All of the above... 

Text and photos by Peter Matusov.

Russian version

It isn't like we have unity in the family as far as picking the travel destinations. Even if we agree on a country, then we'll have to sort out preferences in cities, ways to get there, days to spend, you name it. This one began as "Let's fly to South America for a week."

- Yes! Let's fly to Buenos Aires and drive to Mendoza.

- No, we've been to Buenos Aires already...

- Let's fly to Lima and take a train to Huancayo!

- You've been to Peru already. Let's go to Chile.

- Awesome, let's go to Atacama Desert!

- You spend enough time in the desert as it is. Fuck Atacama. Let's go to Santiago.

- What's in Santiago?

- Okay, we'll go to Patagonia, and then to Santiago.

It should be mentioned that nobody opted for the "all of the above" version. Should have considered it, at least.

Some quality time is spent online, and fingering the friends and relatives for advice. Itinerary roughly hammered out, with a few loose days built in (after all, we're going far, right?), most airplane tickets purchased and AirBnB rooms booked. Oh yeah, we'll need a rental car, too. Make it a 4x4, 'cause it may rain or whatnot. Fast forward.

A day before the trip we find out that in our booking frenzy we missed the fact that we arrive on the next calendar day.


Adjusting the plans accordingly.

The day of the trip.

Our flight is from Los Angeles, a quarter to four in the afternoon.

Since we (some of us, at least) are staunchly pro-train travelers and LAX Parking Lot C deniers, we get up at six in the morning, so we can get out of the house by 8 to make a 9am train to LA Union Station.

Three hours before the flight. We're already at the terminal, and running out of things to eat, drink, or do. Missing wardrobe entries are procured at the tax-free shop. Laptop and cell phone batteries topped off to the gills.

We exhaust our entertainment options about 2 hours before the end of the 10.5-hour flight, which doesn't leave us much sleep. Enjoy the glimpse of a foggy sunrise in Santiago, just to kill another couple of hours before a flight to Punta Arenas.

LATAM rounds up two flights into one, and issues a Boeing 787 for a quick 4-hour hop. Yuri gets a port-side rear-most shitter seat, which ends up to be the most-popular place on the plane as it flies over Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia Landmarks.

We get to see (and take pictures of) Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres Del Paine, and a bunch of other goodies that we don't know.

Soon, the full 787 rolls to a stop by Punta Arenas' three-gate terminal. Twenty minutes later, we're looking at the Strait of Magellan on our taxi ride to town.

We check into our hotel - Best Western, of all things, but aptly named "Hotel Finis Terrae." Very fittingly, it is located a block from the intersection of Avenida de Cristóbal Colón and Hernando de Magallanes.

It is a little too early for dinner, so we enjoy our first Chilean Pisco sours. I like mine, but can't quite figure out if I forgot what a good pisco sour is or it is really not that super. No biggie.

By the time we hit the hay we've been without good sleep for about 40 hours.

* * *
Punta Arenas, Chile

We all wake up too early for breakfast, and enjoy the sunrise at the rooftop dining area of Best Western in near solitude. We haven't made advance reservations for a boat tour to Isla Magdalena for penguins, so instead we take a quick stroll around center of town, and taxi back to the airport to get a rental car.

Mitta Rent-a-car issues us a lowly Hyundai Santa Fe instead of a promised Toyota 4Runner. It is a bit of a bummer since I suspect we just could use a little more of the tires' sidewalls. Upon learning of our plans to drive the family truckster to Argentina, Mitta charges us another $105 and a few hours later issues a sheaf of paperwork we absolutely have to have at the border crossings.

By the time we're back to town, we learn that (a) there's not going to be an afternoon boat tour to penguins, (b) there's only one ferry to Tierra Del Fuego today, and it has sailed four hours ago. So after a stop at a supermarket - we can't be traveling without ham, cheese, pastries, and wine, can we? - we head South to the bottom end of the American Continent.

