Punta Arenas to Ushuaia - 16,755 miles. 12th February 2002
The ferry across to the island of Tierra del Fuego took two and a half hours and cost 3 pounds 6op each.
Porvenir, the port town, is a small collection of tin roofed houses with two hotels. We spent the night in one of them.
Decided not to go the shortest way to Ushuaia, but to take a detour via a recommended fishing spot. This detour is about an extra 150 miles. The weather turned to warm sunshine and the wind dropped to a gentle tail breeze. Two settlements marked on the map turned out to be a collection of deserted houses and fresh water became a problem, but we eventually found a small stream.
We stopped at an English settler's cemetery, which was miles from anywhere and had graves from about 1890-1900. Some of the inscriptions said they were killed by Indians and others were drowned.
There are now large herds of guanacos, many grey foxes and flocks of geese.
Cameron, marked as a reasonable town on the map, only had one small shop, which had very little food. The packets of biscuits and cake cost us four times the usual price.
The gravel roads are surprisingly good and we see only about one or two vehicles a day.
Met a Dutch couple cycling from Ushuaia to Alaska. All their equipment and bikes were new and pristine. They had about twice as much as us. We wished them good luck, gave them our Website and continued on our way.
Some maps show a cross country route that could save us 100 miles into the wind, but local people we have asked tell us it does not exist. Rather than get there and be turned back, it would be better to ignore it.
The countryside is now very wild and open with herds of guanacos everywhere. The commonest bird is the red-necked ibis. One observation about birds is that there are no crows in South America, birds of prey seem to take their place.
At the turn of the century, gold mining was a major activity here and we passed an enormous iron dredger that had been left to decay. It had been designated a national monument. Sheep farming is the only activity now.
Finally arrived at a tiny settlement called Rio Grande, which was by the Rio Grande River.
An old wooden suspension bridge, no longer suitable for traffic, crossed the river to end up in a field leading nowhere. Beside the bridge a local family from Porvenir were camping and fishing and just about to leave. They offered us the remains of their chicken and potato meal, some bread, and a packet of biscuits. They also filled all our bottles with drinking water, but we were used to drinking river and lake water which had given us no problems. We set up camp in the only slightly sheltered spot we could find and settled down for two days rest. David tried his hand at fishing and was pleased to catch 3 trout up to four pounds in weight. We had trout for breakfast, dinner and supper. Otherwise it would have been pasta. The fish smell soon attracted a fox which took away the heads and tails for its own supper.
All this sounds good, but the wind was almost gale force and bitterly cold even although the sun was shining. Abundant dry wood kept a small fire going all day for warmth and cooking. Eventually we had to leave and headed north again to meet our original route. The gravel road was surprisingly good, but strong cross winds made cycling difficult. We passed extensive areas of dead fallen trees where a policy of slash and burn to produce grazing land had transformed forests into barren plains. This seemed to have happened over most of Patagonia.
After camping on an Estancia (sheep farm) we eventually turned to the border with the wind on our backs. From here the road is mostly surfaced to Ushuaia. Somehow, we managed to miss the turning to San Sebastian, which had the first hotel for eight days, and ended up camping in a ruined concrete hut in the middle of nowhere. We were so looking forward to a hot shower but now have to wait until Rio Grande. We have not had a shower for seven days.
A quick (ave.18mph) ride into Rio Grande with a gale behind us and at last a hot shower.
The pesos is still of unknown value as the government has stopped currency trading until tomorrow. The official rate is l.4 to the dollar, but we expect it to go to about 1.8 tomorrow when trading resumes. We drew 100 pesos by credit card until we know the rate. Cash dollars are best, but we only have 140 left and may need this in Ushuaia. Next day - 2.2 pesos/dollar.
Our 100-dollar note proved impossible to change into smaller dollar notes as all banks were banned from trading dollars. Even splitting into smaller notes is banned! Some private persons offered to give us 150 pesos for it but we are not that daft. For the moment, the best bet is to continue to get small amounts of pesos using our credit card and keep dollars for emergency.
We are now taking our time getting to Ushuaia, but are finding it difficult to go slowly with a gale behind us. It makes a change to be able to freewheel uphill.
Camped beside Lake Fagnanao. This Lake has a reputation for producing trout and salmon of record sizes, but while we were there, it was blowing a gale and the shore was like being on the East Coast of England in the winter. Waves were four feet high.
A final camp at the far end of the lake before the last leg to Ushuaia. The gravel road was fairly good, but as it was a holiday weekend, there was quite a bit of traffic, i.e. one every 10 minutes. Each car showered us in dust and gravel. A gentle last 1500ft climb took us to the start of a paved road into Ushuaia.
MADE IT AT LAST. On the way in we looked for the Ushuaia sign, but all we could find was a tourist sign with Ushuaia in very small letters. However, in the centre of town we found one suitable for a photograph.
Everything is very expensive here. Our first nights hotel was 50 pesos. Due to the Argentine currency problems we have no idea what this is in pounds. Tomorrow, the banks open and the currency trading resumes. The next morning we found a hotel at a reasonable 35 pesos per day.
The official rate is now 2 pesos/dollar or 2.8 pesos/pound sterling. This means that we now get twice as much for our money in Argentina until inflation kicks in and prices start to rise. Some tourist prices are in US dollars and therefore devaluation proof.
We have a bus to Rio Gallegos in the morning to start our return to Quito. More news coming up during our return.
Schedule - Return to Stansted UK Monday 4th March 7.20 a.m.
Dave and Joan