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January 19th, 2012 | Argentina

Tierra Del Fuego National Park…

While the town of Ushuaia is marketed as the “End of the World”, and for many, reaching this destination, signifies the end of their journey to the southernmost point on the South American continent…

I set out to get to the very southermost tip...!! Ushuaia was one thing, but this would be the "real deal"...!!

The Bike stops here...!!

You can however ride your bike or car to a point even further south, to a little hamlet known as Lapataia, which lies about 18 km to the west of Ushuaia…

It is located inside the Tierra Del Fuego National Park, which straddles the border between Argentina and Chile… The road leading there is a hard packed dirt track, which takes you over a few wooden bridges, that cross the Rio Pipo, and through the gates of the National Park, where you have to pay 100 Pesos to gain entry…

From there, a further 13 km of fairly decent gravel road leads you to a large parking area where many kayak safaris and walking trails begin… A series of elevated wooden decks have been built which lead into the interior, taking hikers through a wetland and then onto the thickly forested slopes of the southernmost section of the Andes Mountains…

There is also a section of wooden walkways that run along the shore of the Lapataia Inlet, from which kayakers can gain access to the Beagle Channel and the South Atlantic Ocean, to visit colonies of seals and sea birds that live on the many little islands at the mouth of the inlet…

This is the “real” Fin del Mundo” for overland travelers…!! It also heralds the end of Ruta 3, which begins in Buenos Aires and runs for almost 3100 km down to the length of Eastern Argentina, hugging the Atlantic Ocean for much of that distance… This distance does not include the few hundred kilometres that run through Chile, only that part of the road that lies in Argentina itself…

The narrow road that leads towards the "end of the line" as far as my ride south was concerned...!!

Earlier that morning, Carl and I had bid Roberto farewell, who was now about to begin his journey back to Mexico, riding up the Atlantic to Brazil and the Amazon crossing at Belem… The most direct route would see him covering over 8 000 km to get to the mouth of the Amazon, but he was intent on visiting a few friends along the way, and would no doubt cover even more distance than that…!!

For Carl, who was staying behind to await the arrival of his father, this was possibly the last time they would see each other, and I watched as they bear-hugged and shook hands… They had ridden together for almost two months, and had become firm friends and “brothers of the road”…

I too said my “final” goodbyes to Roberto, little knowing that we would be sharing a few beers in Buenos Aires in the not too distant future…!!

The bridge where Cral had somehow contrived to fall the day before, putting his trusty KLR out of action for good...!! Methinks "speed" might have had something to do with it...!!

With Carl’s bike out of action, after his final fall on the way to Lapataia the day before, I saddled up and prepared to go make a small part of my own history, alone…

In many ways, I felt that this was as it should be… I had not set out to ride around the world as part of a group or team, although I welcomed the company when the opportunity to ride with others presented itself…!! Many of the milestones I had achieved had been made riding solo, and I had found that savoring them on my own gave me greater satisfaction, as I was able to take time out to think of what I had achieved, without being too concerned that riders I might have been with, wanted to move on too quickly…

I rode quickly to the edge of town, and onto the dirt road that led towards the Chilean border… I stopped at the entrance to the National Park, paid the fee, and then rode on towards Lapataia… A short diatance from the gate, I passed the little Fin del Mundo train station, from where tourists can take a two hour ride through the mountains to a small siding near Lapataia, and back again…

The southernmost working railway in the world, takes tourists through the National Park... (Photo by Pablo)

I was astounded to see that one of the trains came all the way from Port Shepstone, South Africa...!!

There are three little trains that pull a dozen or so carriages along a narrow gauge line, that follows the Rio Pipo, before looping around to the little terminus deeper in the national park…

One of the small locomotives was built in Port Shepstone, South Africa, just a few miles from where my parents stayed…!! I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this…!!

