So, continuing with the ‘what we did last week’ theme, we headed out of Torres del Paine National Park through the northern entrance, which is the better road and the route all the buses take. The entrance was full of buses and people, many of whom were trying to hitch-hike.
Lots of people hitchhike in Argentina and Chile, I’m sure we’ve seen more hitchhikers in the last 3 weeks than we have seen in our whole lives! They would all love to travel with us in our cool Wicked campervan, but then they would probably all love to travel in anything as long as it gets them where they want to go. Some of the roads we’ve travelled on don’t have much traffic at all, and it could take a long time to be lucky and get a lift. We passed a couple yesterday afternoon at around 7pm on a quiet road and I thought … I hope you guys have a Plan B, ‘cos you’re probably not going to get much further tonight.
Another border crossing back into Argentina, another system to try and navigate. We thought border crossings in Africa were all a bit different, but comparing them with the Chilean and Argentinian ones, they were easy! We were heading to El Calafate, which is in the southern part of Glacier National Park, and west of Routa 40. We had to detour there a couple of weeks ago when we needed petrol. The southern part Glacier National Park is further west of El Calafate and features some truly spectacular glaciers which are easily accessible by road or boat.
But first, there was the small matter of refuelling … which seems to be a constant theme of this trip. El Calafate has 2 service stations, one at either end of the main street. The first one had a huge queue going up the street, over the bridge and around the corner – we couldn’t see where it ended. The second servo charges 10c/litre more, which seems to be a bit of a big deal for price-sensitive travellers (we’ve paid heaps more in outback Australia, and even prices between suburban servos can vary by up to 30c/litre), so we headed there, but …. Oh No! No fuel. The attendant told me that the next tanker would arrive manana in the morning, but it’s that’s fairly loose term which can also mean later, sometime, never. We went to the 2 supermarkets in town to get a few things, sat for a while and had lunch and drove past the more expensive servo about an hour later to find a queue of cars and one petrol bowser working. So we joined the queue, waited a while, refuelled (cash only!) and headed 80kms west to the National Park to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Wow, what a sight! It’s about 5kms wide and 14+kms long, and it’s probably the most easily-accessible glacier in the world. Well, I know it’s taken us a couple of days to fly here and a few weeks of driving, but it is possible to just fly to El Calafate, hire a car or hop on a bus, then just walk a few hundred metres down some well-constructed steps and platforms and see it in all its glory, just a couple of hundred metres away. It is absolutely magnificent! We walked the long way around, about 1.5kms of boardwalks and steps, so we started at the shorter end furthest away and made our way to the closer, taller end. It’s a tidewater glacier, running into Largo Argentina, and we listened and watched for pieces breaking off into the water.
The National Park doesn’t allow camping, so we consulted ioverlander.com and found a lovely spot just behind a small hill off the road back to El Calafate. It was windy, but Greg rigged up the shower system and a tarp and we had hot showers, then a hot meal. Perfect!
Los Antiguos – Cochrane 18.2.16
I’m going to jump ahead now before I forget too much. I’ll re-order some of the posts later.
The night before last we stayed in Los Antiguos, just across the border in Argentina. The municipal campground had been described in our Footprint guide book as ‘outstanding’, which seems a bit over the top, but it did have hot showers and most of the toilets had toilet seats. We found a site with power away from the very crowded tent camping area, and woke up to tents crammed on either side of us. I think we have a different perception of ‘personal space’ to the locals.
And so to, hopefully, our last border crossing ….. back into Chile. I’ve lost count of how many crosings we’ve done, but we’ll get a photo of the van’s customs papers before we give them back with the van. Loads of stamps, signatures, dates. And even though we’ve entered Chile … well, a few times … we had to fill in a piece of paper we’d never seen before!
There’s a huge lake here – called Lago Buenes Aires on the Argentinian side, and Lago General Carrera on the Chilean side. Deep, blue, icy clear water. The road from the border to Routa 7 Carretera Austral The Southern Highway goes along the southern edge of the lake and the scenery is stunning. A postcard around every bend. We could see glaciers on the mountains to the west, fed by the Campo de Hielo San Valentine Saint Valentine Icefield.
We stayed in a backyard campground last night in Cochrane on Routa 7. About 25 people in 3 vehicles & 14 tents sharing 2 bathrooms, huge queue for them this morning. The owner really needs to put in a separate toilet. We’re just waiting for a backpacker to ask us for a lift … I think we’ll need to check the van for stowaways before we leave. We’re heading 200kms south to Villa O’Higgins, which is as far south as we can get on Highway 7. There’s an American guy from Washington State here and he just came from there yesterday and told Greg that the road is good. There are glaciers there fed by the Campo de Hielo Norte Northern Icefield that we’ve seen from the Argentinian side, so we’ll hopefully get to see them from the Chilean side.
