To the Ends of the Earth
Date: 26th February – 5th March 2013
Where: Punta Arenas – Coastal camp – Penguin Palace – Argentinian border waiting room – Rio Grande – Tolhuin – Ushuaia
Distance: 8007 to 8324 miles
We were now only 500km from the end of the world and it didn’t take much to get two excited cyclists out of bed and onto the ferry to cross to the island of Tierra del Fuego. Dolphins joined in the fun as we neared the port of Porvenir, jumping clear of the water by the side of the boat.
There is a popular philosophical question that goes something like: ‘If a cyclist screams at the top of their voice in the Tierra Del Fuego pampa, and no-one is around to hear it, do they make a sound?’ The answer is quite simple…it depends which way the wind is blowing! Luckily it was behind us, and the help this gave us cannot be underestimated. With winds often exceeding 100kph in the wide open expanse of pampa, we have heard first-hand cyclist stories of five-day missions to cross the 150km of ripio. However for us, the helpful wind coupled with ripio (mostly) akin to asphalt let us thoroughly enjoy our time on the island.
This presumed route of flat pampa is actually anything but that. It began with short steep hills, sparse ramshackle fishing huts, rough wild coastline… it was like we were back in the Scottish islands. We were enjoying ourselves and stopped early by the coast sheltering from our windy friend behind a boat. The perfect relaxing evening was completed by a passing pod of inquisitive dolphins.
Little did we know, but this would be the last time we’d put up our tent. We slept well and were on the road early, climbing away from the sea. We quickly reached the flat nothingness of the pampa, then the first set of trees (56km from Porvenir), and the second set of trees (80km), and the crossroads bus stop (100km), all the time being propelled by the wind. At this point Sarah (and Geoff’s Mum) decreed that we would turn right for 15km to visit a colony of king penguins which are establishing the only colony outside of Antartica. We arrived at 2:30pm leaving the whole afternoon to settle down and enjoy the antics of the penguins. Although it pains me to say it, it was well worthwhile!
There were never more than 40 penguins on show, but the small number was more than compensated for by the fact that we could easily watch individual behaviour. Eggs, new-born chicks, proper fluffballs, and all ages of parents were on show. It was fascinating to watch, and so we did for the next three hours, stopping only to cook. A late-evening glimpse and then we were asleep inside the Penguin Palace (the big visitor tent) warm in our sleeping bags. They even filled up our water bottles, and as such the 12000 Chilean peso (about £15) entrance fee was really good value.
We again made quick time to the border and the tarmac, staying in the waiting room on the Argentinean side for the afternoon and night. Here we assessed Sarah’s front derailleur gear cable, which had broken en-route, both agreeing it was un-fixable without more plastic housing, and thus restricting Sarah to only her middle wheel on her crankset. The last day through the hills to Ushuaia would be tough now! Later Damien (half of the bandavelo – see links page) turned up with three friends and shared the room. We first met them in Cusco and now we would be finishing together. A brief walk from the immigration office and we were standing in front of the Atlantic Ocean watching as the sun went down behind us. It was the first time we’d seen it since Colombia over eight months ago. Our trip down South America was truly nearly over!
The next two days to Rio Grande and then Tolhuin passed quickly. The flat asphalt with occasional sea-views was not exactly inspiring. We didn’t care though as we were rapidly closing in on our goal. At one point we spotted a killer whale (orca) off the coast with the binoculars, but other than that nothing remarkable happened on the road. Where we stayed in Rio Grande was a different matter though! All was calm in the hostal Argentino until at 7pm three more cyclists came in through the gates. We first rode with Jean-Baptiste on the way out of Trujillo, Peru, and having followed each others progress all the way South he had come to find us at the only place cyclists really stay in the City (Click here for the Peru blog). It was great to be tracked down and meet up to share stories with him. The other two cyclists have been an even bigger part of our trip: Emilien and Xinhan were first encountered in Nicaragua, and we rode the SW corner of Bolivia together (Click here for the Bolivia blog). Having ridden crazily hard for two months from Valparaiso in Chile, they had caught us up with only a couple of days to go! It was good to see them again. We met again the next night in the La Union bakery in Tolhuin: A cyclist and tourist institution with the best churros and empanadas on Tierra Del Fuego.
From Tolhuin 1000m of ascent and 104km takes the weary cyclist into Ushuaia. With heavy rain forecast we set off anyway, keen to get to our destination. It was already raining, and did so on and off for most of the day. For the whole day Sarah rode out of her skin leaving Geoff struggling behind meaning we quickly reached the final valley, whereupon, like every happy fairytale, the sun came out. We could then enjoy the last few kilometres of cycling before rounding an innocuous-looking bend and suddenly reaching the destination: Ushuaia. A moment to savour, and one we’ll remember all our lives. So…the 5th March, 400 days exactly after starting together, we had arrived. Photos were taken, hugs exchanged and the dawning realisation that we had actually made it to the end of the world began to sink in.
In the next post we’ll talk a little more of our time in Ushuaia and the thoughts currently rushing through our brains at this emotional time, but for now we’re just glad to be here. Then there is the small issue of how the hell to get to Buenos Aires without breaking the bank. It could never be as simple as getting on a plane for us!