The Long Trek South!



I could have flown to Ushuaia where my 15 week bus trip starts for roughly the same cost as going by bus with all its stresses, strains and discomforts but I wanted to feel I’d done it overland.




I told Greta and the millennials that it was to improve my eco credentials but, in truth, I wanted to have that line that I’d done from Buenos Aires south to Ushuaia and then north to Columbia firmly carved on the ground just for my own ego!




So I set off a full 8 days before my trip started in Ushuaia but I still felt a little nervous as I looked at the map. I initially made the same mistake as I always do with Australia. I think country when gauging distances and should think the whole of Western Europe. Argentina is, quite frankly, mind bogglingly large. It is the 8 th largest county in in the world by area, although based on a population of 40,000, it is smaller than the U.K. I wasn’t even travelling from north to south as I was already one third of the way south but I roughly calculated that my journey would be like travelling from London to the middle of the Sahara desert!!! I tried not to think too much about that as my bus wound its way out of Mar de la Plata and I had 45 hours ahead of me on a bus!!




The scenery, aka The Patagonian Steppe, was like Belgium without the dykes but I did see some interesting wildlife in the form of rhea (related to ostrich and emu), ground owls and capybara. All were fleeting glimpses from the bus and far too fast to photograph but I did feel a sense of excitement at seeing these iconic South American animals.


I left Mar de la Plata at 1pm and I got to Bahia Blanca after 5 hours at 6pm. It was a modern and pleasant bus station with WiFi access and a bakery so I could stock up for my 15 hour bus trip to Comodoro Rivadavia. Three military police officers and their very cute sniffer dog, a golden labrador, patrolled but it was, luckily, nothing like Buenos Aires Bus Station and they had little to do but watch football on the television. I had a wash and brush up in the disabled toilet and made sure my night travel kit was good to go!

Night mask- check!

Ear plugs- check!

Neck pillow-check!

Stiff whisky- check!!!!

Obviously the last one is a joke, before all my wonderful friends and family who have said ‘stay safe’ accuse me of being irresponsible!!! It is very important to keep your wits about you but so far so good. Argentinians, in particular, seem to think their country is very unsafe compared to Europe but, and I may live to regret this as I write it 6 weeks in to my trip, I have found Argentina to be very safe and like a warm blanket. Have more faith, I say to my Argentinian friends. Just like anywhere, there are baddies and druggies who want to steal from you and even attack you but 99.9% of Argentinians are lovely people who go out of their way to be helpful and make you feel welcome. Silvana had told me countless times how unsafe it is but when we were in La Boca, a young man chased after us because he thought we had dropped a mobile phone. We hadn’t but I think that illustrated how honest most people are in Argentina.





Unfortunately, I was travelling during a 2 day bank holiday for carnival, think August Bank Holiday, so there were no executive seats available. I was on the top deck and just before the bus departed at 9.30pm a young woman sat next to me. She smiled warmly and we exchanged an ‘hola’ before we tossed and turned together all night. As usual, I dozed off in the early hours and woke up at 9.30 am to find my travelling companion had left the bus, leaving me wondering what life was like for this ship who I had quite literally passed in the night.


More boring scenery so I read my book, caught up with my diary and wrote my blog, all of which made the time go incredibly quickly!



The bus arrived at 3.30 pm, right on schedule. There was, unfortunately, no left luggage for my large ruck sack. I walked the short distance down to the coast to see the fairly non-description sea cliffs and then returned to the centre of town where carnival was in full swing. It way like bedlam!! Imagine giving every kid in town a spray can of foam and letting them loose. Sod the carnival. Let’s just spray each other and anyone else who gets in the way and the ‘anyone else’ was, of course, me. When some little kid sprayed me all over I felt like murdering him! After 15 hours on a bus and a distinct lack of sleep, my tolerance levels were practically on empty! He wasn’t specifically aiming for me, he just had poor aim and I got in the cross fire of his foam and in the cross fire of many other spotty oiks! Time to take refuge in a cafe and have a cafe au lait!




