And just like that, the last few weeks of our journey were upon us. We visited Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, then jumped on a 30+ hour ferry to Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world, before making it to our final stop: Ushuaia, on the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales, a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants, is the most popular base for excursions to Torres Del Paine, the national park we’d just cycled through. Although small, it had all the magical things we’d been missing since we left the last major city, El Calafate: mercados (our first purchase: mora berry—aka Andean raspberry—ice cream;1 an ATM, and, the particular weekend we visited, even a beerfest, showcasing local artisanal craft beers. After the tough, 12-hour ride the day before, we were excited to relax and enjoy the benefits of staying in town.

We’d heard from northbound cyclists that the route south of Puerto Natales was nasty: mucho viento (lots of wind), no shoulder, lots of traffic, limited camping options (i.e. shelter from the wind), limited water sources. And did we mention the wind?

We snapped this picture a few weeks later while cycling on Isla Navarino, but trees like this were a common site in southern Patagonia, where winds (coming, almost exclusively, from the West and North-West) consistently reach speeds of over 100 km/h.

We were still traveling with our Français amigos, Fred and Bass. For weeks, Fred had been a strong proponent of covering the 200-something kilometers between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas by bus. And since the bus ticket cost only about 10 euros per person, we agreed it was a good option. So, after a few nights in Puerto Natales, we made our way to the town’s central bus station to see if we could hop aboard a bus with our steeds.

We arrived at the bus station around 1pm. There was a bus scheduled to leave at 2pm; however, the person behind the ticket counter explained that we’d need to confirm with the driver that he2 could accommodate our bikes before buying our tickets. At 1:55pm, we got the green light from the driver, and we hastily purchased our tickets, unfastened our panniers, and removed our front wheels before stowing the bikes and bags in the bus’ undercarriage.

It was a rainy ride. About halfway into the drive, through the fogged-up windows, we made out a couple of tour bikers. Given the rain, narrow highway and strong winds, we weren’t jealous in the slightest.

Punta Arenas

With approximately 123,000 inhabitants, Punta Arenas is the largest city we visited in Chile and the largest we’d been in since Bahia Blanca (on the eastern coast of Argentina). For some perspective, Punta Arenas would be the 221st most populous city in the United States — sandwiched between Hartford, Connecticut (124,006) and Athens, Georgia (122,604). For some more perspective, Bariloche, where we’d initiated our Patagonian tour, has a population of 115,000; Coyhaique, the largest Chilean city we’d visited and the most populous on the Carretera Austral — has a population of 55,000. Punta Arenas is as urban as it gets in Patagonia, so you’d imagine finding accommodation on a budget would be relatively easy, right? Wrong.

Upon arrival, Cat and Bass went to explore potential accommodations. Kale and Fred nobly waited in the town’s central plaza with the bikes. An hour trickled by. Kale passed the time by (for the first time) playing with his hackey sack — which he’d been carrying with him the entire tour. As daylight began to fade, Cat and Bass returned. Their faces said it all — they hadn’t been able to find anything reasonably priced.

Fred had a plan. He’d heard rumors that the local bomberos (firemen) were sympathetic to French cyclists,3 so in the dim evening light, we peddled away from the city center in hopes of pitching our tents, for free, near the firestation.

Upon arrival, our hopes were shattered. The fireman whom we spoke with advised us to check out a park, on the other side of the city. Reluctantly, we pedalled back the way we’d come. En route, we spotted a sign for a hostel. Alas, no vacancy. We spotted another; same result. Fred and Bass were ready to hit the park, but with a slight drizzle beginning, Cat strongly preferred that we go to one of the hostels she’d visited earlier that had space for two (but not four).

Agreeing to meet up the next day, we said chau to Fred and Bass and separated. Back to the search for accommodation. A few blocks later, we spotted another hostel. Once again, no vacancy! The guy working at this hostel directed us around the corner to a hotel. Fuck it, at this point the rain was coming down and we were ready to pay whatever it cost to have a roof for the night.

