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The Tales End! - News - bespk

The Tales End!

Posted on Sunday, 31st March 2013 by Eunice

On March 20th 2013 we headed for our final border crossing; back into Chile and onto the Island of Tierra del Fuego at the very south of South America.  We understand that the borders here have been disputed several times in different ways over the last two centuries. This has required the interventions of two popes and even King George VII of England.  Argentina now has the right side of the archipelago; down through the island of Tierra del Fuego and Chile the left side. 
The temperature has dropped by several degrees and we are now wearing three layers, with an outer coat.  All possible air conditioning vents have been closed and still it is quite cold.   Strong winds blow across the flat plains; but we are advised this is just a gentle breeze compared to when it is really windy.  The car however, needs controlling like a sailboat, as it yaws across the road, or struggles to make headway. 

After two and a half hours driving on generally flat terrain that seems to descend to the end of the world in steps, we came to the border.  Outside we are welcomed by a family of foxes who, we are told, are fed by the border staff.  Apart from the Aduana and a few huts, there is nothing for miles. We do not need to stop at the Argentinian side; because on the Chilean side the services are amalgamated into one building; all clearly marked, numbered and easy to follow.  And so for the final stamps in our passports for our adventure. 

The border officials are kind, courteous and relaxed.  They are fascinated by the car and want to know our story.  This makes the process longer than necessary, but we do not mind.  In fact, we are made to realize just how important our venture is when one official having carried out his duty asks us to a separate desk, where he shows us photos and a video of his 13 year old son having his hydrotherapy session.  He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and uses a wheel chair for his mobility.  He attends school with his siblings and he and his family have support from a specialist centre.  The border official states: "When you have a child with Special Needs, it affects the whole family; parents, siblings, relatives and all those who come into contact with them".  For us that sums it up beautifully.

We drive along the shore of the Straits of Magellan and had intended to take the turn to the left to the ferry for Tierra del Fuego, but unfortunately missed this.  As by now Eunice was feeling distinctly unwell, we made the decision to press on to Punta Arenas.  There is very little along the road, except for a few farmsteads and some oil depots.  We drove through a ghost town with its boarded up houses and signs of a past era.  Willem Gronhuis had sent us an email to warn us that the strong winds would markedly increase our petrol consumption and advised to stop for fuel whenever we saw it.  It was a relief to see a large tank and fuel pump after about fifty miles and we pulled off the main road to fuel up. 

Also waiting for fuel was a large Land Rover, owned by a South African family: Graham, Luisa, Keelen and Jessica Bell.  They are travelling in the opposite direction to us raising awareness for the eradication of Malaria.  Like Guy, Graham has spent a long time in the preparation of the vehicle and it was impressive how organized everything was.  They have their sleeping tents in the roof and are essentially self-contained.  We chatted for some time, before going our separate ways and we wish them all very best.

And so we turned left onto the road to Punta Arenas, another provincial boundary and a police check.  They initially stopped us to tell us it was alright to proceed but then the police decided they would like some photos of the car, so we stopped.  It seems here; if you are a police official you can only be photographed with your hat on and as they only had one hat this had to be shared.  The most senior official, squeezed himself into the car, getting caught up between his radio and pistol, but achieved his goal.  Then they wanted photos of Eunice by their headquarters.  She obliged, but only if she should wear the hat!

We arrived in Punta Arenas during  the afternoon and despite having researched hotels, got muddled because one of the main routes was closed.  Having made a detour and parked, Guy got out to ask a taxi driver for directions, only to be told that we were directly outside one of the hotels where we had thought of staying. (St Serendipity?)  There seemed no other choices and when the staff offered us a special rate the decision was made.  The joys of arriving at the end were somewhat disrupted by Guy's altercations with a traffic warden. She wanted to give him a ticket, but he declined to accept as we had only just arrived.  She then stormed into the hotel and gave us all a piece of her mind!  What is it about being a traffic warden?  For us the outcome was very favourable.  The hotel staff was so upset by this; they offered us a free dinner to compensate.  How very kind!

