The name’s Bond, James Bond. How quickly the coin flips, we were but moments ago quite enviable global travellers drinking up the worlds bounties and now at the hissing closure of the bus door we become black market racketeers, secret agent eat your heart out. A slight embellishment to the romantic designation of our task does little to diminish the fact that we are in cold hard truth travelling internationally to convert dollars to trade on the black market; sounds terribly exciting does it not? Well don’t believe everything you read in the blogs ladies and gentlemen. High rolling casinos, fast cars, faster women, dangerous villains and gin martinis shaken, not stirred are replaced with buses, bad food, worse coffee, more buses and not a martini worth it’s olives to be found. Welcome to the unromantic side of travel.
The hissing door closes sealing our fate as we set off to Punta Arenas across the border again to Chile, we can’t seem to stay away from the place. Ushuaia sits on the largest central island in Tierra Del Fuego and it’s that island we now get a thorough tour of. On this bus ride we get a further reminder of Charles Darwin’s description of eternal nothingness, my repetition of this statement matched only by its conciseness. Eternal. Nothingness. Eight hours of driving comforted by ‘The Great Gatsby’ reveals a vast land of tussock covered featureless land so scarcely dotted by a handful of rural buildings it becomes hard to imagine that they are even in use anymore. The pages of my book paint images of extravagance and colour while eternal nothingness fills the square metre or so of my bus windows permitted association with the outside world. My reality seems so much less-real than the classic fiction bound to words alone.
But it is oh-so-real; nothingness does not, as it turns out, mean boring; a defining feature of this part of the world. There is beauty here, in gracious scale a jarring sense of wonder is generated. We live lives cramped for space, counting square footage of apartments, needing more storage, no car-space and yet here space is all there is. Jarring disorientation underpins the gently undulating yellow-green forever that flavours this cocktail, such continuity of featureless land like a small space magnified as a grand visual trick delivers grace not in form but in the lack of it. We spend our lives looking at ‘things’, collecting ‘things’ that we see only those things. Here as if blinked away an instantaneous disorientation as the space between the things swells to fill the voids pervades, the space shouting louder than the chorus of things you expect to belong here. Livestock, wind farms, power lines, speed signs, rocky outcrops, houses, machinery, billboards and even refuse seem like thy should belong here, but they simply aren’t here. Nothingness.
Anon I could describe the indescribable but you get the idea: it’s oddly beautiful in it’s emptiness and so unnervingly conflicting to a world we know and are comforted by. As Australians we are used to open space but eternal nothingness seems not to be a chapter in the Australian story.
After eight hours of solid public servant workday conditions achieving absolutely nothing our sensory depravation capsule that we call the bus pulls to a halt, we are crossing the channel. A welcome chance to stretch the legs casts us willingly into the wind, I remember this wind blowing incessantly enough to match the never ending nature of this landscape. Cold, wind, bitterness and harshness define this frontier feel as we wait again appreciating beauty in a place describable in terms that don’t paint a picture of beauty in common terms at all. The ferry ride is cool as well, any up close interaction with genuinely big machinery is exciting and throw dolphins in the mix it’s a fun experience having the bus loaded onto the ferry for the short trip across treacherous water in a tick-box first for me.
Fast forward two hours and we arrive in Punta Arenas, our first stop on our trip here nine years ago. The town has changed, new buildings dot the city, none more notable than the very out of place looking hotel on the port, all glass modernity in this quaintest of historical cities. We find spots and sights that we remember from that other time as we attempt to soak up what travelling flavour is on offer. It’s a nice trip back in time but overshadowed by our new found cash smuggling venture. Embarking on three days of bus travel, ATM’s and money changers will gain us extra cash, enough to make all this worthwhile but there’s no denying it, this is not the romantic part of the adventure.
Fittingly enough we leave a land of expanding scale and mental ignition for a few days of chasing some money, literally buying money in the trade of experience. Tierra Del Fuego excites, inspires and confounds; takes you to a different world than the one you know, allows you to feel space and possibility; for a time. Like a vacuum we’re sucked unceremoniously back onto the bus and into the real world for a dose of taking care of business. With eyes squeezed shut and fingers in our ears adoption the most cliche poses of juvenile denial we wait to be delivered back into a new place of broken barriers. El Calafate, what have you got?