No, we haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth, or down a crevasse in a glacier, we’ve spent the last week in and near national parks in Chile and Argentina, getting as close as we could to glaciers in Torres del Paine in Chile, and Glacier National Park in Argentina.
We’ve had no power and no internet, hence the lack of posts. We’re camping at the municipal campground (power! hot water! clotheslines! not much wind!) at Los Antiguos tonight, and will cross the border back into Chile tomorrow. Ugh, another border crossing! But possibly our last, if we can get on the ferry we’re hoping to catch in a week or so.
The internet is pretty slow, so I’ll make this short and try and get everything we’ve done in the last week down ‘on paper’ (okay, in a .txt file) so we can update the blog later when we have better internet.
Our plans from here are to head south again, on the Chilean side, to see all the cool stuff we’ve spent the last week looking at on the Argentinian side – we’re planning on going to Villa O’Higgins, which is annoyingly close to where we were in El Chalten a couple of days ago. Only a country border and the Andes in the way.
Okay, adios amigos, see you when we have better internet.
Each door of our Wicked campervan has a sticker warning of ‘Patagonian wind’, and when we picked the van up, the woman warned us of ‘Patagonian door’. The wind can be so strong that it bends car doors backwards, sometimes even right off! Yesterday we got our first taste of true Patagonian wind.
It’s incredible! At times Greg had trouble keeping the van on the right side of the road, the customs officer at the Chilean border warned us that the ferry from Tierra del Fuego to ‘the mainland’ was cancelled and a couple of times when we were out walking, it felt like the wind was going to pick us up. No one could tell us how long it would last, so we made our way slowly towards the ferry. Slowly because of the wind, and also because the service station near the Argentinian border post had run out of fuel. Sound familiar? This time we had a spare 10L in a jerry can, so it wasn’t quite so bad, but pouring it from the jerry can into the car’s fuel tank in gale force wind would be tricky, so if we could avoid doing that, we would. Er, I really should say …. Greg would. I’d just be standing watching, or supervising, or something.
There’s a colony of King Penguins on the western side of Tierra del Fuego, so we took a bit of a detour to have a look at them. Several dozen adults quite close to the viewing area, including one mother with a little baby on her feet, and a few penguins with bulges near their feet – smaller babies needing more warmth maybe?
We nearly got to the next servo without having to fill up, but didn’t quite make it. We’ve brought a couple of lightweight tarps with us, and some really strong magnets that we use to hang lights from the roof of the van, and to keep things in place. This was Greg’s idea: we anchored the tarp to the roof of the van, and to the ground with rocks and water containers. Funnel made out of a cut-off soft drink bottle, with a few skewers to keep the fuel tank valve open. I stood and held one end of the tarp closed while Greg poured the fuel. Not a drop was spilt!
By the time we reached the ferry at around 8pm, it was running again and the queue on our side didn’t seem too long. 2 ferries were working hard, bringing cars, trucks and buses to and from the island. We had to wait for a couple of ferries, then got across to the other side where the queue was enormous! Over 4kms long! We did some back-of-the-envelope sums and worked out that it would take until at least 4am to clear that lot, and more vehicles were arriving all the time.
We headed about 30kms west and free-camped on a beach. We have been using ioverlander.com for information about campsites and it’s an excellent resource – all the sites we’ve used that we’ve found via the site have been great.
Now we’re in Puerto Natales, and Greg organised a cabana cabin as it’s my birthday tomorrow. Bless hm, I’d go to the end of the world for him … or with him … or …. oh, wait, I just did!
We haven’t really done much while we’ve been in Ushuaia, but once I start writing it down, I might think differently. We didn’t go anywhere apart from walks around the town. The car has stayed parked outside the building we’re staying in. There is a national park not far from here, but it didn’t sound as interesting as some of the parks we’re planning on visiting as we travel north, so we decided to skip that.
We thought about eating out somewhere here, but all the Trip Advisor top-rated restaurants had fairly standard ‘international cuisine’ menus, and the more authentic Argentinian places had such terrible reviews that we weren’t confident about eating at any of them. Also: dinner here is usually at around 10pm, which is a bit late for us. So instead we bought some rump steaks from the supermarket and cooked them ourselves … twice! Excellent meat, around $14 per kg. The other night I poached a double chicken breast on the bone, then cooked lentils in the poaching liquid, sauted some onions and carrots and mixed it all with some Moroccan spice that I’d brought from home. I always travel with a few spices in little ziplock bags.
