South America | Argentina | Tierra del Fuego – In The Land of Fire
Tierra Del Fuego directly translated from Spanish means the ‘Land of Fire’, but I can tell you that its cold as ice sometimes with a driving rain and a biting damp chill in an endless wind. Some ancient massive eruptions from the earth created these amazing mountains that surround me here in the town of Ushuaia at the world’s end – or at least the south end of Argentina. The real reason this place is called the land of fire is that the people who originally colonized the island used to light huge fires to help prevent ships from grounding themselves in the awful weather.
Ushuaia(pronounced oosh – why – ah) is not only the last point of an expensive departure for many ships carrying 65,000 passengers heading to the most unvisited continent on earth, but is also a launching point for another 135,000 tourists and climbers heading to Tierra Del Fuego National Park or small boat trips in the Beagle Channel.
Its been a great journey getting here by bicycle from Puerto Natales around 1000 kms north in Chile and most unexpectedly I cycled a good part of it with Michael Dorsch from Germany who began an epic Pan-American voyage from Vancouver. When he was cycling in Northern Canada last January, he didn’t see too many Canadian cyclists on the icy and snow covered roads – in fact he didn’t see any – so I’ve been here in this January to provide a Canadian presence and sense of humour. We had a lot of laughs and I’ve learned a little bit of German that I’m not allowed to use in polite company. I’ve used the words and told people that Michael told me the word for f…ing was the word of potatoe and the other word for f….ing was the word for brocolli and the other word – well – you get the idea and here’s the story:
I headed out to the ferry terminal in Punta Arenas again in the morning of January 6th hoping that the ferry would run – and it did go even if it departed just over a couple of hours late. The crossing was fairly calm and we saw some penguins swimming in the waters as well as some albatross swooping down from the sky. About eighteen kilometers south of the ferry terminal on Tierra Del Fuego’s town of Porvenir, we stopped to make some pictures and while playing with some local dogs from the fishing huts I noticed some dolphins leaping in the surf. Dolphins are always awesome to me and they hung around for quite some time even as we were leaving.
Y-71 follows the coast and around 7 or 8 o’clock we stopped by the sea to make camp for the night to make one of those camping spots that was almost ideal. The next part of the road brought us by some guanacos that made the most unearthly noises. I’ve heard babies making some small sounds, but these llama like animals grow up and their voices become much deeper and much much louder. – something you won’t hear from the inside of a bus or a jeep. Michael scored us some free lunch at a work camp near the junction with Y-83 and the guys there were a bit um curious about my earing. The lunch was great though and they treated us more than fine. They seemed to think that everyone was loco including each other. They even claimed that there was a salsa theif who appeared from nowhere just to steal the salsa from the kitchen. Eventually we made it over the border to Argentina, but the town that we thought was a town wasn’t, so we ended up down the highway a few kilometers camping by the side of the road.
Headwinds buffered against us through a sunny Sunday ride to Rio Grande where we passed quite a few guys and a few women on horseback going to family gatherings. From what I found out from Carlos at Club Nautico camping, it was some sort of Santa Gaucho day. I’m not sure if that is Santa as in Santa Claus or Santa as in Saint of the Gauchos. Club Nautico is a kayaking club boathouse with quite a social kitchen gathering area. In the evening, we met some motorbikers who had been on the road for some time and quite a few Swiss and Germans who come over with their own landrovers to tours the continent. We shared some Bacardi Cola together until about midnight and chatted with some very funny Germans.
From Rio Grande, the road south is mostly paved and we met seven German cyclists including a 69 year old woman along the way – so lots of stopping and talking with Michael. The weather turned especially nasty with strong crosswinds, driving rain and a temperature of 6 degrees before the windchill in the early evening. Our saving grace for the end of the day was we did find the ‘world famous’ bakery in Tolhuin and build a pretty decent fire for ourselves on the shores of Lago Fagnano at Camping Hain. We also put a poor cat that had been badly hit by a car under shelter and gave it some water and food. Roberto who owned the campsite didn’t know who’s cat it might be. It was still alive in the morning, so maybe there’s hope.