I found a pleasant cafe where I could get WiFi and charge my devices. The staff were very good and let me nurse two cafe au lait over about 4.5 hours. I could see the carnival pass from my strategic spot in the cafe and the mayhem that continued to ensue but I felt well out of it! The carnival was colourful and there was the ubiquitous sound of drums but it was an all too amateur affair compared to the marvellous Montevideo Carnival.





At 8.30 pm I finally left the cafe and stocked up on fruit at the local supermarket. My first three bus journeys had gone like clockwork so I felt as if I was getting in to the swing of things. Trouble is, when you start to relax, that’s when the unexpected takes you by surprise. The first sign that I was in for an interesting night was when the bus didn’t turn up. I went into the 1950s bus station and managed to find a ViaTec Bus counter. There seem to be about a hundred different bus companies in Argentina so I only once travelled with the same company. I used my basic Spanish and some well selected gestures to say “Where the hell is the bus to Rio Gallegos?”. He google translated his response which came out as “Your bus is desado.” This gobbledygook obviously needed a bit more explanation which was provided by another man at the counter. “Your bus is late! It’ll be here at 11pm”. 1.5 hours late then. Not a great start! Thanks to the lack of electronic boards inside the 1950s bus station I had to wait outside where the buses go from. No one had thought to put in seats out there so I had to sit on my big ruck sack. I really wanted to use my i-pad to make the time go more quickly but decided that it was better to stick to Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” which I got free at the Tesco book swap shelf. I was also entertained by an affable group of stray dogs of all shapes and sizes.


At 10.30 pm a ViaTec bus pulled in but there was no destination on the front. Why make life easy? I was confident that when my ticket was checked, it it wasn’t going to Rio Gallegos, I would be turned away. I loaded my bag and got on the bus, having shown my ticket.

Looking back, there were signs of my impending doom. The lights were out but the passengers were lively. They didn’t, like me, seem to be bedding down for the night.

At midnight we drew in to a bus station. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual, however, was that everyone but me got off. Just as, ‘There’s something not quite right here’ was running through my head’, the bus driver appeared. Now when you read the following conversation you need to think, spoken in Spanish for the bus driver (but when it comes to attitude, shrug of the shoulder, tone, you name it, he was working from the same handbook as a British bus driver.). For me you need to think stressed, angry, about to kill someone, on the verge of tears. I hope you’ve got the picture and it went like this:


Bus Driver: What you still doing on here, Love, it’s the end of the line?


Me: What do you mean, it’s the end of the line? My ticket’s for Rio Gallegos and it’s not supposed to arrive until 9.30 am.


Bus Driver: Well that ain’t my problem. Don’t shout at me!


Me: What the fuck is that supposed to mean? (I probably didn’t use the ‘F’ word here because I normally reserve that for white van man when I’m on my own in the car but I certainly thought it). You checked my ticket so why the hell did you let me on here if you’re not going to bloody Rio Gallegos?


Feeling I was getting nowhere, I got off to be confronted by a one horse town in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t even know its name. The affable pack of stray dogs looked far more intimidating in these circumstances and I started to weigh up my options. Get a taxi to a local hotel (if there was one, it certainly wasn’t a tourist hotspot) or find out when the next bus to Rio Gallegos goes and sit it out at the bus station, probably all night! Neither was a desirable option so I decided to go in for Round Two with the bus drivers. There are always two and luckily for me the bus driver that hadn’t chucked me off the bus was far more sympathetic. He said, “Tranquillo!” which means ‘calm down’. When I’m talking to an Indian Call Centre about a the latest cock-up those two little words really make me see red but I just didn’t have any more energy in the tank. He led me inside and said “ten minutes”. I really hoped that this meant my bus would be along in ten minutes but I wasn’t celebrating yet. He took me to a desk that confirmed this through google translate. Another man was there asking where the bloody hell the bus was and he was going to Rio Gallegos so I felt a sense of relief. At least I hadn’t gone in a totally different direction, for example, back on myself! It didn’t bear thinking about!


