Beach contemplation – Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas

This is the penultimate leg before my arrival in Ushuaia, written back in June 2018. Probably about time I actually posted it. (Current location: I’m now in Bali, Indonesia having a had dramatic change in lifestyle – more about that soon…)

Torres del Paine (24th Aug, 2017) – arrive Puerto Natales (25th Aug) – left Puerto Natales (30th Aug) –  Punta Arenas (1st Sep)

After a day of rest from a rather exhausting multi-day snow hiking adventure in the park (that some would almost certainly regard as a step too far), I managed to escape the warmth of the refuge hut and head back out into the howling Patagonian wind. As Torres del Paine disappeared from view I contemplated the closeness of the end of the continent. Soon I would be arriving in Punta Arenas, the gateway to Tierra del Fuego. Words uttered so many times to passing strangers in the last few years that they started to reach almost legendary status as I wondered whether I’d actually ever get there. Or whether indeed I wanted to.  So engrained into my life this journey had become; how could I give up this way of living after it had brought me so much fulfilment and joy?

Once you’ve had a taste of this life, how do you stop?

Wool socks, essential Patagonian Winter attire.

But it was not over yet and thanks to previous pioneers there were a still a few remaining adventures to be eked out before I ran out of land. They turned out to be up there with the best of them.

As with the rest of my journey, avoiding the main highway served me well and, if I remember correctly, not since the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica had I ridden my bicycle on an actual beach. There was not a soul in sight and it’s hard to exaggerate the sense of peace and connection to nature I felt riding through this special place.

Here’s the story of my route from Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas via the magical beach…

(NB: if you plan to follow this route, there could be a better way into Puerto Natales.  I followed Nathan’s GPX but the last bit of main road is a little grim and seems avoidable by taking a turning to the right just after you hit the large crevasse in the road (you’ll know when you see it!).  On google maps this looks like it could lead right into Puerto Natales but who knows?)

18 kilometres out of the refugio a strong tailwind befriends me and catapults me down the road smugly for a further 14km. I mistakenly assume I’m heading in the right direction by following signs to Punta Arenas and pass a herd of guanacos oblivious to my impending tedium.

Unbeknown to me the signed route to Punta Arenas is an alternative that loops back round and would have me riding the same stretch of road twice. Not part of the plan.

A quick check of my map reveals that my care-free gallop downwind has been taking me the wrong way for 14 km and I take a moment in a picnic shelter to process the painful news.  I then reluctantly re-mount my bicycle to confirm that my greatest friend is now my greatest foe. The wind does all it can to defeat my undernourished (already fatigued from days of extreme exercise in the park) and I enter into a tedious battle that is as much psychological as it is physical. Two hours later I have clawed back the lost ground and continue further into the howling wind.

On the bright side, my error does allow for some nice alternate views of Los Cuernos

My mood is lightened considerably by the scenery…

One final look back at the majestic mountains and I make it to Camping Pehoe before dark.  I’ve cycled 60km but, because of my error, I’ve only progressed 30km.

A few days rest at Bitacora hostel in Puerto Natales and I find myself on a monotonous paved road with a small amount of fast moving traffic to Punta Arenas.

Distraction is provided in the shape of a horse…

…leafless trees…

…and some distant mountains.

After 100km it is a delight to finally make to the planned barn for the night.

The next morning I turn off onto dirt for my planned beach detour…

The first of several refugios offer a very welcome escape from the wind.

Thank you to whoever decided to build these things. This is the first of few spaced a few kilometres apart.

And then back into it passing an unusual sculpture…

…old fishing boats…

…and a car ferry which I don’t take.

No comment necessary (he comments)

Then off the dirt road, through the gate and down on to the beach!

A few accommodation options appear as expected in the form of abandoned shacks spread out several hundred metres apart.  The third seems to be in the best condition…

…so I put my tent in it.

And enjoy the sunset…

…contemplating the closeness of Ushuaia and the end of this chapter.

It’s a special place that deeply touches the soul.  The sound of the wind and the rain on the tin roof make for some good company as I drift into a deep sleep.

I wake to a perfect morning with unusually little wind…

Onto a hard packed sandy beach

with some occasional washed up rubbish

It’s mostly pretty clean, however, being near the end of the Earth n’all.

It’s time to leave the beach and having sweated over a few locked gates that pass close to a mine the final one confirms that access is indeed prohibited.  If coming from Punta Arenas successful trespassing is more likely achieved crossing the unmanned gate on the left (this one). Taneli (a Finnish adventurer extraordinaire) was stopped when trying to cross the one on the right and so missed the beach.

A short climb on a slow wet sand road, some kind of road crevasse and a few more locked gates later, Punta Arenas comes into view. A useful opportunity to buy a (slightly) cheaper phone in the tax free haven.

Thoughts:

I believe we have Skyler to thank for pioneering this fantastic beach route back in 2014, his notes are here.  Cass’s here and Nathan’s here. The first beach shack seemed have deteriorated since they passed through. The third (next to the fourth) was however ok (and unlocked).

Note directions coming into Punta Arenas (written below route map), there may be a way that avoids using any of the main road.

Tax free? The tax free haven is called Zona Franca.   Although without tax, a lot of the stores raise the price so the deal isn’t that great (but probably better than the rest of the country). Outside of Zona Franca, the stores add on 20% if you’re not local so you need a Chilean ID to get just the normal price. Absurd. I bought a phone in “New Ark” (Punta Arenas) in the Zona Franca.  Ghastly unfriendly service but cheap options (know the prices so you can bargain down).

 

6 thoughts on “Beach contemplation – Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas

  1. Hi Nick
    A great adventure! Congratulations on making it to Punta Arenas. Your photos are really good. I wondered how you got the ones of you and the bike.
    Life is probably a bit easier in Bali. Would be good to hear of your plans – if you have any!
    Best wishes, John

    • Hi John! Wonderful to hear from you. The photos were taken using the self-timer facility – I must admit it took a number of attempts to get the shot I wanted 🙂
      More recently I have been working on my surfing in Bali. Future adventure plans are definitely brewing but still unfixed. More soon… 🙂 N

  2. Hola Nick, Am in Punta Perula Mexico where I met you in Feb 2013. After religiously looking forward to your every posting since that time, I had withdrawals when you suddenly went “dark”. Your photographic talent as well as your ability to describe your experiences is greatly admired and appreciated.
    And I quote: So engrained into my life this journey had become; how could I give up this way of living after it had brought me so much fulfilment and joy? Once you’ve had a taste of this life, how do you stop?
    Gosh Nick, I know whereof you speak. I often have to push those thoughts very far away at my age living my dream winters in Mexico…
    I am anxious to get news of your new life in Bali and wish you nothing but the best…Adele

    • Hi Adele! thank you for following along 🙂 it’s a real pleasure to hear from you and the people I met on the trip. I have fond memories of Mexico and will have to visit again soon!

      Sorry for the rather extended cyber silence, my focus turned to other projects after finishing the trip, so the blog and photography took a back seat but I intend to continue with it. Until the next time, N 🙂

  3. Having followed so much of this journey with you Nick I am also a little sad that it is coming to an end. But what a place to end! Having been back from a 2.5-year trip for over a year now stories like yours keep me ‘out there on the road’. Fantastic adventure, up there with the best. More from Bali soon?

    • Hi David, thanks for the kind words and good to hear from you! Yes there were certainly some emotion filled moments finally pulling up into Tierra del Fuego back in September 2017. Will be posting that soon. I’m happy to say the memories feel like a real part of me and trigger wonderful emotions when I allow myself to daydream back into them. Possessions that no one can ever take away.

      More from Bali soon 🙂 N

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