There were a lot of ships docked here yesterday – a couple of cruise ships, a couple of Antarctic vessels, a lovely 3-masted sailing ship and the National Geographic Explorer, which is now heading east past Puerto Williams. Greg found a great website for keeping track of what’s in port and where ships are located – Marine Traffic. I think if I lived near a shipping port, I could become whatever the maritime equivalent of a ‘train-spotter’ is.
We walked down to the dock, past lots of tourists and a few locals who had brought their folding chairs down to watch the goings-on. Then along the sea front for a while. We have been lucky with the weather in Ushiaia – sunny days, apart from some rain this morning, but it’s fine again now.
As we drove here, we saw a nice-looking camping area near a lake, so we’re planning on staying there tonight, then back into Chile tomorrow for a while. We had intended visiting Punta Arenas, which is a few hundred kms north and west of here, in Chile, but it seems to be just another shipping port, so we’ll give that one a miss and head straight to Puerto Natale, and national parks, mountains, glaciers.
We drove into the world’s southern-most city yesterday afternoon. The city is built around Ushuaia Bay, which is magnificent. We’re staying in an Airbnb apartment for a few days. It’s in the middle of town, and a block away from the port. There’s a cruise ship in dock – the Costa Luminosa (sister ship of the Costa Concordia, which sank a few years ago) – we can see it from the apartment.
I’m still having to remind myself that we’re actually in Tierra del Fuego Land of Fire. That magical, mystical, legendary, other-worldly, out of reach place at the end of the world El Fin del Mundo. We’re here! Amazing.
After driving through flat steppe for days, the last hundred or so kms got interesting – mountains, lakes, a bit of snow on some mountaintops. We had to drive over a steep pass to get to Ushuaia, and it reminded me a bit of Yosemite National Park.
Lovely weather here at the moment. Hardly any wind, sunshine, blue sky, calm sea, forecast maximum temp 19c today, with rain later in the week. Sunrise is at just after 6am, sunset is 9.30pm, so they have long days at this time of the year. Ushuaia is at 54°48′S, 68°18′S, which is almost as far south as you can get by car. There is an inhabited island, Isla Navarino, across the Beagle Strait to the south with 2 settlements, Puerto Williams and Puerto Navarino, but they can only be reached by sea.
We went to the local supermarket last night to get a couple of things. The place was packed, and all 12 cash registers were open, with long queues. We bought a litre of cheap white wine, a bottle of soft drink, 200g butter and some carrots. Total cost – AUD$6. The quality of most of the fruit and veg was better than we’ve seen in a while. Stuff gets shipped or flown here.
A couple of interesting snippets about the Costa Luminosa – it was one of the 3 cruise ships we saw when we were in Rio, and we watched it sail south to Buenas Aires when we sat sipping cocktails on Copacabana Beach one evening. It’s heading to Chile, so we may see it again in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales, but I think it will be faster than us, though. It’s due in Santiago around Feb 15th.
We don’t have to be back in Santiago until March 2nd, and plan on taking our time heading north. We zoomed straight down here and will stop and see some stuff on the way back.
We’ve finally left Route 40 ‘La Cuarenta’, having travelled along it for over 2000kms. We have just reached its beginning, or its end, at Rio Gallegos on the east coast. Now we’ll head south along Route 3 to Ushuaia, which is about 530kms away. We have to cross back into Chile for 100kms or so, then back into Argentina to get to Ushuaia. The borders are … interesting – take a look at a map of the area and see for yourself. It’s just not possible to drive there without crossing into Chile. So we have 4 more border crossings in our immediate future.
We’ve spent the last 3 nights camping in the wild in various places, ranging from a gorgeous spot beside the Rio Mayo to a bit behind a slight rise on an access road for construction trucks building a new road to the east of Tres Lagos. It was sheltered, quiet and not far from the only petrol station for 150kms …. and by then we really, really needed fuel.
So the morning after our access road camp, we headed up the road, through Tres Lagos and up Route 40 to the servo, only to discover that he had no fuel. Shit. He’d run out 3 days earlier and didn’t know when he’d get more in. Shit, shit, shit, please excuse my French. We had less than a quarter of a tank, which wasn’t enough to get us to the nearest servo after that. A guy in a big Winnebago-type camper was there waiting, with his little white dog. I think he’d been camped there for a while. I felt very sorry for the service station owner – we’d read about other people having similar problems there – how was he supposed to make a living if his fuel supply was so erratic? Anyway, we drove back into the village and parked a street back from the main street to have a think about what to do. Well, Greg had a think, I went for a walk along the main street, where I discovered that the only shop was closed for the day, the police were working on their front garden and the 2 hostels both had people staying there. When I got back to the car, Greg had worked out that the van’s fuel tank held 55L, so we just might have had almost 10L, which just might have been enough to at least get us to the turn-off to the next town that had fuel, and he’d decided that we’d go back to the servo to see if we could buy a jerry-can.
