Arriving in Ushuaia, Argentina by bike

We did it!
Anchorage, Alaska – Ushuaia, Argentina
30,893km, 1009 days, 16 countries and a million memories.

A final dirt detour

April 13th, 2014

Suddenly, the name that we have been heading for so long is close. Too close for comfort, in fact. So close that we might have to start thinking about what comes next.

We scrutinise the map, searching for a way to delay the inevitable. Our escape presents itself: a dirt road looping away from the tedium of the asphalt into the heart of Tierra del Fuego.

It’s the perfect ride: Patagonia in all its multicolour autumn glory, perched precariously on the edge of an icy winter. If I could finish anywhere, then it would be here – on the dirt, in the middle of nowhere, with just the guanacos for company. This is where I feel at home.

But the magnetic draw of the finishing line is too strong. We reach the asphalt once again. End of the World ego trumps my romanticism, and we push on, Ushuaia-bound.

James

 

Sheep on Patagonia estancia

Tierra del Fuego: land of pampa and sheep, corralled in enormous estancias

Martin the shepherd, Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego

…and watched over by shepherds like Martín. An icy downpour has us seeking shelter at his door, and in true Patagonian style we are greeted with a smile, mugs of tea, tray after tray of roasted lamb, and a bed.

Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego

The next morning dawns icy…

Frosty bike handlebars in Patagonia

…everything covered with a hard frost.

Stove in estancia kitchen, Patagonia

We retreat to the stove to defrost frozen hands…

Sunrise over barbed wire fence, Patagonia

…until finally the sun creeps over the horizon.

Cycling Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

It doesn’t get much better than a crisp, clear Autumn morning’s ride like this…

Frosty grass, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the world seemingly frozen in time…

Frosty autumn leaves, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…caught between autumn and winter.

Cycling Ruta 9, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

We savour the moment, absorbing every detail of what feel like our last days of South American freedom:

Horses in the frost on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the ever-present onlookers…

Icyy puddle on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the roadside art…

Frosty fence on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the plays of light…

Snow peaked mountains, cycling Tierra del Fuego

…the freshly dusted peaks…

Tree in Patagonia

…the ancient waymarkers…

Estancia and snowy mountains, Tierra del Fuego

…and the hidden lives.

Riding Ruta 9, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

These are the days when I could ride towards the horizon forever…

Leaves on the road, Tierra del Fuego

…the magnetic pull of the open road.

Signpost to Ushuaia

And then: Ushuaia calling 123…

Facturas at Panadería La Union, Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego

…forestalled by a stopover at the legendary Panadería La Union in Tolhuin. It feels like Christmas Eve; the perfect place to spend our final night on the road with empanadas, facturas, a warm bed and good company.  

“Whatever a penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his whole life for all to see…sometimes solemn, sometimes humorous, enterprising, chivalrous, cheeky – and always a welcome and, in some ways, an almost human friend.”
The Worst Journey in the World
Apsley Cherry-Garrard

 

For me, a visit to Tierra del Fuego – the island nestled at the foot of South America – wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to the recently re-established King Penguin colony between Porvenir and Camerón. As a long-time admirer of this funny little waddle machine, I was looking forward to the visit with great expectations. (And it would take all of my self-control not to sneak one of them into my panniers before leaving).

Second only in size to the Emperor Penguin, the King is usually found in the much more southerly regions of South Georgia and Antarctica. As these areas are only accessible by long and expensive boat trips, we were keen and privileged to be able to access their colony by bike.

We were also lucky to have the place to ourselves. Camping there with three other cyclists, we had the last of the evening’s sun to nip down and pay them a visit and then the following morning, we returned to watch them stretch, wake and explore – a little more closely than we could ever have anticipated…

Sarah

Penguins territory on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Magical Patagonian evening light is the perfect time for viewing…

Penguins preening themselves on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…as the penguins busy themselves with preening…

Calling penguins on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…calling to one another, and not-so-gracefully flopping down on the grass.

Penguin standing alone on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

These are the penguins that grace the cover of well-loved paperback books…

Penguins on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…or the shiny red packets of school-day chocolate bar snacks.

Penguins walking across the pampa in Tierra del Fuego, Chile

There’s something about the way they move that seems so human. Perhaps they feel the same – that we seem so ‘penguin’, and so over they come to investigate.

Two penguins approaching Karen on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Karen is the first target. Once one has decided to check her out…

Penguins lining up to meet Karen on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…the others soon follow…

Penguins gather around Karen on Tierra del Fuego, Chil

…and before long it’s a veritable penguin party.

Penguins approach James on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Then they’re headed James’ way.

Penguins bowing in front of James on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

First, they respectfully bow…

Close up of penguins on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…before they invade his space. “Does he have a beak like us?…

Close up of king penguin feathers, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…Are his feathers as beautiful and smooth as ours?…

Close up of two king penguins on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…and can he carry off ‘regal’ like we do?”

Penguins approaching Sarah on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

“How about the female over there…

Penguins appraoching in a line, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…let’s check her out!

Penguin feet close up, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Are her feet like ours?…

Penguin biting a shoe Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…hmmm, clearly no good for Antarctic swimming.” 

Penguins with Sarah on Tierra del Fuego, Chile

And finally they decide we are no longer interesting…

Four king penguins, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…and off they waddle…

Three king penguins standing together, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

…to discuss more pressing things.