As fate would have it, this hotel was also full. They pointed us up the road, to a house rocking a colorful mural. A small, faded sign on the front door read: “Panaderia y Chocolateria” and above that, “La Toscana Hostel.4 We knocked and were greeted by a woman. Behind her hid her daughter, who must have been about five years old. The woman ushered Cat inside. She had a room for us, with a private bathroom and for much less than the price of any hostel we’d visited so far. Amazing.

Without speaking a word, the daughter, Lucia, guided us through the back gate to an area, where we locked up our bikes, and then to our room. We warmed up, changed and, reluctant to venture back outside, resigned ourselves to a sauceless, pasta dinner (the only food we had with us).

Midway through dinner, a long-haired, bearded dude of about our age, poked his head through the door and into the living area where we were eating. “Bon Appetite!” he exclaimed with a smile. His name was Sebastian.

Sebastian and his girlfriend, Catherine, had been staying at the hostel for about two weeks. Their home is La Serena, a city of 200,000 people located 470 km north of Santiago.

Sebastian invited us to hang out later, and we agreed, telling him to knock on our door when the festivities were commencing. It was late and once in our room, we immediately began drifting off to sleep. Not wanting to let our new friends down, we wrote a quick note insisting we hang out the next day and taped it to our door.

The next morning, we spoke with the baker-turned-hostel owner. There was an open room for Fred and Bass, so they joined us that afternoon. We did some research: The next boat for Puerto Williams left in two days. According to the boat company website, non-Puerto Williams residents could only purchase tickets within 24 hours of departure, so we planned to head to the port and purchase tickets the following day. That night, we fulfilled our promise and hung out with Sebastian and Catherine, who were accompanied by another Chilean, Lucio, and his American girlfriend, Rachelle.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, the four of us biked the 5 kilometers to the port, where we learned that the Thursday boat was completely full. Bugger. We reserved seats for the next boat, departing for Puerto Williams at 1am on Monday morning. Apparently the whole thing about foreigners not being able to purchase tickets until 24 hours in advance didn’t matter. The primary purpose of this boat: transporting gasoline to Isla Navarino. We had a few more days in Punta Arenas now, but it was no problem — we still had about three weeks until our flight home.

On our return trip from the port, we spotted a sign for an auto lavaderia (car wash). Our bikes were in much need of a clean, so we paid 1000 Chileno pesos each ($1.50) and had them blasted with a high-pressure water hose. Like new!

Already out and about on our bikes, we stopped for empanadas and a quick visit to the Punta Arenas cemetery.5 Wandering through the cemetery was not exactly the most riveting experience; however, it was interesting to note the prevalence of distinctly British names engraved on a large portion of the gravestones — especially those from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Now, some history!

History of Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas was established in 1848 by the Chilean government as a tiny penal colony. The intention was to assert sovereignty over the strategically significant Strait of Magellan. The Strait of Magellan is considered “the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans” by Wikipedia, and, although difficult to navigate due to unpredictable winds and currents, is less perilous than the Drake Passage (which separates the southern tip of South America from Antarctica), which was the only other sea route between the world’s two largest oceans, until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Early Spanish settlements had been attempted on the coast of the Strait of Magellan but had failed due to the harsh weather, famine, and the enormous distances from other Spanish ports.

Map of southern Chile and Tierra del Fuego.

During the late 1800s, Punta Arenas grew in size and importance due to the increasing maritime traffic and trade traveling to the west coasts of South and North America. Between 1883 and 1906, Tierra del Fuego6 underwent a gold rush, which attracted a large number of Chileans, Argentines, and Europeans (specifically, Croatians and Russians) to the archipelago. This fueled economic growth in nearby Punta Arenas.

Between about 1890 and 1940, the Magallanes region of Chile (of which Punta Arenas is the largest city and capital) and Tierra del Fuego became one of the world’s most important sheep-raising regions. The headquarters of the largest sheep-farming company (which controlled over 10,000 square kilometers in the region) and the residences of its owners were in Punta Arenas. This thriving industry attracted large numbers of immigrants to the region, including many British.

Selk’nam Genocide

Sheep ranches were established near the lands of Tierra del Fuego’s indigenous Selk’nam people. Completely foreign to the traditionally western notion of private property and deprived of their natural hunting grounds, Selk’nam warriors occasionally hunted the sheep. In response, companies paid sheep farmers or other militia (often former gold prospectors) a bounty for each Selk’nam dead, which was confirmed upon presentation of a pair of hands or ears, or later (when Selk’nam were spotted living without ears) a complete skull. Bounty hunters were rewarded more handsomely for the death of a woman than a man.

