Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tierre del Fuego!

(The first and second of November, 2011)
Tierre del Fuego "Land of Fire" to the left. Well, that sounds nice!
As we made our way toward Tierre del Fuego, the landscape changed from mountains and valleys to flat, tan, grassland. The wildlife got a bit more interesting as well...
The "Rhea" by the fence is a relative the Emu and the Ostrich
These are Alpacas, a species characterized by their total disregard for traffic conventions and inability to grasp simple concepts like right-of-way.

I'm not sure what type of animal this sign represents, but I'm thankful that we didn't encounter one. Actually, this sign warns of high winds, as said high winds have resulted in the total lack of actual trees to make them more apparent. Helpful for people who can't figure out why they are constantly flying off the left side of the road, I guess. 

We then faced a border crossing, from Argentina to Chile, which we would perform four times in the next week. At least it was a quick, streamlined procedure to allow people from Argentina easy access to Tierre del Fuego and Ushuaia. HAHA! NO it wasn't! There is some sort of old feud between Chile and Argentina with regards to control Tierra del Fuego, and Chileans really, really enjoy messing with people who are headed down there. It's not the dangerous feeling, malicious sort of border harassment we faced in Central America; it is more of the bureaucratic, "declare and then throw away that banana" Chilean border nonsense we've grown to love. Our bike was searched (for the first time since northern Mexico) and we were needlessly delayed. Whatever. 

On to the ferry! 
"Welcome to the Strait of Magellan"

Less fiery than advertised.

The ferry ride was short and trucker-filled, as usual. We disembarked, and only a few miles down the road ran into Wilson, our Irish friend from a week ago. Meetings like this seem remarkable in such a huge landscape, until you remember there are is only road to the ferry. It was still nice to see a familiar face! 

Unfortunately, getting to Tierre del Fuego is not getting to Ushuaia, and we still had a day and a half of riding to do, and the only mandatory dirt riding of the trip. (We did tons of dirt riding over the course of the trip, but this was the only time there was no paved option.) Having been delayed at the border, it was too late in the day to ride the 80 miles of dirt to the next Argentine border, so we found a place to stay in a tiny village called "Cerro Sombrero"

The beautiful environs of Cerro Sombrero. They originally wanted $100(!!!) for one night in the main building, but we ended up getting a $50/night room in the miner's quarters (above) and the spectacular view from our window made it all worthwhile. Think of it, if you lived here, your address could be (in English) "100 Main St, Hat Hill, Land of Fire, Chile" That would be the best perk of living here. 

The next morning we were back on the (dirt) road, headed for Argentina, and reasonable prices. But not before a tank of Chile's finest, $9/gallon gas. We had been warned not to stop in this part of Chile because of the prices, but because of the delay at the border, we had no choice. I'm sure it was all a coincidence. 
The dirt road was no coincidence, either. A native Ushuaian told me that the Chilean government refuses to pave the 80 mile main road in Chilean Tierre del Fuego because the Argentine government will not lay a natural gas line from Ushuaia to Chilean territory south of Ushuaia, keeping Chile from opening a port there and securing Ushuaia's position as the southernmost city in the world. International relations at their best! 

Back to the trip...

Poor little rascal, the only black sheep we saw in thousands of white sheep...

This guy was there to look out for any sheep who were slow and needed "assistance"

The place felt huge, and though it was extremely windy, it was beautiful.
Back to Argentina, the last border to cross while headed south

Tierre del Fuego has been home to sheep ranches since the early 20th century, and outnumber human inhabitants by at least 50 to 1. 

Being November, late Spring, every ewe in sight had a young lamb in tow, and often the noise we made while passing sent the lambs running for their mothers. It was funny to watch 50 lambs run in every direction, right to their respective mothers (who all looked alike to us) without any pause or confusion. We weren't trying to scare them, but it seems they don't get many visitors. 

As we approached Ushuaia, mountains shot back up from the plains, and it soon looked like we were riding somewhere between Vail and Aspen...

We rode along on the beautiful highway in awe of the snow capped mountains and rich blue lakes, and only vaguely aware that we were nearing the end of the ride south, which we had started six months and 18,000 miles earlier...

We came around a corner, and we were there. 

Still in El Calafate

Back from the awe-inspiring glacier, it was time to get the bike ready for the last southbound leg of the trip - southern Patagonia. The preparations entailed cleaning the air filter, reversing the rotation of the front tire (to improve wear) and replacing the rear tire. This would all be done in the hostel courtyard, with hand tools, and then we would stop and buy oil for one last oil change when we got a chance.
2000 miles of bugs and debris in the air filter; the pleated portion is supposed to be bright pink. 

One more $250 rear tire for the upaved, Chilean portion of the road to Ushuaia

Almost done! I would really like to thank the designer who put the air filter under the fuel tank. 
That night we met up with Bernard and Annemarie, the Belgian couple who built and piloted "Brutus" the monstrous RV pictured a few posts back...

Over the last few years, Bernard and Annemarie built Brutus from the ground up, starting with a used 10 ton 4x4 industrial truck chassis and an insulated delivery truck box. Bernard designed, built, and wired the entire thing himself, with much of the interior woodwork fashioned from wood he felled and aged specifically for the purpose. It was an incredible machine, fully self-contained and capable of traveling on any type of road (or lack thereof) in any weather conditions - from the arctic to the desert. They are currently traveling on an open-ended tour of South America, and were some of the kindest, most welcoming people we encountered.

We shared dinner and drinks, and the next day we were off our separate ways again, Jill and I reassured that  there are new friends around every corner, and that there will still be exciting travel in store after we no longer want to sit on a motorcycle all day.

ONWARD! To Tierre del Fuego!