Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tierra del Fuego. 5th - 9th April 2013

Tierra del Fuego, the 'grande isle', divided between Argentina and Chile. Only the Antarctic landmass is further south.

The sole 'ashphalte' road, routa 3', heads along the top of the island, turning right down the east coast before finally heading west to our final destination, Ushuaia. (Editor; Billed by the Argie's, a little too loudly, as the most sourtherly town in the world, something which hints of the not-so-friendly rivalry between the two countries; the Chilean town of Puerto Williams is actually more south).

But rather than this possibly busy road we took the ripio that crosses the lonely interior of the island, serving only massive estancias that are usually hidden away from the tracks themselves. Stocked up on food (there are no shops) we headed off from Porvenir.

Day 1. Awhile ago I spoke of 'screaming at the wind'. For 50k the wind decided to scream back; it is louder than I am. We headed north/westerly along the cliff top. We knew it would be a hard stretch - WindGuru had warned us of that - but it was a bit gruelling none-the-less. (By hard I mean winds of 25mph, gusting 50mph). But after that we turned inland and east, now with a demon of a tailwind. Hoorah!

The only structure we saw that first day which could provide respite from this onslaught was a fantastic, new, 20'x15' shelter. Unfortunately it was locked solid. It was now very cold, and if it had been raining as well I think I would have resorted to kicking it open; but it was dry so we set our tent behind it. It still did a good job of sheltering us that night.

Much more of a shelter than it may appear.

Day 2. Today the landscape expanded into impressively large expanses of land, mainly used for sheep rearing. That night, just as it started to sleet and lightly snow, we came across a large forestry outfit which to our relief had rooms.......and a canteen style kitchen, complete with a canteen style cook who took us under his wing. He fed and watered us to bursting, before we snuggled into our room. Mucha gracias, Manuel!

Canteen cook, Manuel. Not from Barcelona. Works part-time for Lady Penelope.

Day 3. This morning saw a cold but sunny sky and great biking, through the sort of landscape I now know I love - expansive, views for 30k or more with no sign of man except the dirt track you are on. Wonderful stuff. We approached our last border, leaving Chile for the last time. Argentina had saved money on its side by not building a bridge, thoughtfully leaving the approach to their border post as a ford through a freezing river, necessitating stripping down to our grundies. Afterall, we are in Tierra del Fuego, its supposed to be a bit difficult. A few kilometers further on we sheltered that night, respectfully, in a small, isolated capilla - chapel - on a hillside.

I figured that Don Jose Mendez Behety, in whose memory the chapel was built in the early 50s, wouldn't have minded. The 15' square chapel was just the right size for us, and the balmy 9 degrees inside was better than the outside temp which had dropped to 2 degrees. We looked out from our vantage point over the valley stretched taut like a canvas below us.


Day 4. The fourth day would likely be our last wild-camp. We pitched up in a large, open valley, the sheep contained by an ox-bow bend in the river.

Our tent fitted in just to the left, under the ridge.

For once the wind disappeared, leaving a completely calm evening and night. Two foxes and a condor kept us company, and the evening sky put on one of its showstopping performances. I will miss them.

Although it is easier to appreciate the beauty of this land when the wind takes on normal proportions, the wind is such a part of the landscape that it is like waiting for a missing relative at sunday lunch when she is absent. You may not want aunty to kiss your cheek, but if she isn't there, you still miss her.

Day 5. Our very, very last day on dirt continued in the same vein; at times basking in the sunshine, with no or little wind, through sublime biking country. All-but empty, huge, stretched vistas; I felt very happy.

Our day ended with the 17k stretch of tarmac into Tolhuin, the last stop before Ushuaia itself, and the end of our journey south.



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