Arriving at Punta Arenas we had finally run out of land (the mainland at least). Southerly progress from this point requires crossing the Magellan Strait to Isla Grande, the largest land mass in the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. The Chile/Argentina border two-step continues, with Chile claiming the western part of Isla Grande and most of the small islands that make up the archipelago; and Argentina the eastern section including the only two major population centres – Rio Grande and Ushuaia.
From Porvenir we followed a well-known bikepacking route south (http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/fin-del-mundo/), winding our way along a series of dirt roads, farm tracks and 4 x 4 trails. Once past the king penguin colony (about 100k past Porvenir), traffic was minimal – some days we asked ourselves when we’d last seen a vehicle … and couldn’t remember.
By this point we’d been joined by Simon from Switzerland, also heading for Ushuaia. This was after a night in a tiny refugio where six cyclists competed for floor space while the late arrivals had to suck up the ripping winds and rain outside. The big attraction along this route was the chance to see a king penguin colony – I’d missed out on my trip to Isla Magdalena to see the Magellanic penguins when the ferry from Punta Arenas was cancelled due to strong winds; so no way were we going past this lot. It was fun to watch the group, surprisingly busy and noisy and with some ridiculously dumpy fluffball chicks.
After being dragged away from my penguin-watching, it was back on the bikes for the ride into Cameron. We weren’t expecting much, but this little settlement turned it on for us – with the mayor inviting us to make use of the tourist office/bus shelter/public loo for the night. Although not dissimilar to sleeping in a glasshouse we did enjoy the use of lights, power and running water. The tiny village kiosk even opened up for the occasion so we quickly demolished all the homemade bread on offer. The mayor dropped in later to recruit some talent for the local soccer match – which Adrià and Simon later said was one of the more hardcore matches they’d taken on for a while.
The next day we had a little church before the border lined up as our goal for the night … but things didn’t quite go to plan with freezing winds and rain; the rain also turning the track to sludge which made for slow going. We reached the few houses that make up Russfin around lunchtime. Adrià had some insider info about an old building that we could use for shelter and so we piled in, shivering and eyeing the empty wood box and cold wood stove longingly. Adrià soon got chatting to the guys who were working in the village and staying in another part of the same building. One of them was apparently aghast at seeing a woman of roughly his own age wet, cold and caked in mud – and so he leapt into action hauling in wood for us, lighting the stove and later bringing over a tray of roast lamb and veggies.
Looking for overnight shelter just over the border we spotted a big shearing shed just off the track. There was no-one around at the nearby estancia buildings, with the only signs of life being three large pigs and a desperately friendly cat. No worries, we figured that no-one was likely to be too upset with us taking refuge in a semi-abandoned shed, with a half-capsized floor, numerous dried out cow skins, random bones and an ancient wool press.
Unfortunately the pigs were undeterred by our company and settled in under the floor, directly beneath Adrià’s tent. As darkness descended the pigs wound up, performing an intermittent but very impressive repertoire of snorts, grunts and the occasional blood curdling screech. Combined with Adrià’s response when he woke to find the cat sitting on his face and the explosive giggling fits every time the pigs started up, it was a restless although undeniably entertaining night.
The Panaderia La Union in Tolhuin is the last and possibly the best known of South America’s Casa de Cyclistas. Combining a bakery with a place where touring cyclists can grab a shower and sleep – what could be more perfect?! Emilio is himself a cyclist and traveller, and has been hosting cyclists for many years.
But it’s not to be. A couple of kilometres into the reserve and we are overtaken by a vehicle which pulls up in front of us. The guy that steps out holds an assault rifle and his finger is flicking the safety catch … on, off, on, off. Despite Adrià’s best efforts (he’s the only one who can plead in Spanish), the guard is unmoved and concrete-faced. And so it’s back out to the main road for us – unable to access the bikepacking route that follows a rough path to Ushuaia from the far edge of the reserve.
It’s an icy cold day as we roll into Ushuaia. It all seems a little surreal – clearly we are here, we have arrived and our ride south is over. Rationally I know this but my legs didn’t get the memo. Twenty four hours later and our bikes are gone, sold to a lovely local guy who also invites us to dinner, shows us around and delivers us to the airport. Without a bike I feel like I’ve been knee-capped although logically I know it makes our convoluted path home easier and gives us an excellent excuse to go bike shopping once we get back.
So here we are – back home. There are still a few videos to complete and upload, so check back here soon.
Thanks for following!
Rubber side down,
Ed & Gaye
*Cheers Adrià and Simon for giving us permission to use some of their pics in this post