April 5, Ushuaia, Argentina
Asking someone here about the "Islas Malvinas" or "Falkland Islands" is about like asking someone in Chile about Pinochet; although I didn't do the latter I will on my return through Chile but I'll make sure they're smaller than me and un-armed. It was getting confusing because there's a great deal of 25 year post-war anniversary hype with bumper stickers and signs that say things like "25 years later we still feel the same, you'll always belong to Tierra del Fuego" [which could be misleading because the island of Tierra del Fuego is actually divided down the middle between Chile and Argentina]. 25 years ago Argentina went to take the Malvinas/Falklands (I like to call them the "MF-ers") from the U.K. and occupied them for a couple of weeks until the British military drove them back out.
Acting like a confused gringo [actually it's quite natural] I've asked 4 different people whether the MF-ers belong to Britain or Argentina and every time they've made it perfectly clear that regardless what anyone in the rest of the world says the MF-ers clearly belong to Argentina. All of the maps down here indicate that the MF-ers belong to Argentina but maps from anywhere else in the world call them U.K. territory. I have not seen the word "Falkland" down here anywhere and when I use it in asking about the MF-ers the folks here always correct me and say "Islas Malvinas". Children in school are taught that the MF-ers belong to Argentina and that little fact was used as evidence twice in my discussions, because if it's being taught in school it's gotta be true, right? The conclusion seems to be that they clearly belong to the U.K. but people here simply don't acknowledge the UK's ownership of the MF-ers.
Anyway it's always entertaining to find a sensitive issue and have a little fun with it and it helps me work on my acting skills, because when Hollywood needs someone to play the clueless gringo I'll be right there maaan!! That was yesterday afternoon's rainy day entertainment between other stuff. Today's activity is to ride to Rio Grande, and tomorrow to Punta Arenas [I'm heading back a different way to avoid that really bad gravel road]. I should have the third page of Ushuaia pictures up in a day or so, with some wi-fi connection luck. It's taken me over an hour to get connected today. Now let's see if this works...
April 9, Punta Arenas, Chile
Friday morning I got ready to ride to Punta Arenas, Chile. I rode to the border at San Sebastian where I had spent a night in that crappy hotel a week before (the eve of the toughest day of this trip) then I filled my tank up with gas, looked at the line of trucks waiting to cross the border, then turned right around and rode 45 miles back to Rio Grande for another night. I had gotten a late start and was unsure of whether the ferry crossing from Porvenir to Punta Arenas would be open due to the holiday. I had asked several different folks in Rio Grande and they all assured me that the ferry runs all day, but I have consistently found that when you ask people in one country about something in another country they are almost always wrong. Plus I simply didn't feel like dealing with a border crossing that day.
My late start was mostly due to MF-ers [Malvinas/Falkland Islands]. As I was leaving town I thought I'd take pictures at a MF-ers memorial park and noticed there were a lot of people in a large tent. It was the Veterans of the MF-ers war doing some charity work for a part of Argentina where there had been severe flooding. They were preparing boxes of food and clothing [actually the veterans were standing to the side talking while their wives and children did the work]. I had to stay and talk for awhile and one of the veterans' daughters spoke perfect English and I asked all about the MF-ers.
This group of veterans was very passionate about the fact that the MF-ers belong to Argentina. They didn't know what the MF-ers who actually live in the MF Islands thought about the issue, but assumed that they'd want to belong to Argentina as well. One of the vets pointed out that the MF-ers are 600km from Argentina and 12,000km from the U.K. and that alone was enough. I asked why they thought the U.K. wanted the MF-ers so bad; sheep, fishing and the plankton that the fish feed on were the reasons they came up with [I don't know if they somehow harvest the plankton or if they just like having it but I've never heard of plankton as a major commodity]. They asked for my opinion and I told them it was all new to me but have no reason to disagree with them, and wasn't about to disagree with a room full of emotional, potentially angry veterans from that relatively recent war. I'd be curious who the English speaking MF-ers would choose as their motherland if it were up to them; I think that would be the best resolution to all this.
Saturday I crossed the border and traveled 150km on the best gravel road I've seen on this whole trip. It was well packed with very few bad areas of large loose gravel or pot holes, and I could easily travel at 30-45mph the whole time. I arrived at Porvenir at 3:00 to learn that the ferry had left at 2:00 and there is only one ferry that leaves at 2:00 every day except Sunday and Monday when there are two that leave at 1:00pm and 7:00pm. I knew those MF-ers [and I don't mean the islands] back in Rio Grande were wrong. So I spent the night in Porvenir, Chile, then took the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride to Punta Arenas the next day. The worst part of the last couple of days was losing my Ushuaia hat from the wind on that ferry trip, I'm still mad about that.