It was still dark as we woke to the frozen town of Rio Gallegos. We disembarked into the scruffy, but warm bus station. Our legs wobbling slightly, as they became used to being used as legs again. The bus had long disappeared when I realized I had left a camera bag on-board.
After a slow and fairly painful interaction with a bus employee, I was given directions to the re-fuelling depot. I ran frantically down the dark, icy street, my breath swirling into mist above me. A bus appeared out of the gloom. I barrelled into the road, waving my arms wildly and screeching like a rabid dog. It came to an abrupt stop, faces filled with fear peered out. I quickly realized that this wasn’t my bus – thankfully it pulled up along side it moments later.
Our downgraded bus crept out of Rio Gallegos thirty minutes late, but to a glorious sunrise that set fire to the icy town. The sun dazzled off the Evita Peron statue. Her hand outstretched, pointing the way down the empty, straight road. Snow began to slowly appear, followed by looming white capped peaks in the far distance. The Andes had arrived – but quickly disappeared again.
The border crossing with Chile is as blustery and unforgiving as you are likely to find anywhere in the world. Each of us inched past a simple table in a simple room. Argentina sat on the right, Chile on the left – bang, bang! Welcome to Chile.
Our stay would be a short one. The relatively straight border between Argentina and its western neighbor goes haywire as it nears Tierra del Feugo – carved haphazardly in such a way that if you want to go to Argentina, from Argentina – you must first go through Chile.
The road soon ended. A narrow portion of the Magellan Strait lay ahead of us. This signals the southern end of mainland South America – in fact the end of southern mainland anywhere in the world. To the south lies a few scattered islands, then 1000km or so to Antarctica. A lighthouse lay in the frigid cold – our hands grew numb from stone skipping exertions. It began to feel like we were nearing the end of the world.
The ferry was essentially a vehicle ferry, with a long thin cabin area for passengers to sit, and warm their frozen limbs. The trip was brief, a brightly coloured mural met us on the other side, along with a sign bearing the words ‘Welcome to Tierra del Fuego. We clambered back onto our bus for a bone crunching ride through a harsh, bleak landscape – now almost completely obscured by the thick mud that caked every window.
The edge of Chile soon arrived once more. Seventeen kilometres of no mans land lies between the countries. I can only assume it’s still no mans land because there is nothing of any interest there. We entertained ourselves with such thought provoking questions as – if we killed somebody here, which country would prosecute us?
In the town of Rio Grande we changed buses once more. The journey was taking its toll, tempers were beginning to fray – the madness was soothed with our two final bottles of wine -while the bus driver belted along at a speed that suggested he was late for dinner, and was in for hiding.
Mountains finally began to appear, their silhouette just about visible in the darkness. Their white peaks jagged and angry reaching to the sky.
‘I see lights’ Simon exclaimed. His finger pointing out of the window into complete darkness. There were no lights. The poor guy was losing it – possibly delirious – possibly drunk.
It was just past 9pm when lights did appear. The bus swept into the dark town, and we disembarked at a petrol station. I stood in the freezing cold facing the Beagle Channel, Cape Horn – and eventually Antarctica – feeling dead – and yet very much alive. After a little over fifty hours; three buses, one boat and five bottles of red wine – we had reached Ushuaia – the end of the World.