The confined bus continued south in the cold; dampening the spirits of its occupants. We were at the tail-end of the continent, crossing borders, switching from Argentina into Chile, into Argentina and then I lost count.
It was the end – the end of all we knew, the end of the continent. It was shrouded in snow; confining its occupants within the warm bounds of the hostel. Hopeless in any emergency, an Irish guy got drunk, and an Asian-American Ninja Warrior talked of his travels. The Asian-American Ninja Warrior was mad; as mad as a snake. Over the course of a year he had slithered his way around South America and now he had finally crossed my path. Now he was talking about flying, later that night, to Buenos Aires. He told his audience he was worried about the wintry conditions causing a cancellation of his flight.
I was in the southern-most city in the world, surrounded by mountains, shrouded in cloud and getting the usual sly comments, accompanied by side-way glances, regarding my travel schedule. But they did not know the best of it. I had kept that secret to myself. I would be travelling the 3,100 kilometres from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires by bus; without a stopover.
Ha Ha Ha.
As for Ushuaia…
The guidebook says “Many people come here just to say they’ve seen the southernmost city in the world.” I did not know why I was there.
I had a day to think about it and then early the next morning the snow had cleared revealing a city backing onto the mountains. Somewhere out there was Antarctica, with its penguins and polar bears, and Ushuaia was the gateway.
A group of us went for a walk around a nearby park, reached by a local bus. We were at the end of the world, excluding Antarctica, and wanted to enjoy it. We talked about economics, movies played on the television screens of the various buses on which we had travelled and the hand of greed. Meanwhile the mountains in the distance lapped the shore; isolated - they did not care.
This was solitude, the land of nowhere.
It was time for the trip north to Buenos Aires. As many bus companies in South America provide a seat and breakfast type service, the positive was that it was going to be two nights of free accommodation with a couple of free meals chucked in. The negative was going to be the bland scenery and the lack of a shower before breakfast.
I was slowly turning mad.
Along the way, at Trelew, in Patagonia, the bus stopped. The driver stood up and spoke to the occupants of the bus in Spanish. Not very helpful but he was talking about, I assume, a lunch break. I got off the bus and walked into the nearby restaurant. With my back turned, I heard a rumble and turning, I saw the bus take off.
What the …
My bags. My schedule.
I was already planning a day ahead as I raced out of the restaurant and tore after the bus. My heart was beating, pounding. But I was not fit, nor fast enough. 100 metres down the road and the bus disappeared, turning a corner and turning my immediate future into a minor personal catastrophe.
I returned despondent to the restaurant, showed them my bus ticket and was told the bus would return in 15 minutes; it had gone to fill up on gas.
Bello. Hallelujah. Pray to Mary.
I started to cough, my lungs burning.
I guess this is what Ben Johnson must have felt like.