Two Christian missions were eventually established to provide housing and food for the Selk’nam, but it was too little, too late. Both closed due to the small number of Selk’nam remaining; they had numbered in the thousands before Western colonization, but by the early twentieth century only a few hundred remained. The last ethnic Selk’nam died in 1974.

Selk’nam men.
Selk’nam men in traditional “initiation” ceremonial dress.
Selk’nam women (1930)

Final Days in Punta Arenas

The rest of the week was extremely relaxing. Days were spent reading, blogging, composing music, and being entertained by our extremely sassy, five-year old hostess, Lucia, who’d warmed up to us quickly. Nights were spent sharing stories in broken spanglish and laughing. One night, Bass even gutted a melon, filled it with wine, then let it freeze. The result? A sangria slushy 🙂 With Lucia running around (at all hours of the day and night) and everybody sharing meals, we had found a home.

Occasionally (usually when we were hungry) we would wander around the neighborhood. Looking at a map, Cat learned that the hostel was dangerously close to the Cerveza Austral brewery. We wandered over one day hoping to try some brews we hadn’t seen along the way. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a tasting room in the brewery nor was any beer available for purchase. The only option was to take a tour (4,000 pesos, $6.00 per person) and you would receive a few tastings at the end.

Don Lazaro of Empanadas Don Lazaro.
Streets of Punta Arenas at dusk.

On Friday evening, we were invited to an asado at casa de Oscar. We had briefly met Oscar on the Austral, near Cochrane — he was cycling north, part of a group of seven Chileans.7 Fred and Bass were better planners than us and exchanged contact info on the route, planning to meet up in their respective hometowns. The asado was delicious and the pisco-colas, strong.8 All in all, a fantastic evening.

On Sunday, Fred and Bass boxed their bikes. They would be leaving them in Punta Arenas (at La Toscana Hostel), as they would be returning in 10 days to catch a flight to northern Chile, then cycling north into Peru. That evening we shared a final meal with Sebastian and Catherine before heading to the port.

The six days spent in Punta Arenas were relaxing, cozy, and certainly some of the most beneficial for our Spanish — we credit this to the patience and equally elementary bilingual proficiency of Sebastian and Catherine. Communication is created by meeting somewhere in the middle. Through patience, miming, and the occasional use of props, we were able to communicate and create a strong bond. We’ll definitely be seeing our friends from La Serena again.

Boat to Puerto Williams

After a fun night bike, we arrived to the port at 10pm and watched as our boat unloaded its cargo (evidently it had just arrived from Puerto Williams). At 11pm, we pushed our bikes aboard and parked them next to the gas trucks that had also pulled aboard.

There were only about 20 passengers on board; yet the boat accommodated over 100. One of the perks of taking the “gas barco,” we think. As we were nestling into our seats (which weren’t bad — reclining to about a 45 degree angle), a crew member came by and asked us and the other 15 people in the economy-class cabin if we’d like to move into the first-class cabin. Score! Our new seats were slightly wider and fully reclined.

A wee bit later, the same crew member came by and offered us blankets. The lights dimmed, the boat began moving, and we nodded off to sleep.

The ride to Puerto Williams took just over 30 hours. The conditions weren’t perfect — cloudy and intermittent light drizzle — but, as we were primarily traveling through fjords, the water was calm. The boat was quite large, and we were free to move about as we wished. Every few hours, we’d brave the biting wind and venture to the upper deck. The views were surreal — hundreds of uninhabited, unexplored islands, seabirds aplenty and the occasional family of seals. For a few hours we ventured out of the fjords and the chop-level increased considerably.

Food was provided — but left a lot to be desired. Fortunately we’d stocked up on food in Punta Arenas, 9 so we had a personal supply of our Chilean favorites: manjar, miel, pan, and of course, Clos — the best bang-for-your-buck boxed wine10 we found in Chile.

