Argentina – Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

On the bus ride leaving Chalten, I was once again presented with some of the most photogenic vistas of the trip, and tried to keep myself from taking bus pictures, but I could not. After a 7 hour layover in Calafate, the next bus was four hours to Rio Gallegos. From there, the bus to Rio Grande takes 10 hours, about four of them spent waiting to cross into Chile, then back into Argentina. Exit Argentina, one hour. Enter Chile, one hour. Exit Chile, one hour. Enter Argentina, one hour. Other than all the waiting, this bus was remarkable in that I sat next to a man who surprised me in a couple of ways. Now, my Spanish is passable, but I would hardly call it fluent, or even good. But this man, who was from Santiago, Chile, upon speaking to me for 10 minutes, most of it in a whisper that I had to lean in to hear, asked me if I was from Chile as well. I looked at him to see if he was joking, but he was completely serious. At each station entering or exiting a country, although we would walk off the bus separately, as I was waiting in line, he would come fine me and stand next to me, without saying a word. At the time, I thought it was strange, but was also engrossed in Running with Scissors, which, by the way, has far more gay sex than I was anticipating. This man, who I began to think of as my shadow, would never let me get too far away, though he didn’t have much to talk about, and I was beginning to wonder when he would actually leave me, if he planned on doing so ever. When we stopped in a cafe by the ocean to cross into Tierra del Fuego on a boat, he followed me into the cafe, and ordered what I ordered, then sat next to me without a word and ate it. I am not sure if he was mentally retarded, specifically, but I suspect that he was somewhat slow. To make a long story short, when we got off the bus, and had to transfer to another one into Ushuaia from Rio Grande, he got off, and said his goodbye, then handed me a picture of Jesus, that had a calendar, conveniently missing the month of January, inscribed something like, ”Jehovah is my savior, nothing do I lack,” in Spanish. I am not sure if he was interested in converting me, or thought that I needed saving, but when I got back on the bus, it turns out that the one time he wasn’t following me closely, and had hung back, was not because he was sad to say goodbye, as I had thought, but because he wanted to wait until I was away from my things to steal my book. So, this mentally handicapped man, who wanted to do what I did, follow me around, and cross borders with me, loved Jesus, and did not speak a word of English, stole from me a book in English that contains some very ”ungodly” scenes of homosexual sex and statutory rape. When I was 50 pages from the end. Not my coat, not my hat, not my shoes. My gay sex book. I highly recommend the book, by the way, and will pick up a copy to finish it as soon as I can.

My biggest dilemma was deciding how Chaz Norris would have responded to the situation. This is when the phone a Chuck in case of emergency option would have come in handy. Does Chuck run after the clearly trod upon man, and show him that even for the mentally handicapped, stealing is wrong? A sin, even? I would have thought that if he were carrying a bible, as he was, he would remember the 7th Commandment (I am assuming he was Catholic, for other faiths, it may be the 8th). I even saw him open the book, so I know it was not a false shell, a secreting place for his tools of thievery. Maybe he knew intuitively what I was reading, and in fact, was trying to keep me from sinning! Or does Chuck let it go, and display his wisdom (almost as omnipotent as his size 12 boots), granting the man a stay of ass-kicking punishment? This one is up to the CNCommittee, and I leave it in their hands, thought I promise to deliver double the ass whooping, on this man’s behalf, to the next prime candidate.

Tierra del Fuego is an island, the largest in South America, off the Southern tip of Chile and Argentina. When Magellan was passing in his boat, he noted smoke rising from it, most likely from fires made by the indigenous people already living there, and called it ”Land of Smoke.” The King of Spain later decided, as kings do, that ”Land of Fire” sounded more poetic, so that is what it is called. From the northern end of it, it seems to be very similar to Patagonia, flat, mostly barren land with lots of grasses and big skies, but when you get closer to Ushuaia at the Southern end, a forest pops up, and some mountains. These mountains fall directly to the sea, and at their intersection is the town of Ushuaia. They call this place ”The End of the World.” It actually reminds me of the Amalfi Coast of Italy, except for the glaciers, penguins, and prices. We went on a hike the first full day where I had the wicked idea of wearing my sneakers instead of my boots, saving my heels. The shoes are no longer red. I have had to wear my flip flops ever since, despite the freezing cold. Anyway, we hiked for two hours up to a far less impressive glacier than was previously observed, in mud up to the knees. The most awesome part of it was that the whole way we could hear the cars going up and down the road very, very close to us. While soaking wet and covered in mud. So, needless to say, we felt completely immersed in nature. Being the end of the world, or at least the end of the earth, as well as a port town, there are quite a few strip clubs/brothels, as one would expect. The one directly across the street from the hostel Antarctica, where I stayed, was a corrugated tin shack that had been burned to the ground recently by a rival stripper/prostitute, or so the story goes. Beef is beef, and don’t forget to watch who you start it with. After a couple quick days, it is time to head up to Calafate again, to catch a flight to Bariloche, so hopefully back to where it may be tshirt weather during the day.

Aaron, if you are reading this, I have tried for a month, but I have not yet seen a toilet that flushes in a discernible enough way for me to tell whether the water is moving clockwise or counter clockwise, so I have no idea if it is different, and have not taken a video. Maybe the gurgling and rushing instead of a swirl is because they are set up for the water to flow clockwise, and the gravity wants it to be different. Maybe the toilet makers are engaged in a North of the Equator conspiracy, and backwater places like Australia, South America, and Africa are the unwitting victims, due to the lack of porcelain production in their regions. I do not know. I hope this answers your question, and by answers, I mean leaves you with more questions. Curiosity is good. Lemme know if you get that one figured out.

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