Tierra del Fuego: Porvenir and Pinguinera Rey

Having completed the circuit of the Torres del Paine in 6 days (including travel) rather than 8 or 10 as the guidebooks suggest, I found myself with plenty of spare time before my next advance-booked flight, out of Punta Arenas. So although I had never originally intended to go to Tierra del Fuego, its proximity induced me on to a ferry to Porvenir, two and a bit hours across the Magellan Strait. I figured I'd spend a night or two, just to take in the atmosphere, then head back.

Porvenir may be the largest town in the Chilean part of the island, but at only 5500 people, it's a quiet and largely unremarkable place. Partially established by Croatian immigrants during the gold-rush, it does have some attractive original architecture. Its wide streets are largely empty of traffic - none of the main roads out of town are tarmacked, and with nowhere nearby to go, save a few 'estancias' (estates or ranches), most journeys are local.

Having said that, I saw several rally cars. One I managed to get a close look at had taken part in last year's Magallanes rally, which I presume is the reason for the enthusiasm for rallying. Another, polished and shiny, drove slowly back and forth, all round town for hours. On its windows, "McRae \ Grist" were prominently displayed. This was a bit of a surprise - it seemed quite unlikely to say the least!

February is high season elsewhere in this part of the world, but even a Saturday night didn't bring much more than a handful of customers to the few open restaurants in Porvenir. I enjoyed some creamy seafood pancakes, and fried fish in one of these.

I had read about the king penguins which had been discovered a few years ago on the island, at the edge of the 'Bahia Inutil' ('useless bay') but it wasn't at all clear how to get there. The b&b owner said that I could get transport there for 80,000 pesos (90 GBP), which seemed a lot! She said my other alternative was to hitch. So, 11:00 on Sunday, I made my way to the turn-off and started to wait. There was maybe one vehicle every 5-10 minutes, so not exactly great chances. One 4x4 stopped, but was only going 5km. After two hours, I was bored and started to get ready to give up and do something else. Just at that very moment, a minibus stopped, which, as it turned out, was making a return trip to the penguin colony, getting back in time for the rare evening ferry. For 15,000 pesos, this was exactly what I had been looking for.