Journey to the end of the world

This entry covers the last leg of cycling in South America – the journey to the ‘end of the world’ (‘fin del mundo’). Ushuaia isn’t actually the end of the world, but it is the southernmost city in the world, hence ‘fin del mundo’.

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Having finished the Carretera Austral, our intrepid group of 10 cyclists had to catch a ferry to the border with Argentina. We had the choice of two ferry companies. A local had advised us to take one company over the other. Unfortunately, when we got to the port, we saw how small our boat was, compared to the other option. Yes, ours was the little grey one. We weren’t confident about getting 10 cyclists, their bikes and their bags on the boat. Somehow they managed it and we were on our way.

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My bike had a prime position to get a thorough soaking as we sped our way across the lake. Even at this speed, the journey lasted 3 hours.

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The ferries only take bicycles or foot passengers, and the border is still a difficult trek from where the ferry lands. For this reason the standard advice on blogs is to try to build a team. Our team began to show its strength as soon as we were loading and unloading, with a ‘human chain’ being far more effective than everyone trying to take their individual bits.

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The first part to the Chilean exit post was relatively benign (not that we knew it at the time). It was a tough climb, but we arrived at the offices without too many problems.

As only hikers and cyclists use this crossing, they had built some rustic bike racks. It was good that our bikes could also enjoy the spectacular view.

DSCF0319It was after this part that the fun started. The trail is not maintained well, not that it was probably ever adapted for cyclists anyhow. We were lucky that it was dry, but even then we had to work as a team to get everyone to the Argentine border, which is 5 kms after the Chilean post. For once I was at a disadvantage with my beast of a bike, because of the weight and how low the front panniers sit.

 

But we made it, humour intact, and in time to catch the next ferry, with the weather seemingly threatening a turn for the worse.

 

Arriving at the other end, it was getting late and we had about another 3 or 4 hours cycling to the next town. 4 of us decided to carry on, rather than camp on the shore and run the risk of having a very wet night (I am a total fair weather camper if I can help it!).

Finally getting to El Chalten at 10pm, we were cold, a little wet, and absolutely starving. Thankfully we were able to rectify that soon enough, as the Argentinians eat very late. Given that we had now left the terrible food in Chile and were back in Argentina, there was only one choice of restaurant – a ‘Parilla’. Argentinian steak and red wine restores the soul pretty quickly after the hardest of days.

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This part of Patagonia had a couple of lovely towns, and is very much a holiday destination for Argentinians and Chileans alike. It’s also the gateway to the mighty Perito Moreno glacier, which was a truly awesome sight.

 

Mount Fitzroy is the famous peak by El Calafate. I didn’t get to see the peak until leaving the town due to cloud cover when I was there, but it was spectacular to look back on it.

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This was another stretch where the Patagonian winds impacted on riding. As I left El Calafate, I had 80 kms or so of tailwind, meaning I completed the stretch in under 3 hours (despite taking plenty of pictures). But at the end of that stretch, I had to turn into  alternating cross- and headwinds. You can see in this picture how suddenly the landscape had changed, and there was just nothing stopping the winds.

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I had to battle to reach the next shelter, a restaurant on an otherwise deserted stretch. I was relieved to meet two other cyclists, Sylvia and Matt, who knew I was coming up behind them and had waited. This meant we were able to cycle together in formation, alternating the person at the front taking the headwind. Not much further and we got to a group of abandoned buildings where we planned to stay for the night. As you can see from the picture, I had now got to full ‘hobo’ mode, and was pleased as punch at how luxurious our abandoned restaurant was. Most importantly, it gave us shelter from the hammering winds. Note the cyclists’ graffiti, which covered the walls in all the buildings, detailing people’s travels.

 

Wind was to be the dominating challenge of Tierra del Fuego, and many days it was necessary to leave at the crack of dawn (or even before) to try to evade the gusts. Some stretches had no wind protection apart from storm drains, which made for impromptu lunch spots if you didn’t want your food blown away. Two friends from the tour, Jake and Rox, even had to sleep in one for a night because they couldn’t make their destination due to wind.

 

The cycling community has organised itself well, and details of abandoned buildings or other shelters that offer protection are widely shared.  A relatively new addition to the offering is an old police station that is in a perfect location for stopping overnight on one route. It came complete with tell-tale signs of its former life – boot polish, as well as an ink-pad for official stamps!

