We leave Tierra del Fuego

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
Trip End Jul 15, 2005

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hello folks, Philsy and Starky calling from Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the South American mainland, having left Tierra del Fuego in our wake. The journey so far from Ushuaia has been hard, but we're bearing up. It wasn't the best start as we set our alarm the night before we left for 7.45PM, so we were an hour late for our early start. And no, it wasn't deliberate. But when we finally got going the weather was glorious and the scenery even better:

On the negative side, we had our first introduction to the notorious 'ripio', translated as consolidated (?) gravel, but whatever it is, itīs a sure way of achieving much saddle soreness. After 40 miles of the stuff we pulled into a lakeside campsite at Tolhuin and pitched our tent inside a tepee to shelter from the Patagonian winds.

Wind seems to be a constant irritant in these parts and so it proved the next day when we hoped to reach Rio Grande - but the wind was in our faces. We spotted a 'town' on the map some way before Rio Grande called Punta Maria and decided that that would be more realistic. But our 'town' was in fact only an abandoned farmhouse: we moved in! Ever resourceful, we made beds, fire and a makeshift toilet - a veritable home from home. Unfortunately, the previous occupants had neglected to sweep the chimney, so by the time we turned in for the night, we could hardly see each other across the room!

By morning the wind had changed to a bitterly cold (Antarctic) south-easterly wind which is very unusual in these parts, but it helped us enormously with our cycling and as it was so cold, kept our pitstops to a minimum! With the favourable wind, we pushed on into Chile where we realised that we had neither obtained the required Argentinian exit stamp, nor remembered to get any Chilean currency! We pushed on regardless to take advantage of this wind, covering 70 miles of foul ripio and then keeping an eye out for a sheltered spot for the tent, which was unlikely as all we could see was windswept heath as we cycled by the shore. By chance we happened upon an estancia, so Starky used his new-found Spanish skills to ask for permission to pitch our tent. His Spanish is pretty impressive as we were invited in for coffee, bread and jam (Oh to die for!!) and offered the use of an empty cottage. We accepted, reluctantly of course as we are British, well Philsy is and Starky's a wannabee, and laid our sleeping bags on mattresses next to the Aga, which was lit for us. And the chimney had been swept!

Our hosts told us that the next 25 miles to Porvenir consisted of 3 easy hills and the rest was just a sweep down to the port: it turned out to be 24 miles of steep windy hills, liberally covered in vast quantities of loose gravel and just the one mile of a sweep - still covered in gravel of course. But eventually we arrived at the edge of Tierra del Fuego, ready to catch the ferry to the mainland. We were gobsmacked to learn that the ferry would cost ₤160 per person, but then realised that we were working with the wrong exchange rate and it would cost a fiver. Phew! Oh yes, and some kindly biker told us that the time is an hour different to that of Argentina - important when there's only one ferry per day.

So far, so good. We're enjoying it. But, it's been colder than we expected (especially for the soft South African) and we've had a taste of how powerful this Patagonian wind can be. The old boy's knees are playing up a bit, but Starky is most considerately claiming that his right knee hurts a little bit too. The loose gravel is treacherous: Philsy's bike, an elegant galleon on the 'asfalto', turns into a rudderless barge on the ripio. Dispite this, Starky is ahead on tumbles, having come off his bike twice in half an hour, although Philsy claims the most spectacular and perhaps the most aerodynamic of falls! In all cases, loose gravel was to blame and no more than pride was hurt (but actually quite a lot . . .).

The story of Tierra del Fuego (which rather disconcertingly, the Lonely Planet guide compares in size to Ireland) ends here. We are now on the mainland and the next few days, weather permitting, should take us to the glacier at El Calafate and back into Argentina.

Finally, thanks to all those of you who have generously donated to St. Cuthbert's Hospice: it's much appreciated.

Over and out

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