Archive for January 14th, 2010

Tierra Del Fuego

Eastern Shore of Lago Fagano near Tolhuin village

Today was my first full day of riding in Tierra Del Fuego, the Southern-most island of Patagonia. The landscape down here is just spectacular: Mountains, Ocean, lakes, forest, rivers, valleys … The weather during the day was a bit of a rollercoaster, starting rather unfriendly with rain and cold, but with a brilliant ending!

Looking back at Ushuaia after starting the long ride North

First I was doing some email and Blogging in the morning; since I had only 106 km planned and there are 17+ hrs of daylight I figured I wasn’t in a hurry. It was noon when I left Ushuaia with just a small snack and some fruit juice and water for along the way.

Looking at rainy mountains the start seemed ominous and gloomy

Right after Ushuaia the road turns inland and starts climbing up into a side valley. It started to rain and was rather chilly. While going uphill I stayed warm enough for my short-sleeved shirt and I didn’t bother with the rain gear yet. Here I was getting more and more wet and cold after just 10 km and briefly thought about the 10.000 km ahead of me in South America. But nothing is as constant as change, and that’s especially true for the weather in Patagonia. When I reached the Valle Hermosa after the first 300m hills a few patches of blue sky became visible.

Riding into the Valle Hermosa just North of Ushuaia

Then I had another period of rain and the climb up to the 400m high Paso Garibaldi; this was hard work again. That said, I was happy to ride uphill due to the generated body heat and also because I knew that beyond the pass it would get easier and probably even more scenic.

View North frmo Paso Garibaldi down to Lago Fagano in the distance

At the pass I met French rider Isabelle – she had come all the way down from Ecuador and was on her last day to Ushuaia! We exchanged high fives and took pictures, but it was too cold with the wind to linger. On the way down I put on my new GoreTex wind jacket which saved me from hypothermia. I had this weird fantasy of coffee and cake, but suppressed these thoughts quickly as I deemed it impossible to get such luxuries here in the middle of the wilderness. But sure enough, to my pleasant surprise, I came upon a new restaurant which was open and served delicious cakes with coffee!

Coffee break at restaurant Villa Macina

In addition, they had a wood-fired stove going which was very comfortable to sit next to (and helped me dry up my bike jersey in the process). So much for a lucky break!

And it was getting better: Now the wind was blowing nicely from the back and the sun was coming out. Going from rainy uphill to sunny downhill with tailwind – you have to experience this to understand how happy this makes the touring biker…

Another mountain range in Tierra Del Fuego

The scenery became more and more stunning now with the sun painting beautiful colors. And then I reached the Lago Fagano. The road follows its shores for about 35 km all the way to the Eastern end in Tolhuin (my goal for the day). I needed to stop a few times to take in the scenery and take pictures. What a great outcome of a day that started with rain!

Lago Fagano near Tolhuin in late afternoon sunlight

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Southern-most point of Panamerican Highway in Bahia Lapataia (near Ushuaia)

Yesterday I reached Ushuaia after flights from Miami via Buenos Aires to Santiago (including a close fly-by near Aconcagua in excellent visibility) and then via Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. My mountain backpack stayed behind in the hotel in Santiago; I’ll ride back up there over the next 6 weeks or so and then switch my bike and mountain gear for the Aconcagua expedition.

View fom flight descending towards Ushuaia

The last two hours of our flight were all covered in rain clouds; the 10-day weather forecast is not good – lots of rain and pretty cold (50F, 10C), and I have read horror stories about the stormy wind in Patagonia! That said, during the last minutes of our flight the sky cleared a little bit and the sun came out – what a welcome to this Southern-most city!

Then I needed to re-assemble the bike. I’m getting more used to this now than I would like… And I fiddled 1/2 hour to get the trailer wheel back into the trailer frame – apparently the latter must have been bent during transport, slightly annoying. But eventually everything was put together, and I put my empty bike box next to another one with a Swiss name and address on it (so I’m not the only rider).

Ready to roll in the Ushuaia airport after re-assembling the bike

It was already 7pm when I started to ride. It felt really good to pedal again – somewhat cool (52F, 11C), but not uncomfortable. The surroundings reminded me of Iceland, with snow up in the mountains above the fjord-like bays. I tried getting some cash as I didn’t have Argentinian pesos, but the ATM machine failed to dispense any money!? So I bought a big orange juice and some bread with my last small dollars and set out to ride down to Bahia Lapataia, the Southern end of the highway.

At entrance of Tierra del Fuego National Park, South of Ushuaia

Even though it was now already past 8pm, I was not too concerned, as the sun sets at 10:05pm and it is still light until almost 11pm. It’s not quite as extreme at 55 degrees South as it was up in Alsaka (70 degrees North) last July, but still very different from the tropics in Central America.

My first surprise was the traffic, lots of cars driving back from Bahia Lapataia – and kicking up lots of dust on the gravel road. It’s high season down here. While I was the only rider, there is no solitude down here, even at the late hour. Also several camp grounds and tents along the way, so not exactly the untouched wilderness, but still great.

I got to the endpoint around 8:45pm and stayed for 15 minutes or so. The obligatory photo was taken as the last tour bus left the parking area. Some quiet time allowe to reflect: This is the Southern endpoint of the Panamerican Highway. Only 90 miles to Cape Horn, and just 1100 km to Antarctica. I walked out to the actual beach.

At Bahia Lapataia, only 90 miles from Cape Horn

I recognized this spot from photos on Stefan and Pius website ( My recumbent had already been here two years ago (Stefan riding it) – quite amazing. This may be the first recumbent to do the Panamerican Highway twice, who knows?

Then I returned back to Ushuaia. It started to rain a little bit, but not enough to warrant getting out raingear; I was riding in shots, which on the uphills was comfortable, but downhill it was getting quite chilly. Due to the cloud cover and sun down it was now getting more and more dark, with the city lights of Ushuaia visible in the distance.

Riding back to Ushuaia from Bahia Lapataia at dusk

Now the journey heading North can begin!

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