We have arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the World, known to many as “The end of the World.” Although the road continues a bit further beyond the city where a few tiny villages can be found and an occasional ferry can be taken to islands further south than here, this is the ending point of our South American bike tour. It truly is amazing that we made it here given the amount of doubt and difficulties we faced along the way.

If I had to choose one word to describe the past 4 months it would be “challenging.” There was nothing easy about it, ever. We were terribly spoiled in the US with fabulous roads, comfortable weather, gentle terrain, endless conveniences and accommodating people and our biggest mistake was arriving in South America expecting a significantly down-graded, yet similar experience. This is, after all, an extremely popular place to bicycle tour, but how naive we were to think such things! It was an endless battle of extremes that tested us in every way imaginable. Physically we faced the daunting and often times, seemingly impossible task of crossing the Andes. There were climbs that were so insanely steep and long that it took us literally all day to complete one mountain pass. Socially it was challenging not knowing Spanish, making it impossible to have conversations with locals and whenever we tried to ask questions, rather than getting a simple answer to the simple question that we asked, like how many kilometers to the next place we can fill up water, we'd get a lecture where there was never any mention of a distance of any sort that lasted 15 minutes and we didn't understand a single word spoken to us. But most of all it was a test of our mental toughness. Dealing with the monotony of the endless, barren landscapes, injuries, grungy, run-down towns in disrepair, crummy roads, the lack of fresh fruits and veggies, insane winds, swarms of tabanos, the unavailability of showers for weeks at a time and an overall, ever-present feeling of discomfort really takes a toll on a person's mind. It will drive you crazy if you let it. There were many battles that we lost, situations and circumstances that brought each of us, at times, to utter rage, tears and wanting nothing more than to flat out quit. Fortunately we complimented each other perfectly. When I was screaming and crying about something that I hated or my incompetence at riding off road, Mike was calm, let me blow off my steam and reassured me that by slowing down we'd make it. When Mike was fed up with the tabanos, wind or was finally taken to his breaking point with dealing with the washboard roads, I had come to accept those obstacles and was able to keep my cool while he questioned our sanity.

There were many, many times we both were almost certain we wouldn't make it to Ushuaia. There was too much stress, all too often feeling miserable and not enough fun, comfortable and easy moments. I don't know why there is such an allure to ride to Ushuaia, but there is. That and our stubbornness kept us going and we're happy we didn't break down, give up on South America and go somewhere else or give up on bike touring altogether and go home. There are many things from our time here that I will not miss. I am more than happy to be getting away from the incessant honking horns and outrageous driving; cars in the cities speeding through intersections, honking instead of slowing down, terrifying truck drivers, whom my hatred intensified towards daily, whizzing down the highway without moving over and blasting their horn right when they were even with our ears. I will not miss the lack of fresh food available to markets. We ate a ton of carrots, potatoes and onions, which was essentially the only “vegetables” available. It amazed me that we could walk into a grocery store and find crates full of wilted produce, looking like it had been sitting in a compost pile for a week, far beyond the point of being consumable. Also the fact that the prices of things were never posted, anywhere, so we were never certain that we were paying the same price as the locals or paying double because we were tourists. People here love their televisions and radios and they want the whole world to hear it. Whether we were in a restaurant, store, someone's house, on a bus or in a hotel, one or the other was always blaring at a deafening volume, so loud that it was difficult to have a conversation with someone standing next to you without yelling at the top of your lungs. It drove me crazy that there was never silence. We will not miss the inconsistency of information. Ferry or bus timetables would tell you departure dates and times but when you'd arrive, ready to go, only then would you be informed that the ferry wasn't running that day or it was leaving 10 hours later than posted. Or it just didn't show up and there was never an explanation. Then there were the road signs. We'd pass one that said the next town was 150 km away, the second we'd pass would tell us it was 98 even though we had only gone 10 since the last sign and the next could quite possibly state it was 200 km to the town. What the heck? Who's taking these measurement and putting up these road signs? We never knew when we'd get the next town and our map wasn't much better at providing that information either. The final thing we won't miss is the lack of cleanliness and state of disrepair of this place. At one time, streets were paved, sidewalks were made, buildings were newly and nicely built with functioning and clean facilities. But it seemed as though that was as far as anything ever went. They were built and then left to break down and deteriorate without anyone ever paying attention to them. Streets were crumbling, sidewalks had gaping holes, covered by a an old sheet of plywood waiting for someone to fall into, businesses that were jam packed full of customers, clearly making a profit, yet every surface was so grimy that you didn't dare touch anything, showers didn't drain, doors had broken handles and the list or simple repairs goes on, leaving us wondering why nothing was ever maintained.

