Roadtripping: stranded at the beach

On a beautiful autumn day I pack some clothes, arrange camping gear and some food and set off for a mini road trip to Cabo San Pablo. I’ve been there before, and it’s a beautiful place to go back to. These days, when autumn is progressing, the trip on route 3 through valleys Tierra Mayor and Hermoso and over the pass Garibaldi is even more beautiful than on any other day. It’s the height of the autumn, and the warm colours look striking against the clear, blue sky. Not getting this opportunity every day, I can’t help but make many stops along the way to capture the scene.


The enormous Lake Fagnano is blue, calm – nothing like its usual self – and surrounded by forest and mountains.  It’s the first time I see it this beautiful. Usually it looks like a wild, grayish sea. I drive up to the viewpoint on the road to Laguna Blanca. The road is small and climbing through a forest of narrow trees in a mix of green, golden and orange colors. Once up, I get a clear view of the valley below, abundantly covered with lenga trees, partly demolished by overly enthusiastic beavers.

As the days are getting shorter rapidly, I have to keep going to make it to San Pablo in daylight. About 25 kilometers beyond Tolhuin on the asphalted route 3 is a turn-off for Cabo San Pablo. The gravel road A is in good condition, if you disregard the potholes. I leave the mountains behind for a while and make my way on the meandering road through a steppe valley, with small hills and typical Fuegian forest, passing estancias and cattle. I always enjoy driving the steppe; To others it may seem like an empty, barren landscape, I know the steppe comes alive if you’re willing to see it.

Being slowed down avoiding potholes and by some cattle and guanacos close to the road, I get to San Pablo when the sun has just set for the day. It’s quite clouded by now, and it’s getting dark soon and cold too.  Up from the road I see Desdemona, the shipwreck down below in the San Pablo bay. This is where I set up camp, in the little dunes on the edge of the beach. It’s ebb-tide, and although I can’t see well in the fading light, I think I’m on the safe side of water flooding. I’m not giving it too much thought either, fixing the tent in the car lights. Once everything is prepared for the night, I make some tea and eat a picada of chunks of cheese, salami and brie while crawling deeply into my sleeping bag.

The night is freaking cold, but I survive. Three layers of thermal underwear, a liner, a down sleeping bag and a fleece-and-wool cap could not keep me warm. At 7.30 a.m. I really have to take a pee, which I delayed for way too long now. I peek through the outer tent and the hardship is soon forgotten. I smile the smile of sheer happiness. This is what I came here for. It is even better. Through the high grasses in front of my tent, I see Desdemona resting in the sand, dark against the sky, still before sunrise. It’s almost like I am watching a film still, with black strips up and under, sky and sea, and a striking image of a ship against a grey and red horizon. It’s breathtaking.

Sunrise on a freezing Cabo San Pablo morning

Suddenly very awake I crawl out of my sleeping bag, put on as many layers as I can over my thermal wear, put on boots and gloves and set out to take some pictures. It is cold. I can only guess how cold by the sight of my frozen tent, the frosty grass and the hard soil under my feet. Desdemona just lies there, her feet still dry while the tide’s coming in. I walk around the ship. Her rusty hull is colored red by the rising sun, not yet to be seen. It’s still quite dark. My feet and fingers are lightly frozen too by now, but I can’t keep from watching the ship changing colors with the light. The scenery is amazing, with a stone and sand beach, sandstone cliffs, grassy dunes and the occasional light of the lighthouse up the hill overlooking Cabo San Pablo. When the sun finally rises, it’s nothing less than perfect.

Now cold to the bone I head back to the tent, heat water for a strong coffee and prepare a hot meal of oat, milk and banana. Covered in sleeping bag and clothes, wiggling my toes, I watch the day taking off, the tide rising fast and the clouds coming in.

Desdemona at sunrise
Waiting for the tent to defrost… Amazing sunrise view of Desdemona at Cabo San Pablo

Once the tent is defrosted, I pack all the stuff in the car and drive a bit further on gravel road A. The road is going up and behind me still lies the rusty shipwreck, now once again surrounded by water, in a landscape of steppe and coastline, cliffs and grasses, trees and stone beaches. On both sides of the road there’s spooky trees, yellow, orange and red colored, with long, hairy mosses hanging from their branches. Below is a broad steppe valley, a river running through it. With the sun coming through the clouds at times, the woods show their magic and the landscape displays a beautiful golden glow. This is truly a wild and pristine place.


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