Into Tierra del Fuego
At Río Gallegos, we had reached the official end of the Ruta 40 and there was just one thing to do; cross over to the island called Tierra del Fuego (which is actually not mainland America) and reach the end of the world!
First though; border bordel!! Thanks to Covid (yes, that was still a thing) we couldn’t cycle through Chile meaning that we had to hitch a hike to cross the 200 kilometres to get back to Argentinian soil (very complicated to explain, please see map below). So, our friend Daniel kindly took us to the border during his lunch break. On the way there we visited a working Estancia and a very windy crater. To our biggest surprise, we got picked up very quickly and off we were, happy that things were going well but sad that we couldn’t cycle that part of the world. Things were going too well actually and, just as we reached the Strait of Magellan, our “borders curse” kicked in. You see, the only way to cross over is by ferry and, it being one of the most treacherous waterways in the world (or so we were told, something about crazy winds and currents) it’s quite normal for the service to be suspended for a number of reasons. That day the issue was simple; the boat got stuck on a sandbank and we had to wait for the tide to rise and free it which took about 7 hours.
When we finally reached the other border crossing near Río Grande, the guards had already gone home (not literally) and we had to sleep in the car and wait till next morning to resume. At least our “hosts” were nice and had very warm blankets! Probably the first time in our lives that we spent the night in a stranger’s car (with them inside).
Río Grande is the first settlement in the north of the island and is, economically and historically, a very important place since it was the stronghold of the Argentinian forces during the Falkland’s War (a.k.a. La guerra de las Malvinas) and, 40 years on, it’s still a very sensitive subject to discuss with locals. Apart from that and supermarkets, frankly, there’s just one more reason for any cyclist to pay this city a visit; Jose Costanza. This local man is a huge promoter of cycling in the region, owns a couple of bicycle shops around town and is committed to help the very many bike tourers which each year pedal by here. In fact, he also owns a small house whose sole purpose is to host anyone who cares to stop for the night.
One last, fun diversion
At this point, being only 212 kilometres away from Ushuaia and feeling like the end was drawing near way too fast on our Argentinian adventure, we decided to take a small detour, left the uninteresting (according to other cyclists) Highway 3, and headed towards Yehuin Lake (which means “Heart of the Island” by the way) on a lonely and picturesque dirt road which, to date, remains in our “Top 5 Routes of Patagonia” chart! The reason? Easy; there’s absolutely no-one around (while the other is pretty busy), the scenery is marvelous, and you get to spend one last quiet night in an abandoned resort, right on the lake. We didn’t know it at the time, but that was going to be our last wild-camping spot on this trip and in the morning we had one of the best sunrises EVER!
Whether you take this alternative route or not, the day after leaving Río Grande you undoubtedly pass by Tolhuin where another landmark of Tierra del Fuego is found; Panadería La Union. Not even the huge fire which burned the place to the ground in 2021 managed to stop this place from hosting cyclists and it’s seriously cool to be able to stop and rest where many others have done before us. Their guest book is full of messages from cyclists we “know” but have never met (like Kamran on Bike, Cycle to Recycle, Biciclown, and many others …) and their dulce de leche filled churros are out of this world!
100 kilometres left to the end and there’s only one thing left to do; climb the Garibaldi Pass and cycle into Ushuaia. Normally, almost every bike tourer spends a night in yet another abandoned resort found on the Lake Escondido and that was also our plan but, having checked the weather forecast just before leaving and having discovered that there was a very cold front coming in bringing in its wake snow, we decided to push on and arrive to our final destination that same day.
Finally, the end of the road
The last 30 kilometres or so are stunning and full of amazing views but the arrival to Ushuaia felt slightly anticlimatic. It’s probably just a mix of all the expectations that have built up in your head, the fact that after thousands of kilometres of Patagonian steppe you reach Tierra del Fuego which is truly beautiful and feel a bit annoyed by how humans have spoiled yet another corner of our planet, the fact that we’re not big city fans… frankly, we didn’t like Ushuaia that much but it must be said that its surroundings are marvelous; nature, nature and more nature to explore.
It was the end of high season however and we really didn’t feel like doing many of the tourist attractions especially because it meant having to organize some sort of transportation and/or waking up really early. We did however go for a small “cruise” in the Beagle Canal to see some wildlife and the famous Eclaireurs Lighthouse, and we walked from the centre to the nearby Martial Glacier to get some perspective on the city and stretch our legs a little. We also met some local cyclists and prepared our bikes and gear for the plane trip back home chore which was not super easy due to the fact that shops need to discard of their boxes through proper channels and can’t just throw them in the bin (weird local law in order to avoid forest fires).
So, the end of this page of our adventure finally came! We had to fly back home for a while for family issues but we’ll be surely back, hopefully very soon, to resume this trip and cycle around the American continent a little more …
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