Argentina: From the Strait of Magellan to the Beagle Channel

Route: Punta Delgada – Cerro Sombrero – San Sebastian – Rio Grande – Lago Yehuin – Tolhuin – Ushuaia

I’m on Tierra del Fuego. Dreamed about that a long time.
Before the finalization of the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan was the place were the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean met and through which most of the marine traffic came.
Apparently, the Strait itself belongs to the Pacific Ocean and the whole strait belongs to Chile.
The island Tierra del Fuego is half Chilean, half Argentinean, so I have to cross borders a couple of times.
The name Tierra del Fuego is used for a whole archipelago of islands, of which Isla Grande is the biggest, with an area of 48.000 km2 it’s 1,5 times bigger as Belgium.

At the end of the afternoon of my first day on the island, I entered the little ‘town’ of Cerro Sombrero. The camp ground is closed, because they’re messing around building some kind of ugly dike. But I was lucky a friendly citizen spontaneously offered me to pitch my tent in his garden. There’s a brand new tourist info, with a very qualified guy working there and spotlessly clean toilets and showers.

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@ Cerro Sombrero
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The cold and windy Macadam road out of Cerro Sombrero

A bit out of Cerro Sombrero, the island becomes a bit hilly. A welcome change for the flat steppes I travelled through the last weeks. It’s a wet and windy day and I was told there’s nothing until the border post at San Sebastian.
But look, in the afternoon, just as I’m leaving the hilly terrain and enter the flatlands again, I see a building along a road, the ‘Hotel Tierra del `Fuego’.
Excited I put my bike against it and enter the building, but there’s nobody to welcome the guests. It’s a one room hotel only, so I thought “maybe they come along in the morning”.
The room clearly wasn’t rented out yet, and I don’t think it’s the kind of place you can make reservations for on booking.com. First come will get it, so I prepared myself for the night.
Laying down there, I saw all the holes in the walls.
Would locals shoot at the walls, like they sometimes do with traffic signs ? It wouldn’t be nice to get a bullet in my ass overnight. Hearing the wind picking up outside, I didn’t have much of a choice then spending the night in this hotel, so I hoped for the best.

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The center of Tierra del Fuego is a bit hillier, and nicer.

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This Argentinian guy was pulling a cart of 120 kg. He started at Bahia Lapataia, 25 km west of Ushuaia and intended to visit every provincial capital of Argentina, before continuing north (to Alaska ?). And sometimes I think I have a hard life 😉
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My hotel ‘Tierra Del fuego’ which saved me from a terribly windy night in this barren pampa.

Next day, I had to battle hard again against the storm, but there were good prospects. 25 km down the road, I ‘m gonna turn left, towards the east, and have it in my back. The wind blew me quickly towards the border post at San Sebastian. It’s still a dirt road here, but they’re building a macadam road, so you should be fine in the near future. There’s a hostel and a very small kiosko at the Chilean site of the border.
To my surprise, there was a long line of people waiting. A bus with backpackers and they have to take all their luggage out of the bus and it has to go one by one through a scanner.
I got a special treatment, was stamped out and waved through without any checking or problems.
Thanks Chilean officials ! 🙂

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The Chilean site of the border at San Sebastian

It’s about 10 km to the Argentinean immigration. That bus only caught up with me just before I arrived, and I made a lot of photo stops, so that must be a hell of a bus ride, coming from Punta Arenas, crossing border 3 times. That’s why that bus rides takes 12 hours I guess.
I was stamped back into Argentina without a problem and had the Atlantic ocean in sight again.
I read many stories of cyclist who end up sleeping in a room at the Chilean border. The room is their, I saw it, but it’s not gonna be quiet.
Better ride on, because after the Argentinean border, once you’re along the coast, there are some nice camping spots between the hills.

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Near the road RN 3, between San Sebastian and Rio Grande. I got enough shelter from this small ridge. Atlantic Ocean in the background.

