Days 1 to 5: Crossing Tierra Del Fuego
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
At the very end of the road in Argentina
Tierra Del Fuego, a large island at the foot of South America, is the southernmost landmass outside of Antarctica, and split roughly 50/50 between Argentina and Chile. It took 5 days to cross the 445km; the first day was a green and mountainous stunner, but after that the landscape transformed into a bleak and barren sub-Arctic desert with unbelievable winds which were capable of picking up shrapnel off the gravel roads and firing them at me. As luck would have it, I was mainly cycling into the wind and had extensive patches where I was averaging about 5km/h - barely faster than walking speed.
Lago Escondido ("Special Lake"), just north of Ushuaia
Tierra del Fuego’s winds are caused by cold air travelling north from Antarctica which hits warmer air travelling south from the tropics. This combination results in fierce winds which travel from West to East, and are far more foreboding than their northern hemisphere counterparts due to Tierra del Fuego being the only landmass at its latitude. The infamous “Cape Horn” forms part of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, and in the 18th and 19th centuries became a frequent “sailors graveyard” as ship captains struggled with managing their boats in the inhospitable environment.
Barren Sub-Arctic Desert makes up most of Tierra Del Fuego
The first half of the riding was on sealed roads, but the latter half was on some pretty appal ling gravel. I’m used to gravel that's been put through some sort of chipper to reduce it to a common small size, but instead in Tierra del Fuego it was more like riding on a dried-up riverbed with stones often the size of tennis balls. It made for slow and uncomfortable riding, and its combination with the incessant winds was pretty potent.
Despite its remote location, Tierra del Fuego has been the site of some recent controversy. In 2014, the UK TV Programme Top Gear was filming a “Patagonia” special with Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond driving a Porsche 928 GT Coupe, a Lotus Esprit, and a Ford Mustang Mach One. Clarkson’s car bore the numberplate H982 FKL which many Argentinians saw as a veiled reference to the 1982 war over the Falklands Islands (or Malvinas as they’re referred to locally). This led to angry protests, resulting in the Top Gear presenters fleeing the island altogether by plane. To this day, the three cars are still there.
Tierra del Fuego and the northernmost peninsula of Antartica draw quite close to one another
Ushuaia and its mountains
Found a shed to sleep in one night, and two other cyclists heading in the opposite direction were already there!
This Patron Saint of travellers was everywhere
The Morning of Day 1, talk about a bundle of nerves...
Day 1 heading north out of Ushuaia
Exploring Tierra del Fuego National Park