I rode on, past the Bay of Cormorants, over a second wooden bridge and along a beautiful lake, the mountains behind it forming an imposing backdrop to the icy-looking green water…

I arrived at the end of Ruta 3, and the most southern point of my journey, a few minutes later…

There was a few cars in the parking lot, as well as half a dozen smaller bikes that had come out from Ushuaia… Locals enjoy riding out here as much as foreign travelers do… They sit out on the wooden benches that line the walkways, enjoying the views out over the Beagle Channel…

I rode the Big Fella between a line of wooden posts that prevent cars from getting too close to the sign, but allow bikes easy access… I sat the bike for a while, staring at the sign, thinking about the long road from Santiago that we had ridden to get here…

I could finally tell myself that we had made it…!! This was the spot we had been aiming for all along, not the bustling streets of Ushuaia… Reaching this desolate piece of Tierra del Fuego meant far more to me than my arrival in the town east of it…

End of the line... Fin del Mundo... There was no place further south that we could go...

I snared a passing couple from Germany, and asked them to take a few photos of myself and the Big Fella, which they gladly agreed to do… This was another of those amazing coincidences that I have experienced on my journey thus far… It was also a German couple who had taken a photo of me at Nordkapp, almost eighteen months ago, when I had made it to the “Top of the World”…!!

Proud man and machine...!! This is where Ruta 3 ends, or begins, in my case...!!

After the couple had chatted to me about the bike and all the countries I had visited on my way here,  they left for a walk along the inlet… I sat thinking about the different feelings that coursed through me on my arrival at Nordkapp in August 2010, and those that I felt now, as I contemplated my surroundings at Fin del Mundo…

I had arrived in Fin del Mundo, a very different man...!!

At Nordkapp I had been riding on a roller-coaster of emotions, which did not have too much to do with the adverse weather conditions I had experienced on the last few days of getting there…

One minute I was up, high as a kite, excited by what I was about to achieve; the next I was plumbing the depths of despair, tears streaming down my face and blurring my vision…

This had much to do with the recent visit to my youngest daughter Robyn, in London, whom I had not seen for almost eighteen months prior to that… Seeing her again had brought back the enormous sense of loss I carried with me, like a millstone around my neck… The four hours we had spent together had felt more like four minutes…

Here in Fin del Mundo, things were different… I was a different man, a more relaxed man; getting used to the feeling of contentment and happiness that I was generally infused with these days… I felt a greater sense of purpose, a sense of being…

And while I had stood at Nordkapp with a heavy heart, here, that same heart was beating with a quiet and steady sense of pride and enjoyment of the moment… I smiled to myself as I looked around me at the mountains and valleys; the deep blue of the water in the Inlet; the birds that winged their way overhead en-route to another fishing expedition…

I did not feel the cold wind that blew off the snow-clad peaks; only saw the bright sunshine that fell all around me when the clouds were whisked away by that same wind…

I thought about the reasons for my contentment… This time there was someone who cared about me a great deal, and who was rooting for me with her own sense of pride in my achievements… I was not standing at the “End of the World” alone… Patricia was there with me… I could almost sense the touch of her hand on my arm…

The French Novelist and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, once wrote, “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness, and just be happy…” This was one of those moments for me…

The shouts from the ghosts of my past were becoming mere whispers…

As I left the little parking area, I noticed this sign at it's entrance.... A fairly long haul to Buenos Aires lay ahead...!!

I rode back down the road towards Ushuaia, and after a few kilometres, turned off towards the sea, but still within the National Park, just short of it’s main entrance…

I was looking for the little Post Office, where I was told that for a small fee, the “Postmaster” would put a stamp in your passport to show that you had passed that way…

The gravel road meandered through age old coastal forests, and dipped steeply down to the shores of an inlet, and an open area where a large tour bus stood…

A group of Japanese tourists had just boarded a small excursion boat that would take out into the Beagle Channel… The boat pulled away from the jetty as I watched, and then made it’s way out of the small bay, to nose among the islands that dotted it…