Of course there are plenty of things we will miss as well. We will miss the reasonable prices of everything, a few dollars could go a long way. It wasn't insanely inexpensive to travel here, but more so than in the US and probably anywhere else we decide to go. We will miss these lemon cookies we discovered in the supermarkets. They were crunchy yet melted in your mouth and every time we found a market that sold them, we'd stock up, buy 4, 5, 6 packages and uncontrollably chow through them in no time. They were oh-so good! I will miss the panaderias, the smell of fresh baked bread and buying homemade bread almost daily. South Americans love their bread. And then the avocados to go with it. We've never had such consistently perfect avocados, nor have I ever consumed so many of them, eating them almost every day of our trip. But mostly we will miss the vast openness, the rural and undeveloped land that we rode through. It was wonderful being able to ride for days without seeing more than a few houses spread over the plains, or through the mountains where there are no people, only wild, untouched nature, pristine, quiet, vast and beautiful.

Now that we are done cycling here, we've had some time to reflect back on the experience, look at our pictures and remember our journey through South America. Like any endurance activity, the path to the finish line is often long and painful, forcing you to question why you would willingly put yourself through such torture. But then you achieve your goal and realize exactly why. The undesirable moments quickly fade, you forget the times you were miserable, or at least in retrospect they don't seem all that horrible and you realize just how far the human spirit can be stretched. All that remains are the millions of times we smiled and laughed per every one bad experience, the fabulous memories of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and the invaluable lessons we've learned about ourselves, the world and life. We've asked ourselves if we'd recommend bike touring in South America to other people or if we, ourselves, would do it again. The answers are yes, in a heartbeat. However, I would recommend doing things a little differently than we did, like riding a mountain bike with front suspension and beefy tires, learning to speak Spanish (very well) before starting out because it will make the whole experience much more rich on a social and cultural level, sticking to safe countries because there is a direct correlation with safety and enjoyment and most importantly expecting and accepting the fact that it will not be easy or comfortable.

So here we are the finish line of another chapter, in somewhat of a state of disbelief, thrilled to have made it, in ways sad that it's over yet terribly excited about the next phase of life on a bike. We have another month remaining in South America where we will travel without our bikes with Mike's parents (we're looking forward to cruising around in a car for a while!) and then we're off to Japan to continue the bicycle tour in a world very different from where we've been these past few months. So stay tuned...the adventure goes on.



We took our fourth and final ferry across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas to Tierra del Fuego which will be the final segment of our South American journey.  Once again we were the only cyclists on board and have been surprised at the lack of bike tourers we've seen along the way.  We were expecting to see hordes between the Carretera and Ushuaia but have only briefly encountered about 2 dozen, all but 4 heading in the opposite direction as us, which only gave us the opportunity to chat and exchange logistical information for a few minutes before going our separate ways.  

We were not entirely enthused about riding Tierra del Fuego because of the abundant bad reviews that had been passed on to us from other cyclists heading north.  "It is nothing but pampa.  There is nothing; no houses, no people, no trees.  Pampa, pampa, pampa.  It's horribly windy and the section of road that's gravel is crap." (Finally someone told us a gravel road was is a condition other than "good.")  Needless to say, with reviews like that, we arrived to the island with pretty low expectations.

Much to our surprise we found Tierra del Fuego to be an incredible section of riding, which undoubtedly had a direct correlation to the weather.  I'm positive that, had we been riding in the other direction, we too would have felt frustrated and miserable, looked bedraggled and had an opinion similar to everyone else who had to battle the wind across the pampa. Warm, sunny days and a wind that, more often than not, helped us more than it hurt us, made the gravel road seem not too bumpy and the endless pampa seem pleasant and beautiful.
Trying not to get blown off the sign.

The western side of the island was extremely desolate with very little traffic and only an occasional rancher's house set way off of the road.  There were a whopping 2 clusters of trees in the first 150 miles and we were smart enough to stop at the first one we saw to camp rather than pushing on and ending up unable to find a place out of the wind.  Other than those groups of trees, the pampa was an endless vista of rolling hills, small shrubs, rocks and fields of grasses of varying shades of yellows, greens, purples and reds that contrasted beautifully with the brilliant blue sky, made a soothing swooshing sound and looked somewhat like a choppy, though mis-colored, lake on a windy day.  We saw more guanacos on Tierra del Fuego than we've seen on our entire trip.  Herds of them could be spotted, often times very close to the road and those that didn't take off running towards the horizon as we approached either stood frozen and stared at us or galloped alongside of us, parallel to the road, keeping pace with their awkward gait until they got bored and watched us disappear over a hill.
Cari on the pampa.

We had very interesting and noteworthy accommodations for our middle 3 nights on the island.  It is half Chilean and half Argentinian and by the time we reached the Argentine border crossing the wind was howling, we were told there was nothing for the next 60 miles, we knew we couldn't make it to the next town and so we asked the border patrols if we could camp there.  They were wonderfully friendly, showed us to the waiting room which was complete with bathrooms and a kitchenette and told us we could sleep there for the night.  It was perfect so we set up our tent inside the room for a little privacy from all of the people going in and out all night and called it home.
Camping at the border.

