A Fiery Finish

Arriving in Punta Arenas felt a little weird for me since, whilst I still had a little way to go to reach the end of this journey, I had already booked a flight out of there to fly back to Santiago and would therefore be passing back through here approximately two weeks later.  Thankfully, we had an excellent base there in the form of the Hostal Independencia, run by a lovely chap called Eduardo.  Not only is the heating on full blast the whole time (quite a cosy treat for wind-blasted Patagonian cyclists) but the breakfasts were great and plentiful (the fastest way to most cyclists’ hearts)!
After a day off to sort various end of trip logistics, we got up before sunrise to head to the ferry which would take us across the Straits of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego.  We couldn’t believe our luck to get to the water’s edge and discover flat calm, only broken by the occasional leaping dolphin!

Needless to say, we were pretty stoked to have such a magical crossing, given the fickle nature of the weather down here.

After a very pleasant morning following the undulating coastal road, the wind slowly began to pick up.  However, my luck had clearly changed after recent encounters and, this time, rather than blowing the usual westerly, it would blow a staunch easterly, a direct headwind.  I think this picture just about sums up how unfortunate we were – it is no coincidence that this tree points directly eastward, given the strength of the prevailing westerly that you’d normally find here!

Again, it was head down for a pretty brutal 35km, only made worse by total arsehole drivers who would invariably fly past at top speed, covering us in choking dust and spraying us with stones!  Hand signals to passing cars took on two clear forms – a big thumbs up if they slowed to pass at a considerate speed or, more commonly, a clear middle finger to those who opted to shower us!  It was probably the closest that I had got to losing my rag completely, since I had let myself yell expletives at the top of my voice during the Lagunas route in Bolivia!  The saving grace was the lure of a puesto de arreo (small cabin) at a crossroad ahead, which is well known in touring circles and has provided shelter to many a cyclist in an otherwise barren area.  After a big effort in the fading light and with rain showers threatening, we finally got there, only to find that the reportedly cosy and comfortable shelter had taken something of a beating in recent weeks and had also been used as a urinal.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why anybody would do such a thing – why, in such a barren wasteland, would you piss in the only shelter for miles around?!!  With little other choice, and taking care to stay away from the offending area, we made it our home for the night.  Scott and I could only help but laugh and sing along to that famous song by The B-52s…

If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says
“15 miles to the Piss Shack”
Piss Shack, yeah, yeah
I’m headin’ down the Atlanta highway
Lookin’ for the piss getaway
Headed for the piss getaway
Sign says (woo) “Stay away, fools”
‘Cause piss rules at the Piss Shack
Well, it’s set way back in the middle of a field
Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back
Glitter on the mattress
Glitter on the highway
Glitter on the front porch
Glitter on the highway
The Piss Shack is a little old place where we can get together
Piss Shack, baby (Piss Shack, baby)
Piss Shack, that’s where it’s at
Piss Shack, that’s where it’s at

We had a little friend for a while, hopeful of sneaking some morsels from us, but he soon disappeared and the cloud then descended, leaving us thanking our lucky stars to have any sort of shelter from the damp and the wind…

We were planning on turning South from here and taking a relatively remote border crossing rather than the more popular Paso San Sebastian.  This route would also take us directly past the only King Penguin colony in South America, something that we didn’t want to miss.  We had read that the centre was closed on Mondays (as with so many things in South America) and we had indeed arrived on a Monday but, after cycling 12,000km to get there, I wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity!  Turning up at the centre, the signs confirmed what we had feared and we paced along the fence, keeping an eye out for structural weaknesses!  The penguins were merely a few hundred metres away, behind a wooden viewing wall.  Spotting a gap in the fence and with no sign of anyone around, I decided to squeeze through and go and take a look.  I ran over to the wooden structure and got my first glimpse of a wild penguin colony – they’re pretty wonderful little creatures!  By this point, Scott, having initially hesitated, couldn’t resist getting a sight of the penguins himself.  In the most comedic of moments, he began to jog over and as he got about halfway we heard a call from what turned out to be a warden with a pair of binoculars round his neck!  It felt like that fateful moment in a World War Two PoW film, where the first guy makes it from the fence to the woods and the second guy gets spotted by the searchlight and gunned down only yards from freedom!  Guilty as schoolboys, we walked over to the chap, who turned out to be incredibly hospitable and made every effort to accommodate us, provided we pay the minimal entry fee for the sanctuary!  To be fair, there had been no signs of life at the office before we made our ‘Great Escape’ but we did nevertheless feel like pretty big tits afterwards!

On the plus side, we were able to spend an hour or so watching the little fellas as they went through their daily routines…

Our friendly warden also went so far as to call ahead to the border towards which we were headed and check if it was open.  They had had heavy rains there a few days earlier and there was talk of a small bridge having been washed away or the river being too high to cross.  For those of you who saw the Top Gear ‘Patagonia Special’, I believe this is the border that they crossed on the back of a massive truck and then later again whilst fleeing the anger generated by their crass Falklands number plate jibe (one of their cars, apparently by complete coincidence, bore the number plate H982 FKL, a blatant reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict).  Lo and behold, the border was apparently closed and would remain so for a further few days.  Thanking the warden for his thoughtfulness despite our trespassing, we headed the 15km back to the Piss Shack and then carried on on the main (dirt) road to the more northerly border at San Sebastián.  Fortunately, normal service had resumed and we were aided by a strong prevailing westerly!  This would be my 13th and final crossing by bike between Chile and Argentina on my trip.

5 Comments

  1. Dear cousin Campbell,
    Seeing THAT SUNSET again (and your last camp for the first time) sends shivers up my spine too. It really was something and you were of course far, far more deserving in being treated with it at the end of your incredible journey!
    Wecome back and bon prochaine voyage!
    Jean

  2. . . . and so ends a truly courageous, life-enhancing adventure. Thank you for going to such lengths, in eloquent words and outstanding photography, to paint such a magnificent canvas for all of us, your dedicated followers. Me thinks 2016/17 may well have marked something of a seismic shift in your personal tectonic plates!
    Dad xxx

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