Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego

Published on 17 January 2020 at 10:35

We start at the beginning and that is the longest day of our lives: a 40-hour day. In the evening at 8 pm (New Zealand time) we board the plane to land in Buenos Aires after 11 hours on the same day at 4 pm (Argentine time). We had thought to spend the 11 hours of flying asleep, but that didn't work at all and that is largely due to Game of Thrones: the entire last season can be viewed on board. At Ezeiza airport it is extremely busy with (foreign) holidaymakers, which puts us in a extreme queue for passport control. If - like in a theme park - there were signs with the expected waiting time, we would enter at the sign 'from here about 2.5 hours', but we still get lucky, because behind us in the queue is a couple from Eindhoven (around the corner where we uses to live) and we chat for 2.5 hours about our travel adventures. After 3 months in Australia and 2 months in New Zealand (just like us), Bram and Nicolina will now be traveling in South America for another six months. Just like us, they stay in Buenos Aires for a few days and then travel on to Ushuaia in the far south of the country.


After the extremely long queue, we connect to a relatively short line for a atm and then in a really short line to order a taxi. We keep the bikes in the boxes and that means we need a larger taxi and we have to wait an extra hour for that. It is already 9 pm when we finally arrive at our apartment in the popular Palermo neighborhood. The apartment is very nicely furnished and we can connect our telephone to a sound box and switch on the Top2000 on the Dutch radio. We immediately feel at home. Not much later we sleep wonderfully, but the jet lag got us big time. The time difference of 16 hours ensures that we wake up terribly tired in the morning, like to take a nap during the day (morning / afternoon / evening, you name it) and cannot get to sleep in the evening. Staying up until noon on New Year's Eve is no problem this time. Last year in Myanmar we did our very best, but we did not reach the "moment suprême", now Harry is wide awake till 6 o'clock in the morning.


Actually, it's a pretty boring thing to celebrate New Year's Eve in an apartment in a residential area in Buenos Aires and we probably need to blame ourselves. The popular way to celebrate in Buenos Aires is to eat at a restaurant (reservation is necessary) and then see the fireworks from a sky bar in the center. But no  restaurant for us. When the last sounds of Queen's, the number 1 of the Dutch Top-2000, dies away and the radio counts down, it is 8 pm. The television only has Hollywood films that are synchronized in Spanish. We cook a tender steak in our apartment (which cost almost nada her in argentina) and combine it in an Italian way with spaghetti, rucola and fake Parmesan cheese and for dessert there is dulce de leche ice cream. At midnight we of course kiss each other and drink the bubbles that the owner of the apartment has left for us for the moment. From the balcony we see a fireworks show from somewhere in the center above the skyline, but after a minute it stops. Elsewhere sporadic an arrow flies up and lights the sky, but soon it is quiet again like the night. 


New Year's Day is an all-day-asleep-day, the jet lag and the long sleepless night are taking their toll, but the days after that we wander through the city like real tourists. We walk for hours through fun Palermo, we try the free EcoBici bikes, we take the metro and we rent bicycles. The "Paris of the South" leaves us with an impression of a city that had its best days some time ago, with the exception of Palermo. Many beggars, many vagrants, a lot of dog shit, many disappeared historic buildings in favor of terrible cheap residential towers, a lot of overdue maintenance in the public space and the buildings. The parks are well cared for and exude allure. What is also admirable is the cycle path network that makes it easy and safe to find our way through the cities. Every intersection is marked on the corners by cafés, bakeries, lunchrooms, shops, you name it. And all those statues, what a grandeur and you find them everywhere ... except the one of footballer Lionel Messi, that statue is demolished: only his feet and the football can still be seen.


