In a hurry
Finally the Careterra Austral was behind us and we would have pavement for most of the way down to Ushuaia. We wanted to do some hikes around Fitz Roy but I wasn’t feeling too well and we didn’t know how it would be working out with Chan. So we just left for a day’s hike to see Cerro Torre, but he was hiding behind clouds. It was still a beautiful hike and Chan was only complaining for the first 20 minutes.
We felt that it was time to move on, now so close to the most southern tip of the world, we felt the call. We wanted to leave El Chalten early morning, but couldn’t get our stuff together until past 11am. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and lots of wind. The mountains in our backs enchanted the country with both peaks , Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, free of clouds. The condors circling in the sky made the picture complete. That day we rode 110km, the wind helping us and camped behind an abandoned house sheltered from the wind.
We were now back out in the argentinian pampa again and had to watch our water which we could fill up at the estancias (farms) close to the highway. Because the strong wind around midday was not always helping but mostly slowing us down hitting our sides, we wanted to be on the road as early as possible and were going to bed early.
One night we camped at a vialidad post (highway maintenance post). Our dreams were disrupted by a loud screeching noise followed by a huge impact of something big. For a moment it was quiet, then we heared a whimpering. Half asleep still, I thought the house under construction next to us was falling apart, but Flo knew immediatly that a car accident had occured. He put on his clothes quickly and ran up to the road, where he found a pickup truck upside down in the ditch. A man was lying accross the front seats, saying that he wasn’t able to get out. Flo told him, that he was getting help and would be back immediatly. He ran to the trailer of the vialidad official and tried to knock him awake. But the man first lit a cigarette. Flo tried to get him moving, but he was very slow to understand what had happend. Finally they went over to the site of the accident together. The driver of the pickup had by now managed to crawl out of his car, but needed help walking. Flo supported him, while the official went ahead to his trailer. There he handed desinfectant and bandaids to Flo and told him to care for the casualty, while he was calling ambulance and police. The casualty was under shock talking about the others. So Flo went back to the accident site and searched for others, but all he found was the drivers wallet which he brought back to him. The man had been driving alone and fallen asleep. There was nothing more he could do and so Flo came back to sleep.
We did get up very early next morning because we wanted to ride the whole 70km of gravel ahead in one day and hopefully most before the wind was waking up. When we left the vialidad post, a policeman was inspecting the accident site. We greetet him and rode off. Nobody intervend to question Flo which we were glad about.
Never have we seen so many wild animals as here, out in the pampa. There were lots of foxes with little ones playing in the fields, nandus (the south american ostrich), guanacos and an armadillo. We saw flamingoes, other water birds, condors and birds of prey. The pampa down here was much more diverse than further north with more grassland and swamps than thorn bushes.
Next day we were on the road early again for the highway turned directly westward for some 20km, meaning straight into head wind. When we finally turned south around midday, the wind had gotten extremely strong and blew me a few times into the other lane in front of cars. I had to get off and push my bike even downhill. I just didn’t have the strengh to hold my bike up against that wind. We decided to take a long lunch break and then be looking for a wind sheltered spot to camp. After a while of fighting on, we finally found a place close to the road behind some bushes and went to bed early. Up early morning again, we made it to the border into Chile and to Puerto Natales quickly.
Using our feet instead of wheels for once
In Puerto Natales we could stay at a hostal owner’s house for a good price. We rested for a day, then prepared our trip to Torres del Paine National Park. I was feeling all good this time and we really wanted to hike in those beautiful mountains.
We took the bus early one morning up to the park. Torres del Paine is unbelievable expensive and extremely touristic. The paths are well maintained. It was light hiking with a mass of other tourists but we still enjoyed it, although we thought it to be much wilder.
The first day, after arriving at the last bus stop in the park, we walked for six hours, 18km. Chan complained for the first hour, but then found sticks to play with and was happy for the rest of the day. We arrived at the campsite around 6pm, put up the tent and went cooking in the refugio (shelter). Chan was completely fine, but Flo and I had both crampy, hurting legs! We were wondering about the next few days, but as soon as we were walking in the morning again, we were fine. We climbed a steep path up to the view point of the southern icefield and returned to the same camp.
