In Search of The End of the World
In 2014 I decided to reach The End of the World once and for all. I was trying to get to The End of the World for a while already, but every attempt had been a terrible failure. I always ended up at the wrong place. Once I tried to find it at the Great Chinese Wall, around Ba Da Ling. While being surrounded by so many mountains I came to the realization that The End of the World wasn’t there: there was a lot of people around, and the hot chocolate they served at the small restaurants next to the street was made of powdered milk mixed with cocoa stirred in hot water. Those kind of things don’t happen at The End of the World.
On another occasion I went to a frozen lake in Finland, perhaps under the wrong impression that the name of the country was a clue as to where to find the place of my worst dreams and my best nightmares. After a quick dive into the cold water of the lake I felt that The End of the World couldn’t be there either. It was cold, yes, but the sunlight reflection on the snowflakes was too bright.
I even tried to get off the beaten track and went to a communist mausoleum in the middle of the Red Square. Cell phones were forbidden inside, as well as taking pictures and even talking. The place was very dark. The air inside was so tight and locked. Nothing to do with The End of the World.
According to the books I used to read as a kid, the Nile is the longest river in the world. “Perhaps a river like that would begin at The End of the World” I thought. I gathered some courage, and with a couple of friends, we drove a van to Uganda till the very source of the Nile. They didn’t know that my secret plan all along was to find The End of the World. There was a restaurant selling beers right besides the very start of the river. They even had a soda whose brand was called “Alvaro” like myself. We could argue that seeing my name there was a sign that I was getting close to my goal, but that place couldn’t be The End of the World, because before I arrived there, they already knew my name and they had placed it on a label.
In any case I kept my hopes high and continued chasing my goal. This time I thought that The End of the World could be lost in the middle of an American desert. With my wife we went to visit one of her aunts in Salt Lake City, Utah. By the end of our stay, I convinced my wife to take a train to California. Of course she had no idea that in fact, I was after The End of the World, that we were going to venture into those deserts looking for the very place of my obsession. The train departed with a ten hours delay. That’s a good sign, because you don’t arrive at The End of the World on time. The train stopped while we were crossing Nevada’s desert. We were in the middle of nowhere. It was overcast and uncertainty was pouring over every passenger. I was cheering with happiness but I kept those feelings for myself. “I made it! I’m finally there!” I thought. I was wrong. The traffic police had stopped the train since the driver was going over the speed limit, trying to catch up with time. I never thought something like that could be possible, but it happened right there in front of us. We arrived at Sacramento station with a 34 hours delay, and with no End of the World in sight. The whole blue sky of the Golden State was not enough to wash away my disappointment.
Almost defeated I decided to play the last card in hand. Perhaps my reluctance to accept this fact was what took me to wander around the world in the first place. Perhaps wandering around the world was what helped me accept this very fact. The End the World is in Argentina. Once you realize that, it becomes very obvious. It’s even ridiculous to think that it could be any different.
The trip started in the Buenos Aires Barrio Centro. We got a car at some rental by Suipacha and we went straight to Ruta 3 in search of that destiny which we were totally convinced we were going to find. The Buenos Aires countryside with the smell of Southern Milonga lingering in the air, covered us in melancholy and contemplation. The night caught us on the side of the road, beyond Bahía Blanca. When the sun came back, we continued our trip to the south trying not to look back, preventing nostalgia to caught with us. At Puerto San Julián we were welcomed with candor and good food, despite the fact that the wound from the Malvinas war was still open inside that restaurant owner. “Many of my friends died in the Belgrano” he told me. “They were just kids, they didn’t even know how to hold a rifle. I had to teach them.” After a teary pause he warned us: “If you continue South, be careful with the wind.”
We kept going south indeed, until South America almost ended on us. The Strait of Magellan was the last hurdle before The End of the World. We found a ship and crossed to the other side with little difficulty. Panda dolphins were jumping next to our boat. It was clear they knew we were getting close to our goal so they tried to cheer us up, begging us to keep going.
At the other side of the strait we continued via the Ruta 3 towards Ushuaia. The wind realized our intentions and started to blow very strong on the side of our car. It seemed like it was asking us to stop and desist from our madness. For me this was a sign that we were getting close.
By night we crossed the southernmost mountain pass of the Andes, and we let the rain accompany us as we entered Ushuaia. Destiny wanted that the very first person we met there was called Doctor Sombra, or “Doctor Shadow” as we liked to call him afterwards. “Another sign” I thought as I was shaking hands with him. His eyes hinted that he knew what we were doing down there, his grim, left no doubts about it. Rain kept falling over Ushuaia. Without much talking, we went to bed. We knew we had to be well rested for our next day, to be ready to get to The End of the World.