Somehow, that was the magic word. The guy at the servo didn’t have a jerry-can to sell us, but he told us about someone back in the village who would sell us some petrol. We just had to go to the police and ask them. They were still gardening when we got there, but very helpfully gave us directions to a guy who was located one street back from the main street …. right next door to the vacant lot we had parked on earlier! He siphoned 10L of fuel from one of his 44gallon drums that Greg had noticed earlier, poured it into our van, we paid him twice the going rate, gave the cops the ‘thumbs-up’ sign as we went past them, and drove slowly and carefully to El Calafate. Phew! We now have a jerry-can with an emergency 10 litres in it, and a full tank of gasolina.
It was one of those days where we just sat back at the end of the day and said ‘well, that was interesting, wasn’t it?’
It’s getting colder now, Greg has dragged out his long pants. And it’s windy, but then, we’re at almost 52 degrees south, and they don’t call the wind at this latitude the ‘Screaming 50s’ for nothing! We’re planning on staying at Rio Grande tonight, and Greg has just booked us an Airbnb place in Ushuaia for a few nights. The Wicked Camper is great – warm at night, sheltered from the wind when we stop during the day. Camping in a tent here would be …. difficult, and very, very windy!
We’re making our way south, through the middle of Argentina. It’s surprisingly flat and dry, and HOT! While Adelaide and the eastern states are copping rain, we’ve been having fine days with the temperature climbing to 40c by late afternoon. Sunset is just before 10pm here. There’s about 900kms more of Routa 40 in Argentina before we cross back into Chile for a while.
Chile’s customs laws are as strict as Australia’s – no animal or vegetable products allowed across the border, so we’re planning our meals – sort of – to make sure we don’t end up with a heap of food we have to throw out. Some things in Argentina are incredibly expensive. Those folding chairs that we can buy for $6 or 7 at Big W or Kmart at home are as scarce as hens’ teeth here … because they cost around $50! Most people use those 1960s folding chairs with the woven striped straps. My parents still have some. And Greg checked out the price of a jerrycan, thinking that we could fill it and use it in case of emergencies …. $87 !!! Um, no.
There aren’t many towns on Routa 40, and we were warned when we collected the van that we would need to fill up with petrol whenever we could, partly because of the distance between places, but also because even if there is a servo, it might not have any fuel! We lobbed into a little town with one service station and an enormous queue of cars, trucks, vans. We stopped and did some quick sums and worked out that we probably had enough fuel to get to the next town – we’re getting around 10L to 100kms, with a 40-45L fuel tank. So we headed out of town, then must both have had second thoughts at the same time … so turned around and joined the queue. It actually moved fairly quickly, took us about 40 minutes to fill the tank and be on our way.
We’ve been doing some ‘free camping’ and paying for some camping at campgrounds. The paid-for camping has been generally disappointing – $25 per night for a patch of dirt and very basic amenities. At the place we stayed at a couple of nights ago, only one of the 3 toilets in the women’s bathroom had a toilet seat … and no toilet paper. But that’s standard. I’ve learnt to carry a roll of loo paper in my handbag.
Last night we ‘free-camped’ beside the Rio Mayo. It’s a popular local swimming place, but by sunset everyone had gone home and we had the river to ourselves.
A very quick one ‘cos we’re using free wifi from a nearby restaurant and it’s pretty painstakingly slow.
We’re in Argentina – crossed the border yesterday afternoon. The Chilean side was fine, the Argentinian side was complete chaos … cars, trucks, people everywhere, huge queues to go through Immigration and then Customs. It took us about 90 minutes, but all our papers were in order (thank heavens for that!), and we finally got through at around 6.45pm. The border crossing closes at 7pm, and cars and people were still arriving, so we’re not sure what happened to them, whether it actually stayed open longer, or they had to stay there overnight. We have found that saying ‘no habla Espagnol’ – I don’t speak Spanish – at the start of any potential conversation, makes it easier for everyone, and usually makes for a quicker transaction as there’s no chit-chat.
We stayed at a campground by a glacial lake north of Bariloche last night. Argentinians are keen campers and love lighting fires! A bit like South Africans. We’re in Bariloche at the moment, it’s Sunday and we’re not sure what’s open, but we’ll find out soon.
My Airbnb account was hacked a day or so ago, and the hacker had made a booking at a (probably non-existent) LA apartment for 2 days at the princely sum of AUD$4k! The host’s account was also hacked. Airbnb were quick to refund me and cancel the booking, so it all worked out okay. Anyone reading this with an Airbnb account, make sure your password is good, or change it.
For Ron: sorry there are no songs, the internet is far too slow, but I’d probably add ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ to this post if I could!