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Days 43-45: Tierra del Fuego At Last

In which Pete finds repairs to be a hassle and decides to forgo them, crosses the Straight of Magellan, and begins a frozen ride into the Land of Fire – which quickly turns to the Land of Ice.

Day 43
Ruta 40, El Calafate, Argentina @ 10:30AM
End: Rio Gallegos, Argentina @ 5:00PM
Distance: approx. 339km (~211mi) in ~7.5 hours (~45KMH / ~28MPH average)

Today felt strange. Still recovering from the strange emotions I’ve been dealing with since making it through a week of intensity, leaving El Calafate to head towards Rio Gallegos stirred little excitement in me.

The road itself failed to please as well, simply being a road. A strange experience after so much time on horrible Ruta 40 – even the wind cooperated, being at my back the entire time, and the temperature stayed in the upper 40’s. In a nutshell, I crossed 300km of desert almost completely checked out. I did not even stop for a single photo.

I arrived in Rio Gallegos in the later afternoon, knowing it was the last likely place for spares and some important maintenance before heading south towards Ushuaia. I found the major motorcycle place in town, but had a miserable experience there – first, they told me they were too busy to do any work on my bike today or tomorrow. Then, they quoted me outrageous prices for replacement tires and spokes, and told me they didn’t have any chains long enough for Red so I would have to buy two chains each for the front and back.

Throughout the entire conversation, the guy I talked to spoke incredibly fast and seemed completely unable to grasp the concept that I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, in spite of me continually asking him to explain words or talk slower. I felt very frustrated, for the first time in the entire trip – here was a guy that by dint of being a motorcycle guy, being a salesman, and me doing something a little abnormal should be pretty excited to help me out, in my opinion (everyone else has been). Instead, he acted as if I was a frustrating waste of his time because of my strange bike and lacking Spanish.

I felt so frustrated after the initial conversation that I actually just said screw it, told him thanks, and took off south. I told myself I would just head out without doing any work, find a camp site, and deal with the consequences. Thankfully, about 5km out of town I was noticing a lot of noise from the front wheel and stopped to check it and find two more spokes were broken off.

The reality was I would have to return and buy at least spokes – it would be crazy to continue on otherwise. I turned around, went back into the shop, gave him one of my spokes and asked to buy ten replacement spokes. After thirty minutes of searching they could only find five spokes that were slightly shorter but should sort of work, very frustrating. They also quoted me a much lower price for a tire, so I decided to buy a new pusher and put it on myself – except then they couldn’t find one that would fit.

After all this was done, it was pitch black outside and I wasn’t excited about heading off to camp, so I decided to find a hotel. The shop told me there was a hotel nearby and gave me directions which led me nowhere – when I asked a storekeeper next door to where their directions took me, she told me there were no hotels or anything like that in the area and that I’d have to go downtown.

Condensed: I went downtown, drove around for awhile, and eventually found what may be the only hotel in this town. Better, after unloading all my gear I went out and had an amazing steak dinner for $40USD, one that would easily have run me over a hundred back home. After this, I was happy.

Day 44
Rio Gallegos, Argentina @ 10:00AM
End: San Sebastian, Chile, Tierra del Fuego @ 6:15PM
Distance: approx. 290km (~181mi) in N/A – Borders + Ferry

Some feeling finally started to seep back into me today, as I began to feel small spikes of excitement at the thought of approaching Tierra del Fuego. Just the words conjure this romantic idea of a place that must be visited, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. Just south of Rio Gallegos I crossed into Chile with both a simple exit from Argentina and a simple entrance to Chile.

It was here that I saw my first sign with those glorious words:

*spike!* A glimmer of excitement stabs me. Tierra del Fuego!

In a blink, I pulled up to the Straight of Magellan. It felt strange that there was no fanfare, no band, no big shiny glowing light… just a road that drove directly into the water. There was a small line of three to four cars, where I asked around and found out a ferry would be coming soon and we’d pay on the ferry.

A ferry did arrive shortly, but once it had loaded up all the semi-trucks in line it was apparently full, and left without the cars. It was strange to watch it outside in the channel – the Pacific aggressively attacks the Atlantic here, as the Pacific Ocean is much higher. The result is a vicious current, so strong that that ferry actually crosses at a 45 degree angle just to make headway.

Soon enough another ferry arrived and again with clearly insufficient fanfare, I drove on and off we went. Everyone was enamored of my moto and I passed the time taking photos and talking with people about my trip, the result being that that thirty minute crossing was finished in the blink of an eye.

Then, we were across! Excitement bubbled up in me as I realized I had just crossed the Straight of Magellan – seriously, the STRAIGHT OF FREAKING MAGELLAN! And I was now in Tierra del Fuego, one of the southernmost islands in the world. In a typically understated Chilean way, there was only one piddly little sign to announce this amazing accomplishment, but it made me happy nonetheless.

The road on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego was paved for 50km, after which it turned into a nice, mostly predictable gravel road for another 130km or so. For the first half of the gravel section, I tore it up at full speed, actually driving faster than I typically drive on pavement. All was well with the world and I was destroying one of the final sections of road in the world with the hope of arriving at San Sebastian (the border to Argentina) before nightfall.

*CRONK!* And all power was lost. A quick investigation showed that my rear chain had not only come off, but had come off in a horrid fashion such that four or five links were now bent – badly. They would stay on, sort of, but looked all sorts of nasty… this chain is fried.

Unfortunately I was in the middle of a dirt road with very little traffic, but enough that I didn’t want to hang out in the middle of it messing with mounting my replacement chain. I decided to continue on with the hope of arriving at Ushuaia using this chain for the sake of the chain – how bad would it feel to be replaced so close to its goal?

The chain held, but at a slower pace it took me longer to get to San Sebastian, enough that the sun set as I was still 30km or so away. The cold turned hard edged without the sun, the temperature in the low 20’s, with my slower speed of 45kmh being the only thing keeping me from certain misery. San Sebastian turned out to not be a town at all, but rather simply a couple buildings (including a hosteria) and a border. After checking in I found that the Argentine side was even less (no hosteria) and decided to call it a night.


Day 45
San Sebastian, Chile, Tierra del Fuego @ 9:45AM
End: Tilshun, Argentina, Tierra del Fuego @ 5:00PM
Distance: approx. 215km (~134mi) in ~7 hours (~30KMH / ~20MPH average)

When I woke up this morning it was pitch black inside, apparently the hosteria had lost power during the night. It’s really a strange counter to my ride up to Alaska – on that ride, even as I got closer to winter, the days were very long and got longer as I rode north. Here it’s quite the opposite, with the days getting significantly shorter, obviously proof that I am coming in early winter.

I packed all my gear with my headlamp and began to load up and by the time I was done the pre-dawn light had begun to fill the land. It’s a strange feeling, this light before the sun, not something I am at all used to in my daily life (I am not an early riser) – but it’s neat to take a picture of the sunrise. Breakfast was the typical South American affair of bread and coffee, after which I hit the road for Argentina.

Exiting Chile was very simple and took less than ten minutes, though entering Argentina 10km down the road took a bit longer – mostly because it turned into a long conversation with some of the customs agents about my moto and my trip. I was told that having a gas can is illegal (huh?) but they wouldn’t do anything about it, just be careful… but I’m sure one of the many, many police that have stopped me would have said something by now if I had to worry about it.

Once I reached Argentina, the road turned to pavement and for quite awhile the trip was very uneventful. Only one strange thing occurred: I ran out of fuel… and yet I had filled my tank up from my gas can no less than 80km previously. I normally get 160-200+km out of a tank, so Something Is Wrong. I couldn’t find any evidence of a gas leak and the engine is running fine with no signs at all of being rich (and if it was that rich it would stall out like crazy), so I have no idea what is going on. I will need to keep an eye out on this.

As I continued to close on Ushuaia, I drove from the sun into a slight overcast and a definite cold front. The evidence of melting snow had been all around me for awhile, but now the snow was quite clear as I approached a line of snow-covered mountains in the distance. The land of fire was getting cold again.

Soon the snow became very prevalent, and I arrived in Tilshun barely an hour before expected sundown – all of the roads in town were covered in a thick layer of snow and ice, boding ill for the road ahead. I drove around town for a bit looking for a place to stay, then asked at a gas station and was told there wasn’t anywhere to stay nearby.

Frustrated, I decided to continue along Ruta 3 for a bit until sunset and hope I could find a place to camp for a cold, boring night. With the sun going down at 5PM and not rising until 10AM, there’d be a lot of time spent doing nothing huddled inside a sleeping bag for warmth in camp… thankfully, just outside of town I saw a hosteria and drove up to see if they were open.

Obviously, this is the wrong time of year for travelers. The last few nights I have stayed in places I have been pretty much the only person around, often having to track people down in order to actually stay there. This place was no different, the doors were open but it was completely empty inside. After ten minutes of walking around and yelling “hola?” I was about to give up when I heard the faint clink of dishes from downstairs. Closer investigation revealed a beautiful young lady downstairs in the kitchen eating her dinner.

I interrupted her and she confirmed they were open and got me a room, though she was just leaving and wasn’t sure on the price. They aren’t open for dinner tonight so I decided to make some dinner in my room and boy was it a nice change to have my stove boil water quite rapidly without wind – my pasta was ready in fifteen minutes instead of the usual hour or longer.

Tomorrow I have a leisurely 104km ride to Ushuaia. Over some mountains. In below freezing weather. With the weather report indicating snow and rain all day. The last day to the end of the world might turn out to be a bit more difficult than a mindless easy button road after all.

Finally, something interesting again!


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