Here are a couple more highlights of our trip, combined with some pictures... Enjoy!
Best day of sightseeing - huacachina oasis and nazca lines, peru
We put on 400 kms this day, but also managed to go dune bashing and sandboarding through the desert landscape of Huacachina, and then fly over the world famous Nazca Lines. Totally different experiences, but definitely one of the most interesting days of our trip!
Most interesting landscape - atacama desert, chile
There is desert, and then there is the Atacama Desert; the driest place on earth, surrounded by active volcanoes and lunar landscapes. One of the strangest, most confounding places we have ever stayed. The scenery was so foreign that I wished a had a decent camera to capture the moment!
Most interesting form of transportation - ferry to carretera austral, chile
Hopping aboard a 40 year old cargo ship with a couple of dozen travelers and thousands of tons of freight including semi trailers, heavy construction equipment, and new cars heading for a dealership and then meandering through the fjords of Patagonia was one of the most interesting experiences of the trip. We were aboard the ship for 36 hours and enjoyed the best sleep of our trip ensconced in our tiny bunks!
best setting for a hotel - green baker lodge, puerto bertrand, chile
This area was probably the most inaccesable of any on our trip - it was a 6 hour drive on terrible gravel roads to the nearest airport. However, the Rio Baker and surrounding lakes are the Holy Grail for fly fishermen - most of the lakes and rivers around here have never (or rarely) been fished, and the colour of the river is something I have never seen before. In fact, when you mention the Rio Baker to people as far away as Argentina, they sigh and immediately get excited. Our lodge was beautiful, right on the shores of the river, with a zipline across it and an old fashioned barrel hot tub within a stone's throw of the riverbend.
MOST INTERESTING PORT CITY - PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE
One of the more pleasant surprises of our trip, Punta Arenas is a relatively clean and orderly place (at least for a port town in the middle of nowhere) with good restaurants and friendly people. We enjoyed our three days here, even though selling our vehicle was a bit of a hassle. Our only regret is that our flight to Antarctica, which was scheduled to leave from Punta Arenas, was canceled. Oh well, I hope to be back with my kids in a few years and we will take a cruise to the Antarctic!
HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP - PATAGONIA AND THE SOUTH PATAGONIAN ICEFIELD
This was the portion of the trip I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. I was incredibly lucky to be able to have good weather on the most important day of the climb and really got to enjoy the ice cap in a way most people who go on 7 day trips do not.
While climbing big mountains the last five years has been a lot of fun, the scenery here was simply unmatched in my experience trekking and climbing. I would not hesitate to come back to do a full circuit of the ice cap or move further south to Torres del Paine and do some climbing there as well.
Patagonia is an interesting place - it is at a lower altitude and much of the region is arid plain (much like you would see in Montana or Wyoming). However, once you get into the mountains or near the lakes, the natural beauty is absolutely astounding. You can literally walk up to glaciers, see icebergs floating in a lake, and, best of all, hike or climb reasonably close to town to get unbelievable panoramas! Combine this with Argentine hospitality (and best of all, steak), and you have the highlight of my trip (and one of my all time favorite vacation spots!). I will definitely be back to see more of this beautiful, pristine region!
I hope to post all of my photos and some video in a Gallery in the coming weeks.
After spending a few days at home and getting back to work, I have had some time to reflect on our trip and the vast array of experiences we encountered over our 5 plus weeks in South America - every day a different memory or picture will pop into my mind. In fact, the first night back in my own bed, I dreamt that I was crossing a border and didn't have the correct paperwork - I was telling Bob that it was OK, that the documents were in my bag somewhere, when Anne woke me up and told me I was talking in my sleep!
I plan on using some of my spare time in the coming months to sift through all my photographs and video footage in order to put together a 10-15 minute video on our trip, but the completion of that project is probably some time away.
However, I decided to jot down a few of our favorite experiences, and illustrate them with pictures taken along the way - I took all of the pictures using my IPhone 6S. I'm not really a picture-taking kind of guy, but there were some places that I wished I had a nice DSLR to capture the moment.
Without further ado, here is part 1 of my version of David Letterman's Top 10:
favorite town - jardin, colombia
This town has it all - an amazing setting in a valley surrounded by coffee plantations, a beautiful church and square, as well as brightly adorned colonial buildings and a festive, friendly atmosphere, to boot. One of our favorite stops on the entire trip.
Worst stretch of road - jardin to Riosucio, colombia
This picture doesn't do the road justice - 42 kms of sharp stones with no gravel base. We had a lot of bad roads, but this was by far the worst we encountered on the whole trip. 15 years ago, we would have driven this road, and 5 minutes after we started would have been robbed and killed - Colombian security has come a long way!