 

 

The worst day of wind came on a day where I was cycling with Travis and Michaela, a couple from the United States that I had been cycling with. It got so bad that we had to push the bikes in formation, trying to make headway. Riding, as you can see in this video, was impossible. We had to push the bikes like this for 20 long kilometers. It was insane.

 

As I headed further South, there was another crossing to Chile in order to travel to the Torres del Paine national park – said by some to be the jewel in Chile’s Patagonian crown. Whilst the approach was atmospheric, the famous mountains weren’t visible due to cloud.

The bad conditions didn’t stop the buses unloading at the viewpoints though. It was funny to be there before they arrived and then watching the people pile out. Everyone takes pictures like mad for five minutes (view or no view), climbs back on board, and then peace is restored. Until the next bus….

 

The day that I left the park the clouds cleared, and I finally got to see what the fuss was about.

From here it got progressively less inhabited as I travelled South. The distances are big between towns, with nothing to see on the gravel roads apart from entrances to farms, the buildings often so far way that you couldn’t see them from the road.

 

Suddenly I found myself with just a couple of days to go until I reached my destination. But not before I’d made friends with a gorgeous street dog. Despite their fearsome reputation, I’ve been lucky not to have any major problems with dogs here. And this one decided he wanted to tag along for a while. He ran with me for over 5kms, before eventually heading back from whence he’d come.

 

As I got towards the end of the world, the landscape became suitably impressive again, sadly also with some equally suitable apocalyptic weather.

 

The last photo was in fact the final climb before I was able to drop down into Ushuaia. The hail gave way as I descended, and, all of a sudden, I found myself at the famous sign marking the end of the world.

7000 kms of pedalling since Colombia, and I was there, at the end of my road.

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From Ushuaia I flew North to Buenos Aires, where I’m now relaxing and enjoying the city (whilst my bike remains in its box). From here I shall be flying to Madrid next month, and plan to cycle home to Berlin from there.

The cycling in South America has been everything I’d hoped for and more, whilst the kindness of the South Americans has been remarkable. It’s been a blast.

Love to all, and thanks for being with me on the ride.

Stuart

 

51 thoughts on “Journey to the end of the world

  1. Remarkable blog, Stuart. I mean truly remarkable. I take my hat off to you. But how are you ever going to settle down to ‘real’ life after all this? Let me know when you’re passing through Aquitaine.
    Best wishes,
    Paul

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  2. Wow – truly amazing

    Well done Stuart – it’s been fantastic reading your blog and following your adventure

    Happy travels !! Colin

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    1. Cheers Colin! Rather bizarrely (and very worryingly), I had a dream last night where I was applying for a job back in the network. Before the interview however, I had to write out my address using pen caps. Go figure….. 😉

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  3. I am so glad that you have cycling companions in tErra del Fuego, the most desolate part of the world. The memories of your day-by-day achievement will carry you into the great future, which you so rightfully deserve. Cycling from Madrid to Berlin sounds so anticlimactic…we are looking forward to humbly shake your hand. George

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    1. Thanks George. Yes, having buddies along the way was great. Frankly, there were days where I’d have given up and stuck my thumb out for a ride had it not been for others to share the battle against the headwinds! I’m really looking forward to a slow ride back – European cycling has some great advantages, not least of which being the availability of cafes at intervals less than 200 kms a time! I’m very much looking forward to seeing you both too. Look after yourselves in the meantime, S

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  4. Stuart, admiring your incredible stamina in that wind and your anti-spoiler discipline, although we emailed with each other long after this chapter! I’d still be stuck in that storm drain. Jeremy

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    1. Cheers J. The wind was indeed insane, but all part of the fun I guess. It’s not as though I hadn’t been forewarned! Setting off again after lunch is never fun, but leaving the drain was positively painful 😉 See you soon, S

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    1. Thanks Ronnie – good to know you’ve been accompanying me on the ride; thank you. Not sure travel writing would be for me, but would seriously consider cycle tour guiding – that might be ideal. Let’s see – will have to start thinking about it soon! Best, Stuart

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  5. There is not much to say anymore they all said what I would say – it is amazing what you accomplished – I am also wondering how do you find your way back to normal life?
    We are waiting for you and hug you, after so long and going thru so many experiences – take care on your way back from Madrid to Berlin love, Gerda

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  6. Thanks for letting me see your journey. It’s been inspirational and I enjoyed seeing it all immensely. Best of Luck in all that you do in the future…If you ever are in the neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, you have a place to stay! Hope to see you again someday.