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Coming this way, I had no choice but to enter Rio Grande, quite a big town on the Atlantic side of the island. It’s hell. It looks like hell, it sounds like hell, the traffic is hell.
I limit my stay to a visit of the local Carrefour and try to get out of this place a.s.a.p.
Simpler said then done, with the road works going on.
About 15 km south of Rio Grande, I turn inland, on dirt road nbr 9 (road ‘F’ on older maps).
Instantly life is good again. After a few kilometers, the trees re-appear.
Brilliantly beautiful trees with lichen.
Somewhere aong the first kilometes on this dirt road, I pass the 25.000 kilometer mark of this trip.
I jump a fence and find a nice camping spot.
Camping on a grassy spot, between trees, but open enough for some sunshine; that’s perfect.

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This crane was blown of the trailer at the top of a hill outside Rio Grande.
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A grassy wild camping spot, sheltered by trees, a bit of sun, a book to read …. life is good.

I ride another two days on these roads, going from one hill to the next, taking a small road down to the ‘Lago Yehuin’, often described as ‘the center of Tierra del Fuego’.
There’s an abandoned small holiday resort (completely in ruins) and some grassy fields where you could camp if you like.
All the graffiti on the walls suggested the place is frequented by stupid idiots from time to time, and the wind was blowing in from the lake, so I went on a bit further to find a good spot where I sure would be on my own for the night.

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‘Southern Crested Caracara’. They are not shy and love to tear the plastic sacks you pull over your saddle at night. Then start picking your saddle (because it’s salty from sweat ?)

I have been incredibly lucky the past weeks with the weather.
Sure, I’ve had my fare share of head winds, but the temperatures have been above 20 degrees with lots of sunshine. Now, however, it’s changing and I end up taking shelter under a barn for an hour.

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Trees full of Guido Belcanto hair

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‘Buff Necked Ibis’, you see them often here

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Soaking wet, I arrive in Tolhuin, a place famous among cyclists in South-America.
The bakery ‘Panadería Unión’ is also a Casa de Ciclistas, and virtually every cyclist riding down to Ushuaia stops here.
And so am I 🙂
All afternoon, evening and the next morning I stuff myself with the delicious things they’re baking here.

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The sleeping room at the bakery in Tolhuin.

The Paso Garibaldi is the last main obstacle between Tolhuin and Ushuaia.
The weather at the other side of the pass is so awful I quickly dive into a field and pitch my tent on soggy ground.

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‘Black-Crowned Night-Heron’
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Just as I missed the 25.000 km mark on my odo-meter outside Rio Grande, I also missed the 3.000 km marker of RN 3. But this one will do nicely.
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Lago Escondido (the ‘Hidden Lake’)

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Then, on 17/11/17 I arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.
I started this trip on 16/4/16. I have to keep in mind to make it to important points on easy to remember dates.
After crossing the Strait Of Magellan, I ‘m now cycling along the Beagle Channel, this other famous maritime route, unbelievable.

What’s also quiet unbelievable, is the harsh conditions in this place.
Ushuaia is located at 55 degrees in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, you ‘d be at Copenhagen, which has a much milder climate.
Last year, I was standing with my bike at the North Cape, only 2.102 kilometer from the North Pole and well within the Arctic Circle, while I haven’t passed the Antarctic Circle here and I’m almost double as far from the South Pole (3.926 kilometer).
BUT, Ushuaia is only 1.000 kilometer from Antarctica, which I guess will be one of the reasons for the extreme weather here.

That weather really turned for the worst during my first day. Instead of 20+ degrees days, I now have temperatures just above freezing, lots of snow, rain, storm. Local paved roads are being washed out. A submarine disappears. I hear the trails in the National Park are closed because many trees toppled over.
So, lucky to be warm inside the hostel for four days.
Not being a ‘hostel-guy’, I do have to say I enjoyed my stay in ‘La Posta’ Hostel. It’s a bit outside of the center, but it’s spotlessly clean, modern and with a descent breakfast and slow wifi.
But wifi is slow everywhere in Argentina.