So it was back outside with Hilary Mantel to sit on my ruck sack. I made sure I kept the ‘nice’ man also going to Rio Gallegos firmly in my sights!


Another bus was boarding and friends and family were waving it off. I observed a girl of about 8 years old grab the snout of a stay dog. I was horrified but neither the dog or her parents reacted!


Finally, the right bus rolled in to the 1950s bus station, not ten minutes later, of course, but half an hour later. By now it was 12.40 am and I was well and truly ready for a bed, even an uncomfortable one on a bus! Many passengers piled off so I had to wait for bags to be unloaded before I could load my bag on to the bus. The ‘nice’ man told the person loading that I was waiting. The kindness of strangers is amplified at what was now nearly 1am and I wanted to hug him. Mind you, this would not have been inappropriate as Argentinians hug strangers all the time. I settled for a more British pat on the arm and ‘gracias’! I was pleased to see that the ‘nice’ man was on the other side of the aisle to me. The young man who was sprawled well in to my seat space and who probably thought he had it for the night, was not pleased to see me! I gave him the look I used to reserve for Year 10s not getting on with their work. It did the trick but as soon as a seat became available in the early hours, he moved!


Same pattern as other night trips ensued- tossed and turned, fell asleep in the early hours, dreamt of being back at work (funny how the sub-conscious takes a while to catch up).

When I woke up the scenery was still boring but there were some compensations as I saw a gaucho on horse back with three sheep dog herding sheep and a line of guanacos crossing a salt flat. It was like something out of a David Attenborough. These were my first glimpses of these icons of Patagonia. I then saw guanacos everywhere. They are the wild version of a llama.


Further entertainment was the Military Check Point just outside Rio Gallegos. About four officers boarded with a sniffer dog. IDs were checked and people were called off the bus to have their bags scrutinised. No one came near me. I assume I had ‘European/Okay to ignore’ metaphorically written across my forehead! It reminded me of a family holiday to Mexico where they really know how to do military check points. Every time we pulled up with our cute blonde kids (little did they know!) we were waved straight through. Or the time I took over driving in Rwanda from Sam, the Ugandan head teacher’s driver, because he was struggling with the switch from driving on the right to the left. I don’t think Stanley, the Ugandan Head Teacher, was comfortable being driven by a woman and he kept telling me to slow down. I, in turn, told him to ‘stop back seat driving’ but when we were waved in to a police check point he said, ‘see I told you to slow down’ only to have the police officer take one look at me even before I had come to a stop and wave me on. It shut poor Stanley up!!



I got in to Rio Gallegos at 10.20 am, only 40 minutes late in spite of last night’s fiasco! I’m seriously considering writing one of my famous letters of complaint to that bus company! Well I would if I was confident that google translate wouldn’t mean it started with ‘I am writing to complain that my bus was desado and your bus driver is ruado!’

Whilst the scenery had gone up a gear on the approach to Rio Gallegos with the odd stretch where there were hills and valleys, the town itself was the kind of nondescript town that litters the east coast of Argentina. I can see why all the tourists are on the west coast. Mind you, it was raining and windy, not something I was used to after 5 weeks of Mediterranean weather up north. The folks back home who had to endure weekly storms and the wettest February on record were really ungracious about my good fortune. Yes, you know who you are!! I resolved to brush over the weather in the far south west of Argentina for fear of gloating back home!



The beauty of a lack of tourists is cheap hotels and I got a single room with en-suite and breakfast for 13 GBP! I was confronted by Nora Batty’s Argentinian twin sister but she was very kind and even though the rooms were still being cleaned and I was there well before check-in she got my room ready within 10 minutes of my arrival and I could have an hour’s much needed sleep and a shower which felt so good after being in the same clothes for two days!




I had to force myself to get up and go out in the afternoon when there was some sunshine. I made my way to the river in the title of Rio Gallegos. The tide was out and the mud flats were dramatic. The abundant bird life was too far away even through binoculars but further up there was salt marsh so I got good views of upland geese and crested ducks, both very common in Patagonia.