EcoBici, a nice system, but unfortunately it doesn't work

Image of Rodin's The Thinker

The widest residential street in Buenos Aires and even in the world

Plaza del Mayo

Tomb of Evita Perron

Bicycle rental in Palermo, number 1 users? Yep, Dutchies

Brutal tackle on Lionel Messi: chopped off halfway the feet


On January 5 we reluctantly leave the lovely and extremely cheap apartment and fly on to Ushuaia. Just before landing we see the snowcapped peaks and our hearts start beating faster. At the airport the bicycles are finally allowed out of the box, we screw them together in an hour and we cycle a few kilometers to the city. We are immediately introduced to the strong wind, together with a few drops of rain while the sun is shining and a difference in temperature of about 20 degrees compared to Buenos Aires. Around the village we see pointed mountains and there is still snow on it. The mountains are around 1000 meters high and it is here mid-summer, but not really tropical hot; the average temperature here does not exceed 10 degrees Celsius in the summer.



We will stay in Ushuaia for a few days and once again have rented a cheap apartment through Airbnb. Much less nicely decorated than the one in Buenos Aires and a little shabby, but it doesn't matter much. We have a roof over our heads and when it is dry we are quickly in the atmospheric center of the town. Harry is celebrating his birthday here, which means that another steak is bought at the supermarket and an Italian primi and secondi meal is prepared that we serve in a Dutch way in one course. The best quality beef (Lomo) cost about US$ 10 per kilo and that is really cheap. Yes, Argentina is a meat-loving country.


It is Harry's birthday and we celebrate that (nice and close together) with an Argentinian steak, or an Italian fine and second on one plate!


In the meantime we almost lose ourselves in the Spanish lessons on our phone. It is useful to be able to speak Spanish and we receive so many compliments from the Duolingo app that we suspect that we already know excellent Spanish until someone starts talking to us or explaining something to us. We are definitely not there yet, but in a year - probably when we will be cycling out of Mexico - we will probably be able to do a lot better in Spanish. Not worries: the communication is already a lot better than before on our trip with our (lack of) knowledge of the Bulgarian language, Turkish, Hindi, Burmese and Thai.


Our intended departure from Ushuaia is delayed by one day as we demolish a bolt on Roelie's bicycle. We want to tighten Roelie's drive belt and for that four bolts have to be loosened. It is the last one that does not want to come loose and is damaged. There is nothing else to do than engage an expert to drill out the screw. Due to the earlier extreme circumstances during our trip, the screws - which we never touched before - have dried out, expanded and salinated so much that they become stuck. The one-day delay eventually becomes a three-day delay when Roelie's back pain takes on such a form that she can no longer put her socks on her feet, let alone swing her leg over the bar of the bicycle. Eventually we move twice to another place to stay, until the back is okay. Of the five full days that we are in Ushuaia, it rains four and storms three, and when the clouds show us a glimpse of the mountains around us, we see that they are all covered with a fresh layer of snow.


But on the day of departure, the sun is shining! Before we turn our back on Ushuaia, we first cycle on the boulevard and we pose for a moment at the large letters of Ushuaia on the harbor. After the photo session we really stand on the pedals and turn our wheel to the north.



The first stage takes us to the next town: Tolhuin at more than 100 kilometers on Isla grande de Tierra del Fuego, or the main island of Fireland. A Portuguese explorer called it so because at the beginning of the 15th century he saw from his ship fires burning off the original inhabitants. Since the end of the 19th century, the archipel has been divided between Argentina and Chile. There are actually only three (real) towns on the Argentinian part of the main island, next to Ushuaia and Tolhuin you have Rio Grande. On the Chilean part you only have Porvenir, so in total only four towns in an area larger than the Netherlands. But we estimate that life can be quite tough here: cold, long winters and short wet summers and (almost) always that strong wind to storm from the west. We are not bothered by this in the direction of Tolhuin: the temperature is quite pleasant and Tolhuin is located northeast of Ushuaia, so the (today calm) westerly wind blows us in the right direction. The stage is quite nice, the mountains around us are not very high, but rough and beautiful with the remaining snow from last winter and the fresh snow from the last days. Every now and then we have to climb a bit, but we cycle to the top of the first pass, the Passo Garibaldi. Along the way we meet six cyclists, half cycles in the same direction. With only one we can talk for a while, on the one hand because he is parked at the pass and jovially approaches us, on the other hand because he speaks English well.