I stood looking around for the “post office”… Apart from a small ablution block, there was no other building in sight…!! There was however a small wooden shack perched on the jetty, and I walked over to it to ask the whereabouts of the “post office”, believing that I had turned down the wrong road…

On opening the door, I realized that this was the elusive “post office” I had been looking for…!! Rows of postcards lined the walls, and Che Guevara memorabilia took up much of the remain space in the room.. There were paintings of him; books written by and about him; shirts and caps with that world famous silhouette of the man, and many postcards featuring his face as well…

It cost a mere $50 to send a postcard from this little office, a price that I thought was rather steep…!! Behind the small counter stood a wizened old man, and after waving my passport and asking about a stamp, he nodded his head and held out his hand…

The jetty from which boats take people to Redonda Island, and the ticket and Post Office built onto it...

Hardly what I was expecting from the world's most southerly Post Office...!!

I handed it over and watched as he selected not one, but four separate stamps, and lined them up next to my passport…!!

He flipped the pages to the first full page available to him, squared his shoulders, cleared his throat, and began the process which he had no doubt completed many times before…

First he attached a sticker to the top of the page; then he stamped the date next to it; then another stamp thudded down, which read “Fin del Mundo”; then another which read “Argentina”; and finally, a large circular one which left one in no doubt as to where you were…!!

Throughout this time, he did not say a single word to me, had not even greeted me when I had entered…  A dour bugger if ever I had met one…!!

But I knew how to make him talk…!!

When he handed the passport back to me, I thanked him in my best upper crust English accent, saying “Extremely grateful, old Boy… Do enjoy the rest of your day…!!”, and then turned as if to leave…

A stream of Spanish issued from his lips, and I turned to see him pointing at a sign, the only part of which I understood, was the last portion that read “12 Pesos”…!!

“Ah, you can speak after all…!!” I said, handing over the money with a grin…!!

I never did get him to say another word… Not even a “Gracias”…!!

It's official...!! And takes up a full page of my passport...!!

Without a word, she hoped aboard and began posing...!!

I walked back to the Big Fella, who was rocking gently in the strong wind that was now buffeting the area… A young woman and a much older man were standing admiring the bike as I walked up to them… She pointed to me and then the bike, but not saying a word…

I thought she might well be related to the Post Master…!!

Assuming she was asking if the bike belonged to me, I smiled and nodded… Without as much as a “by your leave”, she hopped into the saddle and began posing for photographs…!!

Usually, I don’t much take to people who do this, but today, very little was going to spoil my mood…!! I joined in and took a photo of her while she strutted her stuff…!!

Her companion must have taken at least a dozen photos before I cleared my throat and indicated that I now needed to leave… With a pout, and then a small smile, she slid off the bike and walked away to where their car was parked… Still not saying a word…!!

Back over another of the wooden bridges that span the rivers and gullies in the park...

I rode slowly back to Ushuaia… A light drizzle as I neared the edge of town got me to open the throttle a little more, and before long, I was parked outside the hostel, and hurrying inside to get out of the rain…

Carl was there waiting for me… One look at his face told me that something was very wrong…!!

“I lost my pouch with all all my documents in it…!!” were the first words out of his mouth…!! “My Passport, my wallet… Everything…!!”

I was aghast at this, because I know this is every travelers worst nightmare…!! He had just drawn $400 from the ATM, and was trying to find a freight agent to ship his bike back to the USA… Somewhere between the office and a few blocks down the road, his pouch had gone missing…!!

We had earned the right to sport this sticker... The hard way...!!

I had planned to leave in a day or two, but could not leave him in the lurch without any funds… I began figuring out how much I could spare to leave him with, before he came up with the idea of getting his parents to wire money directly to me, which I could collect on his behalf the following day…

This was duly arranged, and the following morning, I presented my Passport at the offices of the local Western Union, and Carl was back on his feet…!! He spent the remainder of the day putting up posters, visiting the local Police Station, the radio station and the TV network, hoping that somebody had found his pouch and handed it in… All to no avail…

Calls to the American Embassy in Buenos Aires brought little relief with regards to his passport… Carl was advised that he had to get to the embassy in person to collect a new passport… He tried explaining to the idiot on the line that he had to travel back through Chile to get to Buenos Aires, but the guy was not interested, or had no idea where Ushuaia was located…!!

