Roadtripping: to where the road ends (part 1)

I have a thing for maps. Looking at a map, I get this desire to explore its trails, to drive its roads, to get to know its landscapes. Looking at my Tierra del Fuego map, I set my objective to travel all Fuegian roads at least once. It’s just a desire, nothing obsessive – not to me, at least – but I really would love to.

The great island of Tierra del Fuego (Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego) is shared between Argentina and Chile. It’s about 48.000 km2 big (Wikipedia), which is slightly bigger than my home country (!). But today I call this island my home. And I am working on accomplishing my goal.

And so I packed car and tent, and once again drive the ruta 3 out of Ushuaia. Although I prefer to travel in daylight, leaving early evening allows for smooth going on the road and a smooth border crossing at San Sebastian. Unfortunately the latter was nothing but smooth; bored out of their mind at midnight staff decided to check the car in and out, and found our small stock of meat, sausage, cheeses, olives and onions, meant for two days of tranquil picnics and asados with a view. We enter Chile with a huge fine, a bitter taste and highly reduced ration. At about 3 a.m. we decide to call it a day and make camp in the middle of nowhere somewhere along the road in wind and rain. So much for the start of the trip.

Estancia Josefina
Very Patagonian view of estancia casco and truck against a beautiful sky

The best thing about arriving in the dark, is that there is always a surprise waiting in the morning. Once I woke up in between gas and petrol installations, and on another occasion my tent was just on the side of a mine field, with a warning sign in Spanish, English and German. Interesting. This morning we wake up on a typical plain steppe, neatly parked between the tirelessly ongoing railing and the gravel road, just in the backyard of an old estancia. Crawling out of the tent, three camper vans pass by. It’s a beautiful day, a bit of clouds and sun, not much wind and good temperatures around 13 degrees.

Driving a bit south near estancia Josefina I visit the Parque Pinguino Rey. It’s not a park (unless fences and entrance fee define park) and the fee is pricey for something that looks like a pop-up enterprise. It’s smart, however. On offer is a rare view of king penguins alongside the Strait of Magellan in a steppe and pasture landscape. According to a sign in the park, these penguins have been living here thousands of years ago and they came back. Numbers are growing, and for me, never having been this close to these magnificent penguins, it was definitely worth the visit.

King penguin
Rise of the king penguin

We continue driving meandering next or close to Bahia Inutil. Cameron, one of only a few settlements in the Chilean Tierra del Fuego, appears to be a tranquil, authentic little town with beautiful Patagonian homes. Here we go inland through a wide steppe landscape and pass a sign announcing the Russfin settlement. It has a hotel next to a construction site for timber processing, which convinces me that this is not so much of a touristic site. However, everyone is welcome. They even have a set menu.

At Pampa Guanaco the road divides, left going to the border with Argentina, right going to Lago Blanco and straight going further south. Lago Blanco remains for another trip (yeah!). At the local carabineros (police post) we inform about the border crossing at Rio Bella Vista / Radman. At first no-one attends, but in few minutes one of the carabineros – apparently on a break – arrives in shorts on a quad and tells us in typical Chilean staccato Spanish ‘no…. nooooo… no’. Meaning, with our modest car we can’t cross the river at the frontier. We doubt him and decide that this is a problem to be dealt with later*. First we travel south to go where the road ends. He asks about spare tires and continuously keeps saying ‘va a pinchar, va a pinchar, va a pinchar’ pointing at our tires. He explains that the road is basically volcanic stone. Once again we ignore his persistent pessimism…. and keep going.

Meandering road
The meandering road along Bahia Inutil

* The border crossing at Rio Bella Vista / Radman is open only in the summer months. We were advised that the river is usually low enough to cross from January to March. It was; go slow however as there’s many stones. Trucks or four-wheel drives should have no problem crossing at all.

Continue reading to where the road ends (part 2).


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