8 Aug 07 – At the End of the World
This is by far the biggest accomplishment of my life.
And I´m going to spend the rest of my life
making sure it doesn´t stay that way.
5 Aug 07- Comodoro Rivadavia to Rio Gallegos
My car died here.
Footprint’s says: “in most of Patagonia there’s less than one person to each sq km.” It certainly felt like it. I was 200 miles away from the city I started from called Comodoro Rivadavia and 300 miles away from where I was heading, Rio Gallegos, both of which are separated by nothing but nothingness, literally no civilization.
“The engine is done. I will not be in Ushuaia tomorrow. At the earliest it will be the 7th.
I was going about 70 miles an hour on some gravel road and the car didn’t seem to mind it at all. In fact, I was soon pushing 85-90 on well paved road. I had to brake down to about 45 because a couple trucks were going that slow and there was oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, that’s when all hell broke loose. As soon as I started accelerating again, I could hear very loud and distinct click click clicking of the motor. I slowed down but that didn’t make it any better. I stopped along the side of the road, hoping whatever it is would just go away. But the car stalled and wouldn’t start.
I waited a few more minutes and it started again, although it clearly let me know that it didn’t really want to. I went another 10 miles before I heard the engine pop. It would never start again. This was about 1:45PM.”
“…The one I stopped at about 4:30PM looked like the the highway patrol I had stopped earlier. But it was a random man named Juan Carlo traveling with his daughter and his wife. I tell him that I’ve been waiting for 3 hours for a trailer that never came and that I need to get towed somewhere. He says he’s going to Rio Gallegos. I tell him that I’m going in the same direction and ask if I can’t just go all the way with him. Of course this was a HUGE proposition because Rio Gallegos was 300 miles away from where I was. He says he can pull me to the next station. That is a lot better than waiting in the middle of nowhere. I was 200 miles away from the closest civilization up north and 300 miles away from the closest civilization down south.
It didn’t start out very well. He tied a left over tow rope with some other rope but after about a mile, it snapped. I thought he would just give up and say sorry I’m gonna get going, but no. He says ah, the rope is too thin. So he pops out a thicker rope and we try again.”
“While we were there, though, we happened to have pulled in front of a van that was having trouble starting up again. So the two of us went back and pushed that van for about 100 feet while the guy turned the ignition. It was ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ moment in real life.”
“You have almost none of the luxuries of being in a tow truck. You need to remain in your own car to maneuver, and you’re without power so you have no 1) power steering, 2) power braking, and 3) no air conditioning. 1) Meant I had to turn the wheel extra hard around hills. 2) Meant I had to really, really hard to brake anywhere. And 3) meant that I was under the mercy of the weather outside, which at night drops to about 15 to 20 degrees.
One thing about being towed with a rope is the fact that the car in front of you has complete control of how fast you go. So when you’re starting out at 0, the guy ahead of you is going 5-10 miles an hour and he tugs you hard. Your car attempts to catch up, and eventually, after tugging hard 2 or 3 times, your car will go fast enough for the car in front to be able to pull you without having to tug hard all the time. If the speed and altitude remains constant, the pull of the car in front is not noticeable at all.
But of course that doesn’t happen. Altitude changes, you have to pass slow trucks, and make turns, and adjust for bad road conditions, among other things of just simply changing speeds inadvertently. My head was going through some serious whip lashing.
The first station that I saw along the horizon was about 60 miles away. We got there in about an hour and the guy started slowing down a bit. I could see in front of me that he’s talking to his wife. We never stopped and instead picked the speed back up. It was at this point that I knew he had completely committed himself to taking me to Rio Gallegos. I almost cried. No having to wait all night at some gas station for a mere promise of a tow truck. I was heading to civilization.
But it wasn’t an easy journey by any account. I drove in extreme cold and steered hard and braked hard. We drove like this for 6 hours and 280 miles. It was the 2nd hardest drive I’ve ever done, second only to the one in Colorado. I hate the way it sounds. It sounds so simple, and there is no other way to describe it. It’s an overwhelming mixture of feelings, wondering if you’ll make it, if the fender of the cars will hold at every hard tug, if something else will go wrong. And you’re consistently trying to keep the car in front of you at around 2-3 feet. For 6 hours. It’s not easy by any accounts, but the third sentence makes it sound so easy.
But I made it. The car had stalled at 1:30 PM, Juan Carlo found me at 4:30PM and I was at Rio Gallegos at 11PM. We parked my car at a gas station for the night and left. I hopped along in his car, having given him my last free cigar and at this point handed the ‘bomberos’ or chocolate sweets to his wife. We left thinking we were going to try and find me a place to sleep. Instead, a simple question to ask if I can’t stay at his house turned everything around. The spouses looked at each other for a few seconds and said a couple things and told me that they can do that. I arrived at his house around 11:30PM.
