In stark contrast to U.S. customs, a kind, older Brit was quick to offer his two pence on the best way to get from Heathrow to King’s Cross and saved my mom and I a few pounds in the process. Stamp in passport, to the tube I went. I was on a mission with my four hours in London and Big Ben was ticking. By complete coincidence my lifelong friend Elliot happened to be in London for work and it would have been a shame to miss the small window during which we could meet up. A quick pizza lunch with my mom and his girlfriend was just like the old days back in New Jersey, unfortunately, our visit was short; business called and I had a train to catch.
Brisk air filled the jet way, the tropics were nowhere to be found. It seemed the northeast’s brutal spring was making its last stand. A two mile line awaited me as I entered the customs terminal, and what felt like an eternity elapsed as I listened to the less than compassionate line clerks squawk at cellphone usage like middle school teachers. Eventually, I was called to a booth, my internal self shamed for not having acquired Global Entry before my departure. An angsty customs agent grumbled at me as he scanned my passport and shooed me away as though my arrival was an unexpected inconvenience. Newark International hadn’t changed a bit.
It’s always striking how perspective can change and Lima has felt like the anchor point for these shifts throughout my trip. Landing in Lima for a third time, my journey from the airport was a wild one. It’s pretty rare for tourists to take the public bus from the airport, but it’s the perfect window into working class Lima and the price is right so I opt for this route. The bus stop is a lively, chaotic place. Small minibuses drift into the pickup zone from the highway at full speed. Fare collectors hang out the sliding doors hooting at other busses as they narrowly avoid collision. Yelling out in an undecipherable shorthand where the bus is going. Locals pile in and out. Before the dust settles from such an aggressive entrance the tires squeal, peeling out back onto the main road. As I waited for my bus, a rather comfortable public shuttle not dissimilar to what you would find in NYC or Paris, I marvel at this loosely organized system and how efficient it does appear to be, moving people rapidly with little fuss. It’s also a bit of a shock to the system. After three months in Chile, I had forgotten how much looser things tend to be in Peru and it was exhilarating to be tossed back into the frenzy.
Flying to the edge of the world was easy, working my way back into civilization proved more challenging. My goal was to intercept the Carretera Austral, the only road through Chilean Patagonia, but limited onward travel options from Puerto Natales didn’t help much in getting me there. There is a ferry back to Puerto Montt but then working my way back south only to be stuck again seemed silly; as did returning to Punta Arenas and flying. By road in Chile it’s impossible as the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the largest non-polar glacial region in the world, stands in the way. Without a clue of what to do, I found my answer at the bus terminal in the form of a ticket across the border to Argentina.