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    1. Hi Shira – it was a pleasure – thanks for sticking around for the ride! You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m still telling everyone I meet to head to Colombia. In fact, two friends are setting off from Medellin tomorrow. Thanks for the offer, will let you know if I’m ever over your way! Best, Stuart

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  7. Yours is an incredible achievement Stu. Honestly, such fortitude and openness to adapting to every challlenge and everyone you have encountered along the way. I look forward to hearing about the Madrid to Berlin final leg home very soon. Packing my bags this end. Less than a month to go! I am loving the prospect of back to back summers 🙂
    Sue

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    1. Aw, thanks Sue. It’s been amazing – I’m truly lucky to have been able to live my dream. Hurry up and move to the UK – they need an influx of sane people at the moment! See you back in Blighty – I’ll look you up when I’m over. Lots of love, Stuart x

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  8. Lieber Stuart, erst mal herzlichen Glückwunsch, dass Du es bis zum Ende der Welt geschafft hast! Die Apokalypse war Dir auf den Fersen, aber am Ende wird doch alles gut. Wir freuen uns, Dich dann im Sommer wieder in Berlin zu begrüßen – mutmaßlich ohne Bart :-). LG Rainer und Susanne

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    1. Hi mein Lieber! Danke Dir – schön, dass Du auf der Reise ‘dabei’ warst! Und ich freue mich auch auf das baldige Wiedersehen. Und keine Sorge, mein Bart wurde nach Ankunft in Ushuaia ziemlich schnell entfernt 😉 Liebe Grüße an Euch zurück, Stuart

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  9. Stuart,

    Congratulations, an incredible feat. I have really enjoyed the travelogue across South America and the great photos. Watch out for the idiot car drivers on your way to Berlin!

    All the best,

    Roger

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    1. Thanks Roger, really good to have had you accompany me! It’s been amazing – so so lucky to have had the opportunity. I’ll be steering as clear of white van men as much as possible. Whilst the driving here can be pretty bad, at least it’s not intentionally aggressive. That’s certainly one aspect of Europe I’m not looking forward to. But thankfully there are many other things that are far more positive! Best, Stuart

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  10. Hemos disfrutado de tus hermosos comentarios en tu fascinante viaje por Sudamerica. Feliz regreso a Europa, que disfrutes de tus cafecitos y continua realizando tu sueño. Un fuerte abrazo de Carla y Carlos

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    1. Gracias mis amigos! Estoy muy feliz que pueden seguir mis viajes en el blog. Voy tomar un cafe y pensar a ustedes dos cuando estoy en Europa de nuevo 😉 Argentina fue increible – el pais me gusta mucho, y comenzó con mi visita a la finca! Un abrazo a ustedes tambien, Stuart

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  11. an amazing achievement Stuart, I’m full of admiration for your spirit of adventure; your wonderful travelogue has been a joy to read over the past few months. I’m sure it won’t be too long before you’re planning another extraordinary trip, please keep the blog going when you do!

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    1. Thanks Damon – great that you could join me – and I hope it won’t be long before you’re undertaking a similar adventure?! I’ll be keeping the blog going for the Europe leg, and yes, beyond that too for other trips. There are a few left in me yet! Best, Stuart

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  12. Stuart I have followed your journey and especially your gift for telling the story illustrated with amazing photographs – you have a talent for sure.
    There’s always another adventure beyond the horizon !

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    1. Aw, thanks Liz. Glad that you were able to share the experiences. There are indeed many other adventures to be had. Question is, how to work out the order in which to undertake them?! Lots of love to you over there, S x

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    1. Guess it’s all relative. Compared to the other countries I visited, there were many things where Chile just couldn’t compete. But it’s all relative and let’s face it, not everywhere can have the friendliness of Colombia, or the food of Argentina. But when it comes to nature, Chile was truly blessed! Cheers, Stuart

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  13. Hi Stuart, what a fantastic adventure you’ve had and which I’ve loved reading about. I’m kind of sad its over!! Your photograpy is awesome, the landscapes you captured more so! Thanks for taking me on the journey with you (from my armchair, office & train) The question is – what next!!!??? Catchup sometime soon. Be careful, Matt X

