Monday, 16 April 2012

Day 21 to 22 – Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

11 to 12 April    Kms travelled – 3,168

I made it to Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world!  No point keeping you in suspense about that, the clue is in the title of this post, but I nearly didn´t – and I am kicking myself about it.  Read on intrepid followers.

I was up early in Rio Gallegos and really keen for the off.  So keen in fact that this day I didn´t even wait for the sun to rise, but was on the road (3) well before the breaking dawn.  Eduardo had suggested a stop at the Lago Azul (blue lake) just before the Chilean border.  A volcano which has filled with water.  I´m sure on a clear day it would indeed be blue, but this day it was decidedly grey.  It did, however, provide the location of my first emergency loo stop of the trip – which I hope I managed without any noticeable effect to the environment.  Was it breakfast – or perhaps the fact that I was arriving at my first border crossing?

In any event, I needn´t have worried.  I´ll be posting more detailed information on these crossings in due course on the ´Borders´ page on this site – but just to note here that it was well organised and friendly.  So much so that someone without any Spanish would be able to complete the process of signing out of Argentina and into Chile with ease – a simple one, two, three process.  I also had a nice chat with the customs chap about Idris.  It seems that the 660 Tenere is much admired in these countries – perhaps a question of wanting what you can´t have – but it is a nice looking bike though.

Through the border and into the worst wind I have encountered so far.  So much so that I was down to 50 kph at one stage, when I was swept three times over into the oncoming traffic lane – luckily empty of any danger.  It seemed to take an age to battle the bike over to the ferry terminal (if you can call the couple of small buildings that) for the short 20 minute hop over to the island.  It is at this stage that I nearly didn´t get there.

I have a series of must dos planned for this trip, then some really want to dos, and also a number of would like to dos.  Getting to Tierra del Fuego was a must do.  And it is only that that pushed me onto that boat, and stopped me turning around and heading out of the wind.  I´m not pleased with myself about that moment of weakness.  The weather had got to me, and I was doubting my own ability, and the bike´s capacity to manage the trip further south.  
If it was like this on the mainland, what would it be like on the island?  
Well, pretty much the same is the answer - initially.  The crossing was quick, but I was unable to leave Idris´ side on the ferry less it fall in the rising swell.  This left me without having paid a bean, and on landing (which couldn´t have come any quicker) I was looking around like a lost sheep for someone to pay, when I was told in no uncertain terms to get myself in gear and off the boat.  The other side was even less populated than the mainland, and I was pleased when a very smiley chap strolled over – I pay him?
Nope, he was a biologist who was in the process of setting up a wildlife observatory – and invited me to pop in should I have time on my return.  He also kindly took a photo of us, and wished us well for a great stay.  Something to lift a flagging spirt, so armed with this warm welcome, I headed on.  
I´ve donated the cost of the ferry to Unicef – you might like to do something similar (nudge, nudge).

A short run on paved road to Cerro Sombrero for a refuel, left me wondering at the life these (mostly) oil workers must live.  This place is bleak!  I asked the gas attendant if the wind was always like this – to which he replied “no, sometimes it is really windy”.  I wonder how long he had been waiting to use that line. 

I decided to take Eduardo´s advice again and head off the Ruta 3 to avoid the truck and bus traffic on the gravel roads (ripio) that are a feature of the Chilean side of the island.  
So it was directly south for me from there (Y665).  This had the unforeseen blessing of directing me through some lovely rolling hillsides, which protected from the worst blasts.  The ripio was in pretty good condition, I was feeling better, and I decided to give Idris its head.  Standing up on the footpegs has the effect of lowering the bike´s centre of gravity, with all my weight now being transferred low down, the bike´s handling changed instantly – and Idris flew!  
This is what the Tenere was built for, this is what it is best at.  And even with a full load, I quickly realised that the bike could cope with everything I threw at it, with a smile.  In fact, it was I that couldn´t stop grinning for the rest of the day – and I´m even smiling again now as I type.  This, for me, is adventure bike riding.  

It didn´t last, the hills receded and the wind returned, to be met with fresh regrading of the gravel road – which caused some tricky moments on loose earth, including a plough through a mound of the stuff to get back on my side of the road.  But nothing could stop us now.  With renewed confidence I headed back (Y71) towards the Ruta 3 and the next border crossing back into Argentina.
Unlike the first border (which is all done in the same building), this second one had me sign myself and the bike out of Chile some 12 kms before hitting the Argentinean entry.  Signing out only took me some 20 minutes, but on my return I found Idris taking a lie-down in the wind, which had picked up considerably in the intervening period.  The crash bars did their job, with only a minor bash to the headlight protector needing to be superglued at a later date.  The ripio in-between the border posts is in poor state, and with the wind now at its height, any riding on the pegs was out of the question.  We made it without further incident, and then back in Argentina and lovely tarmac.

