I’M HERE !! The title of my Adventure was “Australia to Tierra del Fuego….via Alaska”, and today I landed off a ferry onto the Grande Isle de Tierra del Fuego at 3.11 pm local time – So having left Anacortes on the 6th May 2014, it has taken 9 months and 13 days to get here ! I am just so pleased and proud to have made it – But it is not over yet !!
For some reason this morning I slept right through till 9 am, which is a new experience for me when on the road. And when shopping in Puerto Natales the other day I had found some bacon in a little shop – Or the closest thing I have seen to bacon since the USA – So today I had promised myself some bacon, along with my Tres Huevos Chileanos that I do so well. And since I had a small shelter at the camp site, there wasn’t a problem with the wind. As a result it was after 10.30 before I actually drive out. And just before I did so a car with a couple of local gendarmes pulled up and asked where I was from, where I was going, and when I was leaving the camp site ! After I told them, they shook my hand and wished me a Buen Viaje. Their equivalent of “Hello hello, hello, wot’s goin’ on ‘ere then ?” I suppose !!
Sometime during my long snooze, my brain had decided that I would go back 20 kms into Punta Arenas and get some propane for my stove. I had read last night that there was a place where they would fill all bottles and all fittings (rare in this part of the world), and as the last time we filled up was in Cusco way back in November, I had the feeling my bottle was getting low. So I set off back into P Arenas, following my Garmin blindly, and it took me right to the place. Bit of a surprise because I was expecting an industrial area, and it is actually in the middle of lots of houses – He just stores and fills hundreds of gas bottles in his back yard !! (Health and Safety, anyone ?!). Not my problem – he filled my bottle quite safely, we had a chat about my trip (I never quite know whether I have answered their questions correctly, but there is lots of smiling and saying “Buen viaje”, so we both seem to enjoy the chats, which is the main thing !) and then I set off back to the main road to Tierra del Fuego.
I have said previously, they love their statues and sculptures over here – and every roundabout has one, plus a lot of other places – Bit of space by the road ? Stick a statue on it !! IN this case, 12, kind of, um, er, Martians ? All with different hats on ! Fair enough.
Then we passed over a bridge with an interesting name – Presumably the word “Bitsch” has a nice meaning in Spanish ? Either that, or maybe one of the workers building the bridge had had an argument with the Mrs before he left home one morning ! Then it was on around the shore of the Straits of Magellan.
Remember today I had decided to drive north and east around the shores instead of catching a 3 hour (and quite expensive) ferry out of P Arenas direct to Tierra del Fuego. I was hoping it might be interesting, but given the pretty ho hum rolling steppes around here, wasn’t getting to excited ! Passed LOTS of ducks and geese in the fields today – almost as many as there were sheep. They are everywhere – Presumably on their summer holiday from somewhere up north somewhere. Then, about 2 hours into a rather boring (but absorbing) journey, I arrived in a place called San Gregorio which had a camera sign on it, indicating something photogenic.
Before I mention anything further about San Gregorio, I should explain that I am NEVER bored driving along, even through the most boring scenery. I mean, how often does one get to drive across the Patagonian Steppes, or along the shores of the Straits of Magellan in one’s lifetime ?!! One might not b leaping out of one’s skin with excitement every 30 seconds, but one has to remember just how special every moment of this trip is – I am only ever going to pass this way once in my little lifetime………
Back to San Gregorio – Or what is left of it. Big buildings on both sides of the road, I drove slowly through it until I was out the other side – No information board or kiosk – Just old abandoned buildings and the skeleton of a wrecked ship on the beach. Oh, and a horse that I thought was just a mock up too. Suddenly I was out the other side – So I did a U turn and went back because I just couldn’t believe it. It was a total ghost town – Except for the horse which, by the time I got back, had moved – At least HE was real !! The main building says “Estancia San Gregorio, founded 1876”, and other buildings are variously labelled as the Office, the Shop, the Warehouse, and even the Garage which includes the ornate letters “SG” (for San Gregorio) in the wrought iron lintel. There were old wool bales in the sheds – Presumably this was an example of the wealth created by the wool boom 100 years or more ago, many of which later went belly up. Must try to find out more from google when I next have some internet.
Then it was on around the northern shores of the Straits of M – When I was doing geography lessons at Monkton in 1964, poring over my atlas and learning about this part of the world, little did I ever think that one day I would be driving along beside it !! Then suddenly I saw an eagle take off from beside the road as I approached, and I snapped a shot out of the window as he flew past going in the opposite direction to me. Think about it – I was doing about 60, he was probably doing 15 or 20, so a closing speed of about 75 kph – and I nailed him perfectly as he flew past !! Shot of the day !! There was a car behind me so I had to let him go past before I did a U turn and went back – By which time the eagle was still 20 yards away from the road-kill rabbit beside the road, so I stopped a fair bit back to see if he would return to his free feed (eagle fast food ?). As soon as I stopped, he started to run back, but was to eager, and he took off again to fly the short distance ! He then sat and watched me for a minute, but once he decided I wasn’t a threat, he tucked in. While he was pecking away and tearing bits off, I very slowly crept forward until I was right close to him. Eventually he got hold of what seemed to be a front leg, and was pulling away at it when suddenly it came loose from the rabbit – I think the eagle was stunned at his own success for a moment because for a second or two he just sat there not sure what to do – Then he took off with his prize, struggling for altitude with the extra weight ! He only flew about 50 yards into the scrub where he landed, no doubt to enjoy his bit of rabbit at his leisure ! Great 5 minutes for me too !