Lobo (seal).
Lobo getting some air. Yew!
Lobos generally prey on fish, but they will also eat eel, squid, octopus and lobster.
Black-Browed Albatross.
When a Black-Browed Albatross finds a mate, they will likely keep it for life. If one of the pair dies it may be many years before the other will find another mate and take part in reproducing.

Black-browed Albatross shows off it’s impressive wingspan.
Guanay Cormorant
The Guanay cormorant has historically been the most important producer of guano, a highly effective fertilizer.
We passed hundreds of fjords and islands like these.
Guano from these guys consists of nitrogen-rich ammonium oxalate and urate, phosphates, as well as some earth salts and impurities.
Today, guano from cormorants is increasingly sought after by organic farmers.

Puerto Williams

Puerto Williams is the largest settlement on Isla Navarino and has a population of around 3,000, many of which are affiliated with the Chilean Navy, which runs the local airport and has a base outside of town. It boasts the purest water on earth and is the southernmost town in the world.

According to Fred, we had docked at around 6am — this went unnoticed by the rest of us, and we continued sleeping until about 8:30am. We disembarked and (as usual) headed to the tourist information office. The dude there told us that we could find free wifi in one of two places in town: the museum or the restaurant. Without plans for the day, we went to the museum. It was fascinating, focusing on the culture of the Yaghan, the indigenous peoples who lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the southern shores of Tierra del Fuego and Isla Navarino until deep into the mid-20th century.

The plan was to stay with Paulo, a local cyclist we’d met a month (or so) prior, while cycling the Austral. Paulo is originally from Punta Arenas and relocated to Puerto Williams some years ago to work as the psychologist at the local hospital.

Paulo’s house was part of a complex. From the outside, the uniform government housing was an eyesore, but inside, Paulo’s casa was homely and cozy.

We (read: el cocinero, Bass) had been on the hunt for to find some centolla (Chilean King Crab) since arriving in Southern Chile. Even in ocean ports like Tortel, we’d been unable to find the seafood in any mercados.

Finally, in Puerto Williams and with some local assistance (thanks, Paulo!), we feasted. Served simply with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a dollop of mayonessa (just like locals), it was absolutely sensational.

Centolla (Chilean King Crab)

Trekking and Adventures

The next day, we wandered outside of town and toward the airport. A few kilometers into the hike, we encountered a dog — and it was love at first sight. S/he11 looked to be some sort of husky mix, and it stuck with us all day, as we hiked along the beach, up and down cliffs, and then back to Paulo’s.

Our Dog.
Fred and Dog.
A bundled Cat and Fred hike toward Dientes de Navarino.
Interesting bird chilling near Puerto Williams harbor.
Long-tailed meadowlark
Black-Faced Ibis.
Female Upland (Magellan) Geese and Dientes de Navarino.
Female Upland (or Magellan) Geese and a portion of Dientes de Navarino.

Paulo and some friends were going fishing after work, and invited us to join. Bass and Kale accepted the invite, while Fred and Cat opted for a cozy night indoors by the fire. At 6:45pm, the fishing crew drove out of Puerto Williams and headed west on the12 road. At the wheel of the silver jeep was Victor Hugo,13 one of two doctors in Puerto Williams and the most bilingual of the group. Paulo sat shotgun. In the back seat, Kale was sandwiched between Bass and another friend of Paulo’s named Mauro (short for Mauricio, not to be confused with Maru, our favorite famous feline).

The crew drove for about 20 minutes along the Beagle Channel before turning left into what seemed like just a driveway. Paulo jumped out and opened the gate and we entered a property containing an old wooden boat and a small blue cabin. By the looks of it (and given the absence of smoke emerging from the chimney), the cabin was empty. Beyond the cabin, a bumpy road took the crew up and into the forest. Everyone held on tight as the jeep rocked along the muddy and rocky track, occasionally scraping it’s undercarriage against a protrusion in the trail. Every time this occurred, the loud crunching sound and heavy vibrations through the floor of the jeep would cause Bass and Kale to grimace. The locals didn’t look phased at all.

