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Bus2Antarctica: The Long Way Home

All good things must end, and the same goes for amazing journeys. We’ve managed to draw out the conclusion of Andrew Evans’ Bus2Antarctica trip here on the blog, in part because we had so much content and in part because we’re not really ready to let go. But let go we must. So here, Andrew shares his thoughts on the last bit of his trip…

But wait! Ok, maybe we’re not done. You can see pictures, ask questions, and hear him recap the entire experience, by signing up for a free ‘virtual TweetUp’ webinar on April 12 at 8 p.m. EST. Sign up here, and get more details here. Ok, now you can read his musings on coming home.

Sadly, all great journeys must come to an end, even the really long amazing ones. It all happens so abruptly: one day you just wake up and there are no more buses, boats, or planes and you’re surrounded by people who call you by your nickname. It’s quite a shock.

Don’t get me wrong. I think I was ready to put my adventure to bed. The time had come and travel can make you very tired. I was starting to get tired.

My last day at sea ended all too quickly, before I expected. At first there was land ho–the postcard-perfect snow-capped mountains of Tierra del Fuego all in a row–and then the National Geographic Explorer pulled up to the dock in Ushuaia, like a kid parking his parents’ car after taking it out on a very long joyride. From my cabin window, I heard the ropes slap on the cement dock and felt the end to three weeks of ocean motion.

I had to pack–and I really hate packing. But I packed and put my suitcases out in the hallway and got all mentally prepared to leave the next morning. And then we didn’t leave.

As you may recall, there was an earthquake in Chile that shut down the airport in Santiago, which is how we (all the guests and crew) were intending on flying home. There was no airport and no flight and even worse, no alternative. Argentina’s little port city of Ushuaia really is the end of the world and due to lack of connections and general chaos caused by the earthquake, we ended up spending four extra days there–living on the ship and biding our time.

It’s not the places you go that matter so much as the places you end up. I got to know Ushuaia quite well over the course of four days–I walked nearly every block and poked my head into every door that opened on its own. I discovered that Ushuaia’s not a bad town at all–an odd mix of Argentine and alpine, backpackers and cruise ship crowds, camping gear stores and fancy chocolate shops.

Realizing there was no easy way out of our situation, Lindblad Expeditions chartered a private plane to fly us all back to America. It felt odd that a single plane would take me most of the way home–the same vast distance that took me 40 buses to cover on the way down. We took off on a clear morning–all 150 of us sitting in neat little rows on an airplane. I looked out the window and pointed out the white ribbon of road struck across the eternal green of La Pampa–the same expanse I had crossed by bus a month before. A few hours later we landed in Bolivia and through the window saw sun-wilted palm trees. At midnight we landed in Lima, Peru and got off for an hour to stretch our legs. It felt surreal to be backtracking like this–dotting backwards across the map by air and having little bouts of memory from my bus trip down to Antarctica.

Hours later we landed in Miami, Florida: after 10 weeks, I was back in the United States of America. I had to fill out a landing card for Immigration. It asked which countries I had visited on this trip but then only offered four blank spaces. I wondered which of the 17 countries I would include, then settled for a singular, all-caps ANTARCTICA.

In Miami, I discovered I had no ticket home but after 16 straight hours of flying, I didn’t care so much. I just walked up to an American Airlines counter, asked for a ticket to Washington, D.C. and handed them my credit card. It was no different than the dozens of bus tickets I had bought before. Three hours later I landed at Reagan National Airport, grabbed my grubby, battered luggage and hailed a cab–my final set of wheels on a very, very long journey.

We zipped across Memorial Bridge–the sun was shining and the Washington Monument was standing white and tall, right behind the Jefferson Memorial. I saw the meter climbing up to $12–remembered crossing the whole of Ecuador for the same price–and watched as we whizzed past National Geographic headquarters. I had come full circle, made the round trip to and from Antarctica, had a world of adventures and was now heading home, for real.

I tend to attach far too much emotion to travel and this was no exception. I’ve been through a lot, seen a lot, and felt a lot. Most of all I feel thanks for all the people that helped me out along the way–family, friends, and everyone at National Geographic Traveler. In that regard, coming home is just as important as the rest of the trip–like putting the punctuation mark on any kind of travel.

I opened the cab door and walked up the driveway. I didn’t have any keys but the door quickly opened from the inside.

I was home. It felt wonderful–weird and shocking, yes, but also good.

I think I’ll stay here for a while. Until the next trip . . .

Andrew Evans traveled 10,000 miles–by bus–from Washington D.C. to Antarctica for National Geographic Traveler and tweeted about his travels at @Bus2Antarctica. Follow the map of his journey, read through all of his blog posts, watch videos, and get the full story on the project here. Photos by Andrew Evans.

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