As I made my way in to town for a bite to eat, I came across one of the many nationalist displays about Las Malvinas. This one was billed as a museum but was in reality a statue of an airman and a jet plane behind railings with a board in Spanish which said Las Malvinas are Argentinian; always have been and always will be! My homestay hosts had warned me that further south Las Malvinas is a very hot topic when we discussed the subject.

I got an early night but was up early for my journey to Punta Arenas in Chile. A new country to add to the list!



I loaded my bag and went to get on the bus but was told to go and check-in at the desk. This had never happened before and I later worked out that it was because of the international border being crossed. This was stressful because my ruck sack was on the bus that was due to leave in 5 minutes and the queue was long. I was clearly not the only one! I noticed that others queuing for my bus were behind me in the queue so I relaxed a bit. The bus was 20 minutes late leaving. As the bus was mainly made up of foreign tourists, it occurred to me that this must happen everyday and no one had thought to put ‘make a sign in English to alert people to the need to the need to check-in’ on the agenda for the weekly meeting!







This was soon forgotten as the scenery went up another couple of gears. Goodbye flat, boring Patagonia and hello hills and the Magellan strait. The wind was whipping up the seahorses on the sea. The roaring forties was very much in evidence. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the bus for the Magellan Strait and the young Dutch couple in their early twenties who were on the other side of the aisle and who were in between me and this scenic beauty insisted on behaving as if they were in a RomCom. I had to delete about 10 photos because I had them canoodling in the corner of the shot!


We crossed the border in to Chile. Yippie! A new country to add to the list!! Not that I’m counting or anything!!


I got in to Punta Arenas and made my way to my hotel where I had a twin room. They only took cash which is really irritating as it cost about 10% extra to get cash out. When I tried to find a cash point I found all the banks were boarded up and that there were no external cash points. Chile has been experiencing rioting since October because of fuel and price rises. Whilst there were no riots going on, the evidence was everywhere to be seen in the form of smashed windows and burnt out buildings. Just as I was starting to panic that I wouldn’t be able to pay for the hotel, a young couple directed me to a cash point at the supermarket. Here all the directions were in Spanish so my card kept getting spat out and I got more and more stressed. There was a woman in a booth and she kindly helped me. I was very relieved when I heard the money being counted out!





Punta Arenas has some beautiful turn of the century buildings if you can overlook the graffiti. I kissed the foot of the famous statue in the town square which means you will return. The tourist office, however, told me you just have to touch it!


I tried to book a tour to see king penguins but was told all the boats were cancelled for the next day owing to high winds. This did not seem inconceivable. I am British so I know all about high winds but these winds, even in town, nearly knocked me off my feet. I had been expecting high winds in Patagonia but nothing could prepare you for this.


Disappointed, I made my way up to the view point for a good view over the town and Magellan Strait. As I descended, I passed another travel agent and I went in fully expecting her to say



no, sorry, high winds, all tours cancelled but she said ‘yes’. I was so surprised, I had to get her to repeat herself several times.

So that’s tomorrow?

Yes

To see the King Penguins?

Yes

The full day trip?

Yes

I booked fully expecting it to be scam but at 7.20 am I was picked up from my hotel in a mini bus for the King Penguin Tour! And it was an amazing day! Result! It clearly pays to double check!


The young guide was wearing a red bobble hat and had a beard so he looked like Father Christmas! He is Portuguese but speaks good English because he lived in Canada for a while. His English was needed for myself, Clive Breen from Northern Ireland and the young Danish couple. I soon got talking to Clive who, like Kathryn, went to Queen’s Belfast University. He is an engineer who worked in Derby for Rolls Royce and who has recently taken redundancy. He intends to use his redundancy money to travel for 6 months before moving back to Northern Ireland. I haven’t spoken to a native English speaker face to face for 5 weeks and hadn’t really had a proper conversation since I left Mar de la Plata 5 days ago so it was really good to chat to him for most of the day. Like me, he is well travelled and we had many stories to share! He was an entertaining story teller and I picked up a few top tips for future reference. He was a particular expert on crossing the alps by high mountain passes. I have always used tunnels but will try not to now I have more time to wander.


