Day 91 -94: 29.3. - 1.4.2009
Porvenir - Ushuaia

Tierra del Fuego ! And sick..

Fu…That is bloody cold here in Porvenir, my entry gate to Tierra del Fuego. A current daytime temperature around 5°C which feels more than -5°C because of the strong cold wind does not invite for a long walk around the village. At least I can survive the few minutes outside to see the plaza and the tourist-info board with information on the area. Motivating climate information I find here: “The winters are cold and long and the summers are cold and short. Spring and autumn do practically not exist.” Great. I must have just missed the non-existent autumn. Tomorrow on the bike I will probably wear all the clothes I have with me.

That was not a fun night that I had before coming over to Tierra del Fuego. Since yesterday afternoon I have problems with my stomach. I have basically spent all afternoon and evening in my room in the hostel. I needed to run for the toilet frequently and wanted to be close. Also I couldn’t sleep well at night. I am glad that today is a simple transfer day only. The ferry takes me from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in 3 hours. The trip clearly qualifies as very bumpy. The waves in Magellan Strait are high and the ferry, although huge, does move very significantly. Even the windows of the passenger section high up above the water get wet. Wow. Fortunately my stomach is not in a critical state anymore and doesn’t start complaining about the shaking. As I want to recover from my weakness (except two dry pieces of bread I haven’t eaten since 24 hour) I check in to a hotel (thank god they have one here) and will spend an easy day with reading and relaxation. Tomorrow I should be fit again to start my Tierra del Fuego attack by bike

Old habits

“Which room is quieter? Where is less noise from outside?” The hotel lady looks at me with bewilderment while she shows me the two options that I have. “You are in Porvenir. Every room is quiet here.” Obviously. Of course she is right. The few hundred or thousand inhabitants here for sure won’t disturb me in my recovery sleep. Sometimes the old habits still break through, even if they do not apply in that end of the world. I am sure she has a strange opinion of me now. And rightly so. Well, doesn’t matter. One more or less doesn’t change much.

Back on the bike

I had to take that decision earlier on my trip already: Cold or wind? Again I decide for the cold, which means that I get going early in cold temperatures because I hope for the wind to sleep a bit longer than I did. And today the assumption is right. At least with regards to the wind. It is not so strong in the morning. Good. The rest of the weather did not comply with my wishes though. During the first three hours I find myself in heavy snow showers two times. The hills around me, barely a few hundred meters high, are covered in snow from the night. Now there is a little addition to that and it comes down on me as a mix of snow and hail and rain. Nice. I keep going anyway as I expect that this might not change dramatically over the next hours, at least I see a big risk of getting into something like that sooner or later. So why not getting done with it now straight away. The second part of the ride of the day is much more appealing to my senses. I have now reached the drier eastern part of Tierra del Fuego and it is sunny and I enjoy a strong wind in my back. It is cold still though. At least one thing that is consistent in the weather down here.

The bug is back (never went away really?)

Although I felt pretty good in the morning, I even had some buns for breakfast as the first serious meal since 1,5 days, I now have to admit that this bug doesn’t seem to have gone completely. It is afternoon now and I couldn’t eat a thing yet. Even the drinking doesn’t work well. My stomach feels like one big balloon that cannot cope with any more to eat or drink. And this although I haven’t filled it since a while now (except the breakfast buns). That is strange. The worst thing for my biking is of course that I cannot get energy from food. I feel weak. I also begin to dehydrate seriously. Not good. Anyway. Let’s make use of the strong tailwind and sunshine, finish the day as good as possible and try to rest well until tomorrow for the next stage. That’s what I do. After 7 hours on the bike and 155 km I check into the hostel de la frontera in San Sebastien, right after I passed the boarder into Argentina again. I fancied a bed for my recovery rather than the tent in the cold and wind, hence the day on the bike took a bit longer. Honestly, I am very tired now. Literally empty, no energy in my legs left. Almost shaking I passed through the customs before I checked into the hostel. There my strategy to refill my energy reserves is simple. As I still cannot eat I should try with drinking as good as possible. Hence I buy a 1,5 Liter Fanta bottle and drink this one bit by bit. This will help against my dehydration and at least gets my blood sugar level back to normal. Tomorrow morning I will need a good breakfast to start with at least partly recharged batteries again. I want to reach Rio Grande, the next bigger town tomorrow, as this would be a much better place to stay for a few days to recovery rather than here in the middle of nowhere.

