Friday, February 17, 2006

Ushuaia to Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego

I don't think they quite get it. Once you leave this place, you're probably not coming back.

"Hosteria Los Flamencos", Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego

12:00 a.m. Friday

If I had known the ferry from this small town on the west side of Tierra del Fuego to Punta Arenas doesn’t run every day, I might have chosen to spend an extra day in Ushuaia.

I arrived in this little seaside village and, at the gas station, asked directions to the ferry. The attendant asked “today’s”?


"140 kilometers further," he said.

"No, I mean this ferry!" I said, pointing to the harbor.

He said it leaves at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. Then he asked if we were done.

I drove out to the ferry ramp, a few miles from town. No information there. Turning back for town, I saw a weathered sign for this hostel and decided to have a look before checking on hotels in town. The place was deserted and it took several minutes to find the caretakers. I facetiously asked if they had a room available and how much it would cost. 19,000 Pesos - $38! "There's no one here!"

I said it was too much for me. They dropped the price several times. When it reached $20, I agreed to stay. But no receipt, they said. This would be off the books.

A sadly neglected hotel, that doesn’t look that old, but is very run-down. Still, it was warm (with a gas space heater in the room) and the idea of camping out tonight by the landing really wasn’t too appealing.

This morning

After a good rest, I was up and about at 9:30, feeling somewhat improved. Decided I would leave Ushuaia today, earlier than anticipated, and notified the desk clerk. (This was bucking the usual pattern when I have settled into comfortable lodging!) Check-out is 10:00, but he said 10:30 would be fine.

Packed everything up, then sat down for some coffee, toast and mini-croissants. Chatted with a couple from Mexico City, "Maya" and "Humberto". There they operate a Uruguayan restaurant franchise, “Don Asado” and invited me to stop in. Maya’s from Germany and speaks excellent English.

Down the block to the internet café again. I couldn’t leave Ushuaia without at least posting something in the blog! Wrote a few thoughts, thanking those who have joined me along the way, in e-mails, blog comments and telephone calls. On several occasions, I have thought "I must do this" and was happy the thought resurfaced at this particular moment.

I also sent off a photo to the Kenwood Press. They now have the "triptych": photos of me at the top, middle and bottom of the hemisphere.

The final business here was to top off the gas. It was 1:45 when I turned northward, bidding farewell to Ushuaia. Someone said it takes 14 hours to reach Punta Arenas by bus. Threatening skies, especially in the mountains...and cold. Using my electric vest, I assured my shivering body that once I crossed the mountains it wouldn’t be so bad.

On the way home now. One last look at Ushuaia!

From Ushuaia, the mountain pass is 25 miles. Beyond the pass, however, it really didn’t get much warmer. At 39 miles out, I entered the construction zone and that lasted until 53 miles, when the pavement resumed. (Within a short time, this entire stretch of Argentine highway will be paved.)

And farewell to the Fuegian Andes. North of these mountains, it gets warmer!

Overtook two other riders in the gravel: Brazilians I had passed on the way in! At Tolhuin, I planned to look for the bakery Sacha had told me of. Stopped at the gas station, where I found the Sao Paolo riders gathered and having sandwiches. ("Are you guys always eating?" I joked to myself.)

I was directed to the “Panaderia La Union”. With photos all around the building, apparently of the owner with various celebrities, this place seems to be a landmark. I bought a few empanadas, sitting down to eat two.

Blasted by a chilly crosswind, I continued on, trying to maintain 70 to 80 mph. It was emotional to look at the cockpit gauges and see "I’m 100 miles closer to home!"

There are similarities here to the North Slope of Alaska, as the oil industry has a strong presence, tapping into these desolate plains.

In Rio Grande, stopped only to refuel. Cold, with occasional light rain showers. Uncertain what hours they keep, I raced to the border crossing. Arriving in San Sebastian at 4:30, topped up the gas and hurried to the Argentine checkpoint. There, I found two Austrian riders going the other way. Offered them encouraging news: the worst roads are now behind them. Sailed through police, immigration and customs checks, then rushed off to Chile’s frontier.

The Chilean officials were uncharacteristically cheerful! The "Servicio Agricola y Ganadero" (SAG) forms are never out. Arriving at that particular window (after waiting in the other lines), the officer handed me a form and with a smile sent me off to fill it out. Naturally, when I return to his window, he's nowhere to be found and I must wait. I suspect he finds pleasure in this little manipulation.

After clearing customs, bundled up, putting on fleece over the electric vest and a wool beanie under the helmet. I wanted to put in a good day of riding, and perhaps reach Punta Arenas by day's end.

The unpaved road west to Porvenir is much better than the one I came south on. I was able to average 60 mph over much of it, though there were still plenty of potholes. Rain ahead had me concerned, but I never really had to deal with mud. To the west, a low range of hills stood in the way, so the highway skirted southward between the hills and numerous bays. Except for the birds and an occasional fox, there was little wildlife to be seen. This, to me, was surprising.

I imagined there might be an 8:00 p.m. ferry from Porvenir to Punta Arenas, so I was determined to arrive before that time. It took all my concentration to make it in time. Of course, then I found it doesn’t run until tomorrow.

And so, a forced pause in this sleepy town. Still, I was up until 1:00, recording receipts, looking at maps, writing notes, organizing "my life".


Tim Spires said...

I see your point, but at least they're optimistic!

timtraveler said...

Or maybe they plan on following me to warmer climes!