The route forked and the jeep headed right. The road became steadily more treacherous, until finally, they encountered a portion of the road which proved impassable. Three times, the Dr. attempted to climb the muddy hill, which was plagued with tree roots — alas, each time, (despite Mauro’s chants from the back seat of “dale, dale, dale!”14) the four wheels would lose traction on the dirt hill and begin skidding. Despite the lake being a well-known spot among Puerto Williams fisherman, it was in this moment that Kale and Bass learned none of their guides had ever actually been to this spot. After three or four more failed attempts at climbing the hill, Dr. Hugo and Paulo consulted the map, then, guided by Paulo, the jeep turned around and headed back to the fork.

At the fork, they took the other route. The road wasn’t much better. After making slow progress for twenty minutes, Paulo spotted some space beside the trail to park the jeep and the group progressed on foot.

The trail remained steep for another kilometer, then gradually leveled out as the woods gave way to an expansive grassy and mossy plain. Another kilometer later, the group stopped. Team meeting: Daylight was fading quickly. They wouldn’t make it to the fishing spot — they’d overestimated how close they could drive to the lake. There was a smaller lake 10 minutes walk more ahead. They’d head there for a snack, then return.

After hiking for about an hour, they reached the lake, ate some cookies and enjoyed the last light of an orange and pink sunset.

En route back to the jeep, Kale chatted with Dr. Hugo and learned that, although there are no pumas on Isla Navarino, there are packs of wild dogs which roam the island. Abandoned by residents of Puerto Williams, these dogs have readapted to the wild and have formed packs which have been known to attack livestock. Dr. Hugo thinks that it’s inevitable that they’ll one day turn their sights on a human. “This is why I always carry a knife when I’m trekking,” he tells Kale.

The group marched on. Soon, it was dark. With only one headlamp between the group, the going was slow. The soft, mossy terrain provided just enough support to keep from sinking too deep into the mud. Occasionally, though, the ground would give way to a large squelch. Kale followed the smooth and light footsteps of Mauro, who seemed to be able to avoid the deep mud quite effectively. The pace of the group was set by Dr. Hugo (lord of the light), who casually kept an eye on the progress of Bass and Kale.

In the dark, the route looked unfamiliar. At one point, Bass panicked. “This isn’t the way we came,” he exclaimed to Kale in English.

Just before the final descent through woods, Dr. Hugo halted the group. “Ushuaia,” he said, motioning to the horizon. Sure enough, through a gap in the trees, Kale could see the twinkling lights of Ushuaia: the finish line of his and Cat’s Patagonian tour.

Once back in the forest, the terrain became slippery and even tougher as the trail descended. “It’s like surfing!” Paulo explained.

Eventually, the group arrived back at the jeep and after some careful maneuvering, back to the road. Dr. Hugo took a left turn rather than a right, which would have taken them back toward Puerto Williams. “To the graveyard,” he explained.

5 kilometers further down the road, we reached an old Yaghan graveyard. Interestingly, the graves were labeled with crucifixes — symbols of the intense missionary work of the early European settlers on Isla Navarino.

Moon over the Beagle Channel.
Yaghan graveyard #1
Yaghan graveyard #2

The failed-fishermen crew returned from the misadventure to find a toasty Fred and Cat. Dr. Hugo explained that they would be reattempting the fishing trip on the weekend, but this time with a tent and gear for camping — we were welcome to join. “Sí, por favor!” we responded.

After enjoying a late dinner, Kale snuck outside and fed our new dog our leftovers from dinner.15 The next morning, it was still there, dutifully waiting on Paulo’s back porch. Naturally, s/he’d accompanied Fred on his customary morning stroll to the local mercado/panaderia.

Our plan for the day? Bike eastward along the aforementioned route and spend a night camping on the Beagle Channel. Since Bass and Fred had left their bikes in Punta Arenas, they opted for a hike toward the Dientes de Navarino mountain range. Their plan was to catch a boat to Ushuaia the following day, so we said goodbye and agreed to meet them when we arrived, early next week. They hit the trail, with our faithful dog at their heels.

Biking Isla Navarino

The weather was magnificent. And since we’d left some of our gear at Paulo’s, the short (there is only 20-something kilometers of route heading east out of Puerto Williams) but steep rolling hills were manageable. With light(er) bikes and excited to ride, the road was ours — in the course of the day’s ride, only a few vehicles passed us. At one point, we rounded a downhill bend and stumbled upon a wildlife feeding frenzy. Presumably there was a school of fish in the area, as thousands of birds (gulls, cormorants, and petrels) — some lobos (seals) even joined the party. It was madness.