Next day was extremely windy. Along a lake we obsereved the wind tossing water high up into the air. My backpack was huge though much lighter than Flo’s and I was knocked over by the wind a few times. In some places we had to hold on to Chan tightly to keep him from beeing pushed over a cliff.
On our last day in the park we wanted to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales at 2pm. We had to walk about 12km and kept hurrying Chan along. The next bus was at 7pm, the ride taking 3 hours. Chan obviously didn’t enjoy that hike very much and was saying that hiking was really dumb. But once we arrived at the bus stop he started playing with other packpackers immediatly, most of which looked pretty tired. Chan was running around, jumping and screaming, no sign that he had just walked 12km in 3 and a half hours!
We got back to Puerto Natales in time for a party at a hostal where Chan was running around the fire with his new friends Noah and Finn, children of one of the hostal owners.
Three and a half days brought us to Punta Arenas. There wasn’t much wind and after the first day grassland was all around us again. The night before reaching the city, we camped at a police control post. The police men were very nice and proudly showed us the place they had set up for the many cyclists passing through. They had build a wooden shed for wind and rain protection with a fire ring. In the morning they called us into their kitchen to eat our breakfast in a warm place.
Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego
We only stayed in Punta Arenas for two days before taking the ferry to Tierra del Fuego. When we got off the ferry it rained, the usual patagonian drizzle which soaked us within minutes. We filled up our waterbag in Porvenir and started up the last gravel road before Ushuaia.
We only made it 30km far, then came across a sign of an estancia only 500m away. The people of the estancia were very hospitable and let us stay in the dorm house they use for all the gauchos at busy times. We were invited for tea into the main house. Later we went back to the dorm and cooked dinner, then went to bed. Next mornign we ate breakfast and while packing the bikes the housekeeper came over to invite us for breakfast. She was very upset when she learned that we had already eaten, since we didn’t show up for dinner the night before either. She prepared some sandwiches for us for the way. For her it had been natural that we were invited for dinner and breakfast without needing to tell us. We hadn’t known about that custom of the estancias on Tierra del Fuego. A day later at the estancia Concordia, Rigoberto, a legend under cyclists, told us that on any estancia on Tierra del Fuego we could ask for water and whatever food we needed. He showed us fotos of all the cyclists which had passed through and we found some familiar faces. He cooked a tasty dinner and we spend the evening chatting away.
The next forty kilometers we were almost flying though still on gravel. At the intersection we had to decide which way to take: The easy way straight to the border and to pavement within the next 50km with tailwind or against hard headwind on gravel for 50km, then into what Rigoberto had called precious country. A detour on gravel for some 100km. We sat down to eat lunch and decided to take a ride to Cameron, if there was one while we were eating. Soon three grader and a small truck approached on the road to Cameron. We asked them about the road conditions further south and towards the border and if we could get a ride with them. They gave us a lift for part of the way to their kitchen trailer from where we tried to hitch a ride on. While we were waiting, the road workers invited us in for a coffee. Later a truck brought us to the intersection just before Cameron.
We weren’t in the mood of riding down the steep hill into the village, instead we started climbing up towards the center of the island. We spent the night at the roadside, sheltered from the wind by some trees and bushes.
When we had just finished packing the bikes in the morning , that all soaking patagonian drizzle rain started once more. Slowly we climbed up and up. We wondered if it had really been worth, riding that detour, since the country around us wasn’t any special, just some more pampa. But when we had reached a certain elevation everything around us changed, even the sun was burnign its way through the clouds, stopping the drizzle. The trees got more dense, the leafs lighting up red and yellow with the sunrays touching them. There were small lakes with flamingoes and the ever present guanaco on the grassland beteween the forested hills.
