February 20, 2016
I left Punta Arenas on the 1pm ferry to Porvenir and Tierra del Fuego. While waiting on the ferry, the weather constantly danced between light drizzle and sunshine. The wind was ever-present of course, but not terrible, at probably 20 to 25 mph.
The ferry ride is about two hours. As soon as I rode off the ferry and into Porvenir it began raining, sleeting, and the winds suddenly increased to about 50 mph. I set off out of town only to find that the pavement immediately stopped. It was mostly gravel, but in a few places there was no gravel, and it turned to slick, snotty mud. I slipped and slid and managed not to crash somehow but my tires balled up with mud so bad that the bike wouldn’t steer at all. Eventually the rain let up, the wind increased even more, and the mud came off my tires in the gravel and rock road.
I stopped at a place on the side of the road with some big trees thinking it would offer some wind break, but the trees were too far apart. As I stood there, I dropped one of my gloves. The wind caught it and it took off faster than I could run with my bad ankle. After about a hundred yards I managed to catch it just before it blew under the fence and out to sea. My physical therapy for the day complete, I remounted and continued toward the Penguin Park.
My GPS coordinates were for a place I found on iOverlander that just said “grassy spot” and was about a mile past the penguin park. I was hoping there would be a hill or dune or something to hide behind with my tent. When I got to the penguin park there was a guy on a loaded motorcycle there so I pulled up next to him, noticing the German license plate. Ernest was on a beautiful late ’80s BMW R100GS, and had just finished the tour of the penguins. He said the park ranger told him he could sleep in a small “house” up the road and I was welcome to join him. The park was closing soon, and I had planned to visit the King penguins in the morning, so I followed Ernest up the road.
When we got there, it was a tiny building about 7 feet wide by 10 feet long in the middle of the grassy field I was planning to camp in. Inside the building was a metal bunk bed frame (no mattresses), a table, and a stove made out of a cut-down 55 gallon drum.
We started a fire in the stove, put the air mattresses and sleeping bags on the bunks, and Ernest cooked dinner. It was actually pretty comfortable. Just before dark another couple showed up: a German brother and sister hitchhiking/backpacking to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas. They set up their tent on the less windy side of the building and slept there.
The wind finally dropped to probably 30 mph or so this morning. The King Penguin Park doesn’t officially open until 11am, but when I rode up around 9:30, the ranger was very friendly and invited me in early. I spent about an hour walking around watching the penguins. The size and color of these guys is amazing. I wished I had binoculars. In the photos, if you look closely, you can see several young penguins, who aren’t old enough to have the orange markings yet.
After visiting the penguins it was another 30 miles or so of gravel road to the border crossing into the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego.
As I finished up my paperwork and was just leaving the border crossing, Ian rode up. He’s been to Ushuaia and is on his way to Buenos Aires to ship home.
The pavement begins with Argentina Ruta 3 at the border crossing, and it’s a smooth, beautiful road all the way to my hosteria tonight in Tolhuin. I’m only sixty miles from Ushuaia, but this hotel on the shore of Lago Fagnano was just too nice and relaxing not to stop at for a night.