In this journal…
I eat a crazily large breakfast
I eat lots of great food in an oceanside mansion
I eat an enormous crab
Before I could get onto the boat, however, I had to clear the customs since I was entering another country. The immigration situation here is quite hilarious. The counter of the immigration consists of 2 ladies, one lady from Argentina, and the other from Uruguay. I handed the Argentine lady my passport, she took a sip of her mate, stamped the exit stamp, and passed the passport to the Uruguay lady. She took a look at it, noticed that Canadians do not have to get a visa for Uruguay, took a sip of the same mate, and stamped an entry stamp for me. As I noted in my Quebrada journal, it is very customary to share the same mate, but witnessing two different countries working together here is really amusing to me. The boarding for the boat finally began as the crowd started growing impatient, and the entire boat was filled within minutes. This fast boat is quite luxurious, and costs more than 50 dollars for a 2 hour ride. I took a seat, made myself comfortable, and passed straight out to make up the lost sleep for getting up early.
inside fast boat San Francisco
The ride was very smooth, and I arrived in the harbor of Montevideo before 8 a.m. The day was miserable. Cold winds swept through the flat city with almost no buildings to stop it, making me shiver uncontrollably the moment I stepped outside of the passenger terminal. I walked into the old city right next to the docks, and found myself on a small peninsula surrounded by ocean on 3 sides.
old town Montevideo
I was welcomed by a brilliant South African couple into their hostel. They newly came up with the idea to abandon everything, come to Uruguay with their 2 adopted kids, and set up a guest house in Uruguay. The two ladies were very warm and helpful, despite the sheer cold outside almost made me lose hope for this planet. They offered me a welcoming home for the next two days, and since the hostel was really new, I was the only guest for that day. I decided to pay downtown a visit since it was a short walk away. Montevideo, as the capital of the country, has many financial buildings in the district, and there weren’t really much to see besides the central square called Plaza Independencia.
I was forced to retreat to the comfort of my hostel by the wind and the cold. I eventually came to notice that this country was strangely expensive. The cost of daily consumption was almost double of Buenos Aires, and I could not believe the price I was paying sometimes simply because I was trying to get used to the Uruguayan pesos. For the second day, I was offered the BEST breakfast I have ever had in a hostel. The owners quickly presented me a full plate of everything within minutes, and they were not shy about their offer.
“yeah, we offer the most awesome breakfast in town!”
Punta Del Este
I stuffed myself with all kinds of protein, and bid them farewell. I really did not find anything interesting to visit in Montevideo, maybe because I was having a short-term loss of interest either due to the harsh weather or travel fatigue. You know, I had been on the road for almost a month now, and there was really a lot to process. I was still a bit down, though, as I did not imagine my travels in Montevideo would be like that. I visited the bus terminal in Montevideo called Terminal Tres Cruces, and found out that the entire bus terminal was submerged under a huge mall, a rather interesting place to have a bus terminal. I boarded an afternoon bus to Punta del Este, the beautiful ocean-side vacation city to the east. (notice the muddy water in Montevideo!) I was picked up by my dear friend Nicolas, who I met in Oslo during my Rround’aWorld journey earlier. He drove me to his father’s oceanside apartment, and I was thoroughly surprised by the ferocious storm that had passed by.
foam on the road
The waves were hitting the beach at such a vehement fashion that the foam was blown all the way onto the road, making me rethink the fact that people swim here in flocks during summer! Nicolas took me to the heart of the new area in the city, which was almost exclusively a high rise apartment zone. So many rich folks from Buenos Aires and Brazil come over every year to their summer retreats in order to spend a holiday with proper beaches and sunshine. We settled in Nicolas’ personal favorite canteen, which had the authentic national dish of Uruguay: high cholesterol, uh, I mean, chivito. Basically they are the same thing, and you can see why.
