I’m at the bottom of the world making an attempt to walk the length of the world. It’s possible I will become the first woman to do it. It’s possible I won’t make it at all.
Days can be straight forward or not – especially when you don’t speak Spanish, are walking on your own, in remote areas, with no idea of what lies ahead, and especially when you aim for a town… that turns out not to be one.
Last time we spoke I commenced the expedition but failed to secure a permit to cross the Argentina-Chile border at an unofficial location. So I walked from Ushuaia to the border, hid a food cache, and planned to return from the Chilean side.
INTO THE WILDERNESS
The hike back to the boarder from the Chilean side is 5(ish) days. I aim to start near Yendegaia – possibly the lowest town in Chile. It’s only accessible by a trail but on approach discover a sign mapping a new road that will take me almost all the way, reducing the re-entry time from five days, to one.
I drop the final food cache and spot a cabin that might be usable as a refuge… or house a farmer with a gun. I don’t speak Spanish yet so it’s hard to interpret the underlying meaning of signs. ¡Propiedad privada! and barbed wire could mean anything. I hoped hot chocolate.
Towards Yendegaia I soon come to a sign with crossed guns on it that suggested not to enter… but the barricades were open so… I am soon stopped by authorities who tell me to turn back. They have other interesting things to say:
- Yendegaia is not a town, it’s a bay. Some people live or holiday there accessing their cabins by boat.
- My trail is being turned into a new road… using explosives… lots of… often.
- Due to the terrain the road won’t be complete for 10 years.
- BUT there is an alternative trail.
- BUT I need a park permit (great).
- BUT they aren’t telling me not to go for it. Wink, wink.
- BUT they can’t tell me where the trail is.
It’s raining, we are running out of day light and Ruben has to turn back for Ushuaia or he’ll miss a day of work so…
I jump out of the car, wave goodbye to Ruben and fight my way down steep hills through stabbing trees and into soft squishy peatmoss. Which is fun – until it’s not.
My feet are wet, my gloves are saturated, I’m cold, I don’t have a permit, or a plan …but I figure I should probably avoid the explosives.
I race daylight and rain to set up camp, change clothes, wonder when I will have a ‘system’ for the chaos in my tent, and then calmly and collectively begin to freakout.
I WAKE UP WITH A PLAN
I head for the mountains, turn off tracking on my beacon (permit) and navigate for the border.
I am close BUT I have reached a flooding river and spend hours trying to find a beaver dam, a fallen tree, rock hops, or a slow running section to freeze my way across, all in the name of reaching next week’s food.
But being summer, the snow and glaciers are at max melt and Gandolf haunts me all bloody day while I agonise over my food situation.
I could not pass.
I return close to the restricted road and set up another camp to rest (hide) for a few days.
Here I count out all the food I have and ration it. I have under 900 calories a day for 10 days (I should be eating about 4500). I don’t have far to walk though and the road will make it easy to get to the kayak leg so I stew on my error, dream about it, even tweet about it… but I am not worried.
That night I wake up with hot-cold fevers. I appreciate being out of the glacial mountains in time for rumbling to remind me how close I am to the explosions (ops) and the wind warns me that my super awesome light weight ‘4 season’ tent I was assured would handle Patagonia – won’t.
I take a bath in a river – a quick one. I find a cut on my foot that isn’t looking good and that night I realise… I have a UTI.
I am at least 15 days from the next town.
The antibiotics in my first aid kit (#MacGyver) work on everything except the cold… and I’m totally ok with that.
Good News | Bad News
By now I’m in contact with Cristian from the Kayak safety crew using the safety beacon. I tell him about my food situation and he tells me they can arrive a week early if it suits me. You bet!
I HAVE EXCESS FOOD!
I redistribute my food rations, gorge myself, even THROW OUT food to save weight for the final (now joyful) walk. I’m warned it could be further than I expect and to leave early. So I do.
On arrival I receive another message.
We can’t make it till the 4th [a day later than the original]. Can you wait for us? A hug
RESCUED BY THE FARMER WITHOUT A GUN (OR HOT CHOCOLATE)
Weighing at least 5kg lighter, crack lipped and totally babe’n (sarcasm) I head to Caleta Maria – the kayak meeting point.
I haven’t seen a sole in 10 days.
Seven men are standing further down the road and I’m in the middle of convincing myself to go up and give them my best ¡Hola! – when they all turn and stare at me. That’s awkward.
Not risking them leaving (not that they can go far), I call out much earlier than needed. So now we wait… for my tired legs to reach them. Also awkward.
They tell me they are fishing for trout! My starved brain freaks out and I start talking so fast no one (not even me) can understand what I’m saying – I calm down.
