September 1, 2007

Rio Gallegos

Getting to the end of the world is about as difficult as it should be—and is harder than I expected (If you have money, it is easy to fly I suppose). I rolled into Río Gallegos in the morning, but the next bus south didn’t come for another 22 hours. I unexpectedly got stuck in this town, but after a day of roaming, I’m happy I got to see the city.

From the bus station, I started walking into town towards the one hostel and the cheapest place to stay. Along the way, I encountered a girl (Soledad, 25 years old) from Buenos Aires who was walking to the same hostel. I followed her, and when we arrived, she made me some mate. Eventually, another traveler, Don (who I recognized from Trelew), joined us with the mate. Don had been traveling around the world for over 2 years. South America is his last destination. We drank mate for over an hour and then we all went our separate ways. I enjoyed the talk because I was the only one who spoke both Spanish and English and got to serve as the translator. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the email addresses of Don or Soledad.

I walked to the heart of town and again found a rather ugly Patagonian city. This city lacks the extreme poverty, but the landscape is so harsh, it is hard to make any city look nice (FYI, I am now south of 51 degrees south latitude).

After a filling lunch (my first and only food of the day), I ventured to the city’s two museums. The first was the Pioneer Home, one of the original buildings from the city, restored and furnished with original items (circa 1910). It was a small museum and after going through, I talked with the curator a bit.

Next, I went to an art museum. It was the museum’s last day of their show on penguin art. The exhibit was fun, fresh, and small. The museum itself was probably only 600 ft squared. It was rather awkward in the museum not only because I was the only patron but because both the curator and the security guard followed me around. I took my time, giving the impression that I was a major connoisseur. This impressed them, and they invited me to go to their storage rooms. They had 2 rooms full, floor to ceiling, of great, vivid, bold, modern, Latin art. It is probably my favorite type of art, and I couldn’t believe it was all hiding in storage. We talked awhile of the expense of displaying art. I gave some money and went on my way. I really enjoyed my time with them (and everyone I’ve encountered in the city) because they speak to me in Spanish and don’t realize I’m from the US—they just know I’m not local.

I then ventured down to the Río Gallegos because it comes from Galicia, the Spanish province with Santiago de Compostella. I feel I have a connection to the city/name. Anyways, the river was nice and wide as it opens into the Atlantic. On the other side of the river was the bleak Patagonian landscape. On a cloudy day like today, the land looks, and is, so desolate and undesirable, it is no surprise that the non-indigenous were not successful in colonizing until less than 100 years ago.

Lastly, I did some shopping in the city, and I bought some poems by Borges. I read some Marquez the other day and realized I need to improve by depth on Latin American literature.

Back to my arrival to the city, the bus ride here was—as always—enjoyable. One thing I love about busing here is the uncertainty. You never know if you are in the right place, have already missed your bus, or even got on the completely wrong bus. It isn’t like an airport with monitors giving flight statuses and concrete gate numbers. I mention this because I again thought I lost my bus. I’m still learning how everything works here so if something doesn’t feel right, I worry my ignorance has gotten me in trouble.

The actual ride was rather typical. The landscape was much the same, barren Patagonian style I’m used to. Notably, I did go through the lowest point on the continent. Additionally, around this point the landscape temporarily lost its flatness and gave my eyes some variety. Oddly enough, about an hour outside of Río Gallegos I started to see animals, the first I have seen minus the stray dogs. First I saw horses and assumed they were wild. I stopped thinking this as soon as I saw a bunch of sheep. There were never any people or buildings in site, but I doubted these were wild sheep. I was surprised that there was suddenly enough vegetation to support animals. As the ride continued, I saw a myriad of birds and even some ostriches.

That’s it for the day. Tomorrow I leave at 8 AM for the south. I am very uncertain how long the trip will take (anywhere from part of a day to multiple days).

Photo info:
1. A view of Río Gallegos from the bus depot
2. A Cristina Kirchner sign in Río Gallegos
3. Movie of downtown Río Gallegos
4. Me in front of Pioneer Home
5. Me in front of the river with Patagonia in the background
6. Patagonia sunset

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