By morning we got into the car and started to undo our way, going towards the Andes. Many tourists make the mistake of following Ruta 3 till the very end, until Bahía Lapataia, but they are wrong. There you can only find a national park, and a small train, but not The End of the World. If we go back via Ruta 3 down to the very start of the Andes, we can find a small road identified with the letter J. It’s a gravel road without much fuss or pride. It passes by Lake Harberton and posses a simple yet effective trap. If you are not focused you will be lured at stopping by the Estancia that sits next to the lake. We knew we had to go past that, way beyond the lake.
A few miles forward we had to cross a hill topped by a lone tree which we decided to visit. The wind gusts were very strong, but the tree was holding up without complaining. It knew where we were heading to, but it decided to keep it as a secret. A nice touch from that tree towards us, some unknown foreigners visiting his land. The road ahead took us through a small forest where some dogs cut our way and barked to us. Our little Don Quixote Odyssey was nearing its end.
A bridge covered in orange rust helped us cross the River Moat. The last bridge and the last river right before The End of the World. The road had just one mile left. It ended on a small hill from where you could reach a little cliff that falls into the ocean. We found an abandoned ladder next to the cliff and used it to go down to a stone beach. We couldn’t find the reason why there were orange canisters spread all over the beach. The rocks were tired, since the ocean was coming at them once and again. They were almost black, most of them covered by an orange moss. Grey clouds covered the sky, and the wind was ever present around us.
We went back up the ridge towards the car. I became aware of my surroundings and started to notice every feature of that hill we were standing on. The grass was very smooth, mown to perfection, something completely unwarranted there. As with everything in life, there was an explanation. If that place was The End of the World, which thing or sign will give it away? We were in Argentina, at the end of South America, 2000 miles away from Buenos Aires, far from La Pampa and past beyond Patagonia. The answer was right there, next to us. It was very simple, like all things we don’t understand, like The End of the World. That little hill wasn’t just any hill, the grass wasn’t just grass. We were standing atop a soccer field. We were for sure at The End of the World.
Last year I decided to go to the “desert of deserts”. I left Switzerland on my motorcycle with the goal of reaching the Sahara desert at the end of Morocco. I could name quite a few events from that trip, but there’s a couple that are very interesting to share. On my first day in Morocco, the sunset found me while I was climbing the Atlas Mountains. My goal was to cross them via the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass. I decided to spend the night at a in Taddart, a village in the middle of the mountains, with no internet access or phone signal. After many attempts I managed to ask for a place to stay, but they told me I had to wait for Abdul, who “is playing soccer right now”. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was in the middle of the mountains and they tell me that I had to wait for the guy in charge of the Gite D’Etape because he was playing soccer?! They signaled in the direction of the soccer field and told me that I could go and hang around there while waiting for the game to end.
The soccer field was next to a river bed, which was almost dry. There were two teams playing, the reds vs. the blues. Right after the game, Abdul welcomed me and showed me my room for the night. Then he took me to a house nearby where I was going to get dinner. It was Ramadan so they cooked just for me. I managed to start a chat with the guy in charge of the kitchen; we mixed Spanish, English and French to understand each other. It was quite fun. I asked him for some advice about the road south. He told me that once I had crossed the Tichka, I should take a side road that goes over a detour “with the best view”. He drew a map on some old piece of paper and explained me how to find the exit into the side road.
The next day once I crossed the Tichka I was more focused on finding that detour, than on paying attention to my actual road. As soon as I started the descent, there was an area that seemed like it will take me down a cliff straight into my death. Well, exactly there was the small side road I was looking for. As I got deeper and deeper into that new route, it seemed like I was entering the hidden Morocco, a place filled with magic and villages forgotten by time. After about an hour I found the Télouet Kasbah an arab style castle which once was the house of the King of the Atlas. I took a tour inside the Kasbah like any tourist would do. I had no idea what sight was awaiting me across one of the Kasbah’s windows. Right on the other side, there was a soccer field! What was going on?
I continued my trip towards the south of Morocco, trying to reach M’Hamid, where the road ends and the Sahara begins. After one day on the road I managed to reach that town, which seemed to be sleepy under the desert heat. I saw just a handful of people in the streets, with their bodies covered with robes head to toe, because they know the sun there is unforgiving. When I decided to turn around and start my way back something startled me. It was a donkey that I had seen a few hours back when I entered the town but which I hadn’t noticed. I paid close attention to the donkey and I realized that it was tied to a post, but it wasn’t just any kind of post but a soccer goal post. Another soccer field! The End of the World had followed me till the very Sahara.