Ushuaia, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile
15 Nov 2014 – 24 Nov 2014
Next stop, Porvenir
I will not hide that we felt nostalgic when we rode out of Ushuaia that morning. A countdown had begun and it was now only a matter of weeks until we parted with our beloved DRs and left the continent that had offered us so much those last few months.
The Wolfmobile and Zebramobile, oblivious to this impending doom, were sending happy thumps-thumps echoing against the surrounding mountains. And without further ado, we were back on the road, heading North for the first time in a very long time.
Our plan for the day was to reach Porvenir, a tiny port town on the strait of Magellan some 400km away. As soon as we left the shelter offered by the mountains, the wind made it clear that he was still angry at us and resumed his previous effort to wipe us and our bikes off the road. For good measure, he also screamed in our helmets, making us particularly eager to get to the comfort of an hotel as quickly as possible.
This most likely explains why we decided to ignore the King Penguins of Bahia Inutil, Useless Bay in English, one of the very few non icy pieces of land where they like to hang out. We instead veered right onto what looked like a fun road into Porvenir. Quite expectedly the road soon turned into a rocky trail, giving the Zebra new reasons to be mad at me. It eventually all became worth it when we crested the last hill and got bathed by the evening sun, reflecting its beams into the Magellan strait.
A warm shower, a hot chocolate and a good nights sleep and we were ready to catch our ferry to Punta Arenas, the unescapable stopover for all cruise ships wandering past the Roaring Forties.
Punta ArenasIn another display of our fantastic organisation, we reached Punta Arenas at night, under a nagging drizzle, with absolutely no clue of where to spend the night. Safely parked on the shoulder of a dark street, we were wrestling our GPS for a hotel recommendation when a kind automobilist pulled over by our side and asked: “Ustedes buscan un hotel?”. Apparently we did look that lost. That is how we found ourselves following a perfect stranger towards the suburbs of the town. A neon sign eventually pierced the night, it read “Residencial Tres Hermanos“. We were welcomed inside by a nice old lady, the mother of our good samaritan, and happily settled in what would be our basecamp for the next few days.
Given how darn remote it is, we were not expecting much of Punta Arenas. The town surprised us with its lovely cemetery and a cute naval museum. A few afternoons were happily spent wandering along the malecon, watching the ballet of humongous cruise ships dumping their human load on the quiet harbor. The time eventually came to part with our hosts and head further North, to the famous Torres del Paine.
Puerto Natales, gateway to the Blue TowersThe ride to Puerto Natales was rather eventless, probably due to the Zebra vetoing my off-road shortcut suggestion, allowing us to reach the town during daylight. We walked out of several crappy hotels too obviously eager to make a buck from the manna of backpackers and hikers drawn to this remote land by its breathtaking scenery. The hotel Bulnes, a low-key family hotel proved to be a better option for they kindly offered to hold on to the Zebramobile and most of our luggage during our upcoming trek to Torres del Paine.
We rode there the next day, pitched our tent and relaxed in prevision of what we knew would be an exhausting hike the following day. A random chat with the kid in charge of the campground rained on our parade and had us all geared up in 5 minutes: “The forecast for the next few days is really bad, if you want to see the Torres, today is your best bet”.
It did not take more to launch us into a 6 hours hike at 3pm. Saying we were rusted from weeks on the saddle would be an understatement, each attempt to take another step up the steep trail was met by a mixture of reluctance and disbelief by our legs. Carried by the amazing views and the fear of a Cocuy remake, we reached the crystalline lake stretching its icy waters to the feet of the majestic towers just before the fog settled in. In its evening loneliness, the place was all ours to enjoy. We sat there letting eternal minutes go by, another magic moment!
Sleet and wind snapped us out of our reverie inviting us to return to the relative comfort of our tent, a 3 hour walk away.
The lazy way back
We spent another couple of days exploring the rest of this gorgeous national park. I would like to brag and say we hiked the W circuit, but we did not. What’s more, we are glad about it, for the relatively easy hike to the Torres painfully underlined that we were not prepared to embark on a 4 days, 55km hike loaded with camping gear. Maybe next time.
Instead, we moved our camp to Lake Pehoé and had the pleasure to meet Wolfgang, a renown Austrian photographer. Wolfgang would wake up everyday at 3am, carry heavy cameras and stand in the blistering cold for hours just to capture that perfect light. But what inspired us the most was what we saw as a simple life of travel shared with his wife and daughter.
Our heads full of fantastic images, we followed the back road to Puerto Natales, ready to board the Navimag.