I was enjoying staying in my nice hotel in Punta Arenas, but I had to move eventually. I turned up nice and early for the ferry to Porvenir, as I hadn’t reserved a ticket. I was one of the first ones there, but by the time I boarded just after 8:00, quite a few others were arriving. No extra charge for the bike.
Mine was the first bike to go on, and I was one of the first ones in the cabin. So I was a little surprised when I got off to find 7 other bikes there. I thought there might be one or two, but not that many. There’s only a couple of ways onto Tierra del Fuego, and the ferry didn’t run the previous day, so perhaps I should have expected it.
In a turnaround to the normal order of things, it’s the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego that is boring grasslands, and the Argentinian part that has mountains, lakes, forests. The first part, crossing from Porvenir heading towards San Sebastian, had very strong tailwinds, and I was making good time, over gravel roads. Almost nowhere to shelter out there though, just a handful of trees. I found a small hut on the side of the road, and sheltered in there. There was a table, a stove, and a set of bunk beds, unfortunately missing mattresses. This gave me good shelter from the wind, and somewhere to cook dinner. Many other cyclists have stopped here too, judging by the graffiti on the walls.
The iron bars weren’t going to be very comfortable to sleep on, so I set up the tent next to the hut, getting at least partial shelter from the winds that howled all night. Plus some passing motorist had thoughtfully deposited a turd in the hut, so it wasn’t the best place to sleep. It’s often the way here – any time you find shelter in this exposed land, it turns out that motorists use it to take a crap. Luckily the tampon left lying on the floor was still in its wrapper.
Crossed the border early the next morning, and back onto the pavement. It’s strange having to cross borders here in this small island. If you look at the map, it just doesn’t make sense. When I leave Ushuaia, Argentina, going to Rio Gallegos, Argentina, I will need to cross into Chile, adding hours to the trip time. But as soon as you cross the border, you understand why Argentina won’t give it up – there’s oil here.
Rio Grande next, a surprisingly large town, with two Carrefour and two La Anonima supermarkets. All on the same street of course, not far from each other. Like Asians, Latinos have a different view of competition to that normally seen in the West. I stayed at Club Nautico, where I slept on the floor of the dojo. Was easier and warmer than putting up the tent. Plus of course the wind hadn’t stopped, so I would get a better sleep indoors. My MacPac Minaret tent is very strong in the wind, and has been in some extreme conditions, but it still flaps about a bit, making sleep difficult.
On the way to Tolhuin, the boring grassland finally gives way to short trees and hills, and then forests and mountains. This also means you get some relief from the relentless westerlies. You need it, because the road turns south, then west. At Tolhuin, there is a superb bakery, offering everything a hungry cyclist could need. If you want to, you can even stay there for free, because the owner likes cyclists. Not surprisingly, there were 8 other cyclists there when I arrived. I felt like camping though, so went to Camping Hain by the lake, where the wind shelters have evolved into complete coverings for your tent. Nice place.
Sunshine and no wind made such a change. I could just sit in the forest and relax, something I haven’t been able to do for some time. I was in no rush to get to Ushuaia, so camped 30km from the city, by a river, enjoying the sunshine.
Didn’t last, so the ride into Ushuaia, on a particularly crappy road near the city, wasn’t much fun. I stopped for supplies, then headed to Lapataia, the end of Ruta 3. I had bought a bottle of bubbly for celebrations, but it was cold and windy, with a squall coming in, so I retreated to the campsite. I felt I deserved a decent campsite, so paid, rather than taking the free option. It was cold, and I wanted a hot shower…so after checking in the woman tells me the shower is broken, they’re useless and they can’t be arsed fixing it, and maybe it will be working tomorrow night at 9pm. Cow. Paid 50 pesos to get into the park, then 18 for the campsite, and now there’s not even a hot shower?
Rode the 20km back to Ushuaia the following day, this time getting snowed on. In the middle of summer. I have no idea how these people live here. Found a hostel, and soaked for a while in hot hot water. I’m sure the staff were grateful I washed and changed into clean clothes – I hadn’t changed my riding shirt for 6 days, and some nights I never took it off, because it was too cold.
It’s a bit much of a rich tourist town this one, too many shops selling overpriced crap. Sure, lots of places have English speaking staff, but you pay for it. At least I can get some English books, which I’ll need for the next phase of the trip.
I’m going to get a series of buses north, stopping off at various points along the way, to break up the journey. My first leg will be to Rio Gallegos, then perhaps to Comodoro Rivadavia. Went to one bus company, they said no, you can’t bring a bike. Try these guys instead. Went there, they said yes, but you need to put it in a box. Crap. Bike boxes are very scarce here, too many cyclists riding in and flying/busing out. Plus if I box the bike, it’s a pain to get to the bus station. So my current plan is to ride down to the bus station at 4am (departure 5am), and take a few large pieces of cardboard and a big roll of tape. Then I’ll have a chat to the driver, see if it really needs to be boxed, if it does, I’ll strap some cardboard around it, tape it up, and hope for the best.