Driving in Punta Arenas - and everywhere else in Chile we had a chance to drive - is entirely agreeable. Good roads, good, calm, and patient, drivers, plenty of well-placed and visible signs. One can easily mistake a Chilean backroad for Northern Spain.

Magellanic penguinsMagellanic penguins These kids must be local!These kids must be local!
Magellanic penguinsMagellanic penguins
These kids must be local!These kids must be local!

We leave town and the road continues for about fifty miles or so. We pass several fishing villages, with the little trawlers scattered around in different state of abandon. The pavement ends about 15 km before the "hard stop," but even the graded dirt road is very good. We see more and more of upland geese, or About an hour later, we find ourselves at a parking area taken up by two "overlanders" busses with shot out windows, and signs proclaiming that (a) that's the Southern-most end of drivable road in American continent, (b) we can hike for a few miles to the Southern-most lighthouse in American continent, and (c) if we're up to a 40-mile roundtrip hike, we can get to the Southern-most physical point in the American continent.

 El Cauquén Común  The bus stops here.  500 feet into a 20-mile trek
 Exactly the kind of a boat I dreamed about when I was a kid
 Isla Dawson's peaks are still snow-capped
 Monte Sarmiento, about 80km (50 miles) away
 El Cauquén Común
 The bus stops here.
 500 feet into a 20-mile trek

We aren't into the rigors of pedestrian entertainment, so we take all the pictures we want and hightail to a more-scenic roadside spot a couple of miles back. Time for a roadside picnic; the pastries with game ham and cheese are washed down by a very good bottle of Chilean wine.

Life is awesome.

 Roadside picnic

We take our time to walk to the water of the Strait of Magellan, skip a few stones off its ice-cold water, and head back in absolutely no hurry.

We have some blacktop to cover, however. Our destination for the night is Puerto Natales, a Chilean town on the Pacific Coast about 250km (155mi) to the Northwest. We stop by Mitta's office in Punta Arenas to pick up Hyundai's travel papers, and hit the road.

The traffic is rare, and the locals set the brisk pace of about 120-130 km/h (75-80 mph). Soon, the Ruta 9 splits away from the coast of Magellan Strait, and we feel surrounded by the wildlife.

A few emergency stops were warranted by pink flamingoes, giant birds of prey, funny Nandus, and Llamas. Some of them come very close to the road but don't appreciate our photographic advances.

 Chilean pink flamingoes
 Nandu, or Darwin's rhea

Helped by the long days in far South, we arrive to Puerto Natales early enough to pick up the keys to our AirBnB room in the center of town. The room is small but cosy, with private patio, little fridge, and beautiful hot shower. Lena is hungry, and keeps asking random people like waiters at the coffee shop at the corner about the good place to have dinner. We end up being the only customers of an upscale restaurant with high prices and rather bland and mediocre food and wines. I can't even remember what I ate.

Before hitting the rack, we take a stroll along a few blocks in Puerto Natales, including the boardwalk. A huge "National Geogrphic Explorer" boat is waiting to take public to the wonders of Antarctic; a pair of black-necked swans carry their babies along for an evening swim in the gulf.

 Is it Spring already? Today it is.
 Crazy skies and distant peaks
 Black-necked swans with babies on promenade
 National Geographic Explorer getting ready to sail

* * *

Torres del Paine

I want to say we're up bright and early but we are not.

We are finally out of the doors of the coffee shop around 9:30; a quick stop at the gas station (count on US $1.3 per liter, or close to five bucks per gallon), and we're off to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

Of course if there is a choice between a dirt and paved road, paved road loses. We leave Ruta Nueve about five miles North of the airport, and head straight towards the park.

The skies above the park greet us with a crazy lenticular cloud that I just have to take a picture of. As the time goes by, the skies get more dramatic, prompting many unscheduled delays.

 What a lenticular cloud!
 Near Lago El Toro
 Lago El Toro
 Last sunshine for the day

We make a quick lunch stop at a viewpoint at the shore of Lago el Toro, one of many giant lakes in the park. A few miles later we pay the entrance fee, and decide to deviate Northwest towards Lago Grey and its famous glacier.