It is basically a cholesterol bomb with a side of protein nuclear missile. A full egg is crammed into a sandwich with beef and cheese, with an entire serving of fries to go with it. The national dessert called chajá is not too much better, which is basically delicious cake crumbs with cream topped with again, some dulce de leche. Of course, for me being myself, I finished this 10-people portion dinner without any difficulty or hesitation. I knew I would die alone in a basement somewhere at the age of 35, so a healthy diet is not too much of a concern for me.
I settled into Nicolas’ home, which he shared with his mother. It was getting very late, so I had to go to bed for my daily ritual of 10-hour sleep. But before that, I harassed his cat thoroughly.
I have to say Nicolas and his mother live in heaven. The house quietly sits just a few meters from the main highway, facing the tranquil ocean on a serenely beautiful beach as private as it can be. The waves slowly rocked me into sleep, and woke me up with the sunrise. If I get to live in this place, I would probably learn how to play the guitar, and pull out my six string whenever it is a nice weather, play a song or two under the setting sun…
I decided to call it paradise cove
I spent the next three days relaxing with Nicolas in his house, watching him work or sleeping with his cat, or playing with his dog. Can you imagine working in your home facing the ocean? I could not until I saw where he lived. Working with his mom developing tourist maps for Punta del Este, Nicolas had every dream in my bucket list ticked and ticked again.
office facing the ocean
The more I think about it, the more I get jealous of him. He also migrates to Portugal every winter to get the summer in Europe, and works on his other project there. Back home, he built his own place just a stone throw’s stretch from his mother’s, apparently not happy enough about the perfect home he shared with his mother.
who is a good boy? IT HAS TO BE YOUUU
aaaaaand a swimming pool because a private sector of ocean is not sufficiently satisfying
I had the best time in my life here just relaxing my life away. Hell, if I can live in this house, I would waste my life away here. As a boy who grew up with fishermen, I always heard them say that the ocean itself has moods. I understood it perfectly now. On a gloomy day, the calm ocean exuded a sorrow yet sober aura. On a sunny day, it felt like a teenage girl frolicking under the blue sky. I sometimes just sat in the office, and looked into the distance, for hours, and hours…
On my way to the bus terminal at the end of the mini-vacation, we stopped by the famous art piece called Los Dedos. It looks like a giant hand holding up the beach, with only the fingertips protruding onto the surface.
I thanked Nicolas for his hospitality before boarding the bus. The house was just too pretty and too tranquil. I secretly made myself a promise that I needed to live somewhere like his. This kind of serenity not only made me high in efficiency and low in negative energy, but it also forced me to think about the world and life in general frequently, which is my kind of meditation. I felt inspired, and rejuvenated. I was ready to take on Antarctica now, which would be coming within days.
Colonia port sunset
By the time I arrived in Colonia, the small town closest to Buenos Aires on the other side of the river basin, the sun was already sinking deep below. I took the slow boat to Buenos Aires, and went back to my hostel. I was tired, but I was even hungrier. So I decided to go to a local parilla that was widely recommended. I sat down by myself, and suddenly a woman passing me stopped, and looked at me.
“Are you by yourself? Do you want to join us for dinner?”
I paused for a while. “Sure.” It was the first time that I felt welcomed by other strangers.
She gave me a cup and filled it up with Fernet Branca and some coke. It is a very popular drink here in Argentina called Fernet con cola. The four Swiss on the table cheered with me, and welcomed me to sit down. I had already ordered the steak on my original table, so I had to ask the friendly owner to move my order here. He thought we were friends before, and gladly treated me another shot of Fernet con cola. It turned out that I looked very lonely to this lady, and she just wanted me to have a great dinner.
“Nobody deserves to eat alone on such a wonderful day.” She said.