The trip started with a 2.5 hour boat trip across the Magellan Strait. The boat was followed by large birds that elegantly swooped, dived and glided in the boat’s wake. Clive thought they may be albatross and, having seen them once in New Zealand, I agreed. I asked the guide if he knew and he confirmed they were albatross. He’d mentioned he was a photographer and guide, and as we were on a wildlife tour I’d assumed he was a wildlife photographer but I’d clearly put two and two together and made five because I later found out that they were not albatross but giant petrel.


Once on the other side of the straight there was a lot of faffing around and time filling which is why I hate guided tours. We went to see some awful plastic models of indigenous tribes. They all died out years ago or I think they’d be suing the local council! Next up was the worst museum in the world full of moth eaten stuffed animals and junk. I half expected the next stop to be a carpet factory staffed by children (and that did happen on our Thomas Cook Nile Cruise to Egypt- no wonder they went out of business) but no, it was lunch!




Eventually, after a 1.5 hour scenic drive, we got to the visitors centre for the King Penguin Colony at Parque Pinguin Rey at Bahia Inutil. We had an excellent talk in English on the king penguins. They are currently in the breeding cycle and have large brown chicks or eggs balanced on their feet and protected under a flap of skin. The king penguin is the second largest penguin in the world and looks like the iconic Emperor Penguin of Antarctica, only smaller. This is the only continental mainland colony. To see them elsewhere, you need to go to remote islands e.g. South Georgia. Being an old romantic, I was disappointed to hear that they don’t mate for life like some birds.


We made our way down to the hides to see the 70 strong colony. It was very entertaining to watch the group. Some waddled around and some slept, either with their head under their wing or, less elegantly, on their stomach. The large, dark fluffy chicks stuck with their parents. Scuffles frequently broke out between penguins. The funniest was when a courting couple who were indulging in some serious beak rubbing got hassled from either side by what I assumed were two rival males. They each tried batting them away with their wings and beaks.


I could have watched them all day but I’m afraid we had a boat to catch. We wound our way past lakes covered in pink Chilean flamingoes and large sheep sheering sheds. We were held up by the biggest flock of sheep I had ever seen, either heading for the sheering sheds or the boat where we saw lots of poor sheep stuffed in to lorries, presumably heading for the slaughter house.






Once at the boat we found ourselves at the end of a long queue of about 80 vehicles (figures courtesy of Clive who counted them on the snack bar/shop). Our guide told us that the boats were not working owing to high wind. It was about 6 pm. I tried to get a bit more information from him but failed miserably:

So any idea when the boats will start running?

Shrug

Is there a local weather forecast which indicates when the wind might drop?

Shrug

A website like when I’m stuck in Dover?

Shrug

So what’s the worst case scenario?

We get back at 6am, if we’re lucky?


This ‘situation’ was starting to look as if it could seriously impact on my onward travel to Ushuaia as I had a 9.30 am bus booked for the next day. If I missed this bus then I would miss the group meeting for the start of my tour as there are no more buses until Monday. I’m not sure why there are so few!


I was getting no where with the guide and everyone else, apart from Clive who had headed for the snack bar to gain solace, was chilled. I focussed on writing my blog and got chatting to a fellow Chilean group member who is a primary school teacher. As none of my home stays have been in Chile, I had stored up lots of questions that he kindly answered.

Suddenly, our mini bus pulled out and moved to the front of the queue. Not sure how that works!The boats still weren’t running so I decided to head in to the shop/snack bar for a change of scene. Clive joined me at a table and we speculated as to whether they stopped the boats to boost the shop/snack bar profits as it seemed to be windy the whole time. They’d never run!


