Journey to Ushuaia

Journey to Ushuaia

February 02, 2015

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

Narrated Audio Blog

We departed Puerto Deseado on a near perfect day, very much by design, light winds as predicted by Wind Guru , a cool temperature for riding and no rain clouds. Our plan would be to make it to Rio Gallegos but we weren't in any great rush. Passing through the province of Santa Cruz we decided to pull in to a town called Puerto San Julian and see what we could find in the way of accommodation.

We easily found camping on the waterfront and met another adventure riding couple traveling north having just been to Ushuaia. Mike and Claudia invited us over to have a drink so after dinner we joined them. Mike had been on the road for nearly 8 months while Claudia had only just joined him for the last section. Its always interesting to hear peoples stories if they're willing to share so Mike told us how back in Germany he is a paramedic, who works hard for 3-4 years then takes a sabbatical which equates to around 6 months leave.  He's fortunate to be able to have this arrangement with his work however the down side is lack of rest during the working period. His wife Claudia was not in the same position with her work so she flies in to meet him on his travels around the world. Understandably it's difficult for business when an employee is away for such a long period of time however it does get you thinking about whether people should have more options with how they take their leave and the type of travel that is possible only with longer term holidays.

We sat with Mike and Claudia drinking and talking until late that night, exchanging experiences and vital bits of advice for the roads ahead of us. The next morning we packed up and said our goodbyes at a reasonable time, but before leaving Puerto San Julian we made sure to get a photo with the real scale replica of the Nao Victoria. A visit to the museum will tell you that the ship arrived in March 1520. It was captained by the famous Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and was in fact the first ship to circumnavigate the world. When you have the information as you stand before the ship it's really hard to believe how, since it looks so small!

Next stop was Rio Gallegos in 360km, a good distance to ride in a day on good roads for us travelling at 100 km/h. Rio Gallegos is the last town on Ruta 3 before crossing into Chili, a compulsory border crossing to get to Tierre del Fuego and then back to Argentina to reach Ushuaia. Rio Gallegos is a city ready for the dark months, leading into the city is a dual carriageway with streetlights akin more to floodlights for nearly 20km. It was getting late and we couldn't find any camping so we checked in to a reasonably priced hotel accepting of dogs and with a good movie channel. Janell and Weeti just couldn't seem to make it past 11pm but Stu stayed up late watching 3 movies while working on updates for the website. He wouldn't admit it the next day but definitely regretted the lack of sleep.

The next day was the big one, we were expecting 2 border crossings, 170km of gravel road and a ferry ride. We checked Wind Guru and the synopsis wasn't good, but we were tired of waiting and decided to go for it. So into 60-80km/hr winds we went. We had 70km of sealed road all the way to the Chilean border. This border was one of the busiest we'd experienced for a while but luckily we were at the front of a wave of cars and buses. Perhaps this worked in our favour because we had some troubles getting Weeti cleared and the staff didn't have time to be messing around with us.

So far all the border crossings were satisfied with her vaccination certificates and proof of ownership. Chile wanted stamped and approved documents from the Argentinian government body, SENASA, responsible for the regulation of plants and animals. We  were told to return to Rio Gallegos to obtain the required documents. No way! Sorry but we weren't riding in those winds twice again for a piece of paper that said nothing more than what we already had. Stuart very politely highlighted all the problems with this request, he pleaded with the officials to help us out and as luck or fortune would have it, a manager agreed to let us through provided we got the correct paperwork in Ushuaia for our return trip north. Phew!

Now to the ferry. Sealed roads again but the winds were really strong. We didn't know what to expect from the ferry except that if the conditions were bad it may not operate. There was a small café located at the top of the ramp so we went in to get a drink and some information. The wind was very strong and there was a ferry clearly struggling to pull in, we asked how often it ran and were told to expect a ferry every 30 minutes if conditions were safe. We decided this was a good time to get lunch. We ordered eggs on toast with avocado, yummy, and sustaining for the day we were having. Once the cook got sight of Weeti, he headed into the kitchen and returned with a pile of meat scraps asking if he could give them to her. Of course he could, so off he went to the bikes. The cook was fascinated with the sight of a dog on a motorbike, he was so happy to be feeding her and she was a most obliging customer.

Motorbikes are often last on the ferry, we squeeze in to the gaps around the cars and trucks but it doesn't really matter because you're waiting somewhere, on the boat or on the ramp, until it departs. The trip was fine, nothing much to see and a bit cold. Getting off the ferry was the exciting part, we were in Tierra del Fuego. This is the very bottom of South America and is made up of lots of islands, the largest being Tierra del Fuego which means land of fire. The ferry crosses the Magellan Strait, named after Ferdinand Magellan who was the first explorer to circumnavigate the world. A bit of history for you!