The wildlife immediately appears near the road - the guanacos and black-faced ibises seem to be pretty happy to share the living quarters.

 Guanacos and black-faced ibises  Torres del Paine
 Guanacos and black-faced ibises
 Torres del Paine

On the way, we get our first - and nearly last - glimpse of the Torres del Paine themselves, shrouded in wispy clouds. The Torres are really majestic. The weather does not appear to be improving at all.

 Yuri is patiently waiting for us to return to the car.

By the time we reach the doors of Hotel Lago Grey we're already good for some Irish coffee. The skies are completely overcast, wind is howling, and we have yet to walk towards the cold and not very inviting beach with a few small icebergs moored off shore. Of course, we're 10 minutes late to a boat tour of the glacier. Good timing on our part...

Lena takes some convincing to get on a mile-and-a-half hiking trip; jackets and headgear come out of the car and we get weatherproofed. The beach is accessible via a footpath from the hotel, less than a quarter a mile away; we stop to read an info poster about a local deer variety - called El Huemul. Any native Russian speaker will certainly chuckle at that name and add it to a collection of names to call other people.

 El Huemul
 Grey Glacier is 9 miles away

Once you're out of the protection of tree canopy, you have to walk on coarse dark grey sand and small pebbles along the shore.

The lake is about 9 miles long and barely a mile wide; it is fed by the Grey glacier on the North-north-west side, and the ferocious winds blow the calved chunks of ice towards the Southern shore and the resort.

Even on an overcast day, the beached bergs are of amazing hues of light to dark blue. The wind rips the white caps off the waves; it is cold enough for the thin crust of ice to form near the beach. When the wind slackens, we can hear the tinkling of the constantly-broken thin ice.

The views are amazing and enjoyable, but damn is it cold... And they call it Spring in these parts?

By the time we have after-hike Irish coffees it already starts to rain.

On the way back to the main road we see a rental sedan we've been following earlier in the morning - on the roof about 20 feet from the road, with headlights still on - but nobody inside and thankfully without any blood spilled. The washboard is treacherous...

All of a sudden, I spot a couple of birds seeking shelter from rain and wind under a canopy of a bush. I don't know what these are - they certainly look like birds of prey.

I bail out of the car, trying to keep the camera from getting soaked by rain. The birds judge me to be less of a menace than the weather, and allow me to come fairly close. Later on, I learn that these are a family of Southern Crested Caracara, the second-largest species of falcon in the world, and endemic to Torres del Paine.

The birds are gorgeous. I am soaked and cold...

 Southern Crested Caracara

We continue along the shores of Lago Pehoe; rain intensifies and wispy clouds descend from the couloirs of Torres del Paine almost to the lake level.

The road is full of twists and turns, with minimum visibility and every oncoming car (thankfully, very rare) a surprise.

Later, we have yet another coffee stop at Estancia Pudeto - the small cafe is full of people from a tour bus from El Calafate (Argentina). The tour bus is far from ordinary - it's a bus cab mounted on the long wheelbase 6x6 truck chassis. The rear overhang is chopped upwards to allow for better departure angle, and adorned by two giant spare tires. We crack jokes about all them yahoos longing for "off-road experience" - we'll have time to grasp the reasons for that tomorrow.

On the way out of the park and towards Ruta 9, we take a few photos of tiny splotches of red flowers, guanacos, horses, and horse riders. What a fun and beautiful country that is!

Back in Puerto Natales, we check the weather forecast.

It calls for +4C in Puerto Natales and all the way back to Punta Arenas, with 100% overcast skies and 100% chance of rain. El Calafate, in the opposite direction, is far more inviting with +14C and 30% chance of rain.

We decide El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier to be our destination for tomorrow, book our AirBnB room for another night, and head out to dinner.

