Tierra Del Fuego
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
The ferry across the Strait of Magellan to Porvenir, provided by Austral Broom, was scheduled to leave at 9:30 am on this morning and I was up early to get there before 8 since the line could be long. It was cold and crisp outside and I caught the manager setting up the continental breakfast to ask him to unlock the parking gates of the hotel. I snuck a couple of rolls from the plastic wrapped platters and a couple of bananas for the road and rode the bike to the front sidewalk to load up.
It was cold enough to make my nose run as I rode the couple of miles to the ferry as the sun began to warm things up. It was just a few hundred yards past the dealership I’d taken the bike to for a quote and cars were already lined up. There was a big line of people waiting to board at the dock as I parked and scrambled into the office. A very long line of backpackers stood in line and I noticed a single window that said vehiculos with only 2 people waiting and jumped in. The cost was roughly 11,000 Chilean pesos and cash only, about $18 US for the bike and me, and I pulled back into the car waiting lane to sit in the warm sunshine. I was nervous and excited, because across the Strait of Magellan lay the island of Tierra del Fuego and ultimately Ushuaia and the end of the world.
In a couple of moments a KLR pulled up beside me and a blonde haired, blue eyed guy got off, asking me with a heavy Scandinavian accent where to buy a ticket. I pointed him where to go and shortly after one of the ferry loaders asked for my ticket and waved me forward a few cars to the front of the line. On ferries, on a motorcycle you're either always first to board or last to board. I sat waiting and savoring the moment, finally being signaled to ride aboard and tuck the bike under a staircase.
I headed for the top deck (I like to think of it as "top shelf") amidst hoards of backpackers and vacationers to watch the rest of the vehicles loading.
It was cold but sunny and I explored the ship a bit until an announcement was made in which I heard “problema” and for the next hour the boat stayed moored but with the engines running hard, as whatever work was being done needed the revs. About an hour past launch time we finally began to rumble backwards from the shore and slowly turn for the island on the far horizon.
"Jaws wuz here"
My back had gone wonky in Puerto Natales, having slept crooked or something and getting a severe sqwonk when I leaned over to put on my boots. The muscle kept hurting longer than usual and after 4 hours on the bike each day I was done. I still had to take baby steps when I walked and tried to act manly when I sat down, but the Advil wasn't helping much.
As we moved into the wind and water for a couple of hours, I had plenty of time to ponder things past, present and future. One thing fresh in my mind was the previous night’s encounter…
As the light began to fade, I had wandered the small downtown sort of in an emotionless state. I took old creaking stairs to a second floor restaurant to have a decent meal after so many bad ones on the trip. King crab and pasta definitely hit the spot. After, as I sat staring blankly ahead, another man at the table next lifted his beer and looked at me. I smiled back and he tipped the bottle offering to fill my empty glass. I thanked him but said no and the conversation began.
He was from the Dominican Republic, 54 years old and very curious about my travels. He asked many questions, but his first was if I traveled alone. I told him solo was the only way to fly, then he laughed out loud. He said he traveled alone as well and could never explain to those who questioned him why. I told him I certainly understood. Between bites of food he asked “and what do you think of in so many hours alone as you ride?”
My answer was "many things, but enjoying the solitude and taking in what was around me was a big part of it". He said, “I as well, but it is my time alone with God and as I go to one amazing place or another I never thought I would see, I thank him that he has honored me that I could see it.” It was my turn to laugh, and I told him I did exactly the same thing.
I said that many years ago I asked God for an interesting life, and had received it in spades, though I forgot to specify for him to leave all the bad stuff out. I had also come to the understanding that the world was made for us to enjoy, and asked God to let me see as much of it as I could before I died. He laughed out loud, toasted me and went back to his meal. I wondered that two who travel alone had met at the end of the world, unknown brothers of the soul.
As I thought about the encounter, I double checked myself and how I had spent more time complaining of my problems than I had in just being thankful at how blessed I was to be alive and able to live in moments of wonder on this trek. I needed to look at the big picture and not the details. It was a timely reminder from my constant companion...
My final destination of Tierra del Fuego lay ahead!
The trip across the strait seemed to pass quickly and before long the ferry was in the inlet, making a massive high speed (for a ferry) U turn to head onto the ramp. The race for the deck below began but I stayed up top to watch the proceedings and came down after all the cars were gone, save one. I had to wait on the bike until the pedestrian traffic was completely clear before rolling off and onto the "land of fire". I'd read that the island of Tierra Del Fuego was so named, because when Magellan came through the waters, there were bonfires all over the island (though it wasn't known to be an island then). It was winter, and the native peoples wore no clothes, keeping fires burning continuously around the land to warm themselves as needed. Hard to imagine naked folks living in snow, however the fires were definitely written about by Magellan and others.