“Cheers to that.” I raised my cup again, so glad that today ended on a better note, but deep down I felt suddenly saddened by the unusually high number of dinners I had with my lone shadow in my life.
steak with chips
I thanked the four Swiss before taking my leave. I had disturbed them long enough, and they deserved a better holiday without me. I felt hopeful, though, at least my loneliness is obvious to others, and maybe that can be a good thing. I did not get too much time to reflect on this before the Fernet put me into a coma.
an airline’s employees apparently had a lot of complaints
Next day was a big day for me. This is the last day for me on my southbound journey in South America. I took a bus that dropped me into the terminal, and I checked in for a flight to the southernmost city in the world: Ushuaia. This would be my final stop before I hop onto a boat for 20 days, heading towards Antarctica. I felt my hands slightly shaking as I boarded the airplane, and after 4 hours, when the plane slowly descended through the clouds, I looked outside the window. A few houses started appearing on the ground, and my breath was slightly trembling.
I got into a taxi as there was no public transport available. The coldness had already seeped into my bones despite I was outside the terminal for barely a minute. They were not kidding when it comes to the southernmost city in the world. From this moment on, every step I took renewed my record of my southernmost footstep. I checked into my warm hostel, and went to meet Leonardo. Yes, Leonardo came all the way from Buenos Aires to explore Ushuaia with me, and of course, his mother was the one who started entertaining this idea. We went to a king crab restaurant, because the fierce Southern Ocean is full with treasures, and these enormous crabs were one of the many.
this is not too crabby!
We had a feast while the rest of the restaurant gawked at our table. Usually people buy a crab soup, or a crab salad, and we three were munching on a full boiled crab with bare hands. It was likely the tastiest crab I have had, but I am no seafood connoisseur. But at least I can testify it is worth the $100 mark. We then went back to a crab-induced food coma.
back mountains in Ushuaia
The next day, I met with Leonardo and his mother to bid my farewell. They had to return home because they had work, family, and school, unlike some degenerate half-ass student who ditched school to fulfill his random crazy dream of traveling all 7 continents in one year. I bet that person must be so desperate for attention and so lonely that, oh, uh, I digress. I hugged them goodbye, and hiked onto the mountain right behind their hotel. This was the main hike of the city, and an hour of uphill took me to the foot of a glacier.
looking up to the snowy slopes
I continued walking until I realized the trail was not ending, and I was walking on ice under a setting sun. It was too dangerous for me to continue in this kind of gear, and I had to turn back. I got a few sips of the freshest snow melt water before I headed back, though.
I woke up to a beautiful day, and this day, October 22, 2016, would forever be remembered in my heart. I would embark on the greatest journey in my short life on this day, and I could barely believe I was gonna do it. Antarctica, this was gonna be real…
I anxiously walked around the city like a headless fly. I knew we board the ship at 4 p.m., but I had been awake since 4 a.m.! I walked up and down the main road, looking for something, anything, to relieve my anxiety. I saw a sign marking the end of the road, and it said something that deeply touched me.
“La Quiaca, 4987km.” I still clearly remember the moment I saw the same sign, on the exact opposite side, at the border in La Quiaca. Isn’t what we all do? We see a sign indicating a place we will go, dream about all the fantastic things that will happen, and at the end, seeing the same thing at the other side, realizing how stupid, or funny, our dream was? We always say we will be firefighters, police officers, teachers, or whatever we admire when we were young, and I wonder, when we are on our death beds, will we look back to that exact moment that we looked forward and murmured to ourselves:”I want to do this for my life.” Will we feel touched? How about regret? There could be thousands of ways to do this journey, and there are infinite routes one can take for life. I felt fear. I am still feeling it. The uncertainty, the very idea that I might make the wrong move next day, scares the crap out of me.
I guess this is what we all have come to terms with, this fear. It is the very thing that forces us to strive for better, and I am glad that I am one who keeps himself the promises the younger, stupider self made. I am about to tick off the last continent on the list I made 2 years ago, and how many people can claim they have the persistence to do that? I would use this fear to propel me forward, and make sure if I cannot guarantee I would not regret my choices on my death bed, at least I could not disappoint my inner 12-year-old.
I finally waited until 4 p.m., and I walked towards the port authority office. A small group had already gathered around, and I took a deep breath. I held my large backpack a bit harder, clenching my fist:
Antarctica, here I come.