Ushuaia is touristy. The small city is mostly comprised of hotels, hostels, gift shops, and old gringos running around in matching Antarctica tour jackets. But the setting of the modern development juxtaposed with the snow capped mountains, lush green forests, busy harbor, and proximity to the ice continent of Antarctica, provide a sense surreality that I have experienced in few other places.
This gateway to the southern pole, more than any other city on this journey, gave a strong sense of remoteness despite its relative modernity. Ushuaia gives the sensation that its just hanging out over the edge of the world. As in, if you didn’t stop, you’d fall off the map.
Learning that I’m NOT There Yet
The morning after arriving in Ushuaia, I woke up just in time to get breakfast before heading back to my room to relax. Still riding the high of reaching the end of the world, my sense of accomplishment was revealed as premature when I received a message from Mike, the Englishman I had met at Lake Titicaca.
Mike was chuffed that I had reached Ushuaia but he informed me that I hadn’t actually reached the end of the Pan-American Highway yet!
My heart sank.
He said that the true end of the road required me to enter Tierra del Fuego National Park and follow the road until the literal end. An easily accomplished task he said.
After finishing yesterday, I kept thinking that it was odd that there was not an official end to the Pan-American Highway. My instincts were right.
The Actual End of the Pan-American Highway
Without delay, I grabbed my motorcycle riding gear and hit the road for the national park. The journey’s not over.
After a short ride from town, I reached the national park gate and was confronted with a steep entry fee. Immediately, my cynicism lurched forward in my mind to maintain that this was a clever money-making scheme — anyone who has gotten this far is surely going to pay to reach the end of the road.
But as I pushed along the muddy, winding forest road, my cynical ego was slapped down by the absolute majesty of my natural surroundings. Stopping briefly to take a photo of an exquisite valley to my right, I was quickly distracted by movement ahead on the road. A four-legged creature was trotting along but it was too far away to discern any detail.
It wasn’t until it was almost upon me that I realized it was a fox! I had never seen one in person and now I had one running more or less straight at me.
Sitting very still atop my motorcycle, I snapped a few photos of the red canine creature as it jogged past me. Flashing an apathetic glance into my eyes, the fox let me know that it had far more important things to do. Hardly offended, I was just grateful for the casual run-in.
This is what the entry fee is for.
Charged from my fox encounter, I cruised along for another 20 minutes until the road came to a gravel parking lot. Behind it was the modest wooden sign denoting that I had in fact reached the end of the road! Officially, I could not ride any more roads, any further south.
Even though it was the official end, the large emotional release of the day before seemed to have reduced my capacity for celebration. Mentally I was done – Yesterday I had reached the end of the world.
But the thought of flying home and later learning that I did not actually reach the end of the Pan-American Highway sounded like mild travesty.
So, although I lacked the tears and sheer elation of the day before, there was still a tangible feeling of accomplishment standing next to the official sign. Adding to it were the numerous congratulations (reminders) from other park visitors.
You’ve officially done it. You can relax now.
I felt a little guilty for not spending more than a couple of hours in the beautiful national park, but after the thousands of miles traveled, plethora of nature over the last month, and the emotional peak of the day before, I just wanted to rest and focus on selling my bike so I could buy a plane ticket home.
How Do I Sell My Bike?
Now that I was at the end of my journey, it was time to get rid of the bike so that I could go home. Knowing that I could be without wheels soon, I moved to a cheap hostel closer to the city center.
Having the faintest clue about where to try and sell my bike, I figured the easiest path would be to just accept the offer made my the hotel owner from my first night. I had asked the kindly woman if she knew where I could sell my motorcycle and she later returned with an offer from her son for $1,000. Less than I would like but also completely acceptable given its state.
After stripping off my gear and bags, I rode back to the side of town where my previous hotel was. It was an odd feeling. There was an obvious attachment to my somewhat trusty steed. I had asked a lot out of it and it had carried me through it all. As it carried the previous two owners who likely thrashed it on their South American journeys.
Yet, it had been a near constant point of concern and anxiety throughout the trip.
The bike was a trooper but it rattled, whistled, and clanked. The suspension, clutch, and transmission were questionable at best and the high pitched whistle that followed me down from Peru was still piercing my confidence.
Part of me couldn’t wait to get rid of my motorcycle.
Yet, I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the Kawasaki KLR 650. It is a relentless mechanical pig that is as close to unkillable as you can get. My bike took me through one of the most important experiences of my life and while it caused more stress than I cared for, it never quit on me and I am forever grateful for that.
