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Crossing the Strait of Magellan by Bus

Jim Yu April 25, 2012 Hooniverse Goes To... 16 Comments

When Ferdinand Magellan crossed the yet unnamed Strait of Magellan in 1521, he hit some rough weather.  In fact, he named the next body of water that he saw the Pacific because it was so calm in comparison.  Here is a story of how I crossed the Strait, 489 years later.

Day 1:

Twelve days ago, I hopped on board the first (of many) long-distance bus in Lima, Peru, nearly 4,000 miles away.  Today, I am in Punta Arenas, Chile.  My goal is to rendezvous with my wife tonight, who will be waiting for me at the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.  Though the two cities are just 150 miles apart, as the crows fly, it will take me twelve hours to get there by bus.  And in order to reach Ushuaia, my bus will have to cross by ferry the narrowest portion of the Strait, which is just 2.5 nautical miles wide.  Piece of cake, right?

The plan was to wake up early, walk around town, and take some pictures of cars before the bus left Punta Arenas.  The night before, I noticed that almost all the cars still had snow tires, despite it being summer.  I also saw more than a dozen Ford Aerostars milling around.  And to my shock, despite the town’s proximity to Antarctica, I spied a chileno driving his Miata with the top down.  What a strange place.

I slept in.  Twelve hard days of long-distance bus travel and a warm hotel bed will do that to a person.  Plus, it was windy outside.  Really windy.

I finally hop on the bus.  Most of the passengers are middle aged Europeans.  Based on their accents while speaking Spanish, I’m going to guess they’re German.

It’s 11:40 a.m. and we’re waiting in line for the ferry.  Because it is so windy, we’re stuck here until the wind dies down.  It could be a while.

New cars headed for the oil boom town of Rio Grande patiently wait for the ferry:

I step out of the bus and I feel like one of those ridiculous TV reporters doing live shots in the middle of a hurricane.  I nearly trip myself while I walk when the wind blows my uplifted right foot right in front of my left foot.  My jacket’s hood acts like a funny-car parachute and almost lifts me away.  I fight my way back into the bus.

The wind is rocking the bus so hard, it feels like that LAPD bus that was being rocked by rioters after the Rodney King verdict.

Here are my journal entries:

“Waiting +1 hr 00 m: Getting hungry.  Shall I wait another hour before I eat?  Bus rocking just as hard, if not harder than beginning.  Toilet in back of bus starting to stink.  I hope [my wife] knows I will be late.

+1 hr 32 m: Chassis groaning.  Costanza: The sea was angry my friend, like an old man soup.  Wind more fierce.

+2 hr 06 m: Rumor is bus has to turn back and try tomorrow.  The white caps are scary.  Is this how Magellan felt?

+3 hr 00 m: It’s getting windier and the sea is looking menacing.  I know we practically stole Panama from Colombia, but I can indubitably declare that the canal is a good thing.  This sailing round the tip of South America thing is bullshit!

+3 hr 40 m: I’m bleeding.  I had gone out to the “diner” to see if there’s net access.  The diner only had ham and cheese– they’d run out of bread.  Well, as I walked back to the bus, I pulled up my jacket hood, a gust of wind pushed my thumb into my eyebrow.  Ouch.

Moments before I hurt myself (our bus is right under the flagpoles):

+4 h 12 m: I wonder if my neighbor is annoyed by the way I eat my peanuts, one at a time?

+5 h 21 m: I nap and snore so loud, I wake myself up.

+6 h 25 m: Serving booze on the bus now would help and hurt the situation.

+6 h 43 m: Bic makes pens and lighters.

My view for 8 hours and 37 minutes:

+7 hr 00 m: People must get really bored in prison.

+8 hr 37 m: Ferry not coming.  Bus leaves tomorrow @ 6 a.m.”

It takes another two hours to slowly drive back to Punta Arenas, where we started this morning.  I have a late dinner at Lomit’s.  It’s like Applebee’s, but with a griddle in the center, Benihana style.  I sit at the counter and order a lomito pobre sandwich.  It’s pork, onions, mayo, and two fried eggs.  I ask the guy next to me what he’s drinking.  It’s a Fan-Schop– half orange Fanta, half draught beer. When I tell my waitress that I want one too, she rolls her eyes and thinks– Guys are stupid.  I quickly down two.

Day 2:

It’s less windy today and everyone waiting for the bus with me is in a great mood.  After getting onboard, I take a nap and read a little Neruda.  We approach the ferry landing and zoom past over 50 tractor trailers that have been queuing since yesterday and jump to the front of the line.  Our bus flies onto the ferry and I get out to watch the loading process from high up and witness a double decker bus struggle onto the ferry.