Favorite city - quito, ecuador
Although we didn't spend much time in big cities, Quito made an impression on us with its unexpected historical significance and beautiful downtown. We didn't know much about Ecuador when we arrived (just that it had big mountains and was home to the Galapagos Islands), but we were pleasantly surprised with the region and its history.
FAVORITE HISTORIC HOTEL - PORTAL DE CATUNA, QUITO
We stayed in a lot of different types of lodging - from places with no hot water (and no fresh water), to 5 star resorts, but this was one of the most unique. A 250 year old convent that was converted into a 3 star hotel in downtown Quito - the owners managed to retain some of the religious relics from the convent, including a 300 year old virgin Mary!
Best Hotel design - Hotel Paracas, Paracas, peru
This hotel was very welcome after almost 2 weeks with no air conditioning and limited services - however, the common spaces stacked up well against any hotel we have ever stayed. The rooms were quite nice, but the pools (yes, there were 3 of them) and the setting made for a great splurge!
Best location for a hotel - Hotel Puerto Inca, chala, peru
Imagine a hotel set on a private bay, with a beautiful beach. Then imagine you are 50 steps from a large archaelogical site that used to be a fish cannery for a large portion of the Incan empire, and you have Puerto Inca. A 10 minute bumpy ride off of the Panamerican Highway, this hotel won't be recognized as a 5 star resort anytime soon (there was no fresh water - the showers are salt-water). However, the setting, the food and service made this one of the most unique places we stayed on our trip!
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO, WHEN WE RELIVE A FEW MORE OF OUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCES FROM THE SECOND HALF OF OUR TRIP!
Our last official night of the trip (outside of an airport), was a special one - after picking up our freshly laundered clothes, we headed to the Shackleton Bar for Happy Hour.
Punta Arenas has been at the epicentre of many historical events - besides being one of the most influential port cities in the world before the Panama Canal was built, Magellan officially wrapped up his circumnavigation of the globe here. This was also the traditional start and end point of all major Antarctic expeditions in the early 1900s - with Ernest Shackleton's ill fated 1916 expedition undoubtedly the most famous.
If you haven't read Shackleton's story, please do - it is one of the most amazing stories of leadership and survival you will ever come across. It is my favourite non-fiction read of all time (considering how much I read, that is really saying something).
In any event, we visited the actual home from which Shackleton mounted the rescue of his crew from Elephant Island - the abode is now a hotel and is host to the Shackleton Bar, with paintings and photos depicting his expedition. What an amazing piece of history (with decent Pisco Sours, to boot!).
From there, we had dinner and had to make it back for to the hotel for a 9:30 meeting with Rodrigo. He had to leave shortly afterward, so he called his buddy Claudio the salesman for a 10:15 meeting with us in the lobby. At the meeting with Claudio we went over (in Spanish) the documents they needed. After Claudio made a quick phone call, it seemed we had everything we needed to get the car sold in the morning!
Rodrigo picked us up at 9:00 am and we headed back to the Zona Franca. The next three hours were spent signing documents and visiting a notary, who prepared the Bill of Sale.
Finally, just before noon, we said a final goodbye to Manuel, who had served us admirably - our trip could have easily been derailed or altered significantly by a mechanical problem, especially since we did this whole trip in 26 days and our timing was so aggressive. The Gringos plates had to stay on the car, so we headed inside to collect our meagre bounty.
As I was signing the final document, I heard a banjo playing in the background, and then I heard Waylon Jennings singing "Just two good old boys, never meaning no harm...." Anybody who is my age would recognize that tune anywhere - it was the Dukes of Hazard theme song! And it was the ringtone of Rodrigo's friend's cell phone, Claudio, the guy who put out car deal together.
I couldn't help laughing - of all the things that could have happened at that moment, that was just about the least expected. And that, my friends, is what this trip was supposed to be about - doing something totally different, experiencing the unexpected at every turn and relishing those moments!
We left the dealership and hailed a taxi (Rodrigo had another job) just a little quiet and sad. However, it was time to set the next plan in motion - we had only two hours to get to the airport for our flight to Santiago, and then home!
After a quick lunch, Rodrigo picked us up and took us to the airport, where we boarded a flight for Santiago. The flight was 3,000 Kms and took over 3 hours - that same route took almost 2 weeks by car! We thanked Rodrigo profusely (this would have been a whole lot harder with out him) - if you are ever in Punta Arenas and need a guide, please look Rodrigo up. He has lived a very interesting life and is one of the good guys...
We are now sitting in our hotel at the Santiago airport dividing up our clothes and getting ready to go home - since we had to change our flights, we have some interesting stops along the way - we both fly to Panama, but from there we separate. I fly to the Dominican Republic, Chicago and Winnipeg on the milk run, while Bob flies to Cancun and LAX.