While spacing out at a red light to these thoughts, a van pulled up next to me.
Inside, a man yelled from the open window, “Hey are you starting or finishing your journey?”
“I just finished!”
“Would you like to sell your bike?” the man responded.
I nodded and he beckoned to pull over ahead.
A New Buyer?
The excited driver spoke to me in broken English. He flung brief questions at me about the bike before getting on his phone and making a phone call to his friend – the potential buyer! The chit-chat was hurriedly exchanged before he hung up and told me to follow him to the mans house, which conveniently was on the way to the hotel.
So, on we went down the main road.
Is this legit? I hope this is legit. I hope this isn’t a robbery or something. It’ll be fine. Probably. People buy and sell motorcycles all the time down here.
Pulling off the main stretch and onto a side street, we were greeted by the potential buyer outside of his home. He turned out to be a crab fisherman and had been on the lookout for a dual sport. The van driver quickly became the point man as his English was better and he knew more about motorcycles than his fisherman-friend.
After some questioning, negotiating and some hushed conversations between the two of them, we agreed to a price of $1,800 cash.
Not wanting to stand up the kind lady who originally wanted to buy my bike, I rode down the street to break the news to her. She was very sweet about it and understood that it was a financial decision – I was offered almost double what she could pay.
Returning to the buyers house, the motorcycle was awkwardly maneuvered down his narrow driveway and out of view from the street.
Thankfully there was no test ride and I handed the fisherman the keys, photoshopped papers, tools, and my helmet. I’m not sure if the papers would be of any use – I got the feeling that this bike would never be officially imported.
The fisherman paid me with $1,750 US Dollars and $50 Australian Dollars, which was technically less than what we agreed upon but at that point I didn’t care. It just made me laugh.
At that point I had what I needed, as did the two men, and so I bid farewell to them and to my beloved moto. It had been a helluva ride and our time together was now over.
An Indescribable Feeling
As I alertly walked away from the transaction, a strange feeling began to emanate within me. While I was keenly aware of walking around with $1,800 cash in my pocket in a country that was well known for armed robbery, I was trying my best to contain the excitement of the moment.
I DID IT! I FUCKING GODDAMN DID IT!
I had ridden more than 11,000 miles, sold my bike, and I now had money to get a plane ticket home!
It took just over three years to get to this moment.
Years of delirious work, planning, and effort had taken me to where I wanted to go…This moment right now. Despite the setbacks and surprise detours, I made my dreams reality.
It felt damn good.
Goodbye South America
Besides a failed attempt to visit a closed museum, I didn’t do a lot with the remainder of my time in Ushuaia. To be honest, I was completely drained. This last leg of the trip was possibly the most challenging and I did it in only a few weeks.
If I had more money, I would happily keep going. But I was back to being broke and had to return home once again out of necessity.
On my departure day, I loaded up my big dry-bags and took a taxi to the airport. Unbeknownst to me, the bastards charge a fee to leave the airport – cash only. Problem was that I didn’t have enough pesos on me. The blazered pricks held me up for several minutes before relenting and waving me on with grimaced faces. It was hard to say who was more irritated – them or me. Probably me.
Taking off over dark, choppy seas, the expanse of the harbor and town came into perspective just before the plane turned north for Buenos Aires. As we ascended, I smiled out my window at the fading rugged view of Ushuaia. What a place.
Like a Greek Siren calling in sailors, Ushuaia beckoned for years. But rather than washing up on the rocks like a wrecked seaman, I arrived a little weathered, intact and ready to keep going. I was on top of the world…if it were upside down. Just depends on how you want to look at it.
My hope was to carry that confidence home into my undecided next steps. But I had midges of doubt and uncertainty beginning to fly around my head and despite my attempts to swat them away, I was worried that my landing back home would be another crashing landing of sorts.
I knew I had to go back to working multiple jobs right away. I knew that my aunt was dying of cancer and didn’t have much longer to go. I knew that I was still reeling from my collapsed relationship with Jade. I knew that it would be a long while before I was able to jet off on another big adventure. Needless to say, it was going to be tough. Probably worse than last time.
The good news was that I didn’t have to figure it out on the plane ride home. Frankly, there was nothing to figure out. The answers and the path would reveal itself eventually. I just have to keep moving forward.
To ease my crash landing before flying home, I was first going to Las Vegas to play in an international rugby tournament.
Regular life can wait. It’ll always be there when you’re ready to go back.
Fancy a second round? Start this journey from the beginning: Introduction