Day 177: February 8, 2008 Punta Arenas to Tolhuin

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hostería Kaiken

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Day 177: February 8, 2008 Punta Arenas to Tolhuin

We both slept really well but were ready to get up and get on the road when the alarm went off at 8:00. We had forgotten to get things for breakfast so we just had a cup of instant coffee. I left my rock samples and a bunch of other things at the apartment so I wouldn't have to worry about them while crossing borders. We packed up the rest of our things and loaded the car. By 10:00 we were on the road heading north out of Punta Arenas along the north-south running strait of the Straits of Magellan. It meets the east-west strait about 65 km north of the city which we followed for about 100 km to the ferry crossing at Primera Angostura. The road traverses a flat, yellow-brown grassland, punctuated by kames, drumlins, eskers, and other glacial features, remarkably close to the water. Hundreds of rheas grazed in the prairie land north of the road, as well as a few to the south.

We only had to wait about 15 minutes before driving onto the ferry. It was packed pretty tightly. I paid the $26 crossing fee and we went up to the observation deck. Liz saw a couple of dolphins but I missed them. Twenty-five minutes later we arrived on Tierra del Fuego and drove off into the flat dry grassland that comprises northern Tierra del Fuego. The first 35 km, to Cerro Sombrero, is paved. Almost immediately, we began seeing small flocks of guanacos near the road. I decided to take the old road that goes through the Estancia Cullen rather than the route we had followed on the buses a month earlier. To my surprise, the condition of the road was not too bad. I recognized the boundaries of the tectonic basin that crosses the northern part of he island.

The overcast sky changed to a drizzle and then a light rain as we crossed the 150 km or so of gravel road to San Sebastián. Traffic was moderate but no big stones hit the windshield. The border crossing went much faster with our own vehicle than it ever could traveling by bus. In less than half an hour, we were through both sides. Liz met two French men who were traveling by motorcycle around South America. They had crossed Siberia two years earlier.

We stopped in at the ACA Hostería for lunch, in Argentine San Sebastián, where I had spent a week over New Year's 2000-2001. Aquiles, the concessioneer, wasn't there but his wife, Carmela, was. She fixed us sandwiches and we chatted a bit before departing south toward Ushuaia with Liz at the wheel on the paved highway. The gray day was typical of this part of Tierra del Fuego. We got to the dismal city of Río Grande with its ugly pink and institutional green pipe and cement art "decorating" the streets. The city is reputed to have the highest suicide rate in Argentina... I'm not surprised. The complete lack of road signs gets me lost every time I approach it from the north. This time was no exception. We spent half an hour getting through there. One woman we asked had no idea how to get out of there... undoubtedly an incipient suicide.

Once we found our way back to the only major highway in Tierra del Fuego, we rapidly headed south, stopping in Tolhuin for gas. I wanted to see if the Hostería Kaiken, about 100 km north of Ushuaia, on the southeast corner of Lago Fagnano, had any rooms. They did! The lake is apparently in the process of reverting to its indigenous name, Lago Kami. We got a nice cabin, for 150 pesos, with a great view of one of the prettiest, but most unsung, places in South America. The clouds were breaking up so Liz and I took fotos of the lupine garden and the sun showing through the clouds down the west side of the lake. Its serene beauty never fails to amaze me.

We returned to our cabin and meditated before dinner. The hotel cuisine was excellent. We split a bife de chorizo, Liz's first Argentine steak and one of the few steaks she's ever eaten. It was after midnight when we returned to the cabin under a partly starry sky. I pointed out Alpha and Beta Centauri but the Southern Cross was hidden by the clouds.
We snuggled beneath the covers and were soon fast asleep.
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