Argentina is really, really, utterly fucking massive. We knew we’d be spending many, many hours on buses but hopefully this will be the longest stint we’d have to do without breaking it up with something fun. First, we had to get from Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos. It was meant to be a 17 hour overnight bus but I don’t think long distance buses give many fucks about time keeping. It rolled into Rio Gallegos at around midday, three hours late.
It was pissing rain and the wind was ice cold. Fuck me, I missed complaining that it was so hot my eyeballs were melting already. We managed to get a private room in the closest hostel to the bus terminal and went in search of food but, like all Argentine towns, it closes down in the middle of the day. We managed to find a food hall and stuffed a burger into our chops, then stocked up on bus snacks for the following day’s monster bus journey.
Okay so it’s meant to leave at 8am which it more or less did albeit Latin America 8am (which is anywhere between 8 and 8.30) and it involves a couple of lengthy border crossings. You have to go through Chile, only for about 260 kilometres, but you still have to observe border formalities. I fucking hate border crossings. I have no reason to, I’m not ever doing anything wrong, but as soon as I’m faced with an international frontier I start worrying that I accidentally stuffed a kilo of cocaine up my arse and forgot about three dead squirrels in my hand luggage.
They’re pretty chill though. They were confiscating fresh fruit but they weren’t bothered about my ham and cheese sandwich I carefully declared in my best Spanish. It took over two hours to get us all out of Argentina and into Chile then off we fucked to the next obstacle; an inconveniently placed body of water called the Strait of Magellan.
The winds that started yesterday pretty much only got worse and the Strait was being whipped up into a frenzy. The coach bypassed the queue for the ferry and parked at the front and the wind violently rocked it side to side. It was the kind of wind that would literally throw you off balance. I remembered the huge ROROs in Greece being cancelled for less wind. We waited and waited and waited, no information was forthcoming.
Eventually we found out from another passenger that they were planning a test run with an empty ship at 7pm, then they’d try with small vehicles and if that was safe they’d take the buses over. If we couldn’t cross tonight we’d all have to sleep on the bus and try the following day which is all well and good but my seat was fucked and barely reclined. It was 4pm. I mentally prepared myself for a really shit twelve hours. The wind had died down a lot though. Would they really wait until 7pm before trying to cross?
Thankfully, no. Someone read a Tweet from the ferry company saying they were going to try about nowish. The boats pulled in and yeah, they were tiny things, I completely understand not wanting to try until it was calmer. Fortunately we made it across, setting sail at around 4.45pm. I’ve no idea how long it took on account of the fact I was willing my stomach contents to stay where I put them. We were over the Strait though and that’s all that mattered.
The border crossings back into Argentina took as long as the first despite there being less formalities and it was the wee hours when we rolled into Ushuaia. The staff on the bus were still in remarkable spirits. I was ready to curl up in the nearest gutter and sleep but they happily unloaded our bags and off we fucked. We couldn’t find a taxi so we walked the 2.5 kilometres to the apartment we’d rented where the owner’s partner was waiting for us with the key.
You know when all you want is a seamless check in so you can faceplant a pillow and drool profusely whilst dreaming of pleasant things such as cheesecake? Yeah, no. There are several exchange rates in Argentina and Booking.com uses close to the official one. The price quoted was US$210. Booking.com converted that to AR$37040 so that’s around what we were expecting to pay. He decided he wanted Blue Dollar rate at over 320 pesos to the dollar which would have put us massively out of pocket.
I didn’t want to have a huge argument at 2 o’ clock in the fucking morning but here we were. His English wasn’t great but he tried to convince us there was no official rate, it was “impossible” to honour the peso rate on Booking.com, and we had to either pay in dollars or pay over AR$67000. Literally no other hotel or apartment has tried to make us pay double because they want to pick and choose the exchange rate.
Eventually he told us it would have to be dealt with by his partner tomorrow so I bombarded her with the screenshot of the Booking.com peso rate, the screenshot of a conversation I’d had with her about the peso rate, screenshots from messages with other hotels proving it’s not impossible to accept the rate of Booking.com. Then I narced her out to Booking.com because fuck this shit. I couldn’t sleep, I can’t when there’s an unresolved issue. She did relent in the morning and said it was a misunderstanding as her partner didn’t know mucg to charge, but what if we’d just paid him? Would she have given us back the difference? Doubt it!
