After 20 kilometers of the finest gravel road in all of Argentina, the road ends and a wooden boardwalk begins. Here there is a sign marking the most southern point in Argentina. Then there’s a trail off the boardwalk that leads you down along the shoreline of the bay to small light tower and a broken wire fence running into the ocean, this is the Border of Chile, and yet no one guards it, we didn’t cross. The mountains around the bay are all snow capped, coming in and out of view along with the low grey clouds that are endlessly pouring over from Chile, just like the tour buses filled to capacity with Antarctic cruise folk all eager to take pictures and stare into the van. Rain gives way to sleet and mist, the end of the world is scenic yes, but somehow doesn’t lead up to my expectations, a bit of windy, chilly, and let down.
Looking back, I suppose that the most southern point in the United States, Key West Florida, in which I once spent a magical week sunning, drinking and getting as spring break as possible, set the bar pretty high. Both are cruise destinations, both are islands, both have bars that close at 4 AM, yet Tierra Del Fuego is lacking the Cat Man, the dollar dirty joke man, not even one friendly transient to mention. For what it lacks in sunshine, hobos, and spring break atmosphere, it’s been making up in solitude, snow, picturesque campsites and trout fishing.
Tierra Del Fuego is the largest island off the coast of South America, it also is home to the Rio Grande, habitat of the Brown Sea Trout. It’s the only place in the world where this particular species exists and they grow into monsters, 16kg plus they say. We attempted to fish the Rio Grande near where it emptied into the Atlantic, the only things we managed to catch there were our lures on the muddy bottom and nearly a beaver. Once in the Parque National Tierra Del Fuego we switched from monster mode to barely legal mode and started to take down some nice normal sized Rainbows and Browns. Nothing to brag about but definitely a tasty bit of protein to compliment our pasta ways.
Leaving Ushuaia just as we found it was easily accomplished as we awoke to a gentle rain, low hanging grey clouds, we dispersed camp without morning rations and hit the road for the nearest almighty YPF gas station with its holy wifi and necessary fuel. Two wonderful surprises arose from this, there is a propane plant across the road in which we filled our propane for the first time since our departure from Buenos Aires, 23 days prior, and that the YPF had a deal on Speed, the preferred energy drink of truckers across Argentina. Each surprise had its own dose of sketchiness, the Speed has some more kick than North American energy drinks, and when we pulled into the propane plant energized for the day, an employee walked up inspected our fixed tank, shook his head trying to explain in rapido espanol and then went to retrieve a second employee. This dance was repeated twice more, until we had four employees and one large truck with a massive tank sizing up our tiny propane refill job. The experts carried on for a bit before they deemed it possible to refill our tank, proceeded to roll out a firehose sized hose and nozzle, and laughed as they ordered us out of the van, in case it went “BOOM,” they said laughing. As per tradition, we threw caution into the South Atlantic winds and watched on, nervously laughing as they managed to refill our tank without blowing up the van. On top of all of this they waved off our payment, wished us good luck and again reminded us of how great the Argentinian people are to travelers.
By 8 AM we had our gas, water, and propane tanks filled, our next goal was the Pandaría La Unión to fill our stomachs and pantry. An hour and half later, a quarter tank lower we arrived over the pass to our favorite bakery in Argentina, and the only place I’ve found that has a cheese/bread concoction better than Little Caesars Crazy Bread that I constantly crave, we’ll call them Crazy Balls. After loading up on Milanesa sandwiches, which are essentially chicken fried steak with fried egg, ham and all the trimmings, and a half kilo of Crazy balls, we hit the road for some king penguin viewing on our way north to the straight of Magellan. After 9 hours of driving, 4 gas station fill ups (we are now super paranoid of gas shortages and labor strikes), 3 cans of speed, we reached the northwest coast of Tierra Del Fuego, home of small colony of King Penguins. We had the chance to sit and observe the Penguins in their seemingly unnatural habitat, 70 penguins and their chicks where the steppe meets the sea. After 90 minutes of observing penguin bickering and waddling we were frozen by the wind ourselves and set out for the ferry.
13 hours, 400 km of paved, 100 km of washboard hovering/slamming gravel roads in the rear view mirror since camp was broke; the crew made it to the northern side of the Magellan Straight. Keeping with tradition of the day, another milanesa-type sandwhich with avocado was consumed and the troops were settled in, Andrew up top and Brian, Marlie and I on the pull-out in anticipation of another episode of Game of Thrones, as we passed out.
Having parked near the queue of the ferry, we awoke around 7 am in anticipation of a hot shower at a random restroom attached to the closed market that we parked in front of to use as a windshield. A hot, full pressure shower has been elusive for us thus far on the adventure and my hopes were low when I groggily turned the nob, only to find the water piping hot and the pressure strong as elephant piss. Starting a day with a proper shower has been rare thus far, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one, soon we arrived in Puerto Natales, hopped up on the remaining reserve of Speed and starving, as we forwent another breakfast in anticipation of another late morning feast; we secured a three course lunch for six dollars USD and reveled in the fish soup and wifi experience. We hit the grocery store to purchase rations for our upcoming Torres Del Paine trek, discovering 50 cent Budweiser cans (we stocked up with 60+ beers), ziplock bags, instant mocha latte Speed replacements, tang substitute, and two things we’ve been without for 24 days, Peanut Butter and Sour Skittles!
We’ve parked the van on the edge of town, on an esplanade overlooking a Pacific fjord, and I’ve sat watching the rain storms move across the mountain peaks across the water, drinking Budweiser, typing to the hum of the wind, wondering what the view is like for the person reading this. I hope it’s alright.