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beyond the end of the world


I arrive on Isla Navarino at the twilight hour. The sun is sinking towards the horizon behind Caleta Santa Rosa,... I set off on Isla Navarino's barely 200 kilometre scrap of road.

I enjoy being back on two wheels in the last of the day's sunshine...

... and so it's not until deep dusk that I stop to camp.

The inexorable creep of winter lends the graveyard...

...of a vanished indigenous community an extra dose of melancholy,...

... while a wolfish mask mysteriously adorning a bridge, adds a sense of intrigue.

Melancholy and nostalgia dominate, though.



I arrive in Puerto Williams already wondering how on earth I am going to retreat from this far edge of the world, where I have, half unwittingly, found myself. Transport off the island is notoriously unreliable and expensive; the short ferry trip to Ushuaia, across the channel in Argentina, costs well over a hundred dollars and regular services have already ceased as the town starts to wind down for winter hibernation.

Any problem can be, if not actually alleviated, then at least temporarily forgotten, in the pursuit of food. Applying this foolproof strategy, I leave the super-market with a couple of empanadas in hand and manage to strike up a conversation with a man as we pass out the shop door together. As we chat, I discover that Ken has just set off from his home, in the Falkland Islands, on a round-the-world cruise aboard his 32 foot sailing boat. Aha! now this could be a friendship worth cultivating! The invitation to have a cup of tea aboard his boat is readily accepted.

(You can see where this is heading, can’t you?)

So, let’s fast forward: scrolling through a cup of tea, idle chat, a general sounding out, then, the tentative proposal – do you need crew? hmmm, why, yes, perhaps, I do… This followed by the suggestion of time out, to consider, and the proposition of a smaller, a less irrevocable, shared expedition, to wit, a short walk, the following day. I use my time out wisely, preparing a Spanish tortilla to provision the planned trek. Hearts* and stomachs are intimately linked. The day dawns rainy and miserable but, no matter, I arrive at the marina at the appointed hour, rations carefully stowed in my pack. We take refuge from the rain in the cabin and idle a few hours away, talking, before the weather clears.

I think the omelette made a good impression because by the time we are walking up the hill the decision seems to have been reached. I’m signing on as crew aboard the good ship, Porvenir, 1100 miles from Puerto Williams to Puerto Montt. No swaying palms, white beaches, and crystalline blue Caribbean waters for me, my entry into the world of sailing is going to be by snow and ice in the Chilean Channels, against the prevailing winds, as winter draws in.

By the time we trek up the hill above Puerto Williams it is already decided that I will travel to Puerto Montt aboard Ken's boat, Porvenir.

A huge Chilean flag flies above Puerto Williams, a town that exists largely because of its function as a naval base. Puerto Williams has a population of around 2000 while Ushuaia, just across the channel in Argentina's chip of Tierra del Fuego, is home to more than 55, 000. The relationship between the two countries is edgy.


We stomp around the top of Cerro Bandeira, trying to get a glimpse of Cape Horn, which is not a true cape, at all, but another island further to the south.

Cape Horn is over there somewhere. There is a four day trek to be done in these hills and I sorely long to but Ken is keen to sail as soon as possible. And he's the captain.

Next time. Sigh.




* And, also, perhaps just simple goodwill — I have no designs beyond getting aboard.

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