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Entries about buses

When Plans Change...

Knee Problems, Planning An Exit Strategy, What I Learned in Argentina, Thwarted By An Orange

sunny 70 °F

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With one-step I was walking, the next, I was limping. I didn’t think much of it, my left knee has bothered me for years, and I figured this to be just another episode. Throughout the week, it has slowly been getting more painful. It began to limit my mobility, to the point where I could barely lift my leg. Enough was enough; it was time to take care of myself.

With my mind made up, I told my farm hosts the bad news. They understood, offering me any assistance I needed. My hosts and I had a hard time communicating with verbal language during my stay. However, the language of hugs spoke loud and clear.

I decided to head back home. This is somewhat tricky, because I don’t have a home. I’m homeless. However, I figured I could call on friends and family to put me up for a bit, while I recovered. There’s nothing like the unconditional safety net of a good family to land in. In family, I am blessed.

My Last Sunset In Bolson
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The mountains around Bolson are incredible. I will be back.

My next task was to organize an exit strategy. My first job was to change my airline ticket. Once I had a fly out date, I knew when I had to be in Buenos Aires. I made the call and found out the only real option I had was to fly out on the 30th, which I opted for.

This left me two days to get to Buenos Aires.

Sometimes my life seems to fall into place without any effort at all on my part. Think of an autumn leaf that finally let go of the branch. It floats easily on the air as it spirals downward to the ground. It's seemingly a short journey. Just before it hits the ground, its trajectory takes it over the river and the colorful leaf lands with a silent plop in the dark waters. It is the beginning of another grand adventure!

The morning of the 28th went something like this.

7:30 My alarm goes off.
8:00 I finally get out of bed.
8:30 I finish packing
8:45 I finish eating breakfast
9:05 I find out bus leaves to Buenos Aires in 25 minutes.
9:10 Farewells given, off to town.
9:30 I limp to a cash machine
9:35 I purchase a ticket
9:40 I’m leaving El Bolson on a bus with the best seat in the house.

Bing, bang, boom. I went from a stationary unknown position, to sitting comfortably on a cama class (sleeper class) bus that was winding northward along the east side of the Andes. I smiled. I love traveling by bus.

I looked out at the mountains, and felt a mix of yearning and acceptance. More than anything, I wanted to explore those mountains. I could barely walk on flat ground, much less steep and rocky mountain trails. I sighed. The mountains will have to wait.

I turned introspective. I had on the right music for proper bus trip musing, and was soon lost in memory. Here are a few things I learned in Argentina.
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There are times when I should keep my mouth shut. I joked with a great Irish couple who I had dinner with a couple of times, “I should’ve had my top teeth glued to my bottom teeth when I turned sixteen.” Seamus understood my plight, and told me he was fluent in “idiot.” He would translate for me when I needed it. I thanked him for his kindness and we all laughed.

The WWOOFING experience was awesome, but next time I would find a farm that spoke English as well as Spanish. I wasn’t ready for total immersion Spanish. There were many times when everyone was laughing, but me. I didn’t understand the joke.

I should never purchase a return ticket before a long trip. Life flows fast and unexpectedly. There is no reason to try to contain it.

Don’t hurt your knee.

Be prepared for the type of travel you want to do. It was killing me not have all of my trusty trekking gear for this trip. I should’ve planned better.

People are the same all over the world. Dogs are the same all over the world.

Don’t worry, things will work out. The proof of this statement was that I was sitting on a bus cruising to Buenos Aires.
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The bus ride was enjoyable and uneventful. I listened to music and lectures by Ram Dass and Alan Watts. I heard several pod casts of This American Life, The Moth, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Radio Lab. I watched the sun arc over us. I dozed off. I wrote in my journal. I watched the landscape change as I crossed from the mountains, to Patagonian scrub, to the Pampas, to the city. I slept. I ate. I only had five hard-boiled eggs for the journey. I grew hungry enough to eat the meals they handed out. Lunch was good. I had mashed potatoes, some sort of beef patty, a sandwich, and jello. Dinner was inedible. It was supposed to be lasagna, but I think they mixed it up with the road kill. No matter, beggars can’t be choosy.
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I arrived at the BA bus station at about 8:30 in the morning. It was a 23-hour bus ride. I’m sure I looked like I had just spent 23 hours on a bus. A trusty cabbie must’ve seen my weariness because he hauled me off to the cab counter before I could decline. I paid for my ride. He led me through the bustling terminal to his car. We drove through northern Buenos Aires and dropped me off at my hostel. Man, that was easy.

I don’t really want to talk about my stay in BA. The hostel was a shit hole. It was probably the biggest shit hole I’ve ever stayed in. What do you expect for twelve bucks a night? I was a bit grumpy from lack of sleep, the shit hole hostel, and the fact I couldn’t explore Buenos Aires like I wanted to. My knee kept me stationary. However, one can’t appreciate the good without going through some shit holes now and then. I still have my health, my humor and my positive attitude. I survived a tough day, and moved on.

