So, you’ve reached the end of the world! What next? How about a relaxed week visiting national parks, museums and penguin colonies?
But everything is absurdly expensive…
Well why not catch a cheap pre-booked flight up to Buenos Aires and enjoy Christmas in the sun?
How about hitchhiking with a fully loaded touring bike over 3000km and risk spending Christmas drinking box wine alone in a barn?
We have a winner!
Months ago, long before the reality of the situation had set in, I decided upon hitchhiking my way north from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. It would be fun, I thought. I’d meet some characters, see a whole other side of Argentina and save myself a lot of money in the process. I’d heard tales of other cyclists doing this so knew it was possible. All I needed was a bit of luck and plenty of patience.
However, as I sat in the snug confines of Refugio de los Mochileros in Ushuaia surrounded by cyclists preparing to fly home for Christmas my plan didn’t seem so alluring. Staring at the map the distance seemed greater than ever. What had my stupid past self got my present self into? As I wheeled my way to the entrance of Ushuaia, a mere 2 days after arriving, I can’t say I was brimming with wanderlust and enthusiasm. I just wanted to go home. Weighed down by the steel grey skies I stuck out my thumb and hoped for the best.
Punta Arenas marks the end of continental South America. Beyond it lies the island of Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire – so named for the rising smoke that the settlers spotted upon arrival. By this point all of Patagonia’s greatest hits are behind you. Beyond lies only pampa, bone shaking wind and sadness. Excusing penguin enthusiasts and masochists, to brave this island and continue to Ushuaia is an act of ego (“I cycled to the end of the world”), lack of independent thought (“everyone else goes to Ushuaia…”) or something done simply because it’s there, like eating that final slice of pizza against your better judgement when you’re already stuffed. As an egotistical, penguin loving conformist who always drinks one too many, how could I say no?
Arriving in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama I felt like Jasper from The Simpsons emerging from the Kwik-E-Mart freezer. “Moon Valley? What a time to be alive.” Everything was so clean and functional. The toilets had toilet seats and people in shops actually initiated conversation. However, being a tourist town it was also bloody expensive. We went to a coffee shop and the price our “large” coffees and croissants cost the same as 3 nights of accommodation in Bolivia.
Uyuni itself is a combination of typical Bolivian antiplano town and tourist hive, depending on which streets you walk. We spent a few days relaxing and letting Philipp’s stomach and my chaffed behind recover from our travails through the salars.
When I returned to the Casa de Ciclistas it had been invaded by French, Swiss and Belgians. All very nice people I’m sure, but the lingua franca was no longer English and I found myself drowning in a sea of French chatter. Even the one other English guy was fluent in French. It was time to leave.
Like a seasoned con giving a beating to a naive new inmate, Bolivia took no time in asserting its dominance over me. As soon as I crossed the border the road quality turned awful, a vicious wind whipped in from the lake and on the first incline I snapped my gear cable (again). Luckily the border town of Puerta Acosta was only 5km away but I was forced to push the bike uphill through the ailing light. I’d lost my gloves the previous day and before long it was dark and my hands were completely numb. I was convinced I’d taken a wrong turn and was nearing despair when a friendly farmer assured me I was on the right track and walked me to town.