I ask if any of them know if the house down the road is a refuge, or a farmers cottage, or has an abandoned shed because I am so tired and so hungry I just want a night where I don’t have to set up my tent. Just.One.Night!
Julio (who happens to be the owner) tells me to let myself in, put on the fire, and have a hot shower (!).
They arrive back at 10pm with a ton of fish… and offer me dinner. My eyes give me away (actually, I’m holding back tears) but my stomach has shrunk so much I’m full after one sausage.
Julio lets me stay in his families hostel and attempts to fatten me up (what a dream) while I wait for the kayak safety team to arrive. When they do, they also bring extra food!
THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN
The paddling is freakishly calm. The sun is out and feels so good I wear a shirt. The water is 5 degrees.
With my gear loaded into the kayak I am paddling a much heavier set up then I am use to (I have been spoilt), the paddle is heavier than I am use to (very spoilt), yet the scenery is sooooo remarkable it doesn’t matter.
Wildlife Highlights: Dolphins playing by my kayak and a few meters from where we are camped on the beach! Albatross – so rare you can only see them on an island I pass or in Antarctica (black browed), Humpback Wales, Seals, Elephant seals, Penguins, Condors, Walrus and Sea Lions – locally known as Sea Wolves (also a really good name to freak Mum out).
- Crystal clear water
- Electric blue glaciers
- Landslides that look like water-slides
- God rays through clouds, and
- My good looking safety team… finding camp sites you can only dream of, making hot chocolates in the morning, and drinking Matte (tea) with whisky while I paddle. hmmmmm.
It is without question I fluked the good weather but on the final crossing, the Magellan showed signs of what it can be like. I learn to brace as we enter the swell (#lastminute) and battle it out for 9 of the 10km. Then close to shore my arms are gone, birds are circling close to my head (awaiting my carcass), and a seal mocks me as it skims across the waves.
I am counting strokes, channeling friends and people who inspire me… anything to make it across.
As though misery is written all over my posture Cristian, my guide, sings out Go Lucy Go!! It’s good for another 500m but then the swell picks up to what feels like 6 meters (probably only 2). I am handling it like a boss (an incompetent one) when I am smashed by a wave, start to tip, brace… and wish I had fallen in. So I call to the team, I’m out.
I have nothing left. They pick me up and haul my pruned body to shore. With some comfort, the waves are so big, even the boat must travel at paddling pace.
Then my dry bag comes loose from the kayak and makes a break for Antarctica. No big deal, only contains my most valued items. In the morning Cristian braves the cold and using my tracker (inside the dry bag) locates it on a beach 20km away (while I stay behind, high, dry and warm).
The dry bag failed. While the tracker survived the salt water, my phone (with all my logistics, photos, notes, life) did not… neither did my jelly beans (devastating).
I hear from the caretaker at San Isidro that I was unlucky. The day before (and incidentally the following days) the water was “like a cup of milk”. Helpful.
On to Pt. Arenas
Dried out and fed, I head north again and on the trail I am met by Julio! The family were worried when they saw my tracker go off course (as were many of you!). So Julio drove over to check on me… and bring me dinner!! AND CHOCOLATE!!!!
The next day I walk with two stray dogs for over 20km while Humpback Wales play in the ocean not far from the road and dolphins go into a feeding frenzy.
I stumble upon a cafe at the half way mark and pop in hoping for chocolate and a drink – I have what I think is more than enough money but later learn $500 Chilean Peso’s is almost equivalent to $1… so the cafe owners GIVE me lunch… AND a HOT CHOCOLATE! I die.
…Later in the day the local police pick me up for a coffee and some biscuits. I set up camp, sleep well and the walk to Punta Arenas is… a stroll. Well, sort of, not really but the point is #VisitChile!
HERE I WAIT
…In Pt. Arenas for my replacement gear to arrive (because what’s adventure without misadventure?) and… to fatten up (my favourite thing).
NEXT UP: a photo blog
Less words I promise! I’m now heading for Puerto Natales!
- one town in between,
- high winds,
- open land, and
- You, me and hopefully… a new phone (Go Insurance Go!)!
WANT TO HELP?
There are so many ways and all are SERIOUSLY appreciated:
- Help grow support by liking and sharing my posts and social pages.
- Give me blog feedback – I love the good, the bad and the ugly.
- If you know anyone along my path who would happily offer me a shower… that’s probably best for everyone!
- If you have ideas (photographic, social, or sponsor contacts), or want to hear about something in particular – go ahead and send me a message but keep in mind while I’m on the trail it may take a few days for me to get back to you.
- You can donate dinner, a hot chocolate… or a new shirt here – but best of all,
- Keep on reading!
Thanks for all your support – the primary reason why me and my depleted first-aid kit are still here!!!!