Tierra Del Fuego

ihana.com - big trip - diary - chile / argentina - march 2003

Sheep Farm

Ferry across the Magellan Straits

Garibaldi pass on the way to Ushuaia

Wednesday 12 - Monday 17 March

Waking up to the continuing driving rain we folded up the tent and drove back down to Punta Arenas to get the puncture fixed and do a bit of shopping. With no reason to stay here and get wetter, we headed along the coast of the Straits of Magellan, dotted with minefield warning signs, to Punta Delgada where there is a ferry across to the big island of Tierra Del Fuego.

A long line of lorrys coming towards us a few kms from the terminal indicated that the ferry had just arrived - and left again. Never mind, time for something to eat in the cosy restaurant. The ferry soon returned and the landy was first on. Despite the usual high winds the ride was smooth enough and we arrived on the island just as the light was fading.

The road was tarmac for a short while then gravel,winding through the countryside. It was fully dark and occasionally we could see fires burning in the distance, not the Fuegan natives that Darwin had seen but the gas flares of oil wells. Still, it lent an air of mystery to the place until a lorry comes hammering towards us on our side of the track, hardly giving us an inch of space. This bit of road seriously needs tarmacking, probably Chile leave it unsealed to upset the argentine truckers who have an otherwise perfect road all the way from Buenos Aires.

Rio Moat coastguard post, the end of the world

Falklands memorial in Ushuaia

Sun comes out briefly

The crossing into Argentina at San Sebastian was easy enough with the friendly customs guys. The weather was still desperate so we drove on tothe stop-off town of Rio Grande and spent a much deserved warm night in a cheap hotel. In the morning we filled up with diesel (Argentina is 40% cheaper than Chile), left the hideous 'street sculpture' lining the roads of the town and continued south towards Ushuaia.

Rio Moat is on the east side of the bottom of the island and technically is further south than the end of route 3 after Ushuaia, so we turned down the windy dirt road and drove the 100kms or so to the end of the world. There's a coastguard hut and nothing else. The navy bloke there invited us in for a coffee and we had a chat about the Falklands and football. He pointed out the nearby islands that belong to Chile and that Argentina nearly went to war over (they have a beef with Chile and England over islands) and the famous Cape Horn further in the distance.

Welcome bit of tarmac


Made it to the official end of the road

Turning around and heading back to route 3, the sun made a rare appearance and we were rewarded with spectacular views all the way to Ushuaia which is ringed by snow covered mountains and is much prettier than we imagined after the ugliness of Rio Grande. After a spot of dinner we sneaked into the national park under cover of darkness and found a good spot to camp off the road. On opening the tent we found the mattress and Ts sleeping bag soaking wet. The horizontal rain at Punta Arenas two days before had soaked Ts side of the tent and sodden everything inside. A not very wicked nights sleep was had on foam mats in a wet sleeping bag.

The landy has a set of handy radiators in the back so we shoved the wet stuff in there and drove through the park to the end of the road to get the traditional picture. A bus load of tourists was there and some of the old ladies took a liking to us, demanding lots of photos together with us. Not as glamorous an arrival as we'd hoped!

Wooden bridge

Going back over a very wet Garibaldi pass

A cold night at the San Sebastian border

We're not the first

As the ferry from Punta Natales leaves thursday night it was time to leave a now rainy Ushuaia, arriving at the San Sebastian border corssing into Chile at dinner time. The rain had stopped and clear skies made for a bitterly cold night with ice on the outside of the tent. An old German couple were camped beside us in a little Japanese rental pick up with a camper module chained to the back of it. They could only do 60kmh in the wind and although they left well before us, we caught them at the Punta Delgada ferry which was floundering just offshore waiting for the tide to rise.

The cafe on this side of the Magellan Straits is not nearly as good as the one on the mainland side but we passed the time chatting to the Germans, the guy had been 2 years around Africa in a VW bus in 1965. That sounded like a great adventure. After crossing the Straits we drove the rest of the way to Puerto Natales, hoping that the weather would clear and give us a good time in Torres Del Paine.

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