The next two days were spent in a quietly reflective state for Guy and Eunice was feeling wretched from 'flu which turned into bronchitis.  The sunshine was bright and cheerful, but the chill in the air made it difficult to venture outside without inducing a spate of coughing.  However after three days things had improved and we were able to venture out for dinner.  The hotel had advised us of two restaurants and we chose the one that looked the fullest.  As we hadn't booked we were told we had to sit upstairs.  Whilst ordering our food a man at a table across the room kept looking at us, then got up and walked past the table, returning a few minutes later addressing Eunice by her name. 

This was Dr. Sergio Malaree; with whom Eunice worked for many years and who retired 6 years ago.  Sergio had also referred several children, in his care, to Guy.  He lives with his beautiful wife, Carmen, in Plymouth.  They are both Chilean by birth and were in Chile visiting his mother, whilst also taking some time to see more of their startling country.  They had just returned from five days trekking in Torres del Paine.  For all of us it seemed like a completely bizarre encounter, meeting this way at the end of the world. Again it helped to reaffirm our commitment to try and improve things for the children with Special Needs and their families. 

If the meeting was not strange enough; whilst we were recounting tales of the adventure and particularly the story of the broken timing gears, the trip to Valparaiso and the meeting with Daniel Elton Heavey (who had met John Coleman in 1959/60) Sergio said rather quietly; ‘I was at school with him’. (St Serendipity at work again?)   So the two of them are now in contact as the result of the encounter

We met for dinner two evenings later by which time everyone was feeling much better. We learnt of life in Chile during the sixties and seventies as a young married couple with children and the difficulties this caused if you were a free thinking individual.  It is always so good to have a native of the country tell you their history it’s much more realistic.  We learnt of the reasons they had left Chile.  Carmen is an author and has written several books in Spanish.  At present she is writing a book about Pinochet and Mrs Thatcher. 

Meanwhile Guy had been busy meeting with Patricio, the son of Pedro Sanchez (a friend of Willem Gronhuis)  who is helping us to ship the car back to the UK.  The car has to be in the warehouse on Monday 25th, so on the Sunday we take it for a last drive down to Fuerte Bulnes, the most southerly point (without a toll) on the mainland peninsula.  With no bags on board the car is lighter and not such a worry taking it onto the unpaved roads. There is a dense forest of oak trees that benefit from the shelter of the valleys, but mostly it is bleak moorland.  We stop and take a few final photographs.  There is a certain sense of sadness, but this is truly the end of the road and we can go no further.

When we return to our hotel in the afternoon we are greeted by two gentlemen from the press who have heard about us and wish to take photos and do an interview.  This is arranged for the following morning, as we are tired, it is late and the light is fading.  So on Monday morning we are interviewed by the local paper and arrange to have photos taken later in the day overlooking Punta Arenas.  We are also contacted by Claudia Bianchi who had met with Ruth and Charlie in Torres del Paine and wanted to meet us.  She had also spent time rallying the local media (the papers, radio and television)   arranging for us to do live interviews outside her restaurant at 5pm.  All a great flurry of excitement!

The car had to be at Servinaut (Pedro and Patricio’s company) at 6pm Guy was concerned that we were cutting it rather fine.  In hind sight this was probably no bad thing as it gave us less time to think about the impending separation.  For both of us this little yellow car has become our home and sanctuary over the last eight months.  Together the three of us have travelled great distances, coped with all sorts of terrains, met amazing people and had the most incredible adventure.

So we leave the mighty Austin in the careful hands of Pedro and Patricio not knowing where or when we will see it again.  We have learnt to have faith and know that it will be returned to us in the near future.  Meanwhile we fly back to the UK on Tuesday 2nd  April 2013, to be greeted by friends and family who we have dearly missed for so long.

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