Our guide said, if that boat moves towards the dock, head straight for the mini bus. But weren’t we 80th in the queue? We didn’t ask! Ten minutes later, the boat moved and we headed for the mini-bus. It was like something out of an action movie! The engine was running, it started moving and Clive and I were soon jumping on to it! We ended up at the front of the first boat out. Not sure how that works! I told Clive they’d probably bunged the boat staff a bribe of 500 pesos (sounds a lot but is only a fiver!) to get that pushy British woman off their backs! The wind seemed just as strong so that added to the suspicions of Clive and myself that it was a ploy to boost the shop/snack bar profits!

We got back at 10.30 pm, only 30 minutes later than the estimated time. A long day but well worth it to see the king penguins.



The bus trip to Ushuaia, the next day, was 11 hours long and taken up by admiring the stunning scenery which went up many more gears. It was suddenly scenery on speed as I entered the magnificent Andes. From treeless flat plains to majestic mountains and stunning lakes covered in Patagonian cypress and beech. I could easily have been in the alps, Scandinavia or Canada.




As I finished my (very) long distance bus journey, I reflected that, with the obvious exception of the ‘The Curious Incident of the Bus that Terminated Well Before My Stop’ it had been a bearable experience. The long distance bus drivers (even that bastard that tipped me off the bus) are good and don’t drive too fast or erratically. Don’t get me started on the bus drivers in Uganda and India! In addition, the roads are good generally long and straight with few pot holes.


It is a shame I can’t say the same for local bus drivers around towns. They all seemed to have the same rule boot:


Speed off at 30mph as soon as the last passenger has put a toe on the bus;


Don’t bother closing the doors even if the person standing on the steps is wearing a very large green ruck sack and has other items of luggage about their person and could easily fall off the bus going at 30 mph;


Allow more people than is safe to board the bus;


If your bus doesn’t have the payment card system and you have to take fares, speed off at 30 mph and then take cash/give change while you negotiate corners and dodge pedestrians.


(I still have the bruises to show for all of the above!)


I’d like to give a shout out here for Argentinian children who are very well behaved. No crying, tantrums or rowdy behaviour. When a baby popped up after sleeping for two hours on the 15 hour trip, my heart sank but I needn’t have worried because I wouldn’t have known he was there for the rest of the trip. All credit to Argentinian parents who I observed to be loving and very affectionate throughout my trip. It reminded me of when I travelled to Australia on my own with my three children who were one, three and five at the time. I was very conscious that I didn’t want to upset other passengers. Helen didn’t get a seat (much cheaper!) but when we boarded for the first leg to Dubai, Helen wanted my seat so I stood until the bitter end to let her be like Andrew and Kathryn, and have her own seat. An elderly man who was on the other side of the aisle was clearly well pissed off when he saw me and my tribe board. As soon as the plane started to taxi back at 0.1 mph he said in a very pompous voice, “Are you aware, it’s illegal to stand while the plane’s moving?” We had barely left the gate for goodness sake and I was getting (very unfair I might add) complaints. I fixed him with a cold stare and said, “Are you aware, it’s none of your business and I’ll sit down when the cabin crew ask me to!” It did the trick! He was like a tortoise! His head went right in to his shell and he didn’t peep for the rest of the journey and nor, I might add, did the my kids. A lovely couple two rows back kindly told me to ignore him and took Helen to sit with them while I ate my meal. Now that was more like it! When we disembarked they gave us thumbs up and said, “Gold stars all round!”



Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world. It is on the Beagle Channel and surrounded by attractive mountains. They must be high because they have glaciers nestled in to sheltered nooks even though it is summer.


Large cruise ships sat in the bay waiting to head off to Antarctica. I spoke to a number of people who had done or were about to do the Antarctic Peninsula. It is high on my list to do.





On my first day in Ushuaia, I found myself a cafe with large picture windows so I could just watch the mountains and the channel. After 5 days travelling south, I was ready to slow down!






I booked myself on to a five hour boat tour of the Beagle Channel. It was a scenery and wildlife feast for the eyes from start to finish. Not only is the Beagle Channel surrounded by spectacular mountains which constantly change with the weather and the angle of the sun, it is decorated with many small islands that are the homes to interesting wildlife. The first was a colony of Imperial Cormorants and the second was family groups of sea lions- mothers, babies and the dominant male. This was interesting to see as in Plata de la Mar it was just males.