Meeting with an Argentinian cyclist on the Pass Garibaldi


Tolhuin is a peculiar town. It looks a bit shabby, rough and pioneering. But there is also a creative atmosphere. The campsite where we will pitch our tent is a good reflection of this. It is a chaotic collection of buildings (kitchen, toilet block and a lot of wind shelters for tents and barbecue spots) that all consist of recycled material, mainly wood and metal, but also plastic and glass. Creative and nice to see, but on the other hand not really practical and certainly not to keep clean.

It is weekend and we see families that we expect to be partying tonight. We would rather not be too close to them. On the advice of the camping bosses we choose a place in the shelter behind a fence. The bosses, father and son, say that the families will leave before nightfall and there will be no partying with music. That happens at another campsite down the road. If only that were true ...

We quickly set up our brand new tent. At least that was the plan, but the untrained setting up of this tent is not yet plain simple. Once it is up we are very satisfied with our new house. Around midnight the neighbors return to their tent, which is on the other side of the fence, and until 5 o'clock the boys keep drinking, laughing and making a lot of noise. Father camping boss apparently has been sent by someone the next morning and comes by ten times to apologize for the nighttime nuisance, while waking up the young lads from their 3-hour sleep and ordering them to leave.


The cozy, but not so functional kitchen at Hain @Tolhuin campsite


We start the good part of the second day of cycling at the famous Panaderia La Union, a bakery. The cyclist we met at the top of the pass yesterday had tipped us to spend the night here as Emilio, the owner of the famous bakery, also hosts a casa de cyclista. However, we wanted to try out our tent and now we have a look and buy a few sandwiches and empanadas for the trip today. The bakery is open 24-7 and we are almost shocked at how busy it is inside. There are at least 50 people waiting while we did not encounter a singel person on the street on this Sunday morning. After eating a sandwich we spur the bikes and blast out the first 40 km in no time. After that we are seriously stopped by the swelling wind and it continues to work against us for the next 70 kilometers.


Shortly thereafter, the warning sign for crossing alpacas is followed by a crossing group, one of whom keeps looking where the rest is


On long, flat sections we cycle no faster than about 7 kilometers per hour. The leg muscles are pushed to the limit, while the arm muscles try to keep a straight track, between roadside and passing traffic. The good news is that we can continue to cycle and at 7 pm we reach Rio Grande. A little bit earlier we caught up with a cyclist from Serbia, who indicates that she has walked 20 kilometers because of the wind. We chat a bit, but we yearn for a hot meal and hot shower. The wonderful summer weather this morning is already miles behind us and cold rain hits us almost horizontally in the face. We drive through Rio Grande, which almost seems to consist of ugly factories and large-scale retailers. The center also does not deserve a beauty prize and appears to be devoid of hospitality and hotels. After some wanderings, we are pleasantly surprised that we see a branch of "Tanta Sara", a bar / restaurant that we know from Ushuaia and where we drank (good) coffee if we had to wait when changing accommodations. The meal of the day is a hamburger XL and is eagerly eaten by us. In the meantime we see that rain is forecast for two days and we decide to stay in Rio Grande and book an apartment.


It turns out to be a good decision because it is indeed raining continuously for two days. Even just shopping is so bleak that we thank ourselves for the luxury of a roof over our heads. However, we are seeing more calamity in terms of weather forecasts. The next 4 to 5 days it will rain less but a stormy wind of 50 km / h is announced both day and night. The wind comes straight from the west and that is precisely where we want to go. We have to cross a bare plain without any facilities or shelter to get to the Chilean town of Porvenir. Punta Arenas is across the street from Vuurland and the boat from Porvenir to Punta Arenas is not sailing in a storm. Harry, the biggest headwind hater among us, does find information about a bus to Punta Arenas that runs a different, much longer route. Opposite the apartment it appears that the bus terminal is located where tickets are sold. We brave the inclement weather and cross the street and buy two tickets for the bus.


We feel pretty guilty about choosing to take a bus. But the choice soon turns out to be a very wise one. The wind develops as predicted into a real western storm and the driver has difficulty keeping the big bus under control. At border controls, which are some ten kilometers apart, frayed flags are stiff with wind. Bye bye Argentina, for now then, because we will return a few more times on our bike tour through the Andes to the north. And hello Chile, you are already the 30th country that we visit on our bike ride. We are very curious about you!


