Updated: Dec 16, 2020
The town of Ushuaia was far more upscale than expected, the downtown being filled with outdoor clothing stores, a boutique Triumph Motorcycle shop and even a Hard Rock Cafe. It certainly has a lot of tourist traffic which makes complete sense of course, but it was enjoyable though expensive. It is the jumping off point for excursions to the Antarctic and research vehicles.
The hotel I chose was based on another rider who said it was nice and relaxing, and that was the case. The room was nice and new and after settling in, my body began to relax and I did nothing for a couple of days other than riding to the literal end of the road for shots of the sign with Canuck Charlie.
The literal end of the road, where the Pan American Highway stops in Tiera Del Fuego National Park. Next stop Antarctica.
...and where I started at the Arctic Ocean, on the other end of the world.
I had no desire to do anything but rest and be lazy. Seven months on the road and all the travel conditions and requirements had left me pretty drained mentally and it felt good to think of nothing of importance. Well, that wasn't entirely true as my mind began to look at the next phase of life, whether to continue this journey for a couple more months or to return to Texas.
I slowly began to feel that it might be time to let this experience end, and focus on the next one.
The relaxation time felt so good that I decided to stay in the hotel in a few days and do nothing. The decision was made to spend the money in Ushuaia, rather than on the long ferry north back to Chile and Santiago. More and more I felt that I needed to go to Buenos Aires and from there make the final decision whether to go west again or to fly home or even to another continent. I faced the reality that I needed some downtime off the road and to continue my travels as a photographer, I wanted to be able to face what was next with excitement and 100% energy. My combined travels from Texas to Alaska and then to South America had comprised almost a year and a half of living off the motorcycle and enduring a lot of challenges. I think that the length of time on the road had finally caught up with me.
I knew it was time to begin the 2000 mile journey north for Buenos Aires and leaving Ushuaia the next morning, I felt a bit sad. I cruised through the downtown and along the waterfront one more time before heading north through the beautiful mountains that surround the town. It was crisp and cold but the sunshine felt good as did the blue skies.
I decided to make Rio Gallegos in Argentina in one long day rather than stopping in the town of Rio Grande once again. Rio Grande was only two or three hours away and I was ready to make miles and time. Ahead lay two border crossings, the final ones of my journey and I was anxious to get them over with.
The beautiful blacktop road wound its way through the mountains and morning sunshine, with the occasional herds of guanacos and a couple of foxes crossing the road.
The road slowly makes its way out of the mountains and valleys down into the rolling hills as it nears the coast and eventually flattens to a huge plane. Occasionally, I would see an adventure bike heading south with a big thumbs up or a wave. Along the highway, there would be a pickup truck or two parked on the roadside with dirt bikes and guys in their motocross gear. A dirt track lay between the fence and the highway. It seemed that guys were riding many miles along this track as if a cross country race.
As the sun rose higher and I could see the Atlantic to my right, the time slipped past until I made a left turn for the Argentinian and Chilean border that lay to the west down the long gravel road I had come previously. The clear day had brought with it high winds and I didn't relish the gravel that lay ahead for several hours. Checking out of Argentina was easy and fast and about 20 km further down the road the check-in process for Chile was similarly easy.
Despite the gravel and high winds keeping me tense, it was a beautiful day of golden fields and rolling hills. Many thoughts filled my mind between the spasms of deep gravel, one moment wondering if I should continue my trip north after Buenos Aires, and the next knowing that my goal had been accomplished and I was ready to move on. Inside, I felt deeply that the time had come and my mind was already on the return and plans I was making both at home and for future trips.
After a lot of thought and wrestling, I’d come to the decision to fly home from Buenos Aires rather than continuing through Bolivia. It was a torn decision and made me sad, because I really wanted to see the area and experience it. But the key is that I want to see it with fresh eyes and excitement, and in an honest self-appraisal I felt I’d reached a saturation level where I simply couldn’t appreciate it the way I wanted to. Like a sponge that can’t absorb any more water, my mind and inspiration were overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to go there just to take pictures as proof of my progress. I want to immerse myself and absorb the moments and culture, capturing images that excite me. It is that fact, more than any other, that made my decision. Peru and Bolivia I want to see, and see again and I prefer to return with fresh eyes and energy, delving deep into those cultures to capture photos of value. I honestly didn’t have that energy at the moment. I decided the best way to see Bolivia and Peru again is to return exclusively and rent or purchase a bike just to do those two countries.
In no form or fashion did I truly want to return to the US, but I was already looking ahead to South Africa, and a Russia / Kazakhstan / Mongolia dream that started in 2006. I would rather begin focusing on those trips, where I can hit new territory with new energy and fresh eyes. I resigned myself a while back to the obvious fact that one can’t see everything on a trip, which didn’t dim disappointment for things and areas missed, but I feel like I’ve had the true South America immersion, and so much so that it may be years before I fully appreciate everything that happened. I am so full, I can’t even begin to process it all and when looking back, it’s like looking into a huge storage room that you shoved so much into you can’t even remember what’s in there, much less squeeze anything else in. The good part of that is when you do get to unload it all, it will be full of forgotten things you loved and treasured enough to keep.
The gravel road north from the border crossing seemed to last forever as the sun got lower and lower. Ahead lay a ferry crossing, as well as two additional border posts and I knew I'd be arriving in Rio Gallegos after dark. By the time I approached the channel for the ferry, I’d had my fill of gravel roads, traveling well over a hundred miles of it in which about 25% were really bad.
The road came to an end on the bank of the waterway, and I looked for a ferry terminal to purchase a ticket. I'd looked up the price and I had just enough of Chilean pesos left to cover it as long as there were no other surprises. I had been juggling my Chilean pesos trying hard not to have to convert any more. There was nothing near but some construction containers and a lone man locking up a small shop. I inquired about a ferry ticket but he motioned to the boat coming across the strait. I pulled up to the top of a long concrete ramp and watched as the boat docked and unloaded, the deckhands frantically waving at me and the few waiting cars to quickly board.
Once on the ship, I got off the bike and headed up to the top deck of the small ferry in the freezing wind. The sun had set and the sky was a dull gray. One of the deckhands climbed up and motioned for me to come down. In the moment, I had forgotten about my ticket and paid the man quickly while feeling the boat begin to make its turn for the shore. I sat on the bike while people streamed past for their cars giving me a smile or a thumbs up.
I was first off the ferry ramp to the road as the light began to disappear. It seemed a long day would never end, and when I finally arrived at the border control, I was happy to see it was a combination office for both countries. After the paperwork was done and I was on the bike, I got such a rush knowing that I would no longer have to deal with the stress of keeping up with papers and all of the other things that accompany crossing borders, that I shouted out loud. It was a huge relief after so many months.
It was dark by the time I arrived in Rio Gallegos and got into a place for the night. It had been a very, very long day.