In the town of Rio Grande we found a couchsurfing host to stay with, enjoyed the luxuries of a shower, bed and kitchen and were hugely entertained by 18-year old Miyan who is a magician.  He's the only one on the island and a rather good one as well.  We're looking forward to seeing him again in Ushuaia where he works at a bar that we'll have to visit for a celebratory drink.
Miyan, the magician.

About 100 kilometers from Ushuaia there is a little village called Tolhuin.  We had seen signs for its panaderia (bread shop/bakery) ever since leaving Rio Grande and were also informed by other cyclists that it's a must stop.  Having a desired destination made for a somewhat long day of riding by the rewards at the end were well worth it.  We could smell the fresh baked bread wafting throughout the streets long before we arrived.  Inside was packed with eager customers checking out the room filled with various tropical birds (very random) and buying homemade chocolates, pastries, empanadas, cookies and breads.  We indulged ourselves in perhaps a few too many empanadas and treats but they were so good we simply couldn't resist.  The owner of the baker is a cyclist himself and though there is no advertising, only word of mouth, he has built a small bunk room in one of his warehouses where bike tourists can stay for free when passing through.  We parked our bikes in the store room amidst the 110-pound bags of flour, boxes of cooking oil and shelves of eggs, sugar and various other baking supplies.  Next to the bedroom was one of the kitchens where someone was frying empanadas for most of the night so we got to enjoy the fabulous smell of fried food as we drifted off to sleep.  The hospitality was fabulous, the staff was extremely friendly and even though at that point there was plenty of trees and opportunity for wild camping, I would highly recommend staying at La Union Panaderia for the night.

Staying at the panaderia.

As we continued to ride southward and back west towards Ushuaia the terrain transitioned from pampa to patches of moss-covered trees to big mountains and forests.  Our final 2 days (which we turned in to 3 days because we're so far ahead of schedule) were absolutely spectacular, rivaling the beauty on the Carretera Austral.  Tierra del Fuego has been spectacular and an awesome place to end our South American bike tour.
 Nearing Ushuaia.



Not long ago we were worried that we were going to be rushed getting down to Ushuaia with enough time to take in the sights before Mike's parents arrived at the end of February. Apparently we picked up our pace because we found ourselves in Punta Arenas a couple of weeks ahead of schedule with only 300 miles of riding remaining. Our last few weeks have been extremely lackadaisical, sleeping in late, quitting early in the day, napping, taking frequent rest days and trying to stretch out these last miles so we don't end up waiting for a week or more in one place. After being in constant motion for so long, never stopping for more than a day or 2 in one place, being stationary for any longer than that makes us bored and antsy. We are now wishing we had taken more rest days to explore some of the areas further north and relaxed and slowed down considerably along the Carretera Austral when we were feeling frustrated, but we had no way of knowing how timing would pan out and in the end it's much better to be ahead of schedule than behind and feeling rushed.

We spent the better part of last week in Punta Arenas at a hostel near the center of the city which also offered cheap camping in their front yard. It was youthful and lively with travelers from all over the world sharing adventure stories as well as the owners and all of their buddies partying until the wee hours of the morning. Although it was crowded not only with hostel guests sharing a tiny kitchen and 2 bathrooms but also all of us who were crammed on the lawn, no one seemed bothered by the constant commotion and we found it to be an entertaining place to spend a few days. The town itself was decent sized, located on the Strait of Magellan but there weren't many touristy things to do other than check out the trinkety little shops and visit their cemetery. Indeed it sounds like a strange thing to do, but it was quite interesting and significantly unlike any cemetery we had ever seen. The graves were all above ground, grouped together by families or lifetime professions, such as law enforcement or military, within buildings that were much more elaborate, fancy, decorated and better constructed than almost any house, store or restaurant we've been in in South America. The stark contrast between the cemetery and the world surrounding it were simply fascinating.
Camping at Hostel Independencia. 

Punta Arenas cemetery.

We took a break from the city for a couple of days and did a short out-and-back 100-mile trip to the southernmost motorable point on the mainland continent of South America. It was a spectacular ride along rolling coastal hills, past the old fort of Fuerte Bulnes where Chile organized and executed a fleet to claim the entire Strait of Magellan as their territory, through some tired little fishing villages on the edge of the world to the end of the road. The road went from wonderful pavement and progressively worsened as we went along, turning to a dirt path spotted with mud puddles of increasing frequency and size to 2 sandy, often unrideable, tracks that eventually dead-ended on a beach. At that point, the only way we could have gone further south on the mainland would be to hike. It was cool to stand there, think about where we were on the globe and really realize for the first time just how far we have ridden our bikes.
An old ship in the Strait of Magellan.


 Cari at the gates of Fuerte Bulnes.

Mike at Fuerte Bulnes.

 Cari dodging puddles.

 The end of the road.