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Beagle Channel

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The mountains above Ushuaia.

Buenos Aires – Ushuaia
Distance: 4.511 km
Average km per cycling day: 64,44 km
Altimeter: 32.868 m

Nights slept inside: 13
Nights slept outside: 66 (of which 45 wild camping)
Flat tires: 4

The GPS track can be downloaded from Wikiloc

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Argentina: To the Strait of Magellan

Route: Gobernador Gregores – Comandante Luis Piedra Buena – Rio Gallegos – Monte Aymond – Punta Delgada

I decided to leave the Ruta 40 and take road nbr 27 towards the Atlantic coast to visit another national park. The first 60 km are really beautiful in the valley of the Rio Chico with some spectacular shaped hills. On my left side is the ‘Gran Altiplancie Central’ which I’m descending now. That Altiplancie isn’t that ‘alti’ by the way. On my right (southern) side is again a steppe like landscape. I can imagine the winds going like hell here, but today it’s quiet and sunny. About 6 km before the junction of ruta 27 and 71 the road goes a bit down into a valley. I unload the bike to lift everything over the fences and push the bike a whole way into the valley to find a fantastic spot for the night. Heaven after yesterdays hell at the campground in Gobernador Gregores. The full moon is out, I’ve got a few birds singing, some geese and a few horses in the distance.
 Don’t know if I’ve got puma’s as well. People keep warning me about them. But people are afraid of everything nowadays.

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I complained about all the fences before, but here I see for the first time they use barb wire, for which I see no reason (to keep sheep inside ??? – no barb wire needed). At several points, I saw guanaco’s who didn’t make it and must have suffered a horrible, long and painful death. And again … for what reason ??
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Brilliant camping spot.

Two days later, after another night camping in a gravel pit, the entrance into the little town ‘Comandante Luis Piedra Buena’ must be the dirtiest entrance to a town ever. They’ve got an open garbage dump in the valley just outside of town. With the Patagonian winds, everything blows around kilometers wide, all the way onto the hills, garbage everywhere.
Disgusting.
I only stop in town to buy provisions and head down south on highway 3.

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My view all day long to the left of the road.  To the right, it’s identical 🙂
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There were two death dogs at the gravel pit, obviously killed, which was fine by me because they didn’t look like friendly chaps at all, but I could smell them even down below in the gravel pit.
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This gravel pit was quite deep, but still a lot of wind in here.

After 27 kilometer, I arrive at the park headquarters of Monte Leon. The park rangers were gone already but there’s a notice at the door. It claims the park is closed because part of the road into the park is washed out.
Excellent news !
It being a Saturday, I was afraid there might be groups of people, bbq-ing late into the night, screaming and shouting as they like to do here.
Now I would have the park all for myself and very quiet.
They’ve printed two pictures under the notice. Yes, it’s clear, you can’t pass by car.
But I saw no problems for a bike.
The actual road into the park was a few kilometers further down RN 3.
As they closed the fence, I again had to unload the bike and lift everything over it, like I have to do almost every night in order to pitch the tent somewhere.
From the main road, it’s a 20 kilometer ride down to the coast.
The little wash outs could be repaired in a day I think, but apparently they don’t do it.
After a very, very windy night, I first go and have a look at Monte Leon Island, with thousands of seagulls and cormorants. Then I cycle to the point where you can see the sea lions.
I just mounted the bike again when a motorbike approaches me and stops aggressively. A guy in a green uniform, obviously a ‘guardaparque’ shows his dissatisfaction of me being here. I play dumb a bit, but nothing to do about it, I have to leave the park. A whole explanation of ‘seguridad’ and that blablabla that’s always used nowadays to restrict people of doing anything.
He literally follows me on his motorbike, but I calmed him down a bit, explaing I came from the other side of the world, especially to see this beautiful park.