A Gull-Billed Tern and a gull (currently unsure of type) compete for a fish.
Gull-Billed Tern scouts for fish below.
Lobo (seal) joins the party!
“Whatchu lookin’ at?”
Hectic skies over the feasting grounds. Mountains of Tierra del Fuego in the background.
The southernmost highway on earth…
Cormorants (or shags) are super mellow birds.
View from our camping spot for the night.
Local fisherman casts net.

As the afternoon dwindled, the wind picked up and we began eyeing potential places to camp. Eventually we found a spot, just near the end of the route that was protected from the wind. We started a modest fire and tried to warm up before falling asleep.

The next morning, we took our time (per usual), and took in the rugged beauty around us.

Ducks enjoy the calm morning waters. The wind usually picks up midday.
Variable Hawk soars close to the shore, scouting food.
Rush hour traffic.
Upland (Magellan) Geese. Males are white-headed, females, brown-headed.
This male Upland (Magellan) Goose was skeptically eyes Kale.
Couple of jokers.
Wild horses!
Best hair on the island.

        

Only having sufficient provisions for one night, we turned around and enjoyed a sunny, but windy, ride back into town. When we arrived, we stood outside the restaurant for some wifi. We’d heard from Fred and Bass: they’d made it to Ushuaia but had realized they’d forgotten their laptop on the 30-hour boat ride from Punta Arenas! Thankfully, they had been able to get a hold of the company and learned that it was still on the boat. As the same vessel was scheduled to be docked in Puerto Williams the next day, we planned to go retrieve it for them and bring it to Ushuaia with us.

Friday Night Festivities

Back at Paulo’s, we unpacked and showered. Paulo got home from work and invited us to join him and some friends for a game of basketball at the town gymnasium. After a dinner of roasted vegetables, we headed to the gymnasium, watched some pickup basketball and had a shoot around sesh.

It was Friday night and the cerveceria was open! Some of Paulo’s friends, who also work at the hospital, came over for some beers and after a few, the idea of going out slowly vanished — not unlike any pregame we’ve had back home. At some point in the night, unbeknownst to us (probably due to our poor Spanish comprehension), Paulo’s friend, Matti, who just so happens to be the owner and brewer of the cerveceria, slipped out only to come back with three six packs of fresh, cold artisanal brews. Night out to the brewery? Nah, the brewery comes to us!

After a casual drink-and-talk-until-6am night,16 Cat awoke groggy the next morning at around 10am. Kale, proud member of the 6am crew, snoozed. Knowing Fred and Bass’s laptop was waiting in the port, Cat jumped on her bike and scurried down in search of the ticket office. After a tour of the buildings along the shore, she found the office and learned that the laptop was still aboard with the captain. Back on the boat, she located the captain and secured the laptop. Phew!

Backcountry Backpacking

After lunch, Paulo confirmed the group’s plan to return to the same forest and trail the group had attempted to pursue a few nights ago. This time, the gang would leave earlier and camp at the third lake (where the good fishing was). Dr. Hugo drove once again with Paulo sitting shotgun and the two of us in back. Mauro drove in his 4×4 with another amigo, Eric.

We drove up the same forest road as a few days prior (a new route for Cat) and after finding a suitable parking spot, we filed out of the car and began the trek: up the hill and onto the plain. Traversing the mossy plains (twice in one week for some) were not an easy task. It took the same energy as walking through sand, but instead of sand, it was more like sponges. Sinking slightly with each step, we made our way past the first lake and the second. After a few hours, and with a little light remaining, we made it to the shore of the third lake. We felt truly in the middle of nowhere — now we were officially at the southernmost point of our journey! The gang enjoyed choripan, salchicas (hot dogs) and cerveza fireside.

Hiking toward the lake where we would camp for the night.
Paulo, Mauro and tent.
The whole group!
Due to the (almost) full moon, the stars weren’t extremely bright.
Driftwood on the shores of the lake.