The restaurant we go to was the one that pops up on any review or comments about Puerto Natales - the name's "Afrigonia." It is a really shining spot on the bleak landscape of Chilean cuisine (at least, as far as meat is concerned); their food is phenomenal, wines gorgeous, and athmosphere - appropriate.

Our landlady meets us at the door - apparently AirBnB money had not filtered down to her - so we pay in cash, yet again.

* * *

El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

My attempts to get going earlier fail again - nothing is open before 9. Yuri and I get out sooner and have breakfast at a hotel a block away (hotels rock, by the way. When the society falls apart, the hotel will still have a functioning diner and a stocked bar).

Soon, we're on the road - same Ruta 9, but we continue on to the main turn-off to Torres del Paine and turn the other way - East, towards the border with Argentina.

Both Chilean and Argentinian border control / customs offices are very efficient, friendly, and completely void of any drama. Our rental car's travel papers get a furious beating by stamps on both sides of the border.

There's some difference, however. Chilean border post facilities rival those in the U.S. Southern border; Argentine's remind me of a village bus station somewhere in 1980s Russia. Oh yes, and pavement disappears halfway between the posts.

It is rainy and windy outside. The skies are gray, and our mood is not lifted by what we think is going to be a five-hour ride on graded dirt road. All of a sudden, the rough track tees into a beautifully-paved Ruta 40, and we think we're out of the woods.

Soon, the signs appear warning us of potholes.

We ignore the first couple of them - the same signs in Chile meant we shouldn't worry about anything but the bus ahead of us slowing down - but then we see the most-certain and most-ominous sign: a two-track on the dirt shoulder bypassing the pavement.

If you're in these parts of the world, believe the signs in Argentina. You'll slow down eventually, but you may do it voluntarily without panic stops and bent rims. The road is still in a better condition than a typical Russian highway after snow melts or a road from Yuma to Yodaville in Arizona, so your prospective may vary.

Then a junction arrives... proclaiming the two-lane blacktop to no longer be Ruta 40, and Ruta 40 - going to the left. We make the turn and the road immediately loses pavement. And that's precisely why I wanted to rent a 4Runner, and not a built-up Elantra.

 Ruta 40, here we come.

This graded section of Ruta 40 is nowhere as bad as, say, Racetrack Road in Death Valley. It is continuously worked on, with lone highway grader turning the washboard corrugations into the random field of upturned tennis-ball-sized rocks. In some places, you can safely maintain a 50-mph (80 km/h) pace in a crossover like ours; in the others, you really have to slow down to a near-crawl. In several places, it does get bad to the point of people driving on the shoulders. It is an exersize in weighing comfort against the risks of tearing a sidewall or two or bending a rim. The road is further chopped up by animal grates - none of which is even with the road surface, and most requiring slowing down to a near stop. But it all is for the better. Slow down and watch the wildlife - here the flocks of sheep and herds of llamas cross the road right in front of you, Nandu birds amble around fifty feet away, and you get to see it all up close and personal. After all, this section is only 65 km - about 40 miles - long, and you'll return to the quiet bliss of pavement about an hour away.

Something else deserves mention.

We have seen one vehicle in two and a half hours on this section of Ruta 40. Cell phone coverage is inexistent, so if you set out on the same path, keep some water and food - enough to last until the next morning's run of that 6x6 tourist bus we saw in Torres del Paine before!

But - this road, as everything else, shall pass - and it yields to a good two-lane blacktop. In a while, we leave Ruta 40 and continue West on the local road 11, along the shores of Lago Argentino.

We reach the center of El Calafate in the afternoon, just in time for lunch.

 Parillada for 4

Now that we're in Argentina, we just have to get our fill of parillada - and we immediately make a grave mistake of ordering a 4-person meal for the three of us.

It is the main reason we almost get stranded in Argentina on the way back, but we don't know it yet.

It is not a parillada you'd get in Buenos Aires - it doesn't have riñones, but it does have pork and chicken that seem a little out of place. Argentinian choriso is present and wonderful, however, as are chinchullinas and morcilla.

