Reflections on the Land of Fire: Tierra del Fuego

with 7 Comments

Cycling out of Punta Arenas we had our last glimpse of Tierra del Fuego across the Magellan Strait. It was a strange feeling leaving that place behind and it really hit home the magnitude of what we were setting out to do. We cycled our first 500km in South America over there, it was a baptism by wind and now here we were on a different landmass continuing our journey north.

The ride to Porvenir was timed to perfection in terms of logistics but thinking back now, it was a very abrupt end to what was the beginning of our adventure. We had a few hours in Porvenir swapping tales from the road with our German friends before heading for the ferry to the mainland. By not staying there overnight, we didn’t actually stop and consider what an experience we’d had over the last 8 days.

Tierra del Fuego was the first milestone and we were so focussed on our destination that we hadn’t really considered the fact that we wouldn’t be returning there. Due to the nature of cycle touring, you only have one chance to be in a place. It is harder to go back because you have to consider the distance and time that takes, and ultimately the monetary implications. It set us thinking, did we make the most of Tierra del Fuego?

There was a detour from the road to Porvenir that would have taken us to a king penguin colony at Parque Pinguino Rey. It would have broken up the days of cycling in the wind and been an awesome place to visit, but we didn’t have enough food and couldn’t resupply until Porvenir so unfortunately it was out of the question. A huge lesson was learned here – plan more and carry more, the wind considerably slows progress.

Everyone that has been to Patagonia says that the wind is “fuerte” and it can make for some difficult cycling but until you’ve tried to ride a bike in to it head first, you have no idea. We definitely didn’t! It lulled us into a false sense of security at the start of the week as it was hardly more than a breeze as you’d have back home but as we got closer to the middle and west side of the island we started to understand what people were talking about. We went from averaging around 16 km/h to barely 4 km/h at the windiest point of the ride leaving San Sebastian (Chilean side) which is pretty much walking speed. Not with a bike though! Ben tried pushing his bike on one of the many straight roads and watched his speed start dropping below 4 km/h, 3… needless to say he got back on the bike and struggled on.

To give you an idea of how insane the wind really is on Tierra del Fuego, imagine standing on the edge on a train platform as a freight train goes rushing by. The force of the wind that it creates is enough to almost blow you off your feet. Now imagine that not as a single gust but as an unrelenting, constant force and you can begin to appreciate the power of Patagonian wind.

Despite the wind and the difficult cycling conditions we both agree the Tierra del Fuego was awesome, in a type 2 fun kind of way. We got lucky with the rest of the weather and where we spent our nights. Other than a few short showers we stayed dry and mostly warm for the duration of the trip. (I can’t even begin to imagine what the long, straight roads would have been like in the wind and rain.)

Our determination to find shelter meant that we only needed to put the tent up once, the rest of the time we had four walls and a roof (not always a door or windows, but you can’t have it all) and it didn’t cost us a penny. However this would not have been possible without the kindness of strangers. Even through a massive language barrier people were happy to offer us shelter, warmth and even food. Providing more motivation for us to continue improving our Spanish so that we can thank them appropriately.

Another thing to love about Tierra del Fuego is the wildlife. Many different types of birds including the stunning Kaiken (Patagonia wild geese), condors, foxes, rabbits, flamingos and of course, guanacos. In the same family of llamas and alpacas, guanacos these are their wilder, shaggier cousins that make the craziest sounds!

These different creatures all kept us entertained while riding through their natural habitat and even posed for some photos.

So even though distance, time and money keep you moving forwards you only get one chance to be in a place at that moment in time. It won’t ever be the same again so make the most of it now.

On that note, Vamos a Puerto Natales!
Steph and Ben

P.S. We have created a route map for where we have travelled by bike and you can find it on the Americas trip page.

Additionally, if you plan on cycling this route or want to know more specific information such as where to stay and distances we rode per day, check out the routes and travel tips page we wrote about cycling Tierra del Fuego here.

7 Responses

  1. Sal
    | Reply

    Wow! I am so enjoying your trip, your descriptive writing is awesome. The wind sounds incredibly tough, especially on a bike. How monimwntal to have moved on to your ‘second’ place. You are amazing, both of you. Lots of love xxx

  2. Julie
    | Reply

    Brilliant photos – especially the zorro (fox) and bike shadow ones. I had no idea that there was a king penguin colony on Tierra del Fuego – I’m gutted now that we missed it when we were there too! We’ll have to go back one day, with Solana… Solana won “star of the week” award at school last week, for knowing all about nocturnal animals and Autumn, and sharing her knowledge with the other reception children – don’t know who was more proud, me or her! She’s enjoying seeing your blog photos too – thank you so much for sharing them with us.
    Julie, Laura & Solana x

    • unscriptedride
      | Reply

      I know, we would have liked to have seen the penguins but as you said, it’s a reason to go back one day. We did really like it over there. Ah that’s good to hear, well done Solana! I’m glad you’re all enjoying the photos, there will be plenty more to come I’m sure! Steph x

  3. Kelly Wilson
    | Reply

    Hi how are you. You seem to be haveing a great time so far. Following your blog is really interesting I love reading it see where you are what you doing. Hope bikes are going well chat soon love Kelly and family xxxx

    • unscriptedride
      | Reply

      I’m good thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog and our pictures and it’s good to hear from you. It’s going really well and so are the bikes, we’re really enjoying it here in Patagonia. Steph xx

  4. Sara
    | Reply

    Hi Great reading your blog, I cycled from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales in 2013 we camped between those towns. The military checkpoints gave us water, use of toilets and we camped behind their buildings or in sheds. The winds got up to 70mph in Torres del Paine! In the Park you can only camp and light a stove in destignated sites. We left our bikes in a cafe’s storage container and took the ferry to hike up to the grey glacier and camp overnight. Enjoy your trip it’s an awesome part of the world.

  5. Michael Kimbery
    | Reply

    Grandma thinks it’s awesome we’ve also given the blog to Molly who agrees carry on having a great time love and best wishes
    Grandad Mike

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