After Michael did a pretty awesome repair of my rear rack that snapped at the end of the previous day and breakfast at the ‘world famous’ Panderia/bakery in Tolhuin, we began a fairly big climbing day on unsurfaced roads in headwinds to Ushuaia. I had my picture taken a few times by motorists and we met some non-German cyclists – 2 guys from the US who were starting a trip after sspending two years with the Peace Corps in Paraguay. From what I know the Peace Corps are part of Americas aid projects throughout the world – something that the US does that people including me forget about a lot of the time. We also met a couple of brothers from Las Vegas who were planning to walk to Columbia and then kayak to California…in one year! They say they want to do something epic and you have to admit that something like that IS epic. We’ll see what happens. Their names are down below in the cycling reports if you want to ‘Google’ them in a month or so when they say their website will be up and running.
With my cycling partner for the last week a bit tired after 23,000 kms or so and grumpily hungry we tried to find a place indoors in Ushuaia, but everything except the most expensive hotels were full. So it was camping…at the top of a hill of course…in a town with hills like San Francisco. We picked up some take-out pizza on the way and I was especially happy that the campsite owner announced Michael’s arrival from Canada by bicycle to a warm round of applause.
On the 11th of January, we bought some airplane tickets with Michael getting probably the only seat available to Buenos Aires for the next two and half weeks for that night. The day was spent doing businessy kind of things and having a delicious Argentine steak dinner and all too soon as when travelling, someone who you have an amazing experience with is gone and probably never to be seen again.
In Ushuaia, I take a trip on a small sailboat to see the cormorant colonies and the remains of aboriginal communities before the people became extinct. Our crew is fantastic and our sailboat rides almost sideways into the waves.
There’s some new video on my website, but I honestly have no idea what it is. All I know is that the files are small enough to upload so if it’s something really strange, please let me know. Actually, please let me know whatever it is.
On nearing the end of this fantastic journey before I return to a ‘real world’ with hopefully some sort of real work, a few thanks and a few thoughts (then the road reports):
The thank you’s –
Thanks Simon, Julian, Lynne and anyone at Worldsurface I don’t know about for having this great website and letting me share my journey.
Thanks Michael Dorsch for giving me your bike racks so I can continue my journey on the bike. Thanks Mike Berube for inspiring me to travel on a bicycle so many years ago.
Thanks Doug for making those arrangements for Christmas and for everything else.
Thanks to my good friends in Vancouver who have helped me with all kinds of stuff while I’m away – Sherry, Steph, Doug again, Mary Gail, Erin – you’re the best!
Thanks to you for reading these notes and sending me your comments and feedback either through this site or via email from the address of my website:
And thanks to my family and friends who are there – always.
And the thoughts –
Luck: It comes in two forms – good AND bad. Right now for me things are mostly Good Lucky, but I can tell you stories that would make you think my life is just Bad Lucky. It’s not. Its just lucky. And I’m not sure anyone including me deserves either.
The Unexpected: The unexpected might as well be expected because it is bound to happen. AND it seems to be a good thing that it does. It may hurt like an emotional laceration that requires stitches not available or it might be a mechanical breakdown that causes some inconvenience and hardship or it could be a chance meeting that turns into something else, but if you’re good lucky sometimes like I know I am, you learn from it.
The Temporary: What is temporary? Well for one, there’s this temporary thing we call life. I know more than some people and less than others just how temporary it can be.
The Learning: I’ve lived the hard life and may again, but I love travel beacuse I’ve learned through these travels that the way I live when I do it is sometimes the way I live when I’m not, but the consequences of my actions or lack of are much more immediate and sometimes more severe. I’ve learned that I can do things differently and should. I’ve learned that I’ve grown and am certainly not the same man I was two years ago. I hope I’m better.
Fire, Food, and Water: There’s not much else that is truly necessary.
Wind, Rain, Heat, and Hills: They’re inevitable so you might as well enjoy them.
