Once in a Lifetime

It was 3am, and the outside temperature was hovering just above -10°C. For the 100000000000th time since we woke up to catch our 15-hour bus ride out of Ushuaia, I found myself asking Jo… “WHY THE HELL ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN???”

We were heading for El Calafate, and we had a choice between taking the Infernal-Bus-Journey-with-the-Ridiculous-Border-Crossing AGAIN or we could take a two-hour flight (at a more humane time) that would not even require us to go through international customs.

The obvious answer to my rhetorical question is… “Because we are cheapskates”.

It’s easy to convince ourselves we are doing the right thing when we see how much we’ve stretched our travelling cash by taking the “stupider” option, but there is always a part of me that is nagging… “You are on a Once-in-a-Lifetime trip around the world, why are you pinching pennies??”

“Once in a Lifetime”…. it is a phrase I’ve come to hate since the hordes of flyer-waving bridal studios sales staff swarmed us with over-inflated wedding packages when we were planning our wedding all those years ago. #anotherstoryforanotherday

On some level, I do understand that this is probably the only time in my life that I will be travelling like this, (probably) the only time I was going to get married. I would also only be celebrating my 18, 21, 30, 40, (insert-other-culturally-significant-age-here) birthday once. 

However, I also believe that every moment is an opportunity for us to do something that we will only do Once In Our Lifetime.

For example, I only got to write this because I am going to be stuck in a hellishly long bus ride to El Calafate for the only time in my life, just as you choose to read this (and I hope you are) for the only time in your life. (It’s ok if this is not the first time you are reading this… I don’t judge…)

I guess my point is.. outside of the “significant” birthdays, you are only going to be XX years, XX months, XX days, XX hours and XX minutes old once in this lifetime. I think it is easy to lose sight of how precious every moment is if you only focus on those supposed once-in-a-lifetime “milestones”.

At the end of the day, it is a personal choice to make any moment your personal milestone.

For us, we chose to travel. We think it is the lazy man’s way of making almost every waking moment a milestone (without trying exceptionally hard).

But I guess a milestone could be as simple as deciding to spend more time with the people that matter, or as difficult as saying “sorry” because it is stupid to spend time being resentful and angry. It could mean telling someone how much they mean to you. It could also mean standing up for yourself and finally saying “no” to unnecessary drama in your life. Or saying “fuck it” to the opinions of random strangers and just boogie to that catchy tune coming through your earphones right now.

You can choose to be happy, or you can choose to sulk and make every moment as mundane as possible. Truth is, no matter what moment it is, you are almost certainly never, ever going to get it back. Every moment occurs only once in your lifetime.

That is why… after this rant, I think I am going to get immersed in a world with two moons, secret Japanese cults and beautiful assassins in Murakami’s incomprehensible 1000 page monster “1Q84”.

Why? Because I can.

Also… because I think both Jo and I are secretly at least a little masochistic. (Jo had decided to take on the challenge to sleep through the whole bus ride)

Why else would we choose to spend 15 hours in a bus?

Advertisements

Bragging Rights

Antartica… probably the most inaccessible continent of them all… the continent that most people did not get to go to. And after travelling 32 hours by bus to the Southern-most tip of South America, where we got to the closest point to the South Pole (the supposed Gateway to Antartica), we did not make it either.

Apparently, we were too early for the season for Antarctic expeditions.

Closed for the season

Closed for the season

Granted, Ushuaia is a damn magnificent destination – there are National Parks to explore, treks to hike, and glaciers to bloody your nose on. But it is still a bit of a bummer to travel so far to miss out on the bragging rights of having visited one more continent.

To me, this is glorious... couldn't get sick of this view

To me, this is glorious… couldn’t get sick of this view

(Probably) Because of complainers like us, the city of Ushuaia seemed to have gone out of their way to say that “this is good enough, you’ve reached the End of the Earth, being able to go to Antartica had always been a bonus”

There were endless signs everywhere saying that we were indeed at Fin del Mundo.

One of many many many many signs

One of many many many many signs

If that was not enough, they have specialized Fin del Mundo stamps for your passport if you visit the Tourist Office.

Our (by now) rather grimy passport

Our (by now) rather grimy passport

And even a certificate to prove for the last time already that YES! THESE PEOPLE HAVE GONE TO THE END OF THE WORLD! Just give them their bragging rights and stop asking about Antartica already!

Yes... they give out the certificates in a presentation "ceremony" style, complete with handshakes and a photographer (me)

Yes… they give out the certificates in a presentation “ceremony” style, complete with handshakes and a photographer (me)

===============================================================

Seriously speaking, the Tourism Office at Ushuaia is an EXCELLENT resource to plan your travelling needs around the area. They have up-to-date tours/weather information, and of course, passport stamps and certificates.

The Tourism Office is located at the intersection of Juana Fadul y en el Puerto, and (yet another) Avenidad San Martin.

The End Of the Road….

Quite literally so...

Quite literally so…

The Pan-America Highway, Ruta No. 3 ended right in the middle of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego –  which was where we found ourselves one VERY windy and rainy morning.

