By Jenny (with photos and one video)
A very wet and windy day saw us back on the Atlantic east coast of Argentina arriving in Rio Gallegos and an uninspiring sleepover before the final push to our first border. Jim had been on to the internet to see if we could get any tips on the border crossing and came back to report that it gets extremely crowded on a Saturday and can take a good couple of hours to get through. At this point I had to ask what day we were crossing as days of the week have ceased to have any meaning. His look said it all, Saturday. So putting our patient heads on we set off.
We saw more traffic on the road than we had for many days, all going our way and outside the border post to get into Chile at Monte Aymond it was park your vehicle anywhere. No matter that you are completely blocking other vehicles in. It didn’t bode well for the inside of the building. The way in was locked so we all trooped round to the exit where a queue was out the door. However this was for stage two, so we squeezed in and joined the very long queue for stage one. We knew we had to fill in forms so while I stayed in the queue Jim went to fill in the forms. While he was gone, I noticed everyone clutching other small forms. What were they and why was there nothing on the walls telling you what to do. No matter, ask around and there is always someone who has a little English to match our little Spanish who will help and we found him. Leaving his mother in the queue, he took Jim off to find the forms and to explain the procedure to us, checking on us regularly to make sure we were ok. He was off to see his son play football in Punta Arenas. Forms completed, we waited patiently in the queue and observed what everyone else was doing. 2 desks to collect 2 stamps to get us out of Argentina and into Chile, then join another slow queue to get 2 more stamps to get Bertie out and in, then a final desk where we honestly declare we are carrying no fresh foodstuffs to get our final stamp and we are free to go and join the vehicle queue to get Bertie checked. We watch as they carefully check cars inside and out as there are heavy penalties for false declaration. While we know we have been honest, we are concerned about what they will want to look in as Bertie is packed in a very specific way and it is not easy to just look in a pannier. But of course that is exactly where they do want to look, but after seeing the struggle to get into one, they seem content to check the tankbag and side pouches and we are free to go. Our first border crossing completed in 1 hour 45 minutes. Result! Only a short ferry ride and we will be on Tierra Del Fuego and our final leg to the bottom.
66 km saw us to the ferry slipway. Our satnav showed us pulling up at the end of the road, then blue sea with a little ‘wave’ symbol in the corner. Bertie is brilliant but even he can’t ‘ride on water’ so we thought we’d wait for the ferry. Asking about it seemed it was due at 11am but this was debatable as the weather often disrupts the crossing. Eventually the ferry came into sight, sideways. The skill of the captain getting the boat in the correct position to off load left us completely in awe. He was battling a really strong side current down the channel. No time was wasted getting vehicles off loaded and we rode on and parked up in a sheltered corner amongst lorries, buses and cars, just one lone bike. Video link here http://youtu.be/S7PMw17XgqQ However it didn’t take us long to strike up a conversation with a couple from San Francisco who had just finished a bike tour of the region and were headed on a bus tour to catch a boat to Antarctica. So on the 30 minute crossing, sheltering from the wind, maps were again produced as they pointed out some great places to see and roads to ride. You just have to love other bikers. Somewhere along the line, no fares were collected so we reckoned that was our gift for the day as we set off again heading to Rio Grande on Chilean Ruta 257 (as Ruta 3 had temporarily become). We would pick it up again after the next border crossing. Pulling into Cerra Sombrero for fuel we were met with a single pump station and a sullen chap indicating no fuel. We were thankful that Bertie had a large tank and could get to Rio Grande, but smaller bikes would have had to wait it out till a delivery. The road to the border at San Sebastian was ripio, ripio as far as the eye could see and winds gusting at 70mph. Happy days.
The Chilean border was quiet and Jim left me with the bike to go and do the biz. He took my passport with him and amazingly they stamped me out without ever seeing me. 10 km of ripio further on we arrived at San Sebastian, the Argentine border post and thought we’d try our luck again. First we made the mistake of parking too close to the door by 6 feet and were sent back to behind the yellow line. So we didn’t hold out much hope for inside the building. While Jim was gone a bus tour was coming out and an older chap stopped to chat. He spoke no English and my Spanish it limited pretty much to necessities, but we passed a very pleasant 25 minutes talking about the bike and Ushuaia and he proudly showed me photos on his phone of his visit there in January with his mother. Boarding their bus, their tour guide got off and told me the chap wished us a great and safe journey. So I had a smile on my face when Jim returned and so did he as they weren’t interested in seeing me either before they let me back into the country. Ruta 257 was back to being Ruta 3, very comforting and away we went, pulling into Rio Grande to find that our destination of the Ruta 40 Hostel was also joined to an ice cream shop. Jim’s day was complete.