We rode 60km and arrived at an estancia around 5pm. We asked if we could put up our tent there, sheltered from the wind. There had not been estancias every 5km as Rigoberto had asured us, but rather only one midway. But on this one, a branch of a huge estancia, were only workers present, which weren’t allowed such desicions. We had to ask the owner who might or might not come by that evening. So we asked for water. When Flo had the waterbag filled up, he was told that it wasn’t drinking water and needed to be treated. We put micropur tablets into the water and rode another 5km to the closest forest, where we camped in the midst of the trees.
It rained throughout the whole night. The road up here was more dirt track than gravel road and after that rain very muddy. But we were lucky and it was bad and sticky only for the first few kilometers, then the sun and wind had already dried it up enough not to be sticky anymore.
The last 11km to the border our road got smaller even, meandring through autumn forest. To get from the chilean border post to the argentinian one, we needed to cross a river without bridge. Flo went in first to check out the deepness of the water. It was about knee level. The current wasn’t too strong and he brought his bike to the other side. I followed with some panniers. Flo brought the other bike, and then Chan to the other side, while I was carring panniers. The last thing was the trailer, which we had to carry together. Just when we had everything together again, it started to rain quite heavily. Wet up to the waist, we fled into the border post and had the officer stamp our passports, while the rain passed by. Then we asked if we could spend the night there. The officer showed us a wood shelter where we could put up the tent. We hung our wet pants and sandales up to dry, since now the sky cleared up and started a nice fire to warm up.
As we were about to go to bed, an incredible noise arose in the hut right next to the tent. The officer had forgotten to tell us about the generator working until midnight. We went off to sleep dreaming about traktors. Suddenly the noise stopped, but now the border dog decided to scare away that big yellow thing new on his territory and barked his lungs out right in front of our tent until dawn.
There was no more forest on the other side of the river. We were back into the dry grassland. At the first estancia we liked to buy some bread, since we were out by now. But the people there although looking at us, ignored us. For lunch we were eating crackers with olives, cookies and chocolate, but only two kilometers further was another estancia and here we tried our luck agian. This time they gave us drinking water and fresh bread not even wanting our money for it.
It was another 60km day on gravel with lots of side wind. Rio Grande was not far anymore now, but to get there and to a much needed supermarket, we had to pedal into the wrong direction and against the wind for 14km. We filled our bags with fresh produce, sweets and bread and turned around right away. We didn’t like Rio Grande very much and were rather using the strong tailwind, pushing us south.
Some 50km before Tolhuin, the pampa lost ground to the enchanted forest of coloured trees bearded with lichens. On the way we met Sara and Thomas again, a german cyclist couple we had met for the first time on the Careterra Austral and many times since. We spent the night together on the campground in Tolhuin at the lakeside and chattet until late into the night.
It was only 105km to Ushuaia now, but we made it again only 30km far. The wind was getting strong again, pushing us around and we weren’t up to fighting it. Instead we found a gate in the fence along the highway and pushed our bikes into the forest, where we put up our tent protected from the wind. There was a firering already put together, most likely by other cyclists. We gathered firewood and lit a warming fire. It wasn’t long before we heard some voices from the road. Flo thought this could only be other cyclists and went to have a look. He came back with Thomas and Sara and we spent another lovely evening together.
On the last riding day before reaching the southern most city, “the end of the world”, we experienced patagonieas best weather: Sunshine and rain alternating, wind from all directions and it even snowed for a little while. A bright rainbow completed the show.
We felt like cheering the whole day long. Finally we were approaching the destination we had set out to eight years ago! It was such beautiful riding with the view of rugged rocks, glaciers, forest and grassland. It smelled so good! Then we turned around a curve and were in the middle of Ushuaia´s industrial part. What a shock. There was nothing romantic about this place, just an ordinary town.
We bought some wine to celebrate our arrival and went to the camping where we had trees around and view of the Beagle Chanel.
We really made it to the end of the world, the end of the road. But isn’t there another end of the world? Isn’t there another road leading back into the center of the world again?