We have zero chance to finish the meal in one sitting, and ask for a to-go box for the remainder. We are mildly terrified by the need to drive another 60+ miles from El Calafate to the Glacier, and retrace all of nearly 220 miles to Puerto Natales. Lena already insists on spending a night in El Calafate - but we plow on.

In 50 kilometers or so we hit the gates of the Perito Moreno Glacier National Park, pay the fee, and continue at a snail's pace the remaining 30 km to the viewpoint. Somewhere in the last few kilometers, the glacier comes into view - but still a little too far to appreciate its grandeur. A few little icebergs are floating in the lake.

To fully grasp what this glacier is, a few numbers are important. Quoting Vikipedia - "The 250 km2 (97 sq mi) ice formation, 30 km (19 mi) in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water." The five-kilometer-wide wall of ice where the glacier ends stands on average 74 meters (240 ft) tall above the water surface. Nearly 100 meters of ice are unseen below water. This glacier has another distinction of not shrinking because of global warming.

All of this stares you in the face, mere thousand feet away at an observation point. We arrive too late - it's already half past 4 in the afternoon, and the park closes at 6 - to go down to the waterline, so we spend close to an hour hoping for some significant ice calving to occur. The ice breaks off the glacier all the time, with cannon-like booms echoing around the valley. There's a hint of sunlight somewhere in the distance, and the deeply-eroded cracks in the glacier are bright blue, with marble-like web of cracks diagonally across the ice face.

The wind picks up.

We return to the parking area, hop in the car, and set out for our return. The park is officially closed when we cross the gates.

It is Sunday night, or some other reason, for both gas stations in El Calafate to have huge lines. Lena and Yuri get their fill of coffee, Yuri takes the helm, and we are back on the highway.

From El Calafate to near-full-darkness already in Chile, we marvel at the crazy cloud patterns.

Not wanting to be the one who busts a sidewall or two, Yuri takes the graded dirt portion of the Ruta 40 a little slower - which has an added benefit of letting the wildlife safely cross the road in front of the car. If you think there's a lot of wildlife during the day - wait for the sun to come down.

We almost miss the turn-off to the Chilean border from the 40; the lone aduanero on Argentinian side reluctantly puts aside the three-inch-thick paperback edition of "War and Piece" (I kid you not!), stamps the paperwork for the Hyundai, and unhooks the chain to let us pass towards Chile. Chilean border and customs officers are friendly and businesslike - we are the only customers, and our documents get checked and stamped quickly. The wind outside is howling - the officer confirms it to be a normal occasion for the season, remarking that it could easily reach hurricane strength.

We leave the customs building a minute before ten at night.

The border closes at ten, something we didn't know beforehand.


It takes another hour of fighting to keep the Hyundai on the road before we reach our quarters in Puerta Natales. We're still full of parillada, so dinner out is forfeited.

* * *

Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas

Our time in Puerto Natales is up.

After breakfast, we pack the bags, toss them into the car, and fill up the tank. It is still windy, although dry and with some chance for sunlight later in the day. By now, we're used to seeing the wildlife, so we no longer jump on brakes when we spot a flamingo or two. Maybe for a couple of hundred of them.

Judging by our progress, there's no chance we can hop on the boat trip to see the penguins. At breakfast, however, we looked at the map and saw a "Penguineria" on the shore of a large gulf - Seno Otway - about 30 km from the airport in Punta Arenas along an unimproved road. We leave Ruta 9 as soon as it arrives, and hit the dirt.

The first stop, however, is completely unexpected.

As I am driving, Yuri inquires if I am aware of an old car museum that we are going to drive by - which I am not. Less than 10 minutes later we see an old NSU air-cooled two-seater perched high on a tower and painted bright yellow, and a large bright blue warehouse. We pull into the front yard, surrounded by old machinery like mid-60s Austin Gipsy and an Opel station wagon, and are met by a very friendly dog and greeted by the owner. We're charged about three bucks a pop, and allowed into the warehouse.

