Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm Sorry Merrell, Welcome Back.

If you dont think that a very good pair of shoes makes a difference when walking or trekking long distances go ahead and by something average. Use them for a while and then buy a pair of Merrells. I am not brand loyal and most people know that if there is a prominent logo on a piece of apparel that I like I usually will not make the purchase. Its not etched in stone and sometimes can not be avoided but I detest being a walking billboard for someones product.

Now all that drivel being said Merrell are the shit. I switched to Solomons for this trip and it was probably price related, but discounted Solomens Ken, Come on! Well enough was enough and today these glorious creatures are hugging my feet and the Solomons have taken thier stinky, worn down and over supinated selves to a used clothing store here in Ushuaia.
**If you think that talking to my shoes makes me more than a little crazy thats not the case. My jacket says its ok and the Doite is always right**

It was time to say good-bye to Chile and hello to Argentina. I was not looking forward to the 14 hours bus ride from Pto Natalies Chile to Ushuaia Argentina. My chariot was comfortable and there were only 17 people on board meaning lots of space to spread out.
We left Pto Natalies at 7am for Punta Arenas where I was told we were to switch buses. I was more then concerned because my bus left Punta Arenas at 8 30 and according to the schedule this bus would not arrive until 9 30. Nothing I could do and odder things have occured over the last 10 months. We are 90 minutes in when the steward opens the door and yells "people for Ushuaia, 10 minutes. I had a sudden "Saving Private Ryan" moment. Just before they hit the beach in the opening scene the troop carrier driver shouts out "3 minutes". I dont know where my mind goes sometimes but this did not make me feel any better. Some things I dont question while here any more so lets just see what happens. Sure enough a bus coming from Punta Arenas was heading our way and blinked its lights. We pulled over to the side of the road and did a switch right there in the middle of the barren highway.  Five minutes later we were off. Next stop the Strait of Magellan. I love Latin America.

Not a pretty waterway but historically (if that is your thing) I found it was amazing to be standing on the shores of the Strait of Magellan. These are the waters that you only learned about in school but you would never go there. Hell you would be on Terra Del Fuego and that is just lunacy.

There was a great moment of nature during the half hour ferry trip. If you have ever watched The Blue Planet narrated by David Attenborough you can appreciate this. A flock of about 20 comorants flying about caught my attention just as a dolphin broke the surface of the water. When the dolphin came up the birds left the water, when she dove so did the birds. Well holy crap they were working together. The dolphin scaring the fish to the surface and the birds eating and scaring them back down.  It was far enough away that no photo would do it justice, regardless I am trying to learn to just appreciate these moments as they are.

We pulled ito Ushuaia (oo-shweye-ya)  the city the furthest south in the world but not after a butt tightening ride the final 10 or 15km.

** From Wiki: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina is considered the southernmost city in the world. It has a population of about 64,000 residents. Puerto Williams, Chile is further south but only has about 2,000 residents and lacks the amenities of a genuine city. **

(Dear Mom, Dont Read This Section) This ride was a very typical scene anywere in the world that has high mountains, roads not wide enough, buses moving way to fast down hill and into open ended cliff hugging curves plus tired drivers. The bus was moving slowly up a series of mountain switchbacks and perilously close to what can only be described as "not big or strong enough roadside barriers". If we veered right a little to far, well Bus Sur would certainly be getting a strongly worded letter and more then daily hauntings from my bleeding crushed ghost! I did notice, when my eyes were opened  (yeah I said it so what!) that many sections of the barriers were brand new, meaning.......

Once off the mountain switchbacks and I pulled myself out of the toilet, we had long stretches of clean driveable highway but our driver kept hitting the shoulder at 100 km. Unlike Chile or any other country I have been in the Maximum 5 hours of driving does not apply in Argentina, even if you start in Chile. If I would have know this ahead of time I would have brought Scotch, very good Scotch and not boxed Pineapple juice for the journey.

This is a serious Port Town with 90% of all travellers to Antarctica come through Ushuaia. The port is massive and that the first thing you see as you enter town. Get past that and you find a really cool little town sitting on the Beagle Channel and surrounded by the beginning or end of the Andes, depending on how you look at it.

I checked into my hostel, the Cruz Del Sur Independent Hostel and was immediately overwhelmed with the sound of Yiddish. I like listening to languages and Yiddish has a great nuance to it. The majority of people in this were from Isreal. My defenses immediately went up as I heard stories about hostels full of Israelis and the bullshit that they cause. I can not believe I allowed this to happen.

** This following  not NOT an anti sematic statement and not a statement against the Jewish religion. It is a statement about the Nationalism of Isreal and the two are NOT the same.**

The Isrealis are certainly a different breed. Most if not all were under 25 and coming off thier mandatory 3 year term in the military. That means 3 years of front line duty where walking to a pizza joint can get you killed and being mortared was a daily occurance. Understandably this gives them a very direct, blunt and certain aggressive nature. This is a country constantly under some type of military threat and none of their neighbours want them there.
I was a bit taken aback a first and was told to just listen to my Ipod and zone out. Great advice but that would defeat the purpose of being on the road and learning right?. Its was time to listen to my own talk. I grabbed a bottle of wine and offered it up. To a person, man or woman there were big smiles and thanks. Finding out I was from Canada the conversation immediately turned to Canada is really the USA anyways, and if Iran gets nuclear weapons then that will be the begging of WWIII because Isreal will be standing alone. President Obama does not have what it takes to be the leader that Isreal needs. "The leader that Isreal needs". I found that a very interesting statement. I listened to long interesting storys of Ben Gurion, Isreals first prime minister, and the history of Isreal from this new generation of Israelis. Most had small bags of weed and bottles of vodka, were loud but friendly and aggressive in the "I have zero tolerance for bullshit" kind of way. I was really enjoying myself.  I mentioned I had friends in Ushuaia from Poland and the generic response was "oh they are just Russians". Such brutal generalizations freaked me out. Anyways a couple hours and I was mentally exhausted but exhilerated.

A little Argentinian History fact:
On the 24th of March 1976 the Democratically elected government of Isabel Peron was over thrown in a coup d'etat by the military. This lead to almost 13 years of repression and over 30,000 people being disappeared. Of all the juntas, repressions, dictatorships, civil wars and other issues in Central and South America I absolutely did not know this.

Finally this gem. Argentina you tried to take back the Falkland Islands and Britian kicked your ass to the curb in 14 weeks. Let it go.

Finally I walked down to the Beagle Channel (thats really fun to say) a couple times over the last few days. Each time the waters were rough and the waves were beating the hell out of the private yachts. The Beagle Channel leads into the Straits of Terra Del Fuego and some of the roughest waters on the globe. This freakin ship I am taking to the Ice better be prepared!!

My first couple days in Argentina have been interesting to say the least.

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