november 19 to november 29
I arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, Sunday at 8 in the morning, to a sight of snowcapped mountains barely visible through the snow and winds outside. I found my way to my hostel in the center of the town. Tired and cold, I started unpacking my bike and putting it back together. It was in a good condition inside its box and it was a relief getting to put it back together.
That night wandering the main streets I ran into Roger, or I should say Roger ran into me as I didn’t notice him at all wandering deep in my own thoughts. Roger took Spanish courses with me for 3 weeks in Buenos Aires and had left the week before me to go to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. It was nice to run into a familiar face and we celebrated the reunion with a couple of beers and sharing a king crab.
I spent the next two days getting all my things repackaged from the two suitcases into the backs attaching to my bike. It was a challenge and took several tries. I definitely have too much stuff and will need to get rid of some. I did the best I could but I still have to much I think.
While I was in Ushuaia I made sure to get a ‘del mundo’ stamp in my passport – a must-do for tourists visiting Ushuaia. On Tuesday, I took Roger and my bike out for a trip to the national park and to the end of the road. It was absolutely beautiful and really nice to be back on the bike after more than a month with no cycling.
At the hostel, I also met other cyclists on the first day; two French guys who were both on a world trip and had met each other somewhere in Central Asia and now riding together, and a German, who finished his tour from Alaska to Ushuaia, from whom I got some good advice.
I set out on my bike Wednesday morning, or at least that was the plan, but before I was done packing, finding the last few things in town it was almost noon and I therefore decided to head for a Refugio about 60 km from Ushuaia in an old cabin that I had been recommended. It was great to finally be on the road. I had made it about an hour outside Ushuaia before realizing I had forgotten to fill my fuel bottle, hoping there would be a gas station on the way as I would have to go without warm food until I came by the next gas station.
On the first day, I had some amazing views and I just really enjoyed finally being on the road. As I made it to my pass over the Andes in the afternoon, it started raining a little bit and by the time I made it to the top I was drenched and freezing cold. Thankfully my stop for the night was close by and I found the cabin at an abandoned hotel soon after. It is in a beautiful location, but as the weather was only getting worse I hurried to get inside. Without any fuel to make a warm meal, I was very happy that I still had a thermos of warm oatmeal porridge to help me get warm after I had changed into some dry clothes.
That night I had the first experience of the terrible wind of Tierra Del Fuego. Even though I tried to keep the door closed with several large rocks, the wind was too strong and forced the door open. I was happy to be inside as I’m sure my tent would not have survived the storm. I spent that night repacking all as I was learning what I need to have easily available.
On my second day on the bike I drove 50 km to the next town and stopped at La Unión bakery, a famous spot in the bike touring community as the owner lets cyclists stay overnight for free. I met another cyclist who gave some recommendations on the road ahead. After a couple of pastries and a cup of coffee I decided to stay for the night. We ended up being several people staying the night, a Russian couple with their 2-year-old and an Argentinian. All four heading to Ushuaia.
Next day I spent in solitude on a back road with almost no other people or houses. That night I did my first wild camping at a nice edge of a forest protecting me from the winds with a view over a river valley full of gracing cattle.
Cycling into Río Grande, Argentina, I really got to experience the winds. Cycling with a head wind slowed me down to about 8 km/h, making it hard getting anywhere. Even going downhill was hard work in that wind. I had to cross a bridge on the way and saw no other way than to walk my bike across as I felt sure the wind would have blown me off if I had tried to cycle across.
Going from Río Grande to Porvenir, Chile, I was really hoping that I could stick to my plan as there are not a lot of places to camp out of the wind along the way. On Sunday, I planned to get to the Argentinian border crossing in San Sebastian as they also have a room for cyclists. I was lucky and had a side wind that was slightly from the back making me able to go at an acceptable speed even though I was blown off the road a few hundred times. It was really tiring all the time having to keep steady in the wind and my arms were dead when I got to the border.
I couldn’t help but to be a little afraid of how I would do for the 150 km going straight on in the wind for the next couple of days but for the night I had a warm room with a kitchen, already a luxury. In the end I made it across in two days. The first day I made it a little less than 50 km holding a speed of about 10km/h with head wind all the time, finding no place to shelter from it. But there was a building at a cross section where I could spend the night inside. It was not in a very good condition but being out of the wind was just amazing. Next day I got up early to try and see how far I could make it. I was not sure there would be any place to camp out of the window before Porvenir. It was a hard day as I felt tired already from the start and was hating the wind and the dirt road a lot, wondering why I had been stupid enough to do this to myself.
After 35 kilometers the landscape changed with hills giving some shelter from the wind, lifting my spirits and giving me a new wave of energy and good mood. I kept going until about 7:30 and with 25 km to go – or about 2 – 2.5 hours – had still not found a suitable place to camp when a guy in a pickup offered me a ride the rest of the way to the town.
Getting to Porvenir, I went to the only hostel in town where I had heard it was possible to camp but I was turned away so I decided to go to a spot a few kilometers outside of town that had been recommended on Ioverlander.com. I put up my tent during a nice sunset with only a slight wind and enjoyed my dinner with a view over the Magallan strait.
As I went to bed the wind changed and started picking up. I made it outside and tightened up the tent against the wind. But as I was laying back down I felt sure my tent would not be able to stand against the strong winds but I really didn’t feel like I had any choice but to just hope as I was 10 kilometers outside the town in the dark. I laid down to sleep feeling sure I would be woken up when my tent collapsed. When I woke up next the wind had laid off and my tent was still standing – it had survived its first big test giving me a lot of confidence in it.
I spent that morning eating breakfast in the sun and watching dolphins jump in the water. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of them. Now I am in Punta Arenas, Chile, where I will probably have to stay for a while as I have been an idiot and broke my back break and need some spare parts before I can go north towards the mountains.