After a long day of waiting at the Buenos Aires airport, I boarded the night flight to Houston. It was a ten-hour flight, and I watched “Beverly Hills Cop,” before falling asleep for the rest of the trip. When I awoke, we were a half hour out of Houston.

I only had about an hour to get through customs and security before my next flight would leave. It was going to be close. I stood in line and waited patiently for my turn. There was no point in getting antsy, I would make the flight or I wouldn’t. I had made it through customs, and they asked me if I had any food, and I told them I had an orange. They asked me to go to the x-ray room for more questioning. After more standing in line, I gave them my orange. They let me pass.

After security, I had ten minutes to try to make my flight. I decided to go for it. I started limping as fast as I could down the corridors. I can limp pretty fast when I need to. When I left the transit train, I had four minutes left. Houston passengers will talk for years about the “Blonde Blur” that whizzed by them on New Years eve 2012. I reached my gate. I asked them if I was too late. They said, “You’re too late.”

I would’ve made it had I not mentioned the damn orange.

I smiled. I enjoyed the thrill of the airport chase. Fortunately, I had planned for this contingency. I thought that I might not make the early flight to LA, so I booked my flight from LA to Chicago for 11 pm. This would give me plenty of time to get to LA, without having to rush. My reward for my foresight consisted of an upgrade to a first class on my flight to L.A. four hours later. I love it when a plan comes together.

The only bad part about missing my morning flight was that I missed continuing a conversation I had started with a beautiful woman I had met before I had boarded the plane to Houston. Damn it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
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So it goes, and so do I. Tomorrow I’ll be among my family once again, and getting ready to take care of my knee.

Posted by Rhombus 17:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains buses argentina plans photography airports patagonia philosophy Comments (0)

Ushuaia And The Long Road to El Chalten

Returning to Terra Firma, In the Forest, On The Bus, and Patagonian Road Thoughts

semi-overcast 59 °F

It took me a couple of days to get used to Ushuaia. Actually, I should have said it took me a few days to get used to civilization. After four months of ship life, I was a landlubber once again. The transition is hard. I suddenly (and violently) realized that if I wanted to eat, I had to prepare something, or go to a restaurant. It’s a cruel world, sometimes.

I was nervous. This time I was starting in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language, and I was alone. But, I did it. I put one foot in front of the other and I walked off that ship. I haven’t really looked back. Argentina has been too alluring.
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Ushuaia is a bustling city. People have places to go, and a never ended stream of traffic moves along its sidewalks and streets. The city was bigger than it appeared from the ship. The city looks and feels like a larger ski town, with upscale outdoor clothing shops, and very high prices.

Ushuaia reminds me of southeast Alaska. I think its the climate. One can see every type of weather in one hour. The mountains are similar. The forests are similar, but the plants are not all the same. They both have clean mountain streams, and the town is perched at the base of the mountain. I almost felt at home.
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I spent my first day attending to business. I found my hostel. I bought an adaptor for my computer, a small lock, a bus ticket, and food. I managed all of this without speaking many words. I don’t speak Spanish very well. So, while I may be able to ask for directions to the supermarket, I don’t know what they said to me in response. They could have told me it was on Mars, and I would’ve replied, “Yes, thank you.”
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I feel bad about it. I don’t want to be another dumb American who demands English in a Spanish-speaking nation. Therefore, no matter how badly I mutilate their language, I will still try to speak it.

It is always difficult to shop at a grocery store after being on a ship for so long. I never know what to buy, or what I want to eat. I’ll spend the first ten minutes kind of wandering around in a daze. I’ll touch various pieces of produce remembering that somehow French fries come from this earthy brown thing. A mom was pushing her cart around with two kids in tow. The one sitting in the basket looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hola!” I smiled back, and said, “Hola!” Then I repeated the process with her brother. Kids are the same everywhere.

After a good night of sleep, I felt much better. I could do this. I met all my daily requirements, and slept well besides. I decided that the day’s mission was to find a place to slack-line.
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My small city map indicated there was a park six blocks west of my hostel. I found it, and I set up my line between two likeable trees. Whenever I have an audience, I always perform my best tricks. I think I’m trying to show off how fun slack-lining can be. I listened to the usual catcalls, but this time I didn’t understand what they were saying. No matter, I was having fun.

On my last day, I decided to see if I could find a hiking trail. I had two different sets of directions on how to find the trailhead, sandals, my adventure bag, and good weather. I wanted to see how feasible it would be to hike in sandals. I reasoned that people have been using sandals for thousands of years, yet hiking boots are a modern invention. If I could hike in sandals, it would save me the hassle of shopping and the cost of the boots.

