Thursday, 2 January 2014

Ushuaia - Fin del Mundo

By Sanne

Yep, we sure were heading towards colder climates. After leaving Rio Grande in the morning, we were pounded from the side by strong winds, and outside Tolhuin the sky turned almost black and opened, pouring rain and hail onto us poor bikers. However, there were people worse off than us: the cyclists. These crazy nutters brave the wind, but unlike us they can only make it 50-100kms a day and you can really tell they struggle. We passed a couple pushing their bikes on the side of the road in a headwind and even doing that they were struggling at. I have full respect for overland cyclists. In this part of the world with the big distances and the strong winds I think an engine is really nice to have!

After a break at the petrol station in Tolhuin where we downed a couple of hot chocolates to warm up, we left the steppe of Tierra del Fuego behind and began to ascend over the Garibaldi Pass through the Andes to Ushuaia. At this point I immediately wished for the rain and hail to come back because now it had started to snow. We were pretty much wearing all our clothes by now in countless layers, but we were still cold. Inner gloves, winter gloves and heated handle grips...and my fingers were still cold! And it wasn't that high a pass at only 450m. But being cold wasn't the worst part, we couldn't see a bloody thing! Neither the scenery nor the actual road we were meant to be riding on. I was constantly wiping snow off the outside of my visor only to have the inside of the visor fogging up. I had to ride with my visor slightly open to get a bit of air in to clear the fogging but this meant that the snow came onto my face instead. We were basically not far off riding in complete blindness. This seemed to go on forever, but we finally glimpsed some blue sky ahead of us which in these regions is about all the encouragement you're gonna get.

We rode into Ushuaia (titled the southernmost city in the world) in the early afternoon and after almost being run over by a car we found the campsite La Pista del Andino which was full of overland travellers in cars, vans, trucks, on motorcycles and bicycles. Obviously a lot of people had come here to spend xmas in the company of other travellers. Ever since entering Patagonia and going down Ruta 3 we had been seeing a steady stream of overlanders heading south. It seems to be a tradition to gather in Ushuaia at xmas and new years and this was the 23rd of December. We immediately spotted two DR650's but we couldn't decide where the numberplate was from. Then a man walked out of a caravan and said hello and Mark said: "Bloody hell, are you a kiwi?" Yes, he was indeed. "Well that's it, I'm leaving!". Of course we didn't leave and we found out that despite being kiwis Ken and Jeff were pretty cool guys. Then there was Tim from London on his Triumph Bonneville who we had actually run into about a week prior on the side of the road. He puts our almost 3 years on the roads to shame - Tim is a veteran with 10 years under his belt! And he's not even close to finishing yet. We also met Heather and Tim from Melbourne who are travelling around Chile and Argentina in a van. Their story for ending up here on xmas eve was interesting. They had booked to go to Antarctica on a cruise ship leaving from Ushuaia. But they got the dates wrong by two they missed their boat. I felt so bad for them, I think everyone did, but amazingly they were really good humoured about it and we all ended up celebrating xmas together.

It was cold there, really cold. Even in our new all season tent it was very FRESH and I wonder how we would have gotten on in our old tent. I slept with all my clothes on, even wore my motorbike pants to bed one night = still cold. The weather there was the most temperamental I have ever seen. The term four seasons in a day was surely invented here. It snowed on and off intermittently the whole time we were here, and this was the height of summer! At least you would usually only have to wait 5 minutes before the weather changed again - for the better or worse. The cold always stayed there though. Then it was nice that we could escape into the common room or the dining room where a wood fire was burning and heating up the room.

We were incredibly lazy when we were there; I blame the weather. We stocked up on sweets and cakes and wine, 'because it's only xmas once a year'. But we didn't feel bad about being lazy because lately we had been moving every day and we felt the need to slow down a bit and just relax. On boxing day a group of us all went to the local Irish Pub which was full of people and we had a great night drinking the locally brewed and tasty Beagle Beer. We met quite a few other travellers that night, there was even some entertainment when a fight broke out between a couple also travelling on a motorbike. Everything a good pub night should be!

The next morning I woke up a little worse for wear, I put it down to the champagne that had been poured the previous night. It's always the champagne... In the afternoon Mark dragged me out of bed and we ventured into town to get some more dollars changed on the blue rate. A couple we knew had managed to change at a rate of 9 pesos to the dollar which was a really good rate, especially this far south (the best rate you get in Buenos Aires at around 9.4 currently). They had walked from shop to shop asking if anyone could change money and at what rate. There had been a few shops that had offered 9 and they were nice enough to show us to the one they had changed at. It was a children's clothing shop, the last place you would go to change money, but they were willing to change for us which was good for us and good for them. They didn't have enough pesos at the time though so we went back the next day to change the money and we brought Heather and Tim with us as they also wanted to change some cash.

People were slowly leaving after xmas, the Kiwis went first, then Heather and Tim, and most other travellers had also departed, either to go seek refuge in a hostel (as I said, it was cold!) or to travel to the national park Tierra del Fuego which means land of fire (passing ships named it when they spotted distant campfires on the shore that the indigenous tribes had lit). We were ready to leave too but we wanted to go to the nactional park first. Had the weather been nicer we would have camped out there...but it wasn't. So we just did a day trip out there and left our gear at the campsite in town. It is only about 20km from town so not far at all. As on cue it started snowing as we set off but as a stroke of luck it stopped by the time we got there and the sun came out to shine down on us and revealed the beautiful snow-capped mountains. There is a sign here which, if you're an overlander, have to get photographed next to. It's the sign that tells you that you are now at the end of the road, literally. El Fin del Mundo - The End of The World. So of course we got a photo taken of us and the babies too.

We really had had enough of the cold weather by now so the next day we left, leaving London Tim behind as the last motorbiker, he was hanging on for the new years party he hoped would eventuate. We had chosen a good day to leave as surprise surprise, it wasn't snowing! It was still cold but we could actually now see the surroundings on the pass which was nice. From now we would be north-bound and the weather could only get better from here, right....right....?

A sky full of doom and gloom as we are riding towards Ushuaia

Getting really close to Ushuaia now...

La Pista del Andino campsite, Ushuaia - full of overlanders

From the campsite and overlooking Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel

Jeff, one part of the Kiwi duo on DR650's

Ken and Jeff, ready to rock n roll

Yep, it was cold there

The view from our camp

Ginger from Germany on an old Transalp and one huuuge topbox!

Tim from London who has been on the road with his Triumph Bonneville for just 10 years. 

Lovely Heather and Tim from Australia with their Chilean van

Lots of cruise ships in the bay sailing to Antarctica

Another Falklands memorial - many young soldiers from here died in the war

The houses you can see on the hillside are actually illegally built on public land. 
Apparently people go up there in the night, chop down trees and start building. 

Ushuaia is not a particularly pretty town

Two cyclists from Holland who caved in to the cold and left to go to a hostel instead

We're too povo to go to a hostel so on our last night our treat was a caravan

In Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego

Getting the obligatory 'fin del mundo' pic

As you can see the sun was really out by now because we're squinting like crazy

Quite a few foxes around

Crossing back over the Garibaldi Pass the day we left Ushuaia and we could actually see 
where we were going this time!

Lago Fagnano

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