The next morning, Hugo and Paulo tried their luck fishing (each successfully snagged a trout) while the rest of the gang stayed warm by the fire — Kale wandered the shores of the lakes, looking for cool piedras (stones), a new hobby we picked up from our favorite forager, Bass. It was Sunday, asado day. Paulo, el asador, cooked some tasty pork over the fire for lunch.

At 3pm, we began the trek back down to the jeep and to town. Slightly sore for the day prior, Cat was a bit slower — and we were all tired. We made it back to the first lake where the group decided it would take a rest. The isolated cabin we’d seen the day before, was now inhabited by a couple of locals. A man had two fires going (“burning garbage,” Dr. Hugo had explained to a querying Kale) and was chopping some wood outside. A woman beckoned us inside where she gave us some coffee and, Kale’s favorite, sopapilla. We were thankful for the break, and with some caffeine, we were rejuvenated for the remainder of our trek.

That night, head chef, Cat, and sous chef, Kale, prepared a fajita-inspired meal — it’s necessary to get creative given the (lack of) options for ingredients — for the crew and enjoyed insightful Spanglish conversation.17 As our boat was scheduled to depart in the morning, we packed our panniers and went to bed relatively early.

Hiking back toward civilization. Nice jump, Cat!
Sopapilla.
View through the window of the cabin.
A Martin Pescador doing some fishing.

A Stormy Monday

We woke up, said goodbye to Paulo, and set off down the street on our bikes. We were to catch some type of transportation (it was unclear whether it was a bus or van — but supposedly it was something that could accommodation our loaded bikes) at the booking office. From there the vehicle would take us west to Puerto Navarino (the end of the route), where the boat would take us across the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia. We’d inquired about skipping the van/bus portion of the trip and riding the 50 kilometers westward along the coast, but had learned that it was mandatory to get passports stamped in town the same morning as the boat journey, leaving no time for us to bike.

A few minutes after 9am, we spotted the lady who operated the ferry-crossing business. Bad news. The boat for the day was cancelled due to high winds and stormy weather. We would be able to catch the boat the next day (assuming the weather improved). A little bummed (we were meant to meet up with Fred and Bass for a road trip of the Tierra del Fuego), we retreated back to “Hostel de Paulo,” as we’d come to (jokingly) call it, thankful we were stuck in a place with great vibes and people.

That day, we stayed inside, only emerging to collect firewood and get food from the store. Cat cooked twice-baked potatoes and we enjoyed a relaxing evening. Later that night, the bros (Kale, Matti and Paulo) made a trip to Matti’s brewhouse (Cat opted to sleep as the gang didn’t leave until about 11:30pm). Kale, not about to say no to more free beer, set off to learn more about Tierra de Humos, Matti’s fledgling company. Consumed by the brewing process and enamored by the delicious beer that Matti was brewing, remained out until the wee hours of the morning.

Paulo and Matti sample a fresh batch of Tierra de Humos.

Our Last Boat Ride

The next morning, we were out the door quickly and back to waiting at the booking office. The boat was on! We got our passports stamped, helped load our bikes in the back of a pick up belonging to the employee of the Gendermeria de Chile (to us, it seems like they are the fruit and veggie border patrol, keeping those pesky Argentinian veggies far away), and hopped in the van for the 1-hour ride to Puerto Navarino.

Guanay Cormorants flying alongside our boat. Isla Navarino in the background.

We arrived at the port to find that Puerto Navarino wasn’t a small town, as we expected, it was merely a building, seemingly there to accept and admit people crossing the border into Chile from Ushuaia, Argentina. A small speed boat awaited us on the dock. We unloaded our bikes and bags from the back of the truck, packed our bikes, then pushed them to the docks, only to discover we’d have to unload everything again in order to lift our steeds aboard the boat. Thankfully, the two-person crew operating the boat was very helpful and relaxed. We waved a sad goodbye to Isla Navarino — one of our favorite places — and Chile as the boat pulled away from the dock.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived on the docks of Ushuaia — back in Argentina!

One thought on “El Fin del Mundo”

  1. Can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your blogs! Each one takes me on a trip that I would never have gone on – so I have to thank you for taking me along with you! Have a safe trip home!

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