Porvenir east

Porvenir Man!

Porvenir, the main settlement on the Chilean side of the island of Tierra del Fuego, is an odd place. Originally founded by Croats in the late 1800s as a mining town, it is currently sustained by soldiers, prisoners, sheep, and tourists. It is the closet town to a colony of King Penguins, and to Yendegaia National Park at the south end of the island, but neither seems broadly interesting, and the town and its surroundings are somewhat bleak. From a distance it looks like a colorful Scandinavian arctic town, but up close it is mostly just bedraggled, and the “don’t do drugs” murals on the school hint at a high level of boredom.

Silhouette of Porvenir Man

The ferry across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas runs once a day at mid-morning, so rather than ride a half-day in mediocre weather to uncertain shelter, Robert and I split an AirBNB again, dropping our stuff to wander around town and try to find things to do. While I would not have wanted to stay for more than a day, I found the town’s mix of monuments, tourism-boosting, grit, and just plain weirdness absorbing enough to take up much of the afternoon. I was unable to learn the story of Porvenir Man, the local stripey superhero with the strange headgear, but he and his silhouette were everywhere.

March of natives

I was contemplating ambitious plans to ride down to Yendegaia Park on the Y-85, a road that will someday connect Porvenir to Yendegaia Bay on the Beagle Channel just west of Ushuaia. It looked like a spectacular multi-day ride in good weather, and a welcome break from the beaten path I had ridden for most of the trip. Also, since the border post at Pampa Guanaco was closed, I could cross there and balance out my passport’s lack of entry stamp. The prospect of adventure cheered me up, and led me to buy a few more calories. I also opted to tank up on water, since sources are limited and poor in northern Tierra del Fuego, and have been overrun by beavers farther south. European settlers though it would be brilliant to start a fur trade, and the little giardia-balls took over, so now the Fueguinos find themselves in the position of trying to eradicate the things while they are being reintroduced and protected in North America.


The next day’s forecast called for insane wind, but it seemed reasonable in the morning, and was blowing in the right direction, so we got going at a reasonable hour. On the recommendation of a tour guide I had spoken to in Torres del Paine, we headed straight west on a secondary road to Lago Baquedano rather than following the main (dirt) road along the coast. This started inauspiciously, rolling through a dingy suburb squatting in Porvenir’s downwind trash-plume. Sometimes rich people live higher up for the views, sometimes closer to a river or the ocean; on Tierra del Fuego they live upwind. The road soon improved, however, gradually climbing for quite awhile to a fancy new shelter at a viewpoint overlooking… bleak grassland and a distant ocean. The large structure was closed on three sides, but open to the northwest, making it sort of an anti-shelter. I was reminded of the hostel-keeper’s remark in Villa O’Higgins that Chileans build these things but never take care of them, and presume that this will fall into disrepair and be torn apart by wind in a few years.


We took a break outside in the shelter’s lee, then continued over the top of the climb and down to the lake, descending some sketchy clay mud. The lake was closer to a marsh, attracting plenty of guanacos but not appealing as a camp or water source. After a bit more flat riding south, our road descended south to the coast to join the main road on its way to Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay). The wind was raging from the west, whipping up dense whitecaps and making it possible to go about 20 MPH without pedaling. I felt terrible for the one guy we met going the other direction. There are people who travel north from Ushuaia, but they suffer badly for doing so.

Family graffiti

There are a couple of shelters at the paved road south from Bahia Azul, the newer one sharing an entrance with its own outhouse. Stopping in, I noticed graffiti from the French family I had met in Puerto Natales with the semi-recumbent tandems. To continue my ambitious plan I would have to turn back into the wind, and as I sat in the shelter, I realized that I wanted progress more than adventure. The wind plus pavement made the ride to Chilean customs a breeze. There was no one at the desk when I arrived, and I thought of just rolling on, but worried the corresponding Argentine guards would be more on the ball. I eventually found someone, who clearly understood that I had done a Bad Thing, but I played “very helpful and slightly stupid,” told him that I wasn’t planning to re-enter Chile (ever, I hope), and he passed me though without much trouble.

Cyclist sticker at customs

I had passed through Argentine customs, some 90 miles from Porvenir by mid-afternoon, and wanted to keep riding, but the wind would be more from the side as the road turned southeast along the coast, and the prospects for shelter were limited to a few ditches and underpasses. The border post has a room with a sink and propane stove where people can stay in such circumstances, so Robert and I slept there. We shared it with three Argentinians, including one young guy moving down to Ushuaia with not much more than an old car. I was worried that sleep would be impossible, but they were courteous and retired early by Argentine standards. I was not in the mood for company, but it was much better than a ditch.

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