It was hard to believe I was here, heading for the gravel road that follows the coast east for the Atlantic and the town of Rio Grande. I’d decided to stay there rather than push all day to make Ushuaia, not wanting to arrive late and tired at a keystone moment. I’d had plenty of that on this trip!
The coastal road was excellent though it had plenty of uncomfortable moments of loose gravel and I really enjoyed it in the bright sunshine. It curved and wound along the coastal cliffs and rolling hills. In most places it was smooth and well packed where riding was easy, but of course had some bad sections. Still, it was a really nice ride despite some severe winds.
Eventually, a freshly paved road came up and was enjoyable for a while before veering off into gravel that paralleled the pavement. Trucks and vehicles doused me with dust clouds to varying degrees depending on the winds, but eventually the Chilean immigration building came into view and I parked next to the KLR and rider I’d met in the ferry line. I guessed he had been one of the first off the ferry while I dawdled.
He had finished up his paperwork and was leaving, but asked me about his chain and how loose it had suddenly become. I told him it had reached its life expectancy and was in the rapid stretching stage. He asked if he could make it to Ushuaia before adjusting it, but I told him to take the time and do it as soon as possible, like right now. He said he would wait to find a place out of the wind and I laughed and told him good luck with that!
I exited quickly out of Chilean territory, adding my travel sticker to the slathering of decals everywhere in the place before taking a break for a few minutes. From there I crossed the border into Argentina and continued on the dusty road for quite a ways, expecting the Argentinian aduana soon after, but it wasn't even on the horizon. Ahead I saw a stopped motorcycle in the middle of the road and when I caught up, it was the Scandinavian rider. I fully expected a broken chain, but he was waiting for me and said “the Argentinian immigration is back there at the buildings for Chile! I asked a car where Argentinian immigration was and they said it was with Chile!” I wasn’t too sure about that, and having fought my way past billowing clouds of dust and gravel getting ahead of several semi’s, I didn’t relish going back a few miles only to have to pass them again. He was adamant, so I followed him all the way back only to confirm that there was no Argentinian immigration building there.
Back on track and heading east again in the no man's land of Argentweena, eventually the immigration station appeared and I went inside for the now routine entry process. There were decals everywhere in the place, even behind the officials on the walls. I guess if the staff stayed still enough, they’d get covered with decals as well. I was asked for the small slip of paper with two stamps I’d been given back in Chile and had thankfully kept (by the way keep every scrap of paper given you anywhere in the process even if it looks like a number tag from a counter ticket dispenser as it can be VERY important) and after the process, received two more stamps. It was to be given to the gate guard as proof so he could allow me into Argentina. I put my title and relative paperwork back into its sleeve and into my jacket, keeping the small piece in my hand to give directly to the guard. I opened the door and stepped outside, only to be hit by a huge gust of wind which yanked the paper out of my hand and I watched it fly away into the sky and out over the lake. I fruitlessly ran down the road watching it blow away high in the sky. It was stupid, as if it would somehow land and wait for me in the winds. Those damb Patagonian winds are not a joke.
Craptastic. Inches away from entering Argentina for Ushuaia and my official entry papers were long gone. I walked to the guard, then did a mime routine shouting “papel” and “viento”. He looked at me for a few seconds and said “chico?” I said "si". He looked at me for a few more seconds, then said “pasar”. I jumped on the bike got the hell out of Dodge for Rio Grande before he had any second thoughts.
The gravel road continued for many miles until teeing into Ruta 3, a blacktop road that tagged along the Atlantic coast for a while. My first view of the Atlantic was yet another marker on my trek. Rio Grande was a nice, clean, modern town and after finding a hostel online while grabbing a coffee, I was happy to discover it was brand new place, a great apartment with kitchen. Since my trip was nearing its end, I was loosening up on staying in nicer places instead of trying to find the least acceptable lodging. I was celebrating and wanting to slide into the last few days enjoying the moment in decent digs.
I sat on the leatherette couch and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The long days of riding tensely on loose gravel don't translate well into a blog, and I'm sure in retrospect much of my entries mention being tired, but it's a true outcome of this type of trekking. However, I’ve noticed that the last couple of weeks I’ve been more fatigued than any time previously. Maybe it was the length of the time on the road, or maybe it's because I was beginning to relax as my goal had finally drawn near...
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