Anyway. There you are then. We’re as far south as either of us have ever been. We’re at the end of the world and all we’re going to be doing is lying low and trying to avoid the diseased snot particles of other humans. We’d not seen the city as we’d rolled in on account of it being pitch black but fuck me, it’s not an awful view. We’re surrounded by snow capped mountain, it’s breathtaking. It’s also cold and wet. We’ve done our shopping for the three remaining nights we’re here and we’re currently holed up on the sofa drinking mate. Here’s to an uneventful few days and a smooth departure to Antarctica on the 3rd January.
Puerto Madryn, Chubut to Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz to Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina
Useful shit to know…
The Bus From Rio Gallegos To Ushuaia
- As far as I’m aware, at the time of writing, only Marga Taqsa ply this route at 8am every morning.
- Get to the bus terminal early as you need to check in with your passport and ticket at the Marga Taqsa desk which opens at 7am. English is spoken.
- You need to scan a QR code which is a customs declaration for Chile. You’ll be asked to select the border crossing which is Integración Austral (Monte Aymond).
- The bus left 10 minutes behind schedule at 08.10.
- The staff on the the bus don’t speak English but there will probably be plenty of multilingual foreigners who can help you translate. I think I’m doing well with my Spanish until someone actually speaks to me!
- It took an hour to get to the Argentine border control. The bus cruised past the queue of traffic and pulled up. After five minutes we were all ushered off the bus to go through passport control. We only needed our passports for this, not our bags.
- It took an hour to get everyone through this and it involved a lot of standing around in the cold waiting to be ushered inside in groups of ten. We were kept separate from the people not on the bus and were sent in through the exit to a dedicated desk.
- It’s a very short drive over the border. The bus pulled in and we had to wait ten or fifteen minutes before we were called off the bus. We had to take all our hand luggage with us but our checked bags remained on the bus.
- We were sent to the first building to get stamped in. Again, we had our own queue and desk. It was done quickly, no questions asked, and we were given a slip of paper with our immigration details on, I assume to be kept with our passports.
- We then had to go into a second building where they waited until we were all through passport control and huddled inside, then they opened the bag inspection.
- We had to show the .pdf declaration that we’d done with the QR code earlier, our passport, and the slip of paper we were given at passport control. I told him we had food, a ham and cheese sandwich, but they were only really bothered about fresh fruit and veg. I guess they might get funny about fresh meat too.
- Our bags went through a scanner with no issues and we were free to get back on the bus.
- It took a long time to get everyone through and it was just gone 11.30am by the time we pulled away.
- It’s worth noting that there are toilets available at both border controls.
- The next obstacle is an inconveniently placed body of water, the Strait of Magellan, which requires a boat. When I was asking at the ticket desk this morning if we were allowed to take sandwiches over the border he told us it was important to have food and snacks (obviously not fruit though) as you didn’t know how long you’d have to wait for the boat.
- It took about 45 minutes to get to the ferry. There was a big queue which the bus completely ignored and cruised to the front of to join two other buses.
- I don’t know how long you would usually wait for the ferry but on account of the brutal winds it was after 16.30 when they dared start trying to take vehicles across the Strait. At one point they didn’t think they’d be able to until much later, perhaps even 21.00, and if we couldn’t cross at all they told us we’d spend the night there and sleep on the bus. Fortunately our boat pulled away at around 16.45.
- If you do have to wait for hours, there’s a restaurant so you won’t starve.
- I forgot to check how long it took us to get over the Strait. I was too busy trying to retain the contents of my stomach.
- We arrived at the Chilean side of the second border crossing at just gone 19.00. We sat on the bus from 20 minutes before they collected all of our passports and the immigration slip we were given and took them away for processing, I suppose to speed things along, but it was 20.00 by the time we got our documents back and pulled away.
- It’s 14 kilometres to the Argentine side of the border and we arrived at 20.10.
- We only had to take our passports, not our bags. They asked for the address of where we were staying and that’s it. Didn’t even ask for an email address so we’re assuming they still have it on the system.
- Argentina don’t issue stamps anymore, they’re meant to email you with details of your immigration but we’ve been told that you don’t always receive it.
- We ended up leaving passport control at 21.00.
- It took an hour to get to Rio Grande where we stopped long enough for everyone to get some food from a bakery.
- It was 01.30 by the time we pulled into the bus terminal in Ushuaia (which is actually just a big patch of concrete rather than an actual terminal with ticket desks and platforms).
- The bus was scheduled to arrive at around 20.30. I don’t know how often that happens or how often the ferries can’t run due to weather but it’s worth noting that you might be stuck for a while if the weather is particularly awful.