The auto collection is eclectic, unorganized, and well maintained. An Argentine-made Willys stake-bed pickup is flanked by late 1930s Chevrolet pickup and early-60s CJ5, probably also of Kaiser Argentina origins. British, French, Swedish, and Italian autos from post-war to late 60s are occasionally separated by a large Mercedes or a Studebaker sedan or a Dodge cab-forward van or something bizarre like that. Yuri mentions that this collection is more entertaining and better-looking than Petersen's in Los Angeles - I agree.

Outside, we see crop of vehicles not deemed worthy warehousing, including a hood-less quad-cab flatbed pickup made out of the first generation of British Ford Transit, and several old pickups that must have worked hard at local farms from 1930s to 1960s.

We reluctantly leave and continue towards the Penguineria - until the locked gate, lifeless road grader, and sign saying the road to Penguineria is closed... as well as Penguineria itself.

We spend another half-hour trying to find a way around or get closer to the shoreline - then give up and return into town.

Check into our new hotel - that one's a gem. It is clearly in process of remaking itself, somewhat like a snake shedding an old skin. A large octagonal dining room on the first floor; our rooms - separate - are above. The floor in our room is not level to the point that the suitcases do not stay put, and drift towards the corner of the room. Even the queen-sized bed itself tend to shift a few inches towards the low corner every time it is bumped from rest.

It is way too early for a dinner; we have pisco sours in the neghborhood cafe, and stroll towards the center of town a dozen of city blocks away.

A block away, a riot control truck with a water cannon on the roof, still dripping with fresh fill rumbles away in the same direction. At the Plaza de Armas something's going on: a large crowd blocking the road, holding handmade posters, banging on tin pans, and chanting something.

Lena dissuades me from taking a good photographic stock of the situation - and we return to the same neighborhood cafe, to more pisco sours and some light dinner fare.

Tomorrow's going to be busy day - we need to check out of the hotel, return our rental car, fly to Santiago, and reunite with our daughter for a week of fun in Chile wine country.

On the way to the hotel our phones go abuzz - with text messages from friends and family about riots in Santiago. TV in the room is filled with video of a burning city bus and rapid-fire Spanish. Yuri makes an honest but unsuccessful attempt to dissuade his sister from flying to Santiago - she's been to Paris during yellow-jacket revolt and is not easily scared.

We pack our bags and go to sleep.

At 2:13 am, we all get email messages saying that our flight to Santiago is cancelled, but we merrily sleep through the buzz.

* * *

Punta Arenas, day 1 of the riots

Yuri wakes us up with a text message about the cancelled flight.


TV replays last night's burning-bus footage and informs us that a 10-to-7 curfew is imposed by the order of the President, and that National Guard is deployed.

We get a very-unremarkable breakfast at the hotel, load up in the car, and head to the airport.

Leave the Hyundai at the short-term parking and go inside to rattle the bushes.

The airport is rather peaceful, with only a few dozen people in line to LATAM counter, and a departure board listing ALL flights from Punta Arenas as cancelled. A helpful LATAM rep walks up and down the line, explaining in good English that, since it was government-imposed curfew that made LATAM flight crews miss their flights, there's not going to be any monetary reimbursements by the airline.

The line moves quickly, and we are rebooked on a 3 am flight to Santiago.

Jennie has already arrived into Santiago, discovered five thousand irate passengers at the airport, and found a Uber to take her to better part of town.

Our presumably-gorgeous AirBnB apartment is in Bellavista - the best part of Santiago, however that's nearly where the riots started, so everything is shut down, boarded up, or looted. The sparse hotel staff in Bellavista firmly advise against booking a room, and Jennie ends up somewhere North-East of the center.

I walk to the rental car counter, find no one at all, and we take the car back into town - to have a good breakfast and buy a bottle of wine at the Best Western (remember what I said earlier about a proper hotel?). The windows of a little local credit union branch are broken - the poor thing took the brunt of the people's anger, leaving the big-uns like giant, city-block-sized, office of Santander Bank unmolested. I procure some cash from the ATM to be able to extend the agony, should one happen.