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The milky white Rio Santa Cruz at Comandante Luis Piedra Buena
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Along the dirt road in Parque Nacional Monte Leon
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P.N. Monte Leon
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I’m back at the Atlantic Coast.

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If I have to believe the signs, the park must be teeming with pumas. Every trail had a sign warning you shouldn’t enter alone (apparently puma’s only attack loners ?). A bit hard, when there’s no one around.

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Monte Leon island, full of sea gulls and cormorants.

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The sea lions. You can clearly see the big male.

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It’s a slow ride, as I have to climb onto the plateau again. After a few kilometers, we arrive at the track that’s going down to the penguins, the reason why I’m here, so I give it a shot and ask the guardaparque whether he doesn’t feel like visiting the penguins ?
A big ‘NO !’ haha.
Back on RN 3, There’s a strong north wind which blows me quickly down the road. Unfortunately, it becomes a side wind later, but pitching my tent that evening along the borders of the Rio Coig, I had 142 kilometers in the legs. Not much protection from the wind here. I found some bushes that were a bit higher then the average 30 cm scrub growing here, but it sure was a beautiful place to spend the night.

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The huge valley of the Rio Coig. Nothing but scrub, no real trees for protection against the wind.
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I pitched the tent behind the biggest (thorny) bushes around for kilometers. But they gave good protection.
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Nice couple. The road was full of their death friends.

In order to avoid a night in Rio Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz province, I stopped at the campground 25 kilometer west of town at the bridge over the river, in Guer Aike. It’s a reasonably quiet place, so good for a rest day. Last days, I had excellent weather, temperatures mid twenties and mostly a tail wind.

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Getting close to the Falkland Islands, known as ‘Las Malvinas’ in Argentina.

Rio Gallegos is bigger, louder and uglier as expected. After buying provisions and a few near death experiences because of the total idiots driving around, I leave town. Luckily, a few kilometer south of town, the road becomes quiet again. I pushed on towards Laguna Azul, a crater lake about 9 kilometer north of the border with Chile. I pitched the tent down in the crater, next to the lake. That’s a descent of 55 meter into that crater. It’s so steep I have to unload the bike and go three times down and back up again to gather all my stuff. And get up a fourth time after pitching the tent to make pictures of course.

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Getting nearer and nearer.
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The crater lake ‘Laguna Azul’, the ‘Blue Lagoon’. No Brooke Shields however, of which I’m glad. I’m not waiting for an angry Andre Agassi next to my tent.
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Beautiful pitch inside the crater.
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The lake hasn’t stolen it’s name. I was hoping a bit for warm water inside this volcano but it wasn’t meant to be. Ice cold.

A brilliant spot to spend the night, but I estimated I’d need at least two hours to get my bike and stuf back to the rim the next morning. Again I had to travel four times up and down, but every time you make a step 30 centimeters up, your feed sinks down 20 centimeter in the loose gravel, so in fact you climb it each time three times.
Allas, after an hour I was up. In the nine kilometer to the border, I ate an apple and three carrots, as you’re not allowed to bring those into Chile. This border region is pretty beautiful, with extinct volcanos on both side of the road.
For one or the other bizar reason, I didn’t get an exit stamp from Argentina, but the Chileans made no problem stamping me in.

After the border control, I soon see the Strait Of Magellan. There’s a tiny grey line on my map, right next to the Strait, and I decide to leave the main road for this one. Now, I’m riding a few meters away from the Strait of Magellan, what I find a magical experience. This strait with all it’s history, but also the knowledge that I’m riding my bike right on the southern edge of ‘The America’s”. Sure, there’s still Tierra del Fuego further south, but that’s an island. This is the far end of the American mainland.
After sleeping in a crater yesterday, I’m pitching my tent tonight pretty close to the shores of the Strait.

