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Finally, with our permit to enter Chile in hand, we headed south across the border to the famous Tierra del Fuego.  As the sun shone on this barren, desolate island, our spirits were high. Finally we would complete the long drive south to Ushuaia, “el fin del mundo.”  One of the most amazing and startling phenomenons of travel and life itself is the ability for circumstances to change dramatically in a fateful instant. For one decision, reflex or fleeting moment to transform everything, leaving you replaying events in your mind and thinking what might have been. So it was on this day.

Some steps on how NOT to start a lengthy trip away:

1) Hire a small, cheap car without sufficient inquiries or consideration of the road conditions across the country.

2) Decline to pay the extra money for the complete insurance package- after all, what are the chances of an accident? – it is important to ignore the sensible advice of your girlfriend at this juncture.

3) Drive slightly too fast for the car and road conditions and not pay sufficient attention to changes in the latter.

4) Wait until you are in a very remote location, ideally in a different country from where you hired the car.

5) Adjust direction slightly and start to slide a little, then be sure to hit the brakes instead of holding your nerve and riding it out. (for maximum results, please ensure that you are at the top of a small hill, have a short wheel base, are in 4th gear, and have weight in the back).  You should be able to roll the thing completely.

6) Injure yourself and your partner grievously.

Thankfully, I only managed to follow steps one to five and am very grateful that both Jacinta and I escaped without any injuries.

So there we were, in a remote ditch with a written off car at 4 in the afternoon. Luckily, the Chilean campesinos were some of the most lovely and helpful people I have every met. Within minutes, a local farmer had stopped and was en route to fetch his tractor to tow our car off the road and to a nearby field. In the meantime a couple of other cars stopped and offered assistance. One lovely Chilean guy picked up a large rock from the road and went on a passionate soliloquy about what a disgrace the government was for leaving the road in such a state to try and make me feel better.

After the car was towed 5km and dumped off the road in a field, our 3 Chilean minders discussed the best solution. This involved one of them driving us 50km (a one hour journey on those roads) to a town with a hotel. I was a bit shaken up from the crash and was also trying to grapple with the rural Chilean accent (that’s my excuse anyway) and thought we were only going 5km to a very small town, otherwise we would have just stayed in the tent. Anyway, it was all very surreal: The most gorgeous sunset of our trip spreading across the naked, golden land as we tried to make conversation with our new friend while simultaneously grappling with what had just occurred.

We ended up in Cerro Sombrero where we found a cheap bunk bed and more sympathetic, hospitable locals. The owner of the hotel dropped us to the outskirts of town the next day where we had the best chance to hitch to Ushuaia. (no buses from there.) We waited 2 hrs in a howling Patagonian gale before another local stopped and told us the ferry crossing was closed due to the wind and there would be no traffic until the evening when the wind had died. He dropped us back to our hotel, where the landlady gave us hot chocolate and let us use the internet in their lounge before dropping us back there at 6pm. After two more hrs, a German couple stopped and said they planned to stay in Cerro Sombrero and go to Ushuaia the next day. So we found ourselves back at the hotel, cooking amongst the landlady and her family in their kitchen, before lying in the back of a campervan for the final 5 hours to Ushuaia.

We stayed on the floor of Flor and Jorge’s lovely house for our 2 nights in Ushuaia. They had built cabin’s out the back but they were full and they seemed to like having company. Jorge was a vibrant old Russian builder who had immigrated to Argentina 30 years prior and still seemed very much in love with his Argentinian wife (Flor) and vice versa. Their house overlooked the beautiful town, the mountains and the bay with the tall ships awaiting departure to Antarctica. We cooked for them each night and enjoyed hearing their story and advice about the town and their country. We were also fed as much mate as we could drink.

We went for a day hike in the national park near the town. The scenery was lovely and reminded me quite a bit of Tasmania. The forests had an old, magical feel and the lakes and mountains completed a majestic scene.

We decided to continue hitching to Puerto Natales. After two more hours in strong winds, we were picked up by a warm, funny father and son duo driving their van north to Rio Grande. We were briefed on all things Argentinian while warming ourselves courtesy of their infinite supply of mate: things were looking up. Unfortunately, hitching further proved problematic and we stayed the night in Rio Grande before taking the morning bus 14 hours and back into Chile.


One Comment

  1. What an adventure! there is nothing like hitch-hiking to get to know the locals.
    You should send those travel pointers to the Lonely Planet -invaluable to other unsuspecting travellers(John)

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