No way were we going to public transport it out of Ushuaia like some kind of travelling amateurs when our hitchhiking trip down was such a roaring success, so we had the Ushuaia collectivo (“town bus” in Argentina) drop us off at the service station where we’d woken up five or six days earlier, and I couldn’t have made up this scene if I tried:
What a farewell.
It took us a bit longer to get a ride this time. There were loads of trucker dudes in the service station’s seating area – they were watching a Bruce Willis movie while waiting for their paperwork – but they didn’t really pay attention to us and seemed less than impressed by these two gringas asking for a lift.
I watched Nikki (who else) strike up a conversation with a guy, watched them laugh and stare out of the window together, watched her work her magic, but when she got back to me she said that he, Sergio was his name, was as hesitant as the others but that at least he was very nice. Hours passed. The trucker dudes waited and so did we, and outside it started raining.
We got to know Sergio a bit better while we waited, and kept asking any new trucker who arrived, but got nothing. Either he needed time to suss out whether we were psychopaths, or his heart was warmed by my attempts at Spanish, but eventually Sergio took pity on us and, when his papers arrived, he said: “Vamos chicas!” (Let’s go girls!)
Sergio, “Mis amigos me llaman Sergito” (my friends call me Sergito), was a talker, alright. And he took a real shine to me, so Nikki sat back and snickered while I “carried” the conversation. The wheel turns, what goes around comes around, et al.
Have I mentioned what a laboriously zig-zagged undertaking it is to get in and out of southern Patagonia? Don’t even get me started on the detour involved in going north from El Calafate (’cause that comes later)! It is important to remind yourself just where in the world you are when you’re down here – roads are a luxury and so are options.
Nikki has a friend in Chile’s Punta Arenas, so that is where we were headed. Punta Arenas is to the northwest of Ushuaia, on the north shore of the Strait of Magellan, but you have take the long way around to get there crossing the strait again at the border at Punta Delgada, northeast to Rio Grande, then cutting west into Chile.
The skies cleared us we pulled out of the service station in Sergito’s (yup, we’d become amigos) truck and we got to see what we missed (due to sleep and dark) on our way in.
Crossing the strait on the ferry for a second time was no less special. I took pictures like I hadn’t seen it all before. We resisted the coffee this time.
Off the ferry and back up the way we came, we felt like old hands who knew all about these parts … In Rio Grande we even coincidentally stopped for milanesas at the same take-away joint that Mario took us to on our way down! Except we weren’t allowed to go in this time because Sergito’s boss was inside. Luckily no dodgy curtains-drawn errands in dark back alleys during our return to Rio Grande.
Nikki and I slept on the top bunk in the cab and I do believe it was our least comfortable night yet (second night in Leo’s wagon included).
We knew the drill by now. Sergito would take us to the crossroads on the other side of the border – Hola Chile! – where we would have to thumb it again.
This is where we were dropped off:
And this is where I thought we’d be spending a few hours:
But no, Nikki got us onto the first truck that stopped, which was also the first truck that came by. It would only be a few hours to Punta Arenas now.
Our driver was Mario #2, and I could tell that Nikki, who had spent many moons volunteering all over the country, instantly felt more comfortable and excited in Chile. I thought the dude was a bit rude by they seemed to get along just fine.
The Spanish coming out of Mario’s mouth was significantly faster and different than the Spanish I had become ever so slightly accustomed to. They are not joking when they say that Chileno is almost a different language … Dios mío. So that’s why I had to ask Nikki if I heard right when I heard him say that he has eight children, two of whom were “no legal” (that means exactly what you think it does). I was impressed with this roguish, grey-haired trucker now – I pegged him to be at least 55 and the mother of his two youngest children had just turned 23. Respect grandpa!
Through a new part of Patagonia we drove, but this time the yellow earth rolled by on the right while on the left, the sharpest, purest blue of the South Pacific Ocean glimmered. It was a sunny, windstill day, and it looked like everything had been touched up with oil paints. The contrast was hypnotizing.
My estimation of ol’ Mario improved even more when he pulled over and let us take pictures of a shipwreck and old abandoned warehouses for nearly an hour.
And before I knew it, this leg of the adventure was over. I blinked and we were standing next to our backpacks on the outskirts of Punta Arenas, waiting for a bus (bus in Spanish, they don’t call it a collectivo in Chile. In Chile, collectivo is a shared taxi. I know.) to take us into town.