Time was getting on, however, so I headed for Rio Grande to spend the night.  My guide book suggested to book ahead – and I soon found out why.  So then followed a mad dash from hotel to hotel looking for a place to stay for the night.  The sun was now setting, and it was really cold.  

In this quest I happened upon another ABR, Clark White from Arizona, so we pooled resources and, following a quick stop at the tourist information centre, secured ourselves the last twin room in a reasonably priced (for this town anyway) hostal.  Clark, a paramedic, was pretty much finishing off his long 4 month ride down (GS1150) from the US, and we decided to more or less meander into Ushuaia together the next day.

The wind didn´t hit up so much this day, and the ride over was quite enjoyable first hugging the coast (windy, but manageable) before heading across the island through some strangely adorned forest.  

So spooky in fact were these trees that I would not have been surprised if Uncle Fester and Cousin It were seen strolling through this knarled woodland. 

Then it was the mountain range, with the warning to look out for black ice.  Clark suggested that I take the lead, as there would be little point in the paramedic getting hurt.  I think I saw some logic in that – somewhere – hmmm.  The Garibaldi pass held spectacular views, but I was too fearful of the wind, the drop, and the cold to stop and take any shots from the highest point.  My heated grips were now on max, as was my heated jacket.  I would not do this trip at this time of the year without them!  Clark´s camelpac water supply had frozen! 

Then, before I knew it, we were winding our way down and around a bend to be met with the most wonderful welcome signs for Ushuaia.  We had made it! 

Eduardo had recommended I stay at La Posta hostal when I got into town, and had e-mailed the owner for me to let him know I was on my way.  Riding right through the town and almost out the other side, La Posta is right on the roundabout for the airport.  And what a great place.  In fact it is probably the best hostal I have seen, having all the amenities, and a standard of finish usually reserved to good hotels. 

And Hector the owner was also an ABR (KLR650) – so we were soon shooting the breeze about Idris – and he kindly invited me to dinner with his bike club mates the following night.  We also bumped into a couple of ABRs from the States, Billy and his mate (who said he didn´t have any?) – sorry, I should have remembered the name.  
Much swapping of bike stories followed.

I liked Ushuaia a lot – and originally planned a couple of days rest there – so a bikers dinner was really tempting.  But that was before I lost a week in Buenos Aires – and I needed to sacrifice a few rest days to make up a bit of time, particularly as the wind was also making my progress much slower than I had thought.  So it was a one night turnaround, and sights set on Alaska!

Thought for the day
A moment of personal weakness almost cost me one of the best biking experiences of my life, so I couldn´t help wondering how many other occasions fears and doubts have held me back from something incredible.  Having boundaries and knowing your limits can be very useful, and I would not advocate straying beyond them, as that would likely lead to misery.  But should we not be constantly butting up against those boundaries to ensure they do not start, unknowingly, to close in.  It is often said that we only have one life.  But the clue is in the wording – we do not say we only have one existence.  So we should live the life, should we not, and not merely seek to exist. 


  1. VERY interesting days! May the winds be with you on the rest of the trip. Stay safe!

  2. Cheers. I had a problem with the internet yesterday. I´m working on getting the rest of the photos posted, and the page reformatted.

    Glad you are enjoying the trip.

  3. Impressive photos! Enjoy and take care. me. xxx

  4. Oooh, deep thought, but so true....

  5. Pat, Do you shrink your photos before downloading them ? It makes the process a lot qicker when the internet is slow.
    This is a simple, free, downloadable program that I use. I shrink them to below 200k and 800x600 for publishing
    You can also shrink miltiple photos at a time and even insert your own copyright.
    Anyway, congrats on making it to the bottom of the world. Good to see that the Yam is doing a sterling job. They are great bikes ;-)

    1. Thanks folks. Got a pretty good connection now for a day or two, so will have a look at this. Sounds like it will help a lot.

      Ta mucho!

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  7. Sorry to hear about your first drop in South America - good news that you were not on Idris when it happened!


    1. Pat, Liked your thought for the day comment... had loads of those on our trip but I was lucky enough to have someone with me (Mark) to mull them over with but I know exactly what you mean - not something you factor into your trip before you set off is it !

  8. Just caught up with you Pat after a busy week riding trails here in the Pyrenees in readiness for the HISS - which all seems very humdrum compared to your adventures!

    Have a great time!

    Simon & Polly