Along the way, I never saw any tow truck that the trucker was supposedly going to call for me heading in my direction or anything.
I was dead tired at this point. I had woken up at around 9:30 AM, but I was worn out from the mere stress of the day. But the family was just getting started. They got some wine, pumped up some music from both the computer and the tv, which they had just gotten a DVD player for, and was having a good time. I felt like I was intruding a bit at this point, but they seemed to be happy and jubilant to just be in each other’s company that I really enjoyed this moment. I was just sitting, half watching a dubbed version of Stuck on You, when Raul’s wife decided to sit right next to the TV and breast feed. I was struck by how inviting this family was and how comfortable they all seemed to have a total stranger in their house. I was so tired that I crashed for the night at around 12:30.”
6 Aug 07 – Rio Gallegos
“I took out most of the things from the car and I think Juan and his brother Raul enjoyed the spectacle of witnessing all the things that I packed in my car. I gave away almost everything to them that I wouldn’t be able to carry in a plane with me. The big items are namely the mechanic’s tool set that I bought for the trip but never used, the self inflating mat, the rechargeable lantern, and the sleeping bag. They took most of everything that I had brought almost solely for the trip.
Although I had known it would happen all along, it was quite a different feeling once it did happen. Soon, most of the things that I gave away became part of their house immediately. The kids started playing around with my emergency whistle, and Juan started asking me questions about how things like the rechargeable lantern and the inflatable mattress work.
Juan’s brother Raul actually practiced TaeKwonDo. He seems quite proud of it. He had certificates and such on the walls and I could read out some Korea on the certificates. He’s a first degree black belt, and I think he felt somewhat apprehensive about the fact that I’m second degree. But he says he competed nationally and practiced for 3 hours every day and was very careful about his diet and didn’t smoke. I am quite sure he could have easily kicked my ass now or even when we were both at our primes. At the lunch table, he joked around, asking me if I want to spar after lunch.”
7 Aug 07- Rio Gallegos to Rio Grande via Chile
This is Juan Carlo. I’ve always felt that there was someone or something looking after me. And if there ever was an angel on earth looking after my well being, I am quite sure he showed himself through this man. He towed me for 300 miles and 6 hours, and for three days gave me a warm place to sleep, provided food and hot showers, took care of the car documentation, and never asked for anything other than the means to make sure I was happy. At one point, he said “I am happy, because now I have a friend on the other side of the world.”
“One thing about this family which may be true of all Argentineans is that they’re extremely friendly. Less than 24 hours ago I had barely been introduced to them and they were already serving me dinner and wondering if everything was ok with me. The kids are very attached and friendly with me. In fact, almost so much so that I can’t even take the time to catch up on my journal. I don’t know how else to express my gratitude other than to say thank you very much. I could certainly not have asked for more. I definitely regretted not having more command of Spanish.”
And this is how my car will end its days. While my temporary tourist vehicle importation is in effect, Juan will have full control of the car. However, in March 08 when it does expire, the Argentinean government will come by and tow it away.
“I can totally relate to how Che Guevara’s friend felt when he lost his motorcycle. My car was just as much a part of this trip as I was and I was sad that it couldn’t finish the journey with me.”
I wasn’t too attached to the car. It had given me enough troubles and I had always known that it wasn’t coming back to the states with me. But I do wish I had finished the journey with this car. That was the biggest disappointment of this journey.
I couldn’t leave the country of Argentina without my car, so I needed to visit the customs office first to clear my name.
“We went to the Transit Customs office and they said that all we need is for me to write a note with “Interdiccion” written on it and sign it. That’s it. That was quite a relief”
“We went to the Transit Customs house and it turns out the boss named Roberto went to UCLA for 6 months some 15 years ago. And he still spoke great English. And it turns out he didn’t know any English before he got there. He says he had a great teacher, but I was still very impressed. If only I could have done the same for my Spanish. We were there for about an hour and Roberto did his work well like a true professional. He says he absolutely loved California, but he can’t go back because now he has a job and family.”
Obviously, this is not a very good picture of him, but it’s the only one I’ve got.
“So I had lunch at Juan’s house and said my good byes to the kids as they were heading to school, from 1:30 PM to 6PM. A couple of the youngest of the 4 he had (1 more coming) gave me long hugs. I went to the rental place around 2PM and gave Juan the heartiest hug I have ever given anyone in this trip.