During the otherwise boring bus trip and looking back at Argentina, we think it's time for a new list: the 'noticeable / remarkable' top 5. What surprised us about Argentina?

  1. The Argentinian banks with their ATM are thieves. You can only withdraw a maximum of 5,000 pesos (€ 75) and you must pay 680 pesos (€ 10) commission there without exception; that is almost 14% !! Together with the € 4 that our own bank charges us per transaction, it means that you pay € 75, but are almost € 90 poorer. We must therefore pay as much as possible with bank or credit card, but there is also a special procedure for this: enter the PIN code, signature on the receipt, show ID and sometimes also write the ID number on the receipt...
  2. Sidewalks apparently have to be made by plot owners themselves. Not everyone wants to, not everyone wants to put money in it, everyone has a different taste and almost no one wants to maintain the sidewalk. The result is that you constantly walk on a different type of sidewalk, crooked sidewalk tiles, different widths and heights and regularly through the mud because the sidewalk is missing. Not ideal for people with mobility problems and sometimes laughable.
  3. They drive here on the right side of the road! That's weird, the last time we saw that was in Cambodia, about nine months ago. Harry is visibly having trouble with it, because in Buenos Aires he takes a seat behind the wheel of the taxi, wondering why those pedals are on the passenger side. The taxi driver is laughing out loud.
  4. They do not sell tomato paste here - we think we have not experienced this in any country before. For us, tomato paste is an essential product for our favorite single-dish dish at the tent: pasta. You are forced to buy a large package of tomato pulp: too large and heavy in our bag and too wet in the pasta. Oh yes, something different in the supermarket: milk and (drink? -) yogurt are almost without exception in 1 liter not lockable bags. In our opinion so incomprehensible impractical and illogical ...
  5. And then the key ... what an unmanageable, medieval rotten thing. The keyhole in Argentina is generally a wide horizontal slot. The key that must be in it looks like an old-fashioned key. That key does not fit into the slot, but disappears into it, both in depth and width. The result is that you look for depth and breadth by feeling or better luck while you keep turning the key. We have the idea that we have never been able to open a door within a minute.


Where were we? Oh yes, that wind that has driven us into the bus. Another sign that, even for this area, the wind is abnormally strong… .: the ferry for heavy traffic (buses and trucks) and on the narrow Magellaan strait (named after the aforementioned Portuguese seafarer) sails between Bahia Azul and Punta Delgada , has been taken out of service due to the storm! It is three o'clock in the afternoon when our bus drives past a long line of waiting trucks and other traffic and parks right at the front. But no ferry. Nobody knows how long this will take, nobody knows when the ferry can sail again. Nobody knows whether the high wind sensitive buses are allowed on board. The only thing we know is that what the weather forecast told us yesterday: this storm continues for days and nights. We now suspect that if we had entered the battle with this storm in that flat no-man's-land by bicycle, we would probably have really got into trouble.


Our bus in front at the non-sailing ferry service


But, against darkness and after waiting 8 hours, we see in the distance that a ferry is venturing on the crossing. Everyone in the bus is very happy and the bus driver switches on the engine. Due to the wind and the waves, the ferry is only slowly moving forward and it takes half an hour before it arrives on our side of the narrow strait. The joy turns to a new low point when this ferry only allows passenger cars, minibuses and motorcyclists. Shit, it's gonna take at least an extra hour if we can come along next time. But almost out of the blue an old barrel comes up. It has no deck, but only something on the side, so that it looks like a pre-war mini-air camp ship in the distance. When this barge moors, we see that there are almost a few trucks, some cars and a bus coming from within. The bus driver yells at us that we all have to leave the bus like a sodomist and storm the floating museum piece, so that he has a 'bridgehead' and motive to go after us with his bus (the latter he said not, but it is our conviction).
We are all crammed together (other buses have followed their passengers ahead) in narrow cabins. When the ferry starts to move, we assume that our bus driver has managed well. In addition to the creaking, vibrating and thumping of the machines, we can even have a nice conversation with a British couple who have just started a six-month journey through South America. Once across the street we are happy to see our bus and soon we are starting the last two hours of this remarkable journey.


