In late October, 1520, Ferdinand Magellan and his fleet of three round hulled carracks and a caravel, having already quelled a mutiny and wrecked a fifth ship, pulled west around Cape Virgines and into the Straight of Magellan. They sailed into a new ocean, which earned its name on that unusually calm day, after thirty-four days. The fourth ship deserting back to Spain, three remaining ships set out across this unknown ocean. They would not see land for 98 days – that is, those who would ever see land again. That was pure adventure. They were space-traveler, floating blindly and under-supplied into the mystery.
A rich history of explorers, adventurers, and pioneers, from Magellan to Darwin to Thomas Bridges to Ernest Shackelton to Bruce Chatwin, has constructed an alluring traveler’s mythology, attracting a few ‘hardy adventurers’, like us, from around the world to these parts. But, half a millennium later, we catch a two hour ferry across the Straight of Magellan to a sparsely populated island : Tierra del Fuego. Land of Fire. What follows are photos from our southward journey at land’s end. But, before travelling across the Stait of Magellan, we sailed to a small island in the strait to meet some of the locals…
Across the Strait of Magellan, we arrive in the sleepy town of Porvenir – The Future. Thirty kilometers out of town, we find an unlocked beach-side fisherman’s shack and bed down on makeshift bunks. Finding shelter from the unforgiving wind in abandoned buildings would be a pattern that kept us out of our tent all but one night in Tierra del Feugo. In the morning, we were blown east along the side of Bahia Inutil, named for it uselessness for harbouring boats, by 60km/h winds. At the back of the bay, we hopped a couple more fences and found another gorgeous beach-side track.
Which then took us, once again, onto the tidal flats.
Soon enough, we found ourselves at another penguin colony. This time there were about 50 King Penguins, which have fashionable golden throats, and stand up to 1m tall. Not wanting to leave public property, on the beach, I watched from a distance while visitors who had shelled out $15 to visit the colony, which sits on private property, stood across a small river from the penguins. One of the land owners noticed me watching the penguins from afar and went berserk, waving frantically, dancing and gyrating about. Somewhat perturbed from the psychotic behaviour we witnessed, we regrettably opted to give the paid penguin viewing a miss, and I have no photos.
Down to a trio, we rolled into Rio Grande, an industrial hub for offshore oil, looking for another night of free accommodations under a roof. After hopping another gate onto a private road (with encouragement from police at a roadblock), we arrived into the back of a gravel quarry on the outskirts of town. The small lunchroom shack was unlocked, and the neighbours weren’t bothered by us sleeping there.
In one day we rode to Tolhuin, where we spent two nights in the most celebrated cyclist accommodation in South America: Panaderia La Union. That’s right, we were hosted in a massive bakery, where we gorged ourselves on sweets and empanadas.
For many cyclists arriving in Ushuaia is the end of a long journey. For me, it was just another cold, windswept city. It’s about as far south as we would get, despite our attempts to find passage across the Beagle Channel to Isla Navarino, Chile. But our trip was far from over.
Before heading north, by bus and plane, we set off with Cass on a three day bikepacking trip along the Beagle coastline to Estancia Harborton, some 70km away.
From Harberton, we rode 30km back to the highway we’d been on several days before where we hitched a lift back into Ushuaia. A day later we began a long motorized journey back to Puerto Montt, just a few hundred kilometers from where we’d started months before, to continue our journey north.
We’ve recently made an Off Route Facebook page, where we’ll be posting more frequent updates of where we are and what we’re up to, as well as lots of extra photos. You can “like” our page if you’d like to follow the adventure more closely.