Bitter at having spent too much time on paved highways, slogging in the wind, since El Chaltén, I spent a considerable amount of time staring at Google Earth in Puerto Natales. If you ask any locals, there is only one way to get to Punta Arenas, short of crossing back into Argentina: the highway. We hate the highway. I quickly lose interest in my surroundings as trucks blow past at 120km/h, and even a slight cross-wind has me gritting my teeth, slogging forward thinking only of arrival. Cycle touring is meant to be about the journey of the moment.
Unfortunately, my searching yielded no alternatives to the highway for the first 150km. But, after Villa Tehuelches there appeared to be a network of gravel roads that could be linked into a continuous route to Punta Arenas by way of a 12km stretch of surf-pounded beach on the shore of Otaway Sound.
We slogged 30km along the highway out of Puerto Natales before we decided that our time was too precious to be spent like that. We stuck out thumbs out for about 30 seconds and the first passing pick-up track whisked us away to Villa Tehuelches. We wouldn’t regret this decision in the slightest. In fact, the next two days revived our enthusiasm in cycle touring. I felt an intensity of experience which I’d missed for weeks.
At the end of the beach, we passed through another unlocked gate, and turned right onto an abandoned mine road. When we reached the edge of a giant open-pit mine after a few kilometers, we were blocked by a gate ahead or a gate on our left. Ignoring the rusting No Pasar signs, we lifted our bikes over the locked gate on the left, and continued around the mine (and over two more locked gates.
In the morning we continued back out to the public road from the penguin colony. A few kilometers on, right before the first roadside buildings on the right, my GPS indicated that we should head over a cattleguard and onto a small farm track.
Past windswept Magellenic forests the farm track intersected with a slightly larger, and completely abandoned road. Here we took a left and followed this officially closed road over a 330m pass, and down to the Strait of Magellan, hitting the coast in the northern outskirts of Punta Arenas.