Our over-landing in Cuthbert was temporarily suspended for a fabulous little boat-jaunt to Antarctica. All very amazing… but now we’re back home in our beloved Cuthbert and back to normality (well, ‘normality’ to the extent that we can have such a thing in our ‘Cuthbert lifestyle’). We’re wondering what’s in store for Xmas?
Christmas in the Tierra
Rewinding slightly, the ship arrived back into Ushuaia on Marcus’ birthday and the kitchen staff kindly made him a cake which we shared amongst the passengers at a kind of ‘farewell’ party on board. Back on ‘Tierra Firma’ several of our ship mates met for a few drinks to celebrate both Marcus’ and Guy’s birthdays. The next day, most of the ship-mates went off to their next destinations, while we stayed in Ushuaia to do some shopping and sorting through the hundreds (actually, it was almost two thousand!!) photos that we had taken between us over the 11 days on-board. Many of them were ‘junked’, but a few nice ones that are worth sharing (see Antarctica Photos and Video).
Another reason for us staying-on in Ushuaia was to meet up with Sue Shuttleworth. Taking a step back a few months… we met Sue and her husband Roger back in Germany at the Bad Kissingen Show last June. Sue had recently finished an epic overland cycle from Cairo to Cape Town and was at that time, about to embark on another super-epic cycle ride from Colombia to the bottom of the South American continent. Skip forward now to 21st December and Sue is about to arrive in Ushuaia at the end of her amazing South American odyssey; an astonishing achievement and we were chuffed to meet up with her for a congratulatory lunch before she flew back to UK to her family for Xmas.
It was as we were sat in Cuthbert on the Ushuaia sea-front, politely minding our own beeswax on 23rd December, that we received a knock on our door: “Hallo… you were in Nairobi last year at Christmas. Yes?” Just as I was wondering to myself… ‘ooooh, spooky… how could they possibly know this?’ when I recognised them. The couple were amongst a group of German overlanders gathered at Jungle Junction campsite in Nairobi, where we stayed before Xmas 2014. Together we worked out that it had been exactly one year to the day since we had met at Jungle Junction. How weird is that?????
The same day, still sat on the same sea-front (minding our own same beeswax 🙂 ), another knock at the door came from some overlanders from UK: John and Betti who were here to arrange an Antarctica trip after 3 years of overlanding down the Americas. We had heard of John and Betti from our mutual friends, Steve and Gilly and were pleased to finally meet them. With Xmas rapidly approaching and neither of us having anything organised, we hatched a plan: they would buy lots of food, we would buy lots of drink and we would together head east along the coastal track to find a quiet and scenic spot to celebrate the festivities. In the meantime, John and Betti had also met a very nice Swiss overlanding couple, Werner and Rosemarie who they also invited to join us.
The chosen Xmas celebration spot was just east of Ushuaia and is pretty much the most southerly point on the planet that you can drive to. We took our respective homes to a nice, tucked-away clearing in the woods by a stream near the end of the road. There isn’t enough data capacity on my lap-top hard-drive to explain the full palaver of how we all managed to meet at the ‘agreed’ spot on Christmas Day, but somehow we did. Betti cooked delicious roast beef and we spent a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day together. The sky was clear enough on Boxing Day for us to sit out under the stars in the long mid-summer evening, until after mid-night warmed by a huge camp-fire and some curious, but strangely delicious, Swiss-Alpine herbal (xxx% proof!!) ‘fire-water’ liquor brought by Werner and Rosemarie. And here’s another bizarre coincidence of the small overlanding world… it turns out that Werner and Rosemarie are good friends of Peter and Susannah who we met in Zimbabwe last year. The four of them had overlanded through Mongolia and China together a couple of years ago. Isn’t there a saying that goes something like: ‘It’s a small world… but I wouldn’t like to paint it’? 🙂
From the most southerly town in the world the only way to head is, of course, north. With the Xmas festivities over, we say our farewells to John, Betti, Werner and Rosemarie (who are all incidentally, heading-off on ships to Antarctica to start the New Year) and set off to explore the northerly end of Tierra del Fuego a bit more. We’ve heard of a shipwreck on the shore about 80km south of Rio Grande: The Desdemona apparently ran aground in the early 1980s overloaded with too many bags of cement and got stuck on the sand-bar. There are allegations on the web that it was an ‘insurance job’… who knows?… but it’s an interesting wreck now.
Although the tide was out when we got there, we had to cross a shallow river to get onto the beach to see the wreck close-up. The river was well within Cuthbert’s wading depth to drive through, but the ground on the other side looked like the soft, deep, boggy variety into which heavy vehicles have a penchant for sinking. We decided to go on foot, but before we continue the story… we’ll deviate slightly back to Rwanda just over a year ago: we were heading into the central African rainy season and feared some mud-logged swamp roads for which we were ill-prepared at the time. In Kigali we spotted an opportunity to invest in some rubber welly-boots which we have since kept to hand, but (thankfully) not yet had any cause to deploy. Until today that is. Now in Tierra del Fuego we take out our ‘as new’ Rwandan wellies and wade confidently through the shallow river to investigate the wreck of The Desdemona in a pleasant evening sunshine. Those wellies just had to come in handy sometime!!
Further north, we attempted to take a back-road into Chile via a remote border crossing in the hills. We’ve heard that this border is not always open, but the policeman at the check-point where we turn off the main road assures us that it is open, so we head off down the dirt-track. After about 40km we meet a young English couple heading in the other direction on a tandem cycle. James and Clare are taking six months out of their careers in Switzerland to cycle from Ushuaia up to Bolivia (yes, more crazy cyclists! 🙂 ) and advise us that the border is very much not open; they know to their cost having cycled all the way there and now returning over 50km back to the main road. We were grateful for James’ and Clare’s advice and sorry that they had to go to such trouble to establish the fact, but we later met up with them for a night-stop on a beach. We had a lovely evening together over a few glasses of Argentinian Marlbec, hearing about their team-work ‘tandem-life’ on the road. You can see their blog-story about tandem-ing South America at www.furbo.co.uk
The main San Sebastian border crossing into Chile was open, with the same Customs palaver with the food as we had on the way down. From there it’s back to the ferry to leave the island of Tierra del Fuego for the mainland of South America and our destination: Punta Arenas for New Year’s Eve.
Punta Arenas is a pleasant, busy little town and a regular stop-off for the large luxury cruise ships on their way around Cape Horn. On New Year’s Eve there was a large ship anchored in the bay and many elderly U.S. “Hey Mabel! Look at this!” cruise-tourists packed into the port-side souvenir shop. We parked up on the sea-front for the night and joined the locals on the beach to watch the fireworks at mid-night – a marvellous end to a wonderful year for us.
From the most southerly town on the mainland continent of South America, we are now starting out on the 17,000ish km journey to Alaska. It will take us some time and with our habit of ‘zig-zag routing’, we will certainly drive much further than 17,000 km, but we’re looking forward to the journey north. Signing-off now from 2015, we’d like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year and ask you to give us a wave if you spot Cuthbert on the road in 2016!