Tough day

I will do the 80 km to Rio Grande today. There is no alternative. No choice. With or without food. The wind will be more on the favorable side than against me, so I should be able to make it. Unfortunately my stomach doesn’t allow for much food. Exactly one bun is what fits for breakfast. Yesterday evenings headache (I guess due to dehydration) is gone but my legs feel awfully weak. They even hurt when bending down to close my shoes. My plan today is to survive on liquid energy as this is the only thing my stomach seems to accept (with limitations). Packed with a few Fanta cans I set off. Slowly but steadily I move forward. As I had a relatively early start again (cold vs wind question again) I manage to reach Rio Grande around 1.30 pm. At the city boarder I am greeted by Omar, a 74 year old Argentinean cyclist on a mountain bike. He visits his daughter and wanted to exercise a bit. He invites me over to their house to a cup of tea. Nice. That is exactly what I need now. Omar is a passionate cyclist. He does bike touring and is incredibly in shape for his age. We spend an hour or so chatting before he escorts me into town to the hostel I have chosen from my Lonely planet guide. A cheap but acceptable place downtown. There I take a shower and lie down on my bed to think things through.

The situation

What is the situation? The remaining 220 km to Ushuaia will be mainly into a headwind (in case there is wind) and quite hilly on the last stretch. At least one smaller mountain pass has to be managed in the end. All more than feasible under normal conditions. I still haven’t eaten properly yet though (since 2 days) but did 235 km on my bike in the last 48 hours anyway. And I feel it. I feel empty, my legs hurt and my stomach feels blown up although it should be empty. The proper conclusion should be that I need to recover first before I get on the final stages to Ushuaia. But then, do I really want to stay here in Rio Grande for a few days? It is not that nice here. Not much to do here. Basically nothing of interest. That would be a waste.

The options

What are the options? Option 1: I could stay here in Rio Grande until my stomach is back to normal, I feel better, have recharged my batteries and am ready to go to Ushuaia by bike. No idea how long this would take really. The days would be wasted somehow. Option 2: I could keep going by bike anyway, trust that somehow I would survive and make it to Ushuaia in the end and then recover there completely. Hopefully I would not suffer irreversible damage to my body or brain.. Option 3: I could respect my body’s sings but try to find a way to use the time for something interesting rather than wasting it here in Rio Grande.
And this option is what I will chose. Number 3. I am simply too impatient to sit here and do nothing. But also this time I will be wise enough to not overdrive without respecting my body’s signals. Lets see what this can look like.

The solution

This is what I will do. It is all sorted and booked after a quick walk in town already: I will take the bus to Ushuaia tomorrow morning (a pity but bottom line a good move I think). I will stay in Ushuaia for 1 day and then fly to Buenos Aires for 4 days, to cover the coming weekend. I will hopefully meet Rodrigo and Andrea (my two lovely travel encounters) again, see a soccer match of Boca Juniors or River Plate and explore this city more in detail. Once being so (relatively) close this is a great opportunity that I should not miss. Then I will come back to Ushuaia early next week in time to spend 2-3 days in the Tierra del Fuego National Park for hiking & biking. Then I will board the cruise ship to Punta Arenas on the 11th. I am happy. A great solution. I am looking forward to this. It is the opening of a very diverse last stretch of my journey which will be almost completely without biking but instead packed with travel highlights of another sort. Sounds like a good balance in the end.

Ushuaia

That is a fantastic scenery that I am driving through here on my way to Ushuaia. I am in the bus but still I can see what is going on around me, fortunately. The west of Tierra del Fuego is significantly more hilly and green than the east, which consists purely of plain and boring pampa. The mountains I am facing now are already covered in snow and the trees and vegetation has begun to change into the autumn dress. There are so many colors in the forests now, it is unbelievable. This seems like a hundred different variations between green, yellow, orange and red. Fantastic. A great view. This part of the earth is definitely worthwhile visiting just for this view alone. I have read in my travel guide that the colors were supposed to be awesome here in autumn and that was not exaggerated at all. I suddenly feel pity for red-green color blinded people who might come here on a vacation in autumn and who can then not fully appreciate this beauty (not sure why I have that though but I have it while sitting on the bus and watching the colors). The town itself seems ok. I will check that out a bit later. One thing I note quickly though is that fantastic bay view that I can enjoy from the top floor of the hostel. It oversees the bay, harbor and the mountain range on the other side of the bay. A nice view indeed. The bad news is that my stomach just doesn’t move. Doesn’t want to get better. I have now gone to a pharmacy and bought some vitamins and some enzymatic and natural digestion enhancers. Lets see how that will work. I definitely hope it will help. Currently even the few steps up to the hostel top floor are an effort for me. Not good. I would like to do at least some easy hiking tomorrow but shouldn’t do that without at least a bit of food and energy back in my body. Tomorrow I will know better.

