(January 3– written by Dave)
We had mostly quiet night in the Argentina border station. The lights in our room stayed on all night, trucks and cars continued to pass through the Argentina country exit just outside our door and people kept trying to use the waterless toilets throughout. But it was actually pretty quiet. All three of us slept well – Nancy and I and Marcel.
When you sleep in a different place every night, strange noises can interrupt your dreams and really confuse you. Last night it started raining on the metal roof of the building but it made a sound that confused both Nancy and I. We independently thought that it was the hot water heater in the room starting up (remember that there is no water) and that it was going to blow up, or we’d all die from the carbon monoxide poisoning from the gas running and the heater not working. This went on for seemingly hours with neither of us figuring it out until this morning when we were awake. We were both surprised that our individual paranoias were actually shared.
We were up early, at 5:30, and it was still raining. Our room was warm but it was cool outside. We decided to go ahead and get ready to ride thinking our day would be a long slog. Marcel hardly moved until we were rolling out at 7:15. Luckily by the time we left, it had stopped raining and wearing our rain booties ended up being complete overkill – we had a 100% dry ride all day. We didn’t take our booties off until we were almost to Rio Grande – no sense in messing with the rain gods. And it wasn’t every overly hot so our feet weren’t sweating.
There was a small hill heading out of San Sebastian, followed by an equally small downhill on the other side. Other than that, it was very flat all day; flat wide open Tierra del Fuego steppe to our right; the flat, featureless Atlantic Ocean to our left. The flat steppe proved a little tiresome as no hills meant that the slightly southwest, but strong wind, hit us more or less side on for the majority of the day. With nothing to block the wind, it gusted through trying to push us into the traffic lane all day. There was so little traffic however, we didn’t get overly worried and even spent most of the day riding in a stagger (echelon) to help each other.
There was not much to see today. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a tree or even a bush more than 1 inch tall. When Magellan and the boys first came here, the native’s fires on the island caused them to name the island Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). I’m not really sure what the natives would have been burning. If it were trees, surely there would still be the odd tree or stand of trees. It just doesn’t seem possible that every last tree would have burned – perhaps it’s more due to climatic changes over the last 500 years. Happy to hear from any budding anthropologists out there who have ideas…
We stopped for a late morning tea at a closed weigh station. We’d ridden about 55k but couldn’t really have stopped earlier as there was no place to get out of the wind. We’ve spent a lot of time on this trip sitting beside road works buildings to eat or get out of the elements. The photo below is nothing fancy but it could have taken almost any day on this trip. You can’t see the wind trying to knock over the building we are sitting next to.
Close to Rio Grande we stopped for a quick look at the Salesian Mission. The mission is not that old – only having been founded in 1893. I have really mixed feelings about the mission. Today the mission is billed as an educational, cultural and historical complex. They have a school that makes hand goods and grows fresh foods – providing jobs and opportunities for young people on Tierra del Fuego. The original purpose of the mission, however, was to settle and “civilize” the native Selknam peoples. There are some historic views that say that the mission protected the Selknam from genocide – protected them from gold prospectors and more so the ranchers. “Protection” came with strings – that is, convert to Catholicism, give up their culture, religion and way of life. Anyway, they have some nice looking buildings and are probably doing more good than harm today.
We arrived in town just before noon and starting looking around for a cafe where we could grab a bite and figure out where we’d stay tonight. Just as we were getting close to the centre, Marcel rolled up behind us. Together we found a place to eat and sorted out lodging. Marcel was heading for a hostel, we found a nice apart-hotel. Overall, after such a gloomy start, the day turned out pretty good – even with normal Patagonia winds, we stayed dried and got one day closer to the finish safely.
Our apartment-hotel is called Himmel Blau. We were thrilled to check in and get a hot shower. In fact having no running water the last two days, just turning the tap on was great. Flush toilets, a shower, drinkable tap water – ah, normal life. We’ll be here for two nights. Rio Grande looks interesting enough, plus we can’t get into our lodging in Ushuaia until the 7th.