Saturday, April 26, 2008

Heading North

The bus from Puerto Natales in Chile to Ushuaia in Argentine Tierra del Fuego is long enough to be an overnighter, but has to be during the day so that it can catch the ferry across the Strait of Magellan. My childhood facination with geography, history, and early explorers has never really left me, and came bubbling up as we crossed the strait and landed on Tierra del Fuego (land of fire) on the other side. This was the place of daring sea voyages, round the world races, mutinies, and strange new discoveries. The southern tip of Patagonia, and what was once considered that last of the unknown world. A penguin streamed along beside us during the crossing and waves splashed over the deck soaking those of the passengers that strayed to far to the front.

Our destination was Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world. A few cargo ships and several small fishing boats floated in the harbor connected to rickity, worn walkways. On an island surrounded by antarctic seas and snug against the glacier blanketed mountains, the city made an obvious location for the high security prison that founded the town in the late 1800´s. We settled into a cozy little hostel for a few days as we hiked in the nearby national park, and nosed around the town. Like many cities in Argentina, Ushuaia has boomed in just the last ten years due to tourism and the country´s improved economy. With it small beginning, even after a boom in growth, the city is still small enough to thoroughly explore on foot in a day.

We snuck out of town on the 5:30 am bus as the pounding rain became thick snow. We crossed the island and loaded the ferry at the Strait of Magellan. This time we were not allowed to exit the bus while on the ferry because of the waves that splashed over the boat and bus, and caused the bus to sway in the manner of a Disney World ride.

We arrived that afternoon in Rio Gallegos where we have been for a couple of days looking at museums, eatting our last Argentine pasteries and empanadas, and waiting for my bus, and my parents plane that signal the end of our time in Patagonia. The 16 hour bus ride will take me north along the Atlantic coast to Puerto Madryn from where my plane leaves.

There is a spiny bush in Patagonia that bears a small blue fruit called the Calafate berry. It is a firmly held belief in Patagonia that if one eats the Calafate berry she will return to Patagonia. Around the town of Gan Gan there grows quite a few of these bushes that the birds, lizards, and some lizards scientists all eat from during the hot summer days. So this is not "adios" but merely "hasta luego" (until later).

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