We crossed into Chile, then waited a few minutes for a ferry, took the 20 minute ferry across and drove almost 100 miles in Chile. The first 10 miles or so were good. The rest of it allowed me to go only about 60 km per hour. Even then it was bumpy as hell. I started to remember how hard this trip has been.”
I finished the final 400 miles in a rental car. To drive to Ushuaia, you must first cross into Chile, take a ferry across Estrecho de Magallanes, and cross back into Argentina.
8 Aug 07 – Rio Grande to Ushuaia
Lago Kami, en route to Ushuaia.
“The drive was beautiful. I don’t know how it is at spring and summertime, but the snow added much to the ambience. It was tough, though, having to go fairly slow for a city that was less than 200 miles when we started out. I was close enough to be impatient and anxious, but also close enough that I needed to be patient and cautious. There was plenty of snow on the road, enough to be dangerous.”
I had feared for the entire trip that the area would be snowed out too much for me to make it through. It was, after all, the southernmost city in the world in the middle of winter. But my own counter argument to calm that fear turned out to be true: they plow some 200 miles worth of roads in the morning for trucks and cars to pass through to Ushuaia.
This picture was taken at 650 feet. I don’t know when I will see a ski lift at this altitude ever again. This was taken some 10 miles away from the city.
“I got to the city at around 12:30PM. It was somewhat anticlimactic. I stopped to take a picture at the entrance where the city welcomed me to the ‘Southernmost City in the World.’
On top of that, Ushuaia had become just like any other city that I had stopped at. You go, look for a place to sleep, and that’s about it. No big ceremony or anything.”
I think my reaction would have been vastly different had I finished the trip with my Mercedes, and/or with someone I had started this journey with.
This is what Ushuaia looks like, heading in for the first time from the north. It doesn’t look all that great, but the town centre was a lot more inviting.
If you keep driving 12.5 miles past Ushuaia (in the snow, it took us 45 minutes to do), you come to the southernmost point on the Pan-American Highway.
The periods here are latino counterparts for american commas. (in case you couldn’t figure it out) Now on to Alaska!
If you walk a bit past the signs, you can see this beautiful lake, Lago Roca. It flows into the Beagle Channel.
“I FREAKEN MADE IT! I can’t believe that I’m in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
Was it worth it? I think about all the things I could have done with some $XX I had spent on this trip, and the answer is a resounding YES. It was worth every single dollar. And even if I knew before I started out that I would have gone through all the trouble I had gone through to get to where I am today, I would have done it. It was definitely hard. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I could see why people said I was crazy. I could see why people would quickly dismiss the very idea of even thinking about making the trip even if the idea did come strike their mind. But I did it, and I have never been so proud of an objective I had set for myself and accomplished all by myself.
As far as I know, I’m the youngest person to have single handedly financed and executed the drive from United States or Canada with a car.” (Note: I was 23 years old).
“I took out my victory cigar and strolled along the bay, with the words “El Fin del Mundo. El Principio de Toto” behind me. The end of the world. The beginning of everything. Rest of the world’s civilizations literally lied behind me. I took a puff and it started to hit me. I was somewhat disappointed at first by how I felt coming into the city. But walking around, reflecting on what I had gone through. Knowing that I had reached my objective slowly overwhelmed me. I let out a shout of joy and settled on a rock next to the channel to sit on to bask in the moment.
I reflected on every major event of my past.
None, however, was quite as powerful as the feeling of the moment. None of the past histories bothered me, at least for the moment. And the past accomplishments paled in comparison to what I had just achieved.
At the same time, I was thinking about the future. As near future as the date I should try and fly out of Ushuaia. About what I need to do to recover when I get back home and get ready for my professional career. And as far out as how in the world I am going to top this accomplishment.
And that’s the biggest reason why I came on this trip… Soon, though, this didn’t become a matter of what was possible and what wasn’t. It was more about following an ambition and getting as far as I could. Nothing was going to stop me from starting this journey. I would let my own fate and not the opinions of others decide when and where I stop… Because I needed to know for certain whether I can truly achieve an objective that I set before myself that others say is impossible. I now know for certain that I need to be ever so resilient and patient, because the road ahead of me will bring trials and tribulation of both. And I just may have to face it all alone.
I am ready.”
End of the Road.
I will post once again soon with my Odds & Ends. By then I will have the entire journey mapped out, tell you how I managed to fly back home, and take you back to a few countries with some pictures that didn’t make the initial cut.
But this is the end of the road as well as regular xanga entries about the journey. I had planned this trip for more than 1 year. I had left on 1 Jun 07 and arrived at Ushuaia on 8 Aug 07. My family and close friends will tell you that it had totally consumed every lasting bit of my life for the past 4 months. So I hope you enjoyed reading these blog entries.
Thanks for reading.