Puerto Williams: At the End of the Americas

Puerto Williams Travel Blog

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The Dientes (Teeth) de Navarino

After four and a half months of continuously traveling south I have finally reached the end of the road, literaly. Puerto Williams consists of about 2,500 people, some 800 or so affiliated with the naval base located in the city. If you call 2,500 people a city then Puerto Williams is the world´s southernmost city, otherwise Ushuaia with around 50,000 people holds that title. On Isla Navarino where Puerto Williams is located there is actually a town called Puerto Toro with 50 inhabitants, accessible only by sea, which is the world´s southernmost permanent settlement. The city itself is amazingly isolated though only being located some forty miles from Ushuaia.

The view from the summit of Cerro Bandero
The only way supplies arrive is on the ferry from Punta Arenas, which brings in all the fresh fruits and vegetables every Friday, and takes back all the trash and recyclables when it returns every Saturday. Otherwise there is one daily flight from Punta Arenas and possibly a flight every other day in a 4 person plane from Ushuaia. It is also possible to cross to Ushuaia from Puerto Navarino, the port across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia, in a raft with an outboard motor once a day. As the woman who owns the place I stayed in like to say, "It´s easy to arrive but difficult to leave."

The island itself is very pretty with large tracts of untouched wilderness with miles and miles of hiking trails in varying states.

Looking west from Cerro Bandero
There is 5 day circuit called the Dientes (Teeth) de Navarino that winds around some beautiful mountain scenery and remote lakes. It being the beginning stages if winter and not having a tent or suitable sleeping bag I decided to do the first day of the circuit which consists of climbing to the top of Cerro Bandero and then continuing onward to the first series of lakes before returning back along the river to town. The trail up to the top of the hill was easy enough to follow, though rather steep the entire way. The views from the top were amazing with the windblown snow covered summit overlooking the town below and views across the Beagle Channel to mountains of Argentine Tierra del Fuego glowing orange in the morning sun. From the top the trail was less well marked but I had the trial notes and knew that it followed the mountain side between the rigdeline and the tree-line.
The Dientes de Navarino and Lago Salto
It would have been easy to follow in theory but the snow accumulation and cold temperatures meant that I would take one step and the icy snow would hold my weight while with the next step I would plunge knee-deep or even hip-deep into the snow. This made for very slow going and I quickly had freezing cold snow and ice inside my boots. After about an hour I abandoned the trail and decided to head straight downhill towards the lake where I could pick up the return trail along the river. This took some time as the snow covered mossy slopes were extremely slippery but I was able to make it to the lake with some picturesque views of the Dientes de Navarino. There were lots of dead trees, resulting from the beavers that were introduced to the island back in the 1940s and are destroying and altering a good deal of the islands natural habitat.
Lago Salto and the mountains
The return trail along the river was very muddy and traversed a boggy area for about an hour before returning to some drier forested areas and the route back to town. One of these days I would like to come back in season and hike the whole circuit but definitely in the late spring or summer.

The following day I walked up the road that heads east of town past Villa Ukika where 50 of the last 70 descendents of the Yamana people live, including the last surviving fluent speaker of the language. The desolate road continued on past nice scenery and then branched off towards the coast where it ended at a gated house and fenced off section of the beach that led onward around the bays to a small lighthouse overlooking the point. In the afternoon the wind came in so I took shelter inside for the rest of the day.

A centollon coming to attack me
On Monday I went to the newly renovated museum in town which had an extensive, perhaps overly extensive, amount of information on the indigenous people of the island, the Yamanas, and on the history of the area since its discovery around 1520. I stopped by the yacht club as well to see if there were any boats heading to Ushuaia that I could get a ride with. At the moment there was only one boat in and they were actually going to Ushuaia for a few days to resupply before heading out to the Falkland Islands, but they weren´t planning to leave until Friday if the weather held out. That night and the next I ended up hanging out in the yacht with the two guys from the boat and also with two Dutch couples that had just arrived. The one Dutch guy told us that everyone names their boat after their wife but that if you get divorced, as he had been twice before that you have to change the name of your boat.
The end of the road along the coast east of town
So, he named his boat, New Love in English, because that way you never have to change the name. They were also talking about a guy that recently had tried to sail west around Cape Horn solo and had sailed right into a storm with 120 mph winds and seas to 100 feet that broke both of his masts and caused his boat to start taking on water. He set off his emergency beacon and luckily the Chilean navy found him with a rescue plane and a fishing boat was able to pick him up. There is some pretty rough seas and weather down in this part of the world which explains the multitude of shipwrecks of these coasts. I also got feast on a kilogram of centolla (king crab) that I bought which was very tasty, in addition to all this king crab I got to eat plenty of centollon (crab) as well, fresh off the fishing boats and still alive and moving.
The mountains of Argentine Tierra del Fuego under the moonlight

