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.
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.
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.
A double decker being loaded:
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