We grabbed some photos then had to move on but the winds just got worse the more south we travelled and we decided to ride to the next town and stop for the night. Cerro Sombrero is a little town but with a few hostels on the hill. We asked around for camping but were only told of wild camping up the road, by this time we wanted a hot shower so kept looking. We saw a sign for a hostel and followed it down a steep gravel road, unfortunately it was closed for renovations, we asked them about camping but got the same answer. We were pointed towards the center of town, up the hill, where we found a couple of hostels at exorbitant prices. We considered our options, it was still early but we still had a long ride to the border along gravel. We decided it was best to have a restful night and attempt the ride refreshed in the morning so 600 pesos was handed over for bed and breakfast and shelter from the wind. From here Ushuaia was one long days ride away and once there we would do it cheap (at least that was the plan).

It turned out the road to the Argentine border was far less gravel then expected; in total we encountered about 50km of gravel and the quality was good enough to travel comfortably at 90km/hr. To e honest we had mixed emotions about this. We were ready for the challenge of riding on gravel but also relieved that we could look around and move quickly.

Crossing the border back into Argentina was much easier than Chile, but this crossing we had done a couple of times already so there were no surprises. We reached Rio Grande by lunchtime and stopped for a bite. Rio Grande is also a city with plenty of accommodation, restaurants etc. set on a very flat landscape but we now had less than 200km to Ushuaia so continued riding.

The terrain changed drastically about 100km from Ushuaia; the flat planes we'd experienced for so much of the eastern route gave way to mountains and trees and the winds dwindled away to a light breeze. We stopped on numerous occasions to take photos of the scenery getting excited at every snowcapped mountain we saw as if it would be our last. The excitement was so unbelievable as we rode down the last hill with the tall Ushuaia inscribed towers indicating our arrival standing at both sides of the road. We stopped for the obligatory photo that signified the end of a long journey to "el Fin del Mundo" (The end of the World).

The ups and downs of traveling continued. The ride in to Ushuaia through the mountains was magnificent and we were feeling on top of the world but then the accommodation we had organised through Counchsurfing fell through on arrival so we were back to searching on the internet. Physically riding to places and asking for a room and none of the campgrounds in town existed anymore. There was wild camping out of town but it was in a National Park where Weeti was not allowed entry. Okay, stay calm and try to keep your sense of adventure we told ourselves.

For those interested in the campsites we looked in to, the first was supposedly located near the Ushuaia Rugby Club, but after 15 minutes riding around we couldn't find it. The next campground had coordinates in our GPS which we followed up the mountain side, with a great view, and along a dirt track. There was even a sign outside this place indicating camping but someone came out to see us speaking very quickly in Spanish and we were politely told the site was no longer a campground.

We'd been checking at each hostel we passed but none would allow a dog to stay. Our last resort was to log into and book a room in the only pet friendly hotel we'd seen. It would do for tonight but at $80 we couldn't afford to stay there again. We made a booking and checked in for the night, when we arrived with Weeti however, they seemed very surprised and wanted to say no, but we didn't give them the chance, the website said she was welcome and we weren't leaving. It was 11 pm and we were tired and hungry.

The next day we went about finding accommodation again. We got really lucky and a different Couchsurfing request had a positive response. Dana frequently hosted travellers and was very interested in our story and wanted to help us but could only put us up for one night. We were so grateful and this gave us more time to look into another alternative. We visited the Tourist Information centre and were told that no camping existed outside the national park. They provided us with a list of hostels and prices but we'd checked a lot of them already and most were not pet friendly or were well out of our budget considering we wanted to spend a bit of time in Ushuaia. We had exhausted all our usual avenues and spent all day doing so. Feeling a little frustrated, we turned in for the day and spent the evening with our host Dana and some Israeli backpackers she was hosting. It was a great evening, we'd never met anyone from Israel before and they were happy to talk to us about their compulsory military service and explain the complex political issues of their country.

Good nights sleep and we were feeling positive again over breakfast. A response came through from the local Horizons Unlimited community with information on a hostel in town where the owner had a dog. Rejected again, the owner used to have his dog at the hostel but customers complained so he had to keep it at home and wouldn't accept dogs. He was very polite and told us about another hostel with a dog and even camping in the yard. Hmmmm, maybe this was the camping people had told us about. Momo's Hostel was not listed anywhere and when we turned up to the address thought we must be at the wrong place because it just looked like a private house from the street with no signs or indication that people were welcome to enter the property. We hadn't even parked the bikes when the owner, Momo, met us on the street. He asked if we would like a bed and smiled at Weeti, this was our place. The only issue was that he wouldn't let dogs in the rooms but when we asked about camping he said it was okay because of the dog. Usually he only allowed camping when all the beds were filled but he was very considerate of our situation and we ended up camping in his yard for two weeks as we waited for a parcel from Australia to arrive with a new sleeping bag. But the sleeping bag is another story for another time.

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