At half past one in the morning we arrive in Punta Arenas, a large (> 130,000 population) and southernmost city in Chile. Although it is dark we see that the city is much more chic, cleaner and structured than the Argentinian cities (yes indeed, including Buenos Aires), which we have visited so far. In fact, we are only now realizing that we had expected the opposite.

In Rio Grande we have already booked an apartment in Punta Arenas via AirBnb, because we would we do not have a Chilean SIM card to be able to search on internet and then we no longer had to look for an overnight spot in an unknown city ​​in an unknown country. So the thought was ... The reality is that in the circumstances we are in (no possibility to call, text or email and arrive eight hours later), it is not convenient to book something in advance via AirBnb if you don't have a address, nor info on how to get the key. The English couple offers us a "hotspot" and we try to get in touch (calling, whatsapp, AirBnb-mail) with our host. In vain ...

Roelie suggests finding a hostel or hotel with a 24-hour reception in the center. Harry suggests to "sit through" the night somewhere and to contact the host again early in the morning. He thinks it is a shame to pay double for this half night. Discussing while cycling through the center, we end up at the front of a cozy full pub. A smoking girl at the door sees us doubting and immediately offers us help. She tries to call our host she recognizes, but he doesn't answer. Soon there are a few poor English-speaking young men around us and we try to get in touch with our host through their smartphones. Again in vain. "Where are we from? The Netherlands, Los Paises Bajos, ... okay, also (better) known as: Holanda. "" Huh ... Holanda!?! Amsterdam !!! ”It seems that every young person in the world has been naughty for a weekend in our capital.


The pub remains open until 4 am during the week and we decide to look up the heat and to discuss our options again while enjoying a beer. All the tables are occupied and we ask two young ladies if we can sit at the table with them: “Si, no problemo!” We are then approached pretty much by everyone. Not everyone is just sober, but everyone is genuinely curious and many also try to test their own English. Because of all this attention, but also because of the fact that the ladies at our table don't speak English at all, the contact with them remains flat. Until closing time, which unfortunately is 45 minutes earlier than the 4 am. When the café empties (no one gets annoyed and / or demands another round of beer) they see our despair: what are we going to do, where can we go? Together with a final and happy English-speaking guest, they try to find a solution for us, until one of the ladies - her name is Daniella - tells us that we are welcome to spend the night at her place. Vanessa, the other young lady, leads us to her car and starts to collapse the rear seats so that we can put the bikes in. Everyone enthusiastic, except Harry, who is the only remaining man who has the sense of space that this will never succeed. "Okay, no problem, just follow us," says Vanessa or at least that's what we think she is saying in Spanish. About fifteen minutes later and a few climbs, we park our bikes panting in the porch of the house of Daniella. A super cozy hour with YouTube music videos and beer will follow. What becomes clear is that we have met two wonderfully sweet, nice women! Just after five o'clock, it is already light outside again, Vanessa goes home, we pump up our mattresses and we agree to have breakfast at 11 o'clock.

The next morning we ask Daniella if she knows which provider sells SIM cards for tourist. She says "yo" what "I" means and picks two cards from her bag and shows us a jacket from where she works: Claro, a major provider in Chile. How funny is that? At around 9 am the Airbnb host has send the address and a telephone number. At 11 am Daniella goes out to get us breakfast first. Vanessa also comes over and we chat "in full" via Google translate until we say goodbye to these angels.


The ladies and the beer: Roelie with Daniella and Vanessa in Punta Arenas


What a wonderful heart-warming first (nightly) introduction to Chile! Hopefully this continues, because Chile is narrow but also very long and from Punta Arenas we will stay in this country for a few months (on a few d-tours through Argentina).


Well, this was a blog in which we only cycled two (!!!) days. Not normal. We hope that no one will drop out and promise that a lot of bicycle kilometers will follow in our next blog.