I found the trailhead to Cerro del Medio right where they described. I grew confident. I know what to do with an unknown trail that ventures into the mountains. The trail snaked upward through thick woods that covered the foothills. The trail became increasingly muddy. Mud doesn’t pose a problem if you have boots, but it becomes a challenge in sandals. I clung to any patch of higher ground and stepped off into the woods to make my passage. I broke the hiker’s commandment, “Stay on the Trail.” But, it worked.
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Then I took a bad step and sunk up to my ankle in mud. When I pulled my foot out, I discovered my sandal had broken at one of the straps. Sandals were not a good idea. Fortunately, only one strap broke. This meant I could still walk in them, but they were very loose.

I heard rushing water through the trees, and decided to investigate. I wanted to wash my foot off before slogging back down to town. When I neared the stream, I found a long gently sloping waterfall running over a carpet of green moss. It was beautiful. I forgot about my sandal, and pulled out my camera. I spent the next half hour setting up scenes through my camera, and blurring the water into a silky white.
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When I returned to the trail, I turned uphill. I saw no reason to return to town. I felt good. I liked this mountain track. I passed the tree line. I clawed my way up a snowfield onto a rocky side the mountain. I followed the track for another half hour. I wove along moss-covered rocks with beautiful patterns.
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I could see forever. The beagle channel and Ushuaia lay far below. The wind whispered through the rocks, but I’m not sure what it said. The trail went on up to the ridgeline, but I did not. I was satisfied.
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The Long Road to El Chalten
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I walked to the bus station through the early morning gloom of a rainy day. I boarded the bus at 5:00 in the morning. I would not reach my destination until 9:00 the next morning.

Even at that early hour, I was excited. I was heading into the nether regions of Patagonia. All I wanted to do was listen to a good book and stare out the window. I love endless landscapes. I love moving through new country. This was going to be great! Within ten minutes, I fell asleep.

I woke up some time later in the town of Rio Grande. Soon afterward, the road had turned to gravel, and we were slowly bouncing through the mud at a steady clip. The mud flew up and slowly spackled my window into an opaque layer of filth. Light could pass through, but I couldn’t see out of it at all.
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The bus stopped, and the driver told us we had to pass through customs. I didn’t know what he said, but when everyone else left the bus, I followed. I understood when I saw the building. I went through the line. With my passport stamped, I stepped back on the bus.
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A little while later, it stopped again. I didn’t like not being able to see where we were going. Again, we all filed off the bus and I saw we were on the south side of the Straits of Magellan. Aha! I walked on the ferry. It was weird to be crossing another famous waterway. I never imagined I’d ever see the Straits of Magellan. Yet, here I am.

Once I was back on the bus, we passed through customs into Argentina, and Rio Gallegos.

The bus station in Rio Gallegos was dirty, but had plenty of seats. Stray dogs with ratty and matted looking hair wandered in an out of the station trying to get out of the cold. They scratched their fleas, and chewed their fur. They smelled of dank dog sweat, and stale fur. They were a sorry lot.

It’s a five-hour bus ride from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate. I slept through most of it. I remember waking up somewhere out in the middle and trying to see out of the window. From what little I could see, it reminded me of nighttime in North Dakota. Wind whistled through the crack in the window near my head. My eyes were dry and unfocused. I tried to remember my dream. I couldn’t grasp it.

Outside El Calafate, the police checked our passports once again. We motored to the top of the hill to the bus station. The station was mostly empty, the station kiosks closed for the night. There were a handful of passengers waiting for the next bus. I sat down on a wooden park bench. I had six hours to wait. I brushed my teeth. I washed my face. I applied deodorant. This was my shower, El Calafate style.
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When the last bus for the night arrived, it took the rest of the passengers. I was alone. I wondered if I could stay there all night. There were no signs, and I reasoned I wasn’t the first gringo to stay overnight at the bus station. I tried to get comfortable as I could. I sighed. I settled in for the long haul.

I had Chatwin to keep me company. I read his prose and tried to relate. I was getting sleepy. Every half hour or so, and army man would walk around the deserted station. He didn’t look at me, or talk to me, and I didn’t say anything to him. At four thirty, I sprawled on the uncomfortable bench and fell asleep. I woke up an hour later to one of my snores. I would have been embarrassed, but there was only the stoic army man to hear me.

I huddled by the heater for the next hour as the station began to come alive. At 6:30, I boarded my last bus that would take me to the promised land: El Chalten. I dozed off. When I awoke we were rolling through the grassy steppe of Patagonia. The steppe was mostly grassland, but there were many stones and rocks sprinkled throughout. I wondered if I would see Mont Fitz Roy from the road. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad my journey was nearing an end. I couldn’t wait to sleep in a real bed.

Finally, we rolled into El Chalten. I had made it right on time, twenty-nine hours later. I was glad to be here for many reasons, but the number one reason is that El Chalten is gateway to Los Glaciares National Park’s north side. This is home to Mont Fitz Roy, Mount Torres, glaciers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and as it turned out, one of my favorite towns in the world.
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More on El Chalten to come…

Posted by Rhombus 08:33 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains islands hiking buses photography forests patagonia ushuaia roadtrips Comments (2)

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