I love Ushuaia’s dramatic setting, but sadly the town itself has touristy prices and a bit of a tourist trap vibe. And yesterday we learned the hard way why most people here do the over-priced package tours.
We had decided to rent a car for the day so we could drive into Tierra del Fuego National Park ourselves, vs. going with a tour outfit. To start with, this car looked nothing like your typical rental car. It was a white Chevy Corsa, circa 2005 perhaps? Manual everything, missing some hub caps, but at least it had seatbelts and only a small crack in the wind shield. We dubbed it the white Cadillac and happily went on our way.
The trouble started when we decided to split up – me with the girls to ride into the national park on the touristy Tren del Fin del Mundo, and Noah off to get supplies for a picnic lunch, and then meet us at the station where the train ended. The train was fun, and went through a gorgeous green valley, pictured below.
To understand what happened next, you have to appreciate that everything in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego – and all around these parts for that matter – seems to be branded ‘end of the world.’ So Noah apparently had ‘endings’ in his head and was persuaded that the train station where we would disembark was at the ‘end of the road’ (where Route 3 ends, famously the last stretch of road on the South American continent.)
So, Noah drove all the way to the end of the road (30 minutes into the park), before realizing that the train ‘station’ was just inside the park entrance. (It is a VERY slow-moving train). Meanwhile, as Noah drove to the end of the road and back again, I stood with the girls on the side of Route 3 for nearly an hour, trying to fight back a growing sense of panic and remain calm. I couldn’t imagine how he could have missed the pick-up spot, as there were at least 4 huge tour buses and several taxis waiting to pick up passengers. I started imagining the worst…and I had no way to call him, as I had our only Argentina cell phone.
In any case, I was immensely relieved when Noah finally arrived, somewhat sheepishly admitting that he hadn’t looked at the park map when he decided to drive to the end of the road. I wish the story turned rosier from here, but I’m afraid there is yet another twist. After a nice – but chilly – walk around a lake and brief stop for snacks, we returned to the white Cadillac to find the battery completely dead. (Lights left on perhaps?) There is no cell phone signal within the park, so our phone was useless. And after chatting with several sympathetic tour guides in the parking lot, I quickly learned that Argentines do not carry jumper cables in their trunks. (But boy are these people nice – at one point four men offered to push the car through pot holes and puddles while Noah tried to start it!)
And so it was that I learned a great new vocabulary word in Spanish: la guardaparque = park rangers. I was able to get the kind senor at the confiteria to radio the guardaparque, who arrived a mere 45 minutes later. However, they were unable to revive the Cadillac with their jumper cables, so we were left stranded at the confiteria for another 90 minutes until the next colectivo (public bus) arrived. I’ll spare you the details, but we basically abandoned the car and made it back to our hotel approximately 7 hours after the ill-fated trip to the end-of-the-road at the end-of-the-world had begun. And boy did we feel like rookie travelers at that point…
Fortunately, the girls had amused themselves for hours by finding some new pet rocks, which over the course of the day had developed names, ages, and personalities. End of the world or not, rocks are rocks, and kids will be kids. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of our girls as I was yesterday, when they stayed calm, good-natured, and even laughing throughout this entire experience. Wow – are these MY kids???