Without wanting to wait for the sailboat to leave my only option for crossing to Ushuaia was to cross with Ushuaia boating, which considering the short distance involved odly cost more than flying back to Punta Arenas. So on Tuesday, after waiting most of the day I was set to leave at some point in the afternoon when the winds kicked up and bad weather rolled in and the port was closed by the Navy and by the time it reopened it was too dark to cross since the boat has no lights, so I was stuck in Puerto Williams for another day. On Wednesday, things looked good in the morning, I paid the money and the guy said that he would be back in 20 minutes or so. Then about 2 hours later he came by to say that even though the weather in Puerto Williams looked good that things in Puerto Navarino were bad and the port there was closed but that it might reopen in the afternoon.

Sunset on the Beagle Channel
This never happened and so I was forced to stay yet another night. Thursday morning I awoke to snow squalls and little visibility but the wind had at least died down considerably but it was freezing cold with a forecasted high of 2 celsius. Finally word came that they would come by around noon to pick me up and it appeared that I would actually be able to leave this time. And sure enough they came at noon and we made the one hour journey to Puerto Navarino over a very rough road and waited for the little raft to arrive from Ushuaia with one passenger. The immigration officer, who was just one of the police officers from Puerto Williams had to physically travel with me in the van to Puerto Navarino to see firsthand the arrival of the passengers from Ushuaia and then take their paperwork and stamp their passports, etc.
The zodiac to transfer to Ushuaia
After getting an exit stamp myself and the one other passenger, a guy from Puerto Williams crossing to see his girlfriend in Rio Grande, Argentina (who had paid for him to cross, which greatly impressed the Argentine immigration officers), put on our lifejackets and got into the raft. It was still snowing as we left with the 150hp motor of the raft zooming us across the rough waters of the Beagle Channel towards Ushuaia. The raft would climb up a wave before slamming down into the trough, a motion repeated constantly during the 25 minute journey. We finally arrived in Ushuaia but the port was closed due to a strike so we had to get back into the boat and motor around to the yacht club where we could dock and have the immigration officials drive over and meet us there.
Leaving Puerto Navarino in the zodiac
 After processing the paperwork and stamping our passports they were nice enough to drive the two of us back into town and even dropped me off at the hostel that I was planning to stay at. What service!

With this short but long trip the journey back north has begun. Hopefully the next few months of traveling will be as enjoyable as the first and I´ll be able to find my way safely home as I head through Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

jarmusch says:
great explanations,thanks..
Posted on: Jul 24, 2008
john1112 says:
great blog, and great pics!

:D
Posted on: Apr 25, 2008
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The Dientes (Teeth) de Navarino
The Dientes (Teeth) de Navarino
The view from the summit of Cerro …
The view from the summit of Cerro…
Looking west from Cerro Bandero
Looking west from Cerro Bandero
The Dientes de Navarino and Lago S…
The Dientes de Navarino and Lago …
Lago Salto and the mountains
Lago Salto and the mountains
A centollon coming to attack me
A centollon coming to attack me
The end of the road along the coas…
The end of the road along the coa…
The mountains of Argentine Tierra …
The mountains of Argentine Tierra…
Sunset on the Beagle Channel
Sunset on the Beagle Channel
The zodiac to transfer to Ushuaia
The zodiac to transfer to Ushuaia
Leaving Puerto Navarino in the zod…
Leaving Puerto Navarino in the zo…
The airport and mountains across t…
The airport and mountains across …
Woodpiles for winter heating at th…
Woodpiles for winter heating at t…
Long ways to go...
Long ways to go...
Plaza at the naval base in Puerto …
Plaza at the naval base in Puerto…
A lake on outskirts of town
A lake on outskirts of town
The trees changing color
The trees changing color
The port at the end of the world a…
The port at the end of the world …
Puerto Williams
photo by: AndySD