Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America  

Day 84:  With time on my hands, I signed up for a day tour of Tierra del Fuego. It cost around US$100, but included two ferry tickets, entry to a museum and a visit to a penguin colony, and being picked up and transported by mini-bus:

We drove straight onto the ferry and led straight inside to the heated interior

The name of the ferry company was 'Austral Broom'

I went up on deck to take a few snaps, vehicles were chocked to avoid rolling around

a Chilean Navy boat came into dock alongside us

sailors rugged up against the cold

A wooden boat that looked to have sustained damage  to its rear end

In the distance, a ship called Antarctic Dream was in dry dock, I think it takes people to Antarctica in the summer months.

We were soon on our way

There were some touring bicycles on board

Navigating the narrow entry to Porvenir harbour, we came very close to land

This yellow church is one of the more conspicuous edifices you see when first arriving at the dock of Porvenir

First stop was Porvenir's Fernando Cordero Rusque Municipal Museum, whose front entrance displays this early astronomical observation tower.

and this old vintage truck

and a rusting collection of gold mining equipment. Patagonia had a small gold rush, which only hastened the end of its indigenous culture.

Inside was this curious collection of cetacean bones and fossils; the pointy object is a fossil tooth from an extinct giant shark.

A native canoe

How the native Fuegians kept warm: guanaco fur skin cloaks, hat and mocasins

A collection of Fuegian knives: they used bones and oyster shells strapped to handles with leather strips. After contact with Europeans, they used scrap metal. 

The skeleton of an elephant seal

the most amazing exhibit was a mummified body called Kela

According to its display card, 'Kela' was a female about 30-35 years old who died around the year 1424. Her body was found in a cave on Tres Mogotes, a small island off Tierra del Fuego in 1974; it is unknown which culture she belonged to.  

I have seen many mummies in museums over the years, and they always make me stop and think. One can only wonder what sort of life she lived in this bleak part of the world, more than 100 years before the Europeans arrived.  Kind of sad, yet fascinating at the same time. Especially considering the fate of most of the native Patagonians was extinction, as our next stop so graphically demonstrated.

A few blocks away was a park with a lonely set of statues depicting a native Selk'nam family. They were wrapped in cloaks and walking in a line.  To me, their grim expressions reflected their difficult life battling the elements. Their final extinction with the coming of the white settlers made me think these statues are nothing more than ghosts from the past.

Our guide said there were no so-called 'full-blood' Selk'nams alive today. All though they once numbered in the thousands, the last one, a woman called Angela Loij, died in 1974, a shameful parallel to the genocide of Tasmania and Truganini.  Despite the Salesian missions' attempts to save them, they were hunted like animals in the late 1800s; indeed a bounty was paid to hunters who returned with a human head. There are even photographs of the whites returning with native bodies as if they were hunting trophies (more info here). 

Now all that is left are these ghost like statues for tourists to look at, and this memorial plaque.alive today

Our bus next stopped at a restaurant where we had an hour and half to wait for lunch. Some of the people on the tour complained, but long lunches are normal in Patagonia.  Cost of lunch was not included in our $100 tour, but it was quite good. The had on sale the local brew, called Austral.

We passed the three brave bicyclists who had arrived on the same boat as we did

We passed a military training ground. The island of Tierra del Fuego is half owned by Chile, half owned by Argentina - and there have been tensions in the past. We saw some soldiers in cold-weather gear doing exercises, and also these old tanks on a hillside.

Plentiful were the wild and free Fuegian gunacos, who nimbly jumped fences as if they were just not there...

I think these are called Magellenic geese

On the way to the penguin colony we got a flat - and of course the wheel with the flat had different nuts to the wheel brace they were carrying...

Didn't look like this road was used all that often... and we were too far from any town to make a mobile phone call... were we going to have to sleep in the bus...?

Eventually  a truck arrived and helped us with the proper size wheel brace

Finally we were at the penguin colony.

This geodesic dome served as a visitors' centre and refuge from the elements. 

There was a caretaker, employed by the man who the private land on which the penguin colony stood. The caretaker lived in an onsite shipping container, fitted out with an internal wood fire and external toilet. He only came into Punta Arenas once a month to buy supplies; he admitted, you have to really love penguins and also be a little bit crazy to do his job.

We looked across a small river to see the colony. today there were about 15 of them; all in all 95 penguins had been counted, but the others were out in the ocean feeding.

They were quite tall, about 4ft the biggest ones.

The caretaker said the black mark on the penguin on the right is an oil stain. They really do walk in a waddling-style like the Penguin in Batman!

Obligatory penguin shot. I'm smiling but it was absolutely freezing with the windchill factor. 

Not far from the penguin colony, we saw this abandoned old house, though there similar ones nearby which had electric lights switched on; our guide said this was once a small town, housing workers for a sheep estancia, but only a couple of people live here now.

Route taken day 84:


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 Text and photos copyright  © Glen David Short 2012
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