We want to thank all our friends for their support and encouragement along the way - we have had a great time, but having you alongside us has made the journey much more fun.
Most of all, we want to thank our families for allowing us to go away for a month and do something frivolous. The memories we've made on this father-son trip can never be taken away, and will be something I cherish for as long as I live.
Finally, I want to say thanks to my travel partner - it isn't often you get to do something like this with your father, and I recognize how special this trip has been to both of us. My parents are the reason why I love to travel - they have nurtured that "wandering spirit" in us since we were little kids. To get to see a new (at least to us) part of the world and share it with my father was beyond special - I just hope he had as much fun as I did!
I will be posting a wrap up in the coming days with some pictures (after spending some coveted time with my family) - thank you for tuning in, and we will see you on our next adventure!
the zona franca in punta arenas
Our guide showed up at 8:30 last night - "the Indian" was still preparing his offer and would have it for us by 10:00 am this morning. Rodrigo's buddy also had the name of someone else who was very interested in the car and was supposed to call him before our 10:00 am pow wow.
By this point we had spent enough time trying to sell the car and we had decided to take the best offer we got this morning and call it a day.
We drove out to see Rodrigo's friend - the Indian was offering exactly the same price as our lowball offer yesterday! Done deal...
We were told to come back before 5:00 pm, when we would sign all the paperwork and get our money.
Now it was time to see whether we could come home a bit early - our flights weren't scheduled to leave until Feb. 3, 8 days away, and we were close to finished with the trip.
First call went to my wife, and negotiator extrordinaire, Anne. She worked her magic and found us flights home departing early on Thursday morning, one and a half days away! That would kill our trip to Puerto Williams, but we both decided it was time to get back to our families, so we took the flights for the 28th.
That meant we quickly had to change our flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago - a 3 block stroll away, and we were in the offices of Sky Airlines, making the change allowing us to leave tomorrow afternoon!
After a short afternoon nap, we headed out to the Zona Franca and said what we though were our final goodbyes to Manuel - however, when I went to see the manager of the dealership, he explained the paperwork wasn't quite ready, but would be soon (tonight, possibly tomorrow). This makes us a little uneasy, as we have to make sure everything is wrapped up here by lunchtime, so we can leave! Back to the hotel, with Manuel in tow!
We will enjoy our last night with a trip to the World famous Shackleton Bar, find a great steak and some fine wine, and best of all, do all of this with great company - it's amazing that we haven't killed each other yet (in fact, just the opposite)!
We hoped to spend our last day of the trip visiting the Otway Penguin Colony north of town in the morning, and then head to the airport in the afternoon for our flight to Santiago, but now that our car sale is not complete, we may just have to hang around town for the day! I hope to publish our final blog post of our trip tomorrow night from the Santiago Airport and then will follow up with a recap over the weekend.
Driving around South America ordering meals, buying gas and reserving hotels is one thing - trying to do business in a country where you don't speak the language well and are unfamiliar with the flow of commerce is a whole different matter.
That is what faced us as soon as we hit Punta Arenas. Selling a used vehicle from outside the country is virtually impossible in all of South America - you are only allowed to register vehicles from the country where you purchased the car, which makes your vehicle worth only its scrap value if it comes from outside the country.
There are a couple of exceptions - rumour has it Paraguay offers the possibility to sell freely, but the two guaranteed places to sell a vehicle are the duty free ports of Iquique, in the north of Chile, and Punta Arenas.
We were approached at least 6 times during our trip to sell Manuel, but, alas these restrictions prevented us from doing so; we found ourselves in Punta Arenas on Monday trying to figure out the process of how to unload our vehicle.
I had read that we had to find someone who had a license to purchase vehicles in the Zona Franca (or Free Trade Zone), and after some internet searches found two such people. I emailed them a couple of months ago and got replies, but when I followed up last week, I got no response - out went another batch of emails last night.
Then last night at the restaurant we began chatting with the manager, who when we told her what we were doing, asked for pictures of the car and said she had a friend that was a dealer and might be interested. We gave her our contact information and she said she would call us at our hotel late in the morning...
That made 3 irons in fire, but that wasn't enough. This morning we went to the lobby of the hotel to talk to Pablo at the front desk. We explained what we wanted to do, Bob slipped him some money and said there would be another $100 US if he could help us find a buyer. I had the name of a used car dealership that I had taken from the Internet - someone from Vancouver had shipped the exact same vehicle (a model year older) from Canada, and had sold it to this dealership last year!
Also, as we were walking around this morning, we found another dealership that was buying vehicles just three blocks from our