Before we continue, I feel I need to point out that Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego translates directly to “The Land of Fire National Park”. To be honest, we knew nothing about the National Park prior to our visit to Ushuaia (yes… SOMETIMES, we are THAT kinda tourists), but based on the uber cool name alone, we felt that the National Park would be worth a visit (That… and also because Tripadvisor had some nice things to say about the park..)

Did I mention that it was VERY windy and rainy?

Totally not a posed shot

Totally not a posed shot

The first thing we noticed about the park is that we were constantly buffeted by gale force winds. We were at the Southern most point of mainland America. There was nothing to shelter the National Park from the winds coming in from the sea. The winds were so strong that the rain drops that fell on us felt like needles poking at our skin.

Combine this with the almost barren landscape that is synonymous with Patagonia, and I guess they really weren’t joking when they talk about the harsh living conditions. 

"the wild, rain lashed beach of the inhospitable Patagonia"

Or as Darwin calls it… “the wild, rain lashed beach of the inhospitable Patagonia”

However, since this is a National Park, they actually made concessions for sissy tourists like ourselves. There were walking paths throughout the Park and numerous signboards/maps pointing us towards the “correct” direction to go…

Walking the tourist path

Walking the tourist path

Yet, despite the best efforts of the National Park, we still managed to find ourselves wandering on a deer path through the woods.

We are THAT good at getting lost.

Get Lost!

Get Lost!

I swear… at one point, we were bashing through a bunch of shrubbery because we’d run out of road.

But I guess it was because of us getting lost that we managed to see some things that were just off the beaten path.

Like these geese for example. Initially, we were quite amused to always see them in a black/white pair. It was only after we got back that we found out they were ruddy headed geese

Like these geese for example. Initially, we were quite amused to always see them in a black/white pair. It was only after we got back that we found out they were ruddy headed geese

But my favourite sight for the National Park is easily this dam.

ushuaia tierra del fuego beaver dam

It is supposed to be made by beavers that had stowed away on the early ships from North America to Patagonia. It just feels kinda surreal to find something that looks ALMOST man-made in the middle of the woods…and on top of that to discover it was actually made by the elusive beavers. (elusive because we didn’t see any of them)

It was definitely an interesting trek because the scenery changed so often. One minute we would be walking along a snowy river bank, and the next we would be bashing through a barren shrubbery field, and one minute after that we would be meandering through an eerie coniferous forest. The only things that were constant were the piercing Patagonian winds and the gorgeous Andes in the background.

ushuaia tierra del fuego shrub landOf course, after our adventures were done, we had that little issue of finding our way back to civilization. Being the great woodsman that I am, I elected to find our way out of the forest by using an ancient tracking method… following the sound of the motor vehicles.

Of course, given our luck, we found ourselves on the furthest end of the motorway.

The looooong way home

The looooong way home

The long AND very windy road home

The long AND very windy road home

Thinking back, it was actually a bit scary as we really could have gotten ourselves hopelessly lost. But at the end of the day, aside from our sore feet and some partially frozen appendages, we managed to get ourselves a new adventure under our belt.

So… Great Success!

Snow… no… GLACIER boarding

To many people, Ushuaia is a city that invokes a sense of adventure. It attracts the explorers who come forth in the spirit of discovery.

It was the same for us as well.

As we looked for our next snowboarding adventure, we decided to explore the nearby Martial Glacier. We discovered one thing… trying to snowboard down a glacier, no matter how cool it sounds, is a fucking bad idea.

For those of you (like us) who are clueless about what a glacier is… it is basically one solid block of ice. This means that it is VERY slippery… which we thought would make it PERFECT for snowboarding.

Theoretically, this means that we can go very very very fast.

We should have realized that things were not as rosy as it seemed when we arrived at the glacier. Even though the ski passes were half the price compared to the ski resort down the road, there were not a lot of people at the snowboard rental shop.

How could such a fine slope have so little snowboarders?

How could such a fine slope have so little snowboarders?

We disregarded that, decked ourselves out in the fine-looking snowboarding outfit and bought the full day pass for the ski-lift.

Ready to go...

Ready to go…

Then we realized what was wrong…

We forgot that ice is very very very hard, and when it comes to snowboarding, we are very very very amateur-ish, which means we have a strong inclination to fall… a lot.

I swear, the first time the snowboard slipped out from under me and I did a “Three Stooges”-esque backflip, I could feel my entire skeleton vibrate and my brains bang against the front of my skull.

PAINNNNN!!!!

PAINNNNN!!!!

I had just snowboarded about 200 metres.

Jo made it to the 300 metres mark before collapsing in a heap.

Because we didn’t want to die in Argentina, after a grand total of 10 minutes on the slopes, we picked up the snowboards and did the Walk of Shame back up to the ski-lift and took the next lift down the slopes to return our snowboards (that we had on a full day rental).

The ski lift attendants and the snowboard rental guy did not seemed too surprised to see us return so fast. In fact, I might or might not have seen the guys at the ski lift exchange a knowing look and glance at their watches. I am pretty sure some pesos changed hands.