We return to our old hotel with creaky and slanted floors, book it for another day, and try to find if there are ferries across the Strait (in the last-ditch attempt to see penguins - no, there aren't going to be any ferries), boat trips (no boat trips), and leave South in search of a place to have a roadside picnic.

The picnic ends up at the side of a winding dirt road a few miles inland. It is sunny, yet cold, windy, and dusty. We return to town, leave Yuri to do some work, walk around a little, and settle for Scotch at Shackleton's Pub in the historic building on Plaza de Armas.

Sometime in the evening we meet at the same neighborhood pub, and learn that our 3am flight is also cancelled - so we extend our hotel for the night. LATAM refuses to do anything with our tickets at the airport, and suggests we stop by the company office "uptown."

The Strait of Magellan is peaceful and calm in the evening.

* * *

Back to Argentina: Punta Arenas to Rio Gallegos

The morning trip to "uptown" LATAM office (no, it is not where Google Maps say it is) results in us rebooked on a flight to Santiago two days from now. In the meantime, Jennie is already enjoying what's there to enjoy in Lima.

We descend a floor in the crowded mall (which also houses LATAM office), and stop by the travel bureau. I think we're there to find the best way to see the penguins, the rest of the crew - how to get the fuck out of Punta Arenas. We still have the rental car - but Mitta tells us that it would cost us about $2200 in penalties should we drive it to Santiago (about 2000 miles, give or take). We soon have our tickets to the bus to Rio Gallegos in Argentina, a hotel room is booked, air tickets booked from Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires, then - on to Houston and San Diego.

A line forms at the gas station.... The militares are patrolling the streets, just in case.

By mid-afternoon we're swaying on our way to the Atlantic Coast on the top floor of a double-decker bus.

The border checkpoint comes and goes. We get out last Chilean border stamps, our third Argentina entry stamps, and nobody gives a rat's ass about what's in our luggage.

The Argentinian Patagonia is hopelessly flat. The same wildlife action on the roadside no longer gets us excited, and a paper-bag whisky does not improve the morale.

Rio Gallegos announces its arrival long ahead of time by fields strewn by plastic and paper waste, dusty and potholed roads, and common-for-South America houses with rebar sticking up to the sky announcing unfinished building to local tax collectors. In a few days in Chile, we totally forgot about these.

The highlight of the day - a dinner in the upscale restaurant in town, belonging to an old Italian family. The parillada is ordered yet again, and arrives much better than its El Calafate version. Our flight is early in the morning, so we don't spend much time on the Facebook.

* * *

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We're out of the hotel before the breakfast is served, into a taxi - and at the airport.

By the time the Aerolineas Argentinas counter comes alive, there's a long queue behind us. Yuri is checked in to his flight to BA then on to Los Angeles, we run into some sort of a problem. What this problem is we don't know, but we find ourselves kicked out to a supervisor's counter. El jefe agent frowns for a while, typing and retyping our names in the computer. Then he proclaims us free from any reservations with Aerolineas Argentinas and suggests to bring up the matter with United Airlines (with and through which the flight was booked).

It goes without saying that United's presense in Rio Gallegos is limited. It's just not there. We kick our use of Yuri's colloquial Spanish in overdrive, which nets us two shitter-row seats on this flight, for fresh five Ben Franklins.

Better than a bus to Buenos Aires, although at this point I don't mind.

The flight is utterly uneventful, with exactly nothing to see out of Lena's window. Not even sure we get anything to eat or drink - we must have a coffee or wine or whisky - but I don't remember.

About four hours later we're in Buenos Aires.

There's a small matter of our further progress. We find a United counter in the Terminal A - tucked closely near a restroom and unmanned. Nobody knows when it is open. Yuri spends nearly forty minutes on the phone with United - since United never had an acknowledgment that we were on the flight from Rio Gallegos to BA, they cancelled the rest of the trip. In the end, they don't know how exactly they fucked it up, but admit that they did and only charge Yuri the princely sum of $150 or so for seat upgrades - but, at least, leave the $2500 off his card.