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The famous Strait of Magellan, separating Tierra del Fuego from the American mainland.

It was a Belgian, Roeland van Brugge, who was the first person of the Magellan expedition to see the Pacific Ocean. Together with a few other guys, Roeland van Brugge was send ahead in a dinghy to check whether the Strait was a dead end or not. They checked several bays and in the end, Roeland climbed a mountain and could see with his own eyes that the Strait ended in the Pacific. That mountain is known to this day as ’Monte Campana de Roldán’.

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The ripio road along the Strait of Magellan

The weather Gods punished my early stop yesterday with a strong head wind today. But never mind, that early stop was needed, because my desire to sleep one night next to the Strait of Magellan was too big. And I needed to make bread.
I took the ferry across the Strait at Punta Delgada and left the American mainland behind, towards Tierra del Fuego.
Fire Land ! Magic ! 🙂

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The end of the road at Punta Delgada
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Lighthouse at Punta Delgada

Chile: First taste of a new country

Route: Trevelin – Futaleufu – Palena – Corcovado

In my quest to avoid ruta 40 a bit, I headed for the small town of Trevelin, south of Parque Nacional Los Alerces (i.o. to Esquel at the ruta 40).  From Trevelin, there’s a ripio road going south directly to Corcovado.  But there’s another option, making a small loop through Chile.  It’s much longer of course, but I would get to see the valley of the Rio Futaleufu.

The first 10 km out of Trevelin, there’s quiet a bit of traffic on the ripio road, but then it thins out.

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The snowy tops of the Andes, always a stown throws away.
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There was a mountain bike race going on on the road towards the Chilean border. Must have been more then a hundred participants, among whome the owner of the campground in trevelin where I stayed the night. He was pretty far behind 🙂

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Rio Aluminé.

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After crossing into Chile, I’m back on asphalt for 10 km until the small town Futaleufu.  This is actually the first town that I like a bit here in South America.

But not enough to stay 😉

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From the border to Futaleufu, the Chileans constructed a smooth paved road. After that, it’s the same ripio as in Argentina. Same thing would happen a bit further south, before entering Argentina again. The last stretch is asphalted. It’s as if they want to show off towards Argentina ? Why otherwise only pave the ends of the road ?

I  camp along Lago Espolon, a bit south of town.  It’s two kilometer of the route, and a steep 14% climb.  The camping seems to be closed, but a friendly farmer let me camp on his land, right next to the lake.

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I couldn’t choose between this picture and the next, so you get to see them both :-).  I camped at the shores of this lake, just outside Futaleufu.

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The suspension bridge to the farm and my private camping ground for the night.

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Another lake awaits me next morning, Lago Lonconao.  I’m enjoying it while listening the Lance Armstrongs ‘The Forward’ podcast.  He had a really good podcast of the Tour de France as well and it’s nice listening to him while riding.

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High tide on the lake ?

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A bit over half way between Futaleufu and Puerto Ramirez, there are a lot of wild camping options.

At Puerto Ramirez, I’m almost back at sea level here, I take road nbr 235 towards Palena and back to the Argentinian border.

This little loop through Chile is definitely worth it, very beautiful scenery, but the Chilean roads are STEEP.  With every hill you’ll get to tackle a 13 / 14% climb.  The odo meter even shows higher figures sometimes.

Oh, and you can not take fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat or honey from Argentina to Chile.

Vice versa, no problem.

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Roller coaster ride, from one steep hill to the next.

Back in Argentina, it seemed the Chilean road engineers suddenly constructed the roads here as well.  It keeps going steep up and down.

I hop some fences and pitch my tent in the forest 15 km before Corcovado and am joined by cows and horses.

Next day, I reach Corcovado ten minutes before siesta time.  It’s always a struggle to avoid being held up in towns or villages for hours because the shops are closed.  And I need the provisions, as it will be another 2 days to the next village, Rio Pico.

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