Tierra del Fuego “land of fire” in Spanish is a raw, harsh, cold and beautiful place. It got its name from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan when he sailed his boat by the island and saw the smoke from the indigenous habitants fires (these indigenous people who had lived on the island for over 6000 years would later become extinct in twenty years thanks to the British….). This giant island, separated from the mainland by the Straits of Magellan, has drawn explorers, pioneers and people making a living off the harsh land on their own terms away from civilization for centuries. It feels a bit like the wild west and after our week in Ushuaia we made a plan with Chloe and Toby to explore as much of the island as we could together.
We started by exploring the old estancia of Haberton which was established in 1886 where we found out you can free camp with permission from the estancia. Our goal was to drive through Haberton and keep following the road until we got to where it ended, the farthest south we could drive in South America. Driving this was really symbolic for us because we went to the northern most point of South America in Colombia with Toby and Chloe almost a year earlier. It felt so right to bookend this awesome trip with our California road buddies.
After a few amazing days around Haberton we decided to go in search of some ship wrecks on the coast. The drive through one old estancia after another was really beautiful and it seemed like we saw more wild guanacos on the estancias than sheep and cows. The coast all over Tierra del Fuego is undeveloped other than a few fisherman here and there, and driving down the dirt road and seeing the giant ship stranded on the sand was so cool. The rusty skeleton of the ship just sat on the sand as the tides went in and out around it. It was spooky and oddly pretty and was exactly what I imagined somehow when I thought of the wild seas at the end of the earth.
After our time at the shipwreck, we decided to try something fun. We read there was a very small border crossing where you had to cross a river to get from Argentina back to Chile. From there we planned to drive to the end of the road on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego which was much more rural than the Argentinian side. To do this we had to both max out our gas tanks and jerry cans because there were no gas stations for hundreds and hundreds of miles, luckily we both have after market gas tanks with long-range, if not, we could not have done this next leg.
The border to Chile was super tranquilo, our easiest yet and the river crossing was super easy because the river was low when we were there. We heard from locals that is can become impassable in rain, so it would be good to find out before driving all the way out to it.
We had no idea what to expect on this leg of the trip, and we were impressed by the beauty of the place. The only negative is that it is so undeveloped there are not many side roads (just the one dirt road) so the exploring is somewhat limited.
We were at the farthest point we could drive on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, we had limited gas and nothing was around us and Toby and Chloe’s trucks alternator failed. The alternator generates electricity to recharge the battery. Without the alternator the battery would not charge and their truck could not move. It was not good. However, it was lucky enough that we were with them and we could use our truck to charge the battery every hour or so. Not the most ideal situation when you are literally at the end of the South American continent, but worse case scenario we could tow them. We had enough diesel left so we decided to start the long two day trek back to Punta Arenas where the mechanic that fixed our clutch was.
On the way back to Punta Arenas we passed by more shipwrecks and beautiful old estancias from the 1800s. We crossed the Straits of Magellan on the ferry near dark and desperate for a wind free place to camp for the night the boys sent Chloe and I into the Navel Base to ask them if we could drive onto the base and camp behind one of their buildings. They said yes and we got to camp next to the water and watch Magellan dolphins play in the wake of the ferry.
After two days and I think about ten charges later we got Toby and Chloe to Punta Arenas safely and sadly said our goodbyes. They were heading back to visit all the national parks, we were heading back to Argentina to head up the long Ruta 3 towards Buenos Aires.