An interesting addition. The Argentinean soccer team is just losing 5:1 to Bolivia in the world cup qualifiers (70th minute playing). Hence the hostel is in a difficult mood now. There are mainly Argentineans here and they are not happy. They have already found the reason for the disaster though: The match is being played in Bolivia at 3000 meters altitude and the team did not have time for proper acclimatization. I will observe how long the sad mood lasts in a happy hostel like this one here.

Getting better

I am getting better again. I have had some literally small signs of digestion again and my appetite comes back slowly. The enzymatic medicine that is supposed to stimulate my digestive tract seems to work. Eating is getting more enjoyable again and I am now looking forward to my trip to Buenos Aires. In a day or two I should be back to normal. I will meet Rodrigo to see a soccer match with him, we will have good food (parillas!!!) and he will show me around the city. Super. I also did a bit of walking around town in Ushuaia today and realized how beautiful the scenery is with the snowy mountains all around. I wonder whether I should do two days of winter camping in the Tierra del Fuego National Park after my return from Buenos Aires next week. Combined with some good hiking in the snow that would be a real highlight down here in the end Weather permitting and if I still feel like it then I might do it.

The professional pool player

“Do you play pool?” The guys around the pool table ask me when I walk into the hostels lounge to read a book. “What do you mean? Never heard of it? Is it this thing with the balls and the table here?” I respond in turn. They start smiling. “Okay, he is the man we have been looking for.” They have been looking for a partner for Johnny in the pool tournament they are about to start. Johnny, an Irish “fu..ing mean pool player” (I do recite another one of the players here), needs a playing partner who has no clue of the game in order to keep the result of the tournament at least a bit open. I am happy to accept the offer and enter the games. Everybody around me is drunk and in an extremely happy mood. There are loads of empty beer bottles all around. Johnny can hardly speak anymore but his pool game is still impressive, surprisingly. Maybe it works like with the professional dart players who need a certain level of alcohol in their blood to hit their targets well. Our first game is a huge success and big shock to the rest of the teams. I have basically cleaned off most of the table all by myself. I didn’t even need much of Johnny’s help. One shot after the other I make the balls fall. Then very calmly I even finish the black one off in the end. Shocked faces of disbelief all around me. I enjoy that. Of course my pool game normally is certainly not better than average. Just in this first game I have definitely had a lot of luck. And I made it look professional and easy. Some people are amused (Johnny and the other Irish around), some are rather not amused (mainly the French delegation). Anyway. Johnny and I have fun. We win all of our games except one (although I could only enjoy this one lucky game of mine) and I have a good pool evening to register rather than another reading night. The only bit that felt strange was to be between al the drunk people in a completely sober state. I hope I can usually articulate myself better after a few drinks than these guys could last night. Irish accent and alcohol level together made them almost incomprehensible for me.

Las Malvinas - The Falkland islands

“It is very easy. It is as if somebody comes along, takes your bike and then says it is not yours anymore but his now.” That is the explanation I get from an Argentinean after I inquired a bit more about the annual celebration of the end of the Falkland war from 1982, which Argentina lost to England. I have to admit that my knowledge about the Falkland history is very limited - I have to do some serious “Wikipedia-ing” here – but somehow this explanation seems to be a bit oversimplified to me. If I am not mistaken in my current knowledge the Falkland Islands have been in various hands but almost never in Argentinean ones in history. The current Argentinean government renews the official claim for the islands to the British government on a yearly basis but I believe the reason is mainly the geographical closeness to the islands compared to other countries, especially the UK rather than a historical claim. Anyway, the 2nd of April is the day that the celebration happens in Argentina. In some cities is a full public holiday, with all shops closed, nobody working etc, In other cities it is only a somehow incomplete public holiday, just some shops closed, people still working etc. But for sure everywhere around here you see loads of flags, monuments, troops parading etc. This is because Tierra del Fuego (especially Rio Grande) has been the base of the Argentinean troops during the time of the invasion and war. Interesting to see and worthwhile to follow up a bit more.