Now we're free to travel as we wish; Lena insists on walking back across the terminal (from counter #81 all the way to nada) to LATAM counter - and asks the lady at the counter to change our ticket from Santiago, Chile, to LAX, several days in future, to the flight to Lima, Peru, next morning, and on to LAX a day later. The ticket agent, surprisingly, does not blow us off, but defers the decision to her supervisor.

The permission is granted half an hour later; I book a room at the hotel near the airport, we walk Yuri to his terminal, take our luggage to the hotel, and taxi to downtown Buenos Aires.

We make a dinner reservation at the Fervor, and spend a couple of hours walking in Recoleta and drinking beautiful coffee with sweet and soft medialunas.

After a week of whatever is called coffee in Chile, this is refreshing. Didn't I want to go to Buenos Aires in the first place? Careful what you wish - it just might happen.

The sun sets early, reminding us that we are no longer ten degrees from Antarctic circle.

The dinner at Fervor is phenomenal, as fully expected. In four years since our last visit to Buenos Aires the peso officially slid about four-fold with respect to the U.S. dollar, and a great dinner for two with gorgeous bottle of Malbec and two glasses of Port for dessert set us back barely $50.

By the time we returned to our hotel, we had dozens of messages from our friends and family inquiring about out status and whereabouts, and two hours of sleep left before our next flight.

* * *

Lima, Peru

We get our entry stamps into Peru barely by eight in the morning.

Bleary-eyed, we get out of the airport and hail a taxi to Miraflores. Lima... didn't I want to go to Peru earlier?

Traffic is ugly, and it takes us nearly an hour to reunite with Jennie. Her room conveniently has three beds, and the breakfast time is not up yet - so we hit the streets an hour later somewhat refreshed.

We're already too late for the tour bus - but we've toured Lima before, and it hasn't changed that much in the last decade. So we visit the Amano Museum of pre-Columbian Textiles - of all places - and enjoy the intricate weaves of the peoples from way before incas and all the way to mid-16th century.

Then we walk out to the coast and enjoy the typical-for-Lima beach scene under a cover of dense coastal fog.

When Jennie's certain we're worn out and hungry enough, she takes us for lunch to El Mercado. The place looks pretty hip and fashionable, with a sample of business types at a power lunch scattered in the room. Pisco sours, as everywhere in Peru, are outstanding, and the food - grouper and the sea bass tail - is delicious.

After lunch, we continue working our way South. Sometime in the late afternoon, we make it to the coast and discover sunlight - something not taken for granted in Lima. It is definitely a cause for drinks - while Jennie gets busy trying to buy sunglasses.

It gets dark quickly - we're much closer to the Equator than in Buenos Aires - and we take a taxi to a beautiful restaurant, Isolina Taberna Peruana, in the neighborhood of Barranco. Surprisingly for a Peruvian eatery, the menu features beef liver - which we order at least out of curiosity. The liver arrives soon, absolutely, mind-blowingly enormous in size; it is cooked to perfection, and it takes some honest effort to finish it off.

I barely remember the walk home - it takes us more than an hour to arrive to Jennie's hotel. We make an attempt to stop for a night-cap - but, judging by clothes, amount of gold spread over patrons' bodies, and language, the place must be a hangout for Russian mafia. Or, at least, pretending to be. We're dead tired, and have just enough strength left to crawl into our beds.

* * *

The new day brings us nothing but travel. Taxi, boarding passes, last stamps in the passports, last minute knick-knacks from the souvenir store, last Pisco sours, 8 hours in a cramped aluminum tube known as an airliner, entry stamps at border patrol counter in Los Angeles, and a two-hour ride home.

All good things must come to an end.

Somewhere behind, there's Santiago, Chile, with charred busses and subway stations. It feels like it is on a different planet.

* * *