Fri. Jan. 6 Low 16 High 24 Partly Cloudy
From: Punta Arenas to just past Estancia Rosario on Y-71, Tierra Del Fuego
Total kms: 49
Avg.: 14.3 Max 48
Ridetime: 3 h 26 m
Climbing 453 m
Sleeping at: Seaside
Comments: The Ferry(be there at 8 they said) actually started selling tickets around 10 in the morning. Met Michael Dorsch from Germany at the ferryt and cycled the short day down Y-171 with him after lunch.
Highlights of the day included a nice salmon lunch, an hour enjoying watching dolphins jumping in the waters about 13 k south of Porvenir, and listening to Guanacos make the most unearthly loud noises.
Y-71 is good unsurfaced road with many short steep hills. Headwinds for the first 13k out of Porvenir.
Jan. 7 Low 10 High 22 MOstly Sunny, Windy
From: Caleta Rosario to Estancia Sonia area
Total kms: 154 (first 118 on Ripio)
Avg.: 19.7 Max 48
Ridetime: 6 h 30 m
Climbing 608 m
Sleeping at: near roadside 58 km from Rio Grande
Comments: Good cycling day with Michael from Germany. Saw and heard a few foxes calling to each other(didn’t know they did that!). Had free lunch courtesy of CMH Construction Roadwork Kitchen at junction of Y-71 and Y-83.
Argentine border to 35 minutes to cross with six people in line ahead of us.
Both the San Sebastian “towns” are nothing – nothing more than the forneras crossing and a hosteria at each of them.
In our search for the “town” of San Sebastian on the Argentine side, we miossed it by ten k, so got some water from trhe police checkpoint to Los Chorrillos, then cycled a few more K to roadside camping. Tailwinds most of the day. Lost a screw to my rear rack again!!!
Jan. 8 Low 10 High 24 Partly Cloudy
From: 58k to Rio Grande
Total kms: 65
Avg.: 16.6 Max 31.9
Ridetime: 3 h 56 m
Climbing 139 m
Sleeping at: Club Nautico camping and Refugio(excellent)
Comments: Headwinds most of the day – easy asphalt surface riding otherwise. Saw many people on horseback as part of Santo Gaucho something day between the Salesian Mission and Cabo Domingo north of Rio Grande.
Jan. 9 Low 6 High 12 Cloudy, Some light and some cold driving rain
From: Rio Grande to Tolhuin
Total kms: 119
Avg.: 17.8 Max 41.8
Ridetime: 6 h 40 m
Climbing 605 m
Sleeping at: Camping Hain on shores of Lago Fagnano (shiite showers)
Comments: REmoved bent link from chain – late start – partly due to a few Bacardi Colas the night before. Met several german cyclists including a 68 year old woman and a young guy just starting a long trip named Johannes. Okay steppe scenery turned to eirie moss covered almost dead tree forests – some following along the Atlantic coastline. Early evening cold driving rain with a temp of 6 degrees. Tailwinds in the first part of the day, then headwinds and crosswinds(strong). Some eagles, hawks and distant solo guanacos. Fun with Michael – generally quiet ride. Windy Lake Fagnano sounds like an ocean.
Jan. 10 Low 6 High 13 Partly Sunny, some light rain
From: Tolhuin to Ushaia (a.k.a. the end of the world!)
Total kms: 119
Avg.: 14.2 Max 39.8
Ridetime: 8 h 21 m including riding all aroujnd Ushuaia looking for some indoor accomodation of which there was none less than $100 a night
Climbing 1361 m
Sleeping at: La Pista Del Andino Camping (pretty good)
Comments: After Michael repaired my ‘snapped’ rear rack for me(that guy should be a doctor!), headwinds and climbing ALL day – almost. Unsurfaced road soon to be paved for some kilometers after Tolhuin, then paved the rest of the way. Climb of approx. 400m over 4 km to Paso Garibaldi just after Lago Verde. Met a couple of young americans beginning a South American trip by bike and two guys from Vegas who were planning to walk to Clumbia and then Kayak to California!
Michael received a well deserved round of applause at the campground, then we shared some pizza and beers to celebrate. We had planned on steak, but it was late and michael opted for pizza. Sun set near 10 p.m., but still light on the edge of the sky at 1 a.m.