[Jeff] We'll make this a fairly short post, since we are so close to Ushuaia and everything went smoothly the last few days.
The Ferry from Punta Arenas runs once a day, at 9:30am, we had to be there an hour before it left which was no problem since it was only a 5km run from our hotel. We arrived in plenty of time and went in to the office to pay. It was CH$11,500 for each of us (around AU$25). The loading process was pretty slow, it's a 2 deck ferry, but in the end we were ushered forward and squeezed in a gap next to a truck. The deck hands were very professional and carefully braced and strapped our bikes down even though the sea was calm. The crossing takes 2 hours, inside the cabin was packed, hot and steamy, Sally braved the ticket system to get a coffee (where you take a ticket and wait in line for the staff to get you a coffee from their vending machine). We went and sat outside, it wasn't that cold and besides you get to see seals, birds and dolphins on the way. On landing at Porvenir, the unloading was quickly done. Nothing much to see or do there so we took off for the Argentinean border towards Rio Grande.
On the Chilean side it is gravel road all the way, 140km, but it was hard packed and easy to ride. The scenery at the beginning was fantastic as the road undulates along the coast of the Straights of Magellan, rising up and winding along clifftops and then dropping down to the beach. Here we get our first glimpse of the Andes, rugged snow capped peaks quite close and we are so happy to have something to look at after thousands of miles of flat plains.
We arrived at a cross roads in the gravel and stopped for a short break and chat to some Brazilian riders that had also stopped there. 50Km further is the Chilean border where we are stamped out and hand back our TVIP (Temporary Vehicle Import Permits), then we ride 15Km, (still on gravel) to the Argentinean border where we are stamped in and get new TVIP's. The 15Km in no man's land is noticeably worse with severe corrugations, wheel swallowing pot holes and big mac sized rocks. The border crossings are all easy and costs zero, but when passing into Chile vehicles are searched, mainly for fruit but also anything undeclared. We take about an hour on each of these border crossings, The road from the Argentinean frontier is now back to sealed and we head into Rio Grande, our destination for the day.
This is it! The final leg to Ushuaia. The first 120km is back to flat, open plains, the Andes are over the horizon somewhere and we just have the wind to constantly battle against. We stop in Tolhuin for lunch - there is only the YPF petrol station but it'll do. Shortly after leaving Tolhuin the road winds past Lago (lake) Fagnano and the landscape begins to change. We see trees (we get very excited about trees, again it's something to look at). Then the Andes reappear, suddenly close and we are right among them. We pull over for a photo shoot with the bikes and as I look into the hills I spot the road which threads its way through them - it looks incredible.
The road lives up to expectations, just brilliant! Twisties, sweepers and hairpins, hardly any traffic, dry, sunny weather. The only problem is choosing whether to concentrate on the road or become distracted by the snow covered peaks and lakeside scenery. This continues all the way to Ushuaia, which is where I'll leave this post and we'll pick it up in the next one.