Ten minutes later I then took the turning down to Puerta Delgada where the ferry left from, and 10 kms later was advised that I was at the Termino del Camino !! Fortunately this just meant the road ended at the ferry – And I had just missed one ferry ! Asking around I was told there would be another one in 30 minutes, so not a problem. There is a Naval base there for the “Chilean Armada’’ – So the King of Spain wasn’t the only one who had one !! We eventually loaded – With a similar situation to the last ferry back on the Carretera Austral where half the drivers disappear and when it is time to load the ferry, there are all these driverless vehicles in the line ! One learns to leave enough space in front of you in the queue so you can get out and around them when it happens !
On the ferry, it was only 30 minutes across the Straits, but it was quite rough, both from the high wind, and from the fact that we were almost out in the Atlantic Ocean not far from Cape Horn !! As a result spray was breaking over the front sides of the ship and soaking passengers who had gone up there to take photos ! All quite hilarious for those (like myself) who had got soaked by the first wave, and now stood in the shelter watching other people unknowingly do the same thing !!
Finally we landed at Puerto Espora in Tierra del Fuego – The Land of Fire. I had made it – SUPER chuffed with myself.
Headed off down the road, and it was more steppes and plains, more guanaco and rhea, and also some llamas (different colouring and stumpier than the guanaco) – haven’t seen any of them for a while. I was so enjoying my drive down the road, with my music blaring so I could fully enjoy my “arrival”, that I totally forgot about taking the turning that Steve and Gilly had told me about yesterday, and my road ended up as a not very good dirt road before I realised. Never mind. Somewhere around that point I passed a load of ducks and geese on my left, plus a really stunning old house / estancia on the right – And it all happened so fast I had to do a U turn again (seems to be the day of U turns) so I could see everything properly. The ducks and geese were good, but the ones close to the road flew away as soon as I approached, but the house on the other side was just gorgeous – It looked abandoned but there were sheep in the paddocks, and I feel the equally lovely old shearing shed on the other side of the road was probably still in use as the runs around the shed were all still complete. While the car parked out front was old, but it didn’t look abandoned. Another intriguing mystery in Tierra del Fuego ! I love that house though – It just looks like a picture postcard of an old Patagonian Estancia.
Shortly after that I passed the dreaded sign “Fin Pavimento a 200 m” – This is potentially as bad as the previous sign near the ferry “Termino del Camino” ! Worse even, because it means more of the dreaded Ripio – The dirt road. My “one hour to destination (100 kms), suddenly became at least 2 hours ! Bugger ! But as usual, always something to keep the mind occupied – Estancias, some with red roofs, some with blue, and even one with green, sheltering form the wind in hollows or with trees planted as wind breaks around them; llamas up on the hill beside me, outline against the afternoon sky ; a couple of gauchos with their dogs, herding a mob of sheep to a different area ; and lots of guanaco beside the road – I kept trying to get a photo of one gracefully jumping the fence, but they either jumped before I got there, or just after I had passed !! Passed a lot of well heads from oil wells already drilled, and eventually came across a rig drilling right beside the road – From the sign I am guessing Petrex is the oil company, and the rig is Taladro PTX-26. Interesting hydraulic derrick set up I have never seen before – Coiled tubing ? And good old Schlumberger (once my parent company !) had all their trucks on location !
Eventually, just after 6 pm, I rolled into San Sebastien – I was going to keep going and just camp beside the road, but I saw a sign saying “Camping”. So I drove into town, went to the place, and the owner says “We haven’t done camping for 5 years” ????? Um, well why not take the sign down ? Anyway, he said I could park in the car park – So I have. I am 100 yards from a border crossing into Argentina, but I am not taking it – Yet. Tomorrow the plan is to head over to the Bahia Inlet where there are King Penguins, so that is first. Then down to Ushuaia.
Just as I am finishing this, a car pulls up beside me with Colorado plates – It was Joshua and Shannon and their gorgeous dog Caleb again ! They are on their way back from Ushuaia now, and are going to the Penguins tomorrow too, so I shall talk to them more then – It was too cold just now !
So here we are in Tierra del Fuego at last. After more than 45 years since I applied for that job here !! Today turned out to be a great day on the road, despite my fear that it might be a long and uninteresting one – How often that happens !! Lesson to be learned there, I think.