Having already paid for a full-day ski pass (and being a typical Singaporean), I decided we should spend the rest of the day taking the ski lifts up and down the slopes.

Life is happier without that impending sense of doom... yes... we got the ski lift attendant to take this photo for us (the attendant that lost money)

Life is happier without that impending sense of doom… yes… we got the ski lift attendant to take this photo for us (the attendant that lost money)

Ski Lift up the hill

Ski Lift up the hill

Ski lift down... seriously... with views like this, we could do this all day long... and we kinda did

Ski lift down… seriously… with views like this, we could do this all day long… and we kinda did

Oh yeah… other then the fact that we almost died up there (totally not being melodramatic here), Martial Glacier is gorgeous… in a desolate, frozen wasteland kinda way.

I am the King Beyond the Wall

I am the King Beyond the Wall

ushuaia martial glacier hands up

And the Place Beyond the Wall is cooooold

And the Place Beyond the Wall is cooooold

Nothing for miles around

Nothing for miles around

We like that we (almost) had the whole glacier to ourselves.

And what good is having an entire glacier to ourselves if we don’t take some truly ridiculous and horribly camp jumping shots?

Notice how we had to look for the "bald" patch to do these jumping shots? We would've slipped and cracked our skulls if we did this anywhere else. The glacier was THAT slippery

Notice how we had to look for the “bald” patch to do these jumping shots? We would’ve slipped and cracked our skulls if we did this anywhere else. The glacier was THAT slippery

All in… it was not a bad day trip to Martial Glacier. The view was awesome and the scenery was cool… just don’t go there for the snowboarding… if you do, you should probably take a bet with the ski attendants on how long you can last on the slopes.

Journeying to the end of the world… wearing a pair of slippers

One of the things about travelling long-term is that after a while, we noticed that we were slowly losing our senses.

The first sense to go was definitely whatever fashion sense we used to have. Initially, this was planned and kinda borne out of necessity. We agreed we should just pack one nice set of “going out” clothes because we didn’t want our pretty stuff ending up in dubious laundromats. But after a period of living out of a backpack, wearing colour-coordinated clothes started taking a backseat to finding something that does not have (too many inconveniently placed) holes in them. Also… we must’ve been quite deluded to think that we would actually go to laundromats.

Fortunately, at this point, the next senses to go were our sense of smell and any sense of shame.

This was essentially the state of mind we were in as we prepared to embark on the 32-hour-long journey from Puerto Madyn to Ushuaia (apparently pronounced ooh shoo ahhhhh ya)

So far removed, even Google don't know how to get there...

A journey so long that even Google doesn’t know how to get there…

We figured that since we were gonna be spending a lot of time on the bus, the smartest thing we could do for ourselves was to get as comfortable as possible. We happily packed our warm socks, boots and heavy winter-wear in the backpacks and stuffed those un-laundered packs of stink into the luggage compartment of the bus. We were gonna make ourselves super comfortable, sipping red wine on the toasty bus in our t-shirts, thin jackets and our bathroom-going flipflops, thank you very much.

We were actually pretty smug at first. We were watching the hostile Patagonian landscape pass us by outside. We were in one of those infamously comfortable Argentinian buses, happily watching Robocop 3 (in Spanish), playing yet another game of Bingo and having one too many glasses of red wine.

Probably some of the harshest living conditions around... if you were OUTSIDE

Probably some of the harshest living conditions around… if you were OUTSIDE the bus

I think we kinda forgot that we were journeying TOWARDS the city closest to the South Pole (or as it is known by its less dramatically foreboding nickname, Fin del Mundo – END OF THE WORLD!!!!!)… a journey that would see us go through three-buses-one-boat-transfers, as well as four-custom-post-crossings.

Yup, the first time we realized how stupid we were was when we had to get off the bus very early the next morning to change to another bus in Rio Gallegos… and then we were reminded again when we had to get off THAT bus to go through a veeery long custom check at the Argentinian border… this reminder went on for the entire day when we had to pass through the Chilean Checkpoint, another Chilean Checkpoint and then again through a final Argentinian Checkpoint. Somehow, Chile had (why not?) laid claim to a teeny strip of land on the road between Puerto Madryn to Ushuaia.

The proverbial (and pretty literal) icing on the cake was when we had to swap from the bus to a ferry ride across the Strait of Megallan.

Outside...

Outside…

Ever wonder what it is like to have sub-zero, wintery winds blowing against your very exposed appendages? I will be the first one to say… it doesn’t feel very good at all.

Not feeling the heat... literally

Not feeling the heat… literally

So was it worth it?

We got into Ushuaia around sunset, and I just snapped these shots with Jo’s Samsung phone…

ushuaia sunset lake 2

ushuaia sunset mountain range

ushuaia sunset lake

At that moment… Our trip was starting to look really good.

There was one other little problem…

We had a 2km walk to our hostel in the cold, dark wintery night… and we couldn’t get our boots out of the backpack.