Then my laptop crashed for the final time and refused to start up…!! It would take another few days to get it sorted out and have only a fraction of the software programs I once had, reloaded… Carl and I had to make use of a nearby internet cafe to make contact with the outside world…!! This at a cost of R80.00 an hour…!!

Yani demonstrates how the new "Snapshot" software on my laptop works...!!

This friendly dog stood guard outside our bedroom window... The occasional biscuit kept him vigilant...!!

Carl and I rode around town on the much depressed Big Fella, unhappy that he was being so overloaded, and his rear spring was now being put to the test…

He had long since given up on having the use of proper shock absorbing capabilities…!!

We spent the weekend relaxing with Corina the owner of the hostel, finding new places to eat, and making many visits to the local computer expert Yani, who in his own private time, had agreed to help me get the laptop up and running again… A huge “Thanks” to you my friend…!!

Then there was hours of Skype required with Khalid, who has since moved to Switzerland… With his usual unflappable style, he helped me reload Mapsourse, and a number of maps I would need for the remainder of my ride through South and Central America…

For the umpteenth time, Khalid had come to my rescue, and had never once lost patience with the IT-Challenged idiot on the other end of the line…!! Thank you once again, my friend…!!

By Sunday afternoon, we were done, and I was ready to plan the next part of my ride…

This massive cruise liner docked while we were in town, disgorging hundreds of tourists that crowded the narrow streets of Ushuaia... Two others just like it would arrive over the same weekend...!!

I had spent a full week in Ushuaia, and had enjoyed every minute of it… Despite our various problems with either our bikes, or the loss of his Passport and wallet, or my laptop issues, we managed to “grin and bear it” in the end…

Corina our landlady was a godsend… Although she spoke barely a word of English, we understood each other most of the time… She called Carl “Carlos”, and from the outset, called me “Rollie”… The most common phrase that issued from her lips when talking to me, was “Tranquillo Rollie…!! Tranquillo…!!”

Whenever she saw a frown on my face, which was often, after my laptop crashed, that was what she said…!! Eventually, even Carl was giving me the “Tranquillo, Rollie”…!! We managed to laugh and joke a great deal, despite Carl now being without a Passport, and with no apparent means of leaving Ushuaia…!!

Carl and I kept our spirits up and our bodies fighting fit, by indulging in one of Ushuaia's specialities... The BIG burger...!!

We saw the funny side of things, and I even suggested that he marry Corina’s beautiful young daughter and stay in Ushuaia… He said that although my suggestion was tempting, he would rather swim around the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego to get back into Argentina, than live in Ushuaia…!! He had experienced a heap of bad luck since arriving here…!!

After a week in the town, I had seen and done enough to warrant me leaving…!! I had reached another milestone on my journey, made many new friends, and learned to be more “Tranquillo…”!!

The time had come to head north again…

©GBWT 2012

3 comments to Tierra Del Fuego National Park…

  • Mark Behr

    Great post. Glad you did the solo ride to the real “Ushuaia” end of world. The exhilirating feeling of your own achievements is always a great experience – much like skinny dipping. You feel free to really enjoy yourself 🙂

  • Tony Royle

    Good to see Port Shepstone is being represented in the southern most part of the America’s.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    Travel Safe (and travel light – it’ll save the shocks!)

    Tony

  • JUAN

    I’m Juan, I’m from southern Argentina and I’ve never been there, I’ve been to Iguazu though, a place you should totally travel to, it’s amazing.
    I booked my plane tickets to Ushuaia and El Calafate to go on January I’m sure I’ll be awesome as it was for you, is it true that the glacier never melts despite the season of the year?

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