The fresh air. Vast open spaces. Golden pampas. Limitless horizon. And perhaps the most fantastic rugged mountains in South America. This is Patagonia. Centuries ago as European adventurers explored new lands tales spread of enormous indigenous people from the southern tip of South America. The stories propagated as explorers including Magellan, Sir Francis Drake and many others reported sightings of people big footed people nine-feet or taller. The origin and reason for the name Patagonia isn’t clear. Magellan pinned the moniker “Patagão” (or Patagoni) on these people, and it’s possible that this is derived from “pata” meaning “feet” So for many years, “Patagonia” was interpreted to mean “Land of Big-Feet”. Nevertheless, the name “Patagonia” stuck, as did the notion that the local inhabitants were giants. Early maps of this New World often label the area as regio exuberance (“region of giants”).
Riding through this part of the bottom of the world I found no giants. People that is. But the giants I encountered were those of spaces, mountains, winds, and distances. Yes, this is the land of the giants. And as a speck of something riding across these landscapes I feel small, rather insignificant and yet as I endeavor to grasp the reality of where I am and where I’m headed the exuberance I feel practically tickles my spine. The cold whipping wind a mere side-effect of what is an incredible high. Not that I haven’t been through more impressive scenery, or more exhilarating roads. Now this isn’t about the ride, the view or anything that I could describe as physical. Except the feelings are real. I’m here. And I feel as if the sky did end, there’d be someone gazing into a crystal ball and watching over me as I made my from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas. I craned my neck t take in the sky. It stretched for ever and in every direction. Who’s watching me? Why do I feel so good?
With Torres del Paine behind me I move toward the bottom of the continent. Construction on the road made the trip a bit longer.
This worker wanted her photo taken while straddling Doc. Her compadres whipped out a bunch of camera/phones for her.
They had to put something out here. So why not a monument to the glorious wind… most travelers pass by here at speeds so fast they miss it. Photo shot while riding!
I feel alone too. I’m surprised that I haven’t run into a motorcyclist since I left Torres del Paine. And there’s been barely a car on this long road. The wind wafts through the sun-kissed golden grass. I turn up the grooves of J.J. Cale, Mark Knopfler, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Beck and more for a change. A new soundtrack other than the wandering thoughts of this lone rider making his way to the bottom. I find myself passing what is a monument paying homage to the Patagonian winds which are playing with me as if my 500 pounds of flesh, metal and worldly possessions were a feather in a strong breeze. I dare to stop for fear of being tossed over by the ubiquitous and famously muscly gusts. So I do the insane anyway and whip out the camera for a try at a one-handed shot at speed. Perhaps my way of laughing back at the wind or simply a stupid chance to try to capture a feeling that can’t be expressed in megapixels. Yet I zoom on.
In this part of Patagonia there is nothing to spot the wind. For hours I haven’t seen a tree. Yet the first sign of human life I see are a couple trucks hauling logs from must have been massive trees. My mind wanders. Then do my eyes. Where are the trees? Where did they find them? Who cut the majestic beauties? Like some sort of distorted mirage or bad dream. I saw no trees yet I see trees. I haven’t seen anything that would resemble a factory that would process such giants, but yet there are two trucks on the side of the road carrying the biggest logs I’ve seen since riding through British Colombia last summer.
Patagonia. Nothing. Everything. Someone is looking at me through a crystal ball. The skies go forever.
Maybe I’ll wake up from this dream. Or maybe not. Yet, soon I’ll be at the bottom of the South American continent. The bottom. Sure. There’s more to go. But Tierra del Fuego and the bustling port of Ushuaia are even lower, but it’s an island. Soon the only thing separating me from that land of fire will be the Straits of Magellan, the most important trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific until the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 and a sailors refuge from the forbidding waters of the Drake Passage just south of Tierra del Fuego.
As I roll into the Chilean settlement here at the bottom of the world, I’m soon flanking the famous Straits where 583 years ago Magellan and his crew passed gazing upon what they thought were giants and plumes of smoke from wild-burning fires. Land of Giants? Land of Fire? I can feel it.
Loggers? Where did they come from? Where will they go in Patagonia’s nothingness.
Cold and grey skies blanket the Chilean seaport of Puerto Natales.