Next we were entertained by a humpback whale which was a bonus I hadn’t expected. Not only did it surface several times, it also did the tail thing where it dives down in to the deep.

Finally, we reached the penguin colonies for great views of three types of penguin. There were groups of magellanic and gentoo Penguins as well as a solitary king penguin.

Another bonus was the dark browed albatross we saw diving on a bait ball.







The passengers on the boat trip were mainly made up of Dutch and Japanese passengers who were doing this trip as part of a 3 week tour. The Dutch were elderly, loud and a tad obnoxious at times. They all knew each other and made you feel as if you were on their trip. The Japanese were very quiet and I got talking to a young Japanese woman from Okayama about my trips to Japan. She had just done what I am about to embark on so she showed me her photos.



When I returned to Ushuaia which sparkled in good weather throughout my trip to set off its stunning location, I popped to the supermarket. As it is the the end of the summer holidays they had ‘Return to School’ supplies on sale. It made my stomach turn, remembering how hard it was to get back in to the swing of things after the long summer holidays. In Argentina they have ten weeks so it must be even harder! As I looked at the crisp white shirts on sale I realised that uniform is something else they must have inherited from us. I do, of courses, agree with the many reasons for uniform but when I had ‘Community Complaints’ in my job description I really wished it didn’t exist. I had daily calls about bins being kicked over, gardens trampled all over and fences damaged. The staff at the Pound Shop were on my Christmas Card List! As we had a uniform I couldn’t pretend it was kids from the school up the road and had to sift through hours of cctv and mug shots, alongside placating angry members of the public who clearly held me ‘personally responsible’!! I was glad to hand it over to the lovely Alan Morgan who just took everyone a bunch of flowers!







As my solo travel comes to a close, it is good to reflect that it has been a great experience and with relatively few hitches. I met and chatted to an American couple who live near my good friends Tommy Wells and Donna Wickern (they are going to look them up in the HooDoo when they get back!). They were about to head off to Antarctica on the large cruise ship in the bay. When I told them about my 6 weeks of solo travel they said, ‘Did you feel safe?’ as if I’d just told them I’d travelled solo around Mars!



As I write this, I am about to meet up with my fellow travellers for the bus trip. I have not been on many organised tours. Richard and I did some pre-kids organised tours to Brazil, Egypt and Israel and whilst it gives you a safety blanket of security in dodgy places, a travel control freak like me would rather organise my own travel. I weighed this up when organising this trip and decided to go for a mix and max approach. One third independent and two thirds organised tour. I have met some life long friends on past organised tours; Claire and Peter who we met 28 years ago on the Nile Cruise and Jane who we met on the Brazil Tour and who is sadly no longer with us. We have also met a few obnoxious people and, of course, you can’t get away from them on a tour. Richard kindly reminded me of the bible smugglers and Pinky and Perky on the Brazil trip and then there was that rude man in Claire and Peter’s legendary video practical joke, but that’s another story.


I know little about the group I will spend much time with, apart from a few basics, for example, of the 22 people, more are women and there is a very mixed age group from 19 years old to mid seventies. As the trip is divided in to six sections most people are only doing one or two sections. One woman, however, is doing the full 15 weeks to Columbia with me. It is like having a doppelgänger who I don’t even know. All I know is that she is called Christine and is 65 years old.


I hope we get on but we may not. I have thought about friends in their mid sixties who I would love to travel from Ushuaia to Columbia with; Maggie Holmes and Margaret Marquis spring to mind but who knows and, of course, there will be other people on the trip to get to know, all be it for a shorter period of time. In my experience, I get on well with people who like to do adventure travel and who are like minded. Read my next blog to find out more about my travelling companions. I am sure there will be some stories to tell but you may need to read between the lines as my blog is very public!



I need to sign off now or I will be in danger of being late for the group meeting at 6 pm at Tolkeyen Hotel! I don’t want to give the impression I cut things fine on day one!

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