Our bus:

A double decker being loaded:

It takes just 26 minutes to cross the strait.

Images: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

  • Sounds like quite the adventure!

    Also, is it just me or is the ferry's flag a lot like the Texas state flag?

  • Stu_Rock

    Neat trip! I was down there in 2005 to board a research ship crossing the Pacific to New Zealand. I had only a couple days notice before I had to fly down there, so I didn't get any time to explore. I'd love to go back and see more, even though the cruise may have been the worst five weeks of my life.

    • Just reading your comment makes me seasick. Tierra del Fuego is beautiful. This lake was just an hour or so drive from Ushuaia:

      • Stu_Rock

        That lake is a much more appealing body of water. Beautiful.

        The "furious fifties" appellation for that part of the ocean is well deserved. It's the only time I've ever been seasick. At first I thought I was being a pussy, but then I found out that the regular crew was also unable to keep down their meals. It didn't help that the ship operator was trying to cut costs and didn't resupply the galley with fresh food while they were in Punta Arenas.

        One day, I tried some tea labeled "cedrón" and my seasickness stopped for a couple hours. While the water was rough, I drank it nearly continuously and it kept the nausea at bay. Upon arriving at NZ and having Internet access, I looked up what "cedrón" is. It turns out it's lemon verbena, and it's a folk remedy for nausea. I think it works better than dramamine.

        • I think not having net access for 5 weeks might be worse than being sick for 5 weeks.

          • Stu_Rock

            We weren't totally disconnected. Once or twice a day, there was a brief INMARSAT-B datalink, mostly for email transfer and a PDF delivery of the New York Times.

            I hope they have a better system by now. They may not, since it is all paid for by our tax dollars.

            • I'll have to talk to you when I see you at Seconds Saturdays. Am thinking about taking a cargo ship from Oakland to Yokohama for leisure.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Very cool!

    I remember, vividly, crossing the Yukon river just west of Dawson City, YT, with our 39'11" motorhome and the Suzuki Grand Vitara attached. 'Bout 58' long, all together.

    I didn't want to have to separate the toad, but would have if need be. We were last in line, but that was cool. It was going to suck if we couldn't get over, for whatever reason, 'cause we'd just done 150+ miles of gravel road to get to this point, but at least it'd been an ultra-scenic drive.

    After the last vehicle goes on, the loading dude walks around to the back of our machine, comes back to my window and says, "there's room, but I'm going to get you close to the car in front of you…"

    I'm fully cool with this.

    He gets me to within 3" of the vehicle in front, and after we're on, I get out to look and see just how close the 'toad' is to being a true dinghy. The rear bumper of the Grand Vitara was actually over the water.

    I was impressed by homeboy's spacial awareness abilities.

    • Out in the middle of nowhere, people improvise. I got as close as Whitehorse. Never made it to Dawson City. Did you do the whiskey shot with the amputated toe?

      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        Nah, seemed overly hokey. I was saving myself to be Hyderized, in Hyder, AK.

        My wife does have a pic of me with the dancing girls, however.

        In Hyder, it was too early when we got there to imbibe what was likely at least six ounces of hard liquor in a beverage known to make people hurl. I didn't want to spend much of the day there, after seeing how little there was to see/do. Watched some grizzlies from an elevated walkway, which was cool.

        edit: In retrospect, I should have done both…that's what vacation/adventure is all about.

        Skagway/Hyder isn't exactly a hotbed of activity.

        Instead, we did the walking tour in Skagway, and learned the house locations had been changed, but the maps not updated. It was hilarious.

  • mark

    Hmm, taking Fits and Civics to Rio Grande, interesting. I'd almost certainly opt for one of those ubiquitous 4-door pickups if I lived there. Let's see what we can identify: I see a red Frontier in one photo (looking down on it) then five more in the next photo, yikes: a grey frontier, mabye; a red mitsu, obviously; a white Chevy, ??, then two more red ones I can't identify even though we can clearly see the grille of one. Almost looks like an Opel badge, but that can't be, right? I'm terrible at this.

    Anyway, fun post, thanks for sharing.

  • Ripituc

    The white Chevy pickup is a Chevrolet LUV of the sort that was assembled in Arica, Chile (at the other tip of the country!) up until 2008. The red one I think you think has something like an Opel badge is a Mazda B-Series.

    I'm Chilean, btw.

    • Thanks for the info, Viva.

    • mark

      So it is, thanks. I see now if you click on the photo you get a better view. Live and learn.