostel, and it is a bad neighborhood, and worse I even realize but walk on and obnoxiously pretend, confident even, when I should turn and run. Three men come running after me, two hold me, 'tranquilo' the third one says, and I feel how this is meant to be, 'here goes the FabTrek life', without fear I give the beloved Nikon, this needs to go, I need to let go of the traveling life, the end has come.
The very same instant of handing over the camera I feel how the gates open, allowing view on a new trajectory in this life; indeed I have reached the crossroads again, for change, like crossroads before. So 'smile and change' a voice still shyly whispers inside, and I smile and a few days later change my flight ticket, bring it forward, I am leaving South America to spend more time with my boys Daniel and David.
Losing my van, losing my lady and camera, with my site traffic having gone down by two thirds since the start of the year, really I go home, flat broke and tired, this is how the FabTrek ends, and I knew for all those years that one day this was going to happen. This one happened fast, all the good things, they say, never last. Yeah, the camera brought Kowalsky down!
Kowalsky on Wikipedia in case you wonder who Kowalsky is.
Finally Brazil is last, and not for long, it is over, simply over!
I walk the sandy beaches of Florianopolis, jump into the blue, 'really, I've had quite a good running all the way', I feel the ocean, and my thoughts are already with my boys and spending European summer with them.
'What were the best, the highlights?' I get this question often, and after all I think that every country has its greatness, whether Mexico, Peru, or Chile, or the chicos in between Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador. In Brazil, and all I see is Sao Paulo, and only that just a tiny bit, it overwhelms, maybe this is the most extraordinary of them all. The buzz, the variety of music and ethnicity, I sense or perceive a frictionless, a going together of blacks and whites, indigenous and mixed people of all races. Or is it boiling under the surface, and splashes out in an extravaganza of food and music and dance? Who knows, I have no time right now, but one day, one day baby I will be back and bring all the time in the world, a year or five, just what it takes, new mad love of mine, Brazil.