From a logistical point of view visiting Tierra del Fuego on a motorcycle requires patience, a good attitude and a little bit of time. Virtually the only way to get on the island is to pass through Chile. So this means over the period of any stay one must cross the border twice. This may not seem so bad, however this requires visits to immigration four times and customs (aduana) four times if you’re simply going to return to Chile. However, if your desire is to go to Buenos Aires or elsewhere in Argentina add another immigration and customs visit bringing the total to six. With each stamp of the passport there are papers to fill out and documents to be completed for the temporary motorcycle import permits for each country.
So with my bags packed and kisses and hugs to the crew at Hostel Argentina I headed north. For now the rain had subsided. The skies were a blanket of blue with feathery brushes of white clouds to punctuate the contrast and vastness of the deep blue. A quick map review with Javier the day before enlightened me to the best route off the island. There are two ferries. One from Porvenir to Punta Arenas and the other from the narrower point on the Straits of Magellan from Primera Angostura to Punta Delgada. I took the Punta Arenas/Porvenir route getting here and my intention was to cross the fast way at Primera Angostura. From the tiny border encampment of San Sebastian most travelers continue north to the ferry. It’s the shortest and most direct route. That also means it’s the most traveled route. It wasn’t the horror stories of truck hurling gravel, insane passing and badly rutted dirt roads that led me to taking the longer route. It was the suggestion of my host in Ushuaia, Javier. It’s about 20km longer. But I’m not on this journey to find the shortest distance between two points. Rather, I’m here to enjoy the ride.
Part of my ride would take me over a handful of kilometers I rode on my way to Ushuaia earlier in the week. And it was on this stretch that a seemingly mad motorists waving his hands out of his winding while nose-diving into a could of dust in an effort to get me to stop. Through my earplugs, the dust and the idling Adventure Pipe on my motorcycle I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I clicked the engine off and leaned an ear his way. There’s been a motorcycle accident. A solo rider was down just up the road. I became sullen. The driver told me the rider broke both of his arms. My cheerful and euphoric state quickly dimmed. I motored on. Thankfully I had my first aid kit and it appeared my cell phone had coverage. When I found Fernando he was still wearing his helmet and while wandering a bit daze, he was in samaritan hand’s of a Chilean family who had been the first to stop.
His right hand was splinted and in a fabricated sling. The father had righted the motorcycle and was working hard to secure Fernando’s things and panniers which had flown off during the accident. From Spain Fernando had shipped his motorcycle to Santiago just a month earlier. He and two other friends had met a couple Chilean riders and an American. The whole gang had been riding together for a couple weeks or more. It was this pack of motorcyclists that zoomed by me just twenty or thirty minutes earlier. They had no idea Fernando would meet his fate and find his South American adventure ride come to a crashing halt on the ripio of Tierra del Fuego. I carefully removed his helmet. Then tried to remove the key from the ignition of his new BMW GS1200. The instrument panel had been slightly damaged and with it the locking mechanism of his ignition.
I helped the father with the luggage while his sweet looking daughter tended to Fernando. There always is a silver lining in every dull or down moment. I knew the pain would set in soon. So I pulled a few Vicadins from my stash and gave them to Fernando with instructions. He didn’t have MedJet Assist, but his plan was to somehow get word to his friends so his bike could be returned to Spain. Meanwhile, he’d stabilize his injuries then find the next flight back to Europe so he could have medical attention taken care of in his country. I briefly related the story of my broken leg in Bolivia in January 2006 and how it may seem to him that his trip is over, I nurtured the hope that he needed now to understand that he can — and should — return to Tierra del Fuego and continue his adventure. He knew one hand or wrist was broken. The other was questionable — but likely broken, too.
I’m not sure how he fell so far behind his group, but as he explained it to me he was traveling at a good rate of speed about 60-mph on the fine, but loose gravel of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego ripio. He had taken his eyes of the road when all of a sudden he came to an intersection. At this point I couldn’t understand what he said. I think he hit a pothole or a pile of gravel that caused him to lose control of the bike. He was looking at the intersection and not at the road. He didn’t try to turn. Maybe he hit a larger rock. But the road was straight as an error from where he was coming — the Porvenir ferry station just 50km away. But somehow he went off the road.
There wasn’t much more I could do to help. They insisted I get on my way because soon it would be dark and they strongly suggested I get to Rio Gallegos before dark. Assured that there was no further danger and Fernando was in good hands, we exchanged emails and I headed north. It was this intersection that would be my detour road to the Angostura ferry stop.
With the later afternoon lighting painting shadows with the golden grass and the gentle rolling hills of a number of livestock Estancias drifting into the distance I continued on. Tierra del Fuego couldn’t look any better. I recalled just barely a week before the vast open spaces. But here the rolling hills and dramatic lighting with cattle and sheep provided a peaceful tranquility to my surroundings while barely a couple cars and a truck passed in the other direction. The road was in good shape. I coulda ridden 60 or 70-mph. But why? In a hurry? No. The ferry runs every twenty minutes till after dark. Am on in a race or have something to prove by riding ripio at highway speeds? Nah. I thought about Fernando. Had he been going a bit slower could he have regained control of his bike. No a question for me and looking backwards is painful and useless. He’ll be fine. And now I’m fine at 45-mph cruising my last few “klicks” on Tierra del Fuego.
When I got to the end of the road it simply descended into the Straits of Magellan. There was no town. No ticket office for the ferry. Just a couple cars parked on the side of the road, an area fenced off with signs warning of active mines — relics of the Falklands War in the early 80’s. — and a house with a small restaurant and store. With my hand held above my helmet I shielded my eyes to see the other side and the ferry. Seems I just missed it. On its return trip I was waved on first and road up the slippery ramp and put my front tire against the same type of ramp on the other side, positioned up at about 45 degrees. I’d be first off, too. Not a big ferry but wide enough to fit three cars across and long enough to carry two medium sized haul trucks front to back. The twenty minute ride today was non-eventful. As we cruised to the other side water from the straits splashed under the ramp and moistened my front tire.
At the cooperative border stop just a few miles after the ferry landing, where both Argentina and Chilean officials are housed. I was pulling paperwork out of my top case when a tall, lanky guy with matted down black hair and wearing a First Gear motorcycle jacket popped out of the door. “Hey, aren’t you WorldRider?” My head spun from shoulder to shoulder. “Yeah. That’s me?”
“I’ve read your blog. How’s the leg?” I’d never met nor heard of Adam Pate prior to this chance encounter and perhaps this odd border station a short distance from Tierra del Fuego. He was heading south to Ushuaia on an older KLR. And I was making tracks to Buenos Aires. His demeanor was immediately likable and nonchalant. With long legs, large hands and a bike packed full of gear, Adam explained that I had emailed or commented back to him on my blog or ADVrider thread. Although I couldn’t place him, I knew we’d somehow connect in the future. So with photos and goodbyes we motored on each our own way.
For the next hour or more I faced my nemisis for a few more rounds. My legendary opponent, the gusty and incessant wind that is synonymous with Patagonia and has earned legendary status among riders — on bikes and motorcycles including this solo rider. I find the wind, or rather the wind finds me, everywhere and always stronger with each bout.
Finally and with the sun setting slow and sure, the tourist information office housed in an old caboose in the center of town had more questions about me and my motorcycle than I had for them. But fortunately they were helpful in finding my modest accommodations and providing input on the road and the penguin preserve a few hours outside of town at Cabo Virgenes — my next destinations.