Tierra del Fuego, Primera Parte.

Punta Arenas-Porvenir-King Penguins-Cameron-Pampa Guanaco.

Only the last stretch of my Patagonian journey remains… It seems hard to believe, but I’ve actually dreamt of making this traveler’s pilgrimage to Tierra del Fuego – the archipelago that lies off the southernmost tip of the South American continent – for over twenty years.

With this thought in mind, I try and remind myself with every passing moment where I am, and reflect on the long and unexpected path that it has taken to reach this point…

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding Facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here


It’s a two hour ferry ride across the Straight of Magellan from the relative metropolis of Punta Arenas to the petite village of Porvenir, on Tierra del Fuego.


First impressions? Flat and windy. Yet alluring nonetheless.


Founded in a gold rush in the 19th Century, I’m drawn to Porvenir’s weathered buildings, and can only imagine the potted history that lies within.


Inevitably, their bike portrait potential appeals too.


My first night on Tierra del Fuego is spent camping in the grounds of the local hospital, with  Jas and Theresé, a French/Swedish couple, and Stefan and Magali, from Switzerland. Both couples end their longs journey in Ushuaia.


The mean streets of Porvenir.


Home to even the odd Mercedes.


Sturdier than they look: houses built with purpose.


And a splash of elegance too.


Force of habit. Even on a still day, the sign for Supermercado Paulina suggests windy times lie ahead.


Patchwork abodes on the coast road out of town. A shack…


… with a view.


And off street parking.


Soon, clouds are ousted from the sky and the sun shines in all its glory.


On a day like this, Tierra del Fuego seems bereft of any meterological menace I might have expected.


As long as you’re graced with tailwind, of course. Luckily, I’m propelled along this bolt straight road for 40km, at almost the same speed per hour. I’m glad I’m not cycling the other way… it could well be soul crushing.


Perfect shelter for lunch. We all cram inside.


Of course, we’re not the first, as can be seen in the bicycle graffiti that adorns its walls, complete with tips for the road ahead. It’s so serene within, that some cyclists heading north even choose to sleep here. At 6’1″, diagonally I just fit inside this Tardis.


A roadside encounter. I eyeball him. He eyeballs me. Peace out, Guanaco.


An abandoned estancia. As I stop to take this photograph, a driver in an old pickup truck pulls over onto the gravel verge. He winds down the window and over the icy wind, tells me a little about his upbringing, and his grandparents emigrating from Germany. I feel like I’m in a scene from Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia.


Later, I settle on lodgings of a more compact nature. I’m glad to have room to rotate and even prepare my dinner, shielded from the howling winds. For sure, they would have flattened my Tartptent.


The neighbours.


So very beautiful.


King Penguins stand up to a metre tall.


Sit still long enough, and they’ll shuffle over to investigate…


… between preens.


Here come the heavies.


Are you ou looking at me? No, actually I’m looking slightly to one side.


On their own little island, milling around, perhaps gossiping.


Day 2 doesn’t begin in such an inviting fashion. A heavy mist in the air, and sludge on the road.


Still, I can’t complain about the tailwind. This dog runs alongside me; I try and shoo him towards his estancia, but secretly I’d like to fit him in my pannier.


We lope along together for several kilometres.


Plenty of sleeping potential in these parts too. Bikeshacking, as Kurt would put it.


I catch up with Skyler and Panthea, whose beachside tyre tracks I followed en route to Punta Arenas. Skyler, incidentally, is riding a Surly ECR. More on that later…


We converge with the Swiss/French/Swedish brigade. It’s a little early to stop, but the lodging in Russfin is just too tempting to pass by. 7 bicycle tourists…


… make themselves comfortable for the night in the perfect abandoned house.


A room each.


Jas gives his space a spring clean.


A Frenchman and a chef by trade, tasty smells soon pervade the old house.


The crew. Panthea, Stefan, Magali, Skyler, Theresé and Jas.


The neighbours.


And the friendly local gaucho.


He’s preparing a lasso from cow hide, as you do.


Like this one.


Day 3 and the rain sets in. Perhaps it’s in keeping with where we are; this really is beginning to feel like the end of the earth.


The road wends on.


And on, across the pampa.


Alone, but not lonely…


Ah, this would be Tierra del Fuego. A dirt road and a heavy sky.


We ride on, spattered in a film of crud.


I can almost feel my poor chain and bearings grinding down to a crunchy pulp.


The Rohloff is in its element, even if the BB7s are gritting their teeth.


We hunker down at the Chilean customs office for the night, drying off sodden gear around a wood fire. The following morning, just a swollen river lies between us and the final push to Ushuaia, in Argentina. Not surprisingly, this small border crossing closes in just a few days. Winter is coming…

26 thoughts on “Tierra del Fuego, Primera Parte.

  1. Pistol Pete

    Thanks for sharing your trip and all the effort that involves. It’s quite the inspiration. Buen viaje…

  2. Neil

    You’ve surpassed yourself with the photo captions this time Sr. Gilbert! Brilliant.

    So is the route you took the standard way nowadays? Only an intrepid few took that route back in ’10 – but it looks way better than heading onto Ruta 3 further north.

    Enjoy the end of the earth!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Cheers Neil. A fair few people take the ripio route, though I think most stay on the pavement…

  3. Elizabeth

    Been following for a little while now … really loved this post especially the penguins. Somehow I wasn’t expecting them and there they were in all their awesomeness. Thanks.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks! I took way too many pics of those penguins… Definitely a highlight of Tierra del Fuego.

  4. petermac

    Mate, good to see the Pug plugging away. No doubt the breeze would test your legs to the full. Adding this element to the “fatness” of the ride, I’m certain you’ll have developed huge quads for the trip home..? Are you managing to use any of the top 7 ratios in the Rolhoff yet, or simply slogging along in the bottom range..? Good riding man.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Yes, it’s a bit harder sometimes, but I’m LOVING the fat. Actually, pavement riding is easier than expected – though I now have extra incentive to avoid it. And as for beach riding…

      WIth a healthy Patagonian tailwind, I’m gearing out in 14!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Yes, finally!!

      How are your lovely Santos 29ers doing?

      I’ll be returning to Puerto Montt shortly, and then pedalling north…

  5. Oliver

    Absolutely captivating piece again Cass! Thankfully you always seem to find a moment to capture the magic around you…
    I really like the “prime lodging” as well! I’m sure it has been nice for change, considering the usual “bikeshacking”, huh!? 😉 Love that term btw…

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      The inimitable Kurt coined that phrase. I love it too.

      I should probably be a little less obsessive about attempting to ‘capture the moment’, but it’s a process I really enjoy too.

      1. Oliver

        It’s a marvellous obsession Cass, seriously! And I’m sure I’m not the only one who considers your “photo essays” exceptionally vivid and inspiring. And I can imagine that the act of dismounting your bike in order to capture some of these fragments around you let’s you “slow down” in different ways…
        So yes, keep pedalling and please continue to do these occasional photo stops! 🙂

  6. Karl

    Very nice blog and amazing pictures. It almost feels like one is there with you. I also see that you met my daughter (Theresé) and her boyfriend (Jas). That does it even more pleasant to see pictures from your voyage.

    Hope you get a safe trip back to “civilisation” 🙂

    By the way – I´m in the northern Sweden, not so far from the North Cape. You are in the south , not so far from Cape Horn 🙂

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thank you Karl! Actually, I’m sharing a dorm room right now with Therese and Jas, and we are all headed out for an all-you-can-eat grill tonight (-:

  7. Anna

    The penguins are gorgeous!

    Do you know if the river pass is closed now? I’ve just been checking online but without success so far… but I’m getting the impression that the end of March is the cutoff date.

  8. Cass Gilbert Post author

    We were told it closes on April 1st, by someone who radioed in to check. Perhaps there’s some leeway. But given that the weather has been so bad, making it awkward for cars to cross, I wouldn’t be surprised if it closes pretty soon.

    You can ride down to the penguins, only 15km away from the junction (headwind, unfortunately). Worth noting: there’s a great refugio at the junction to sleep in, or you can sleep at the penguin colony, either behind a wind block, or in the cubist shack that sleeps 1. It’s extremely windy there.

    During the day, the centre is run by a slightly uptight lady. Staying the night was definitely worth it, as the penguins all wandered over to say hi, and the atmosphere was more relaxed. The entry isn’t cheap, I think it was 12,000 pesos – but worth it to me. In theory, you can access the beach for free from further up, but then I doubt they’d want you sleeping the night there too.

  9. Liv

    I’ve been chuckling all the way through this piece. Penguins with attitude! Glad to see you haven’t been forced to take shelter from the wind in concrete storm drains (yet), like those chaps at the RGS we listened to years back.
    Desolately beautiful – fab pics Cass

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