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    1. Thanks Matt – you’re not the only one who’s sad it’s over! But then again, it’s only the South American bit that’s come to an end. You know better than anyone that a few delights still await me in Spain. And no doubt there will be other adventures on the long ride home from Madrid! Looking forward to the long overdue catch-up too. Best, Stuart

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  14. All looks incredible Sty…even the beard 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you soon. Loving reading your blog over the months…it has motivated me to walk in some of your steps……not cycle x

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    1. Thanks Fi. Glad you liked the beard – from the comments I’ve had, others are clearly not so sure 😉 I’m looking forward to seeing you soon too – and we can talk about where your travels should take you! Lots of love to you over there, X

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  15. Stuart

    What an amazing blog with some outstanding photographs. A truly epic adventure.

    I think you should plan another epic journey. You will not be able to settle into the daily routine after this journey.

    I think you should plan another epic journey and write a cycling solo book at the same time. I a mirror sure many would follow in your footsteps.

    Shame you areatthe end, such great reading.

    Very well done for making the adventure safely.

    Lots of love

    Lorraine and Emma
    Xxx🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊🍷

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    1. Hi there you two! Ah, thank you. It’s been great to share some of the adventure with friends. And don’t worry, there are a few more trips in the planning stages already. Whilst I haven’t decided what I want to do for future work yet, I’m certain I want to keep on doing big chunks of travel, so guess that’s going to limit the options somewhat! There are still a few blog posts ahead for his journey – I still have the ride from Madrid to Berlin to do, so will keep snapping and writing. Lots of love to you both, Stuart xxx

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  16. I cant believe it is coming to an end.. I am going to miss your updates. Have a great final part to your epic journey….

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    1. Thanks Denise. I can’t quite believe it either, but all good things I guess…… There will still be a few updates yet from the European leg, but guess they won’t be quite so exotic! Maybe you should kick Simon out of the house to join me for a couple of weeks?! Lots of love to you both, Stuart

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  17. Stuart, there is a podcast called “Dirtbag Diaries” where people are interviewed who have accomplished amazing types of trips to wild places. Outside Magazine named it the best podcast. It would be amazing if you contacted them and told them about your trip as an idea for a podcast. I would love to listen to it. If you do this, let me know the date of the podcast so that I could download it and listen!!!

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    1. Hi Shira, good to hear from you. I’m pretty sure there are many people with far more interesting tales to tell than mine. The 75 year old French woman cycling the Carretera Austral for instance! Content with keeping it at the blog, and glad that friends were with me on the journeys. Hope all well over there, S

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  18. Hi Stuart: Thanks for sharing the blog. Little I read so far it seems incredible trip. Hats to you. Before you started I was planning to join you for a month or so now seeing how tuff it was glad I didn’t. Now you must do this kind of trip in Pakistan then I might join you. Again no promise since I am chicken😃😃😃

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    1. Thanks Salman – it was indeed an incredible trip. Trust me, having huffed and puffed beside you on the climbs in the Margallas, you’d have no problems! I still remember the utmost respect I had when we were out cycling together during Ramadan. How you managed to go the day without water I’ll never know. As ever, good to hear from you. Please say a big hello to all the Critical Mass Islamabad crew – you guys are legend. Best, Stuart

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  19. Hi Stuart, enjoying catching up with you Blog, amazing photos of fantastic places! Hope you are well and it’s good to see you are tasting some very nice red wine along the way!
    Michele

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  20. Hey Stuart, with some delay: Extremely amazing! Unbelievable pictures! What a huge achievement! Enjoy the Madrid-Berlin ride! Best wishes

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    1. Hi Soenke, thanks for the message! It was an awesome ride through South America – even better than I could have hoped for (and I already had high expectations!). The ‘European leg’ is going well, although of course generally slightly less spectacular. It’s good to be back though. I’ll be passing through Hamburg on the way back to Berlin, so I’ll be sure to say hello to the city for you! Hope you’re both well and all going well in your new venture too. Best, Stuart

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  21. OMG Stuart this is so amazing!! Congratulations, looks like you had the most incredible time, loved reading about it all – from your little Colombia Immersion friend Ella X

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    1. Hola Ella! Good to hear from you, and to know that you’ve been with me on the ride! Yep, I had an even more incredible time than the pictures can capture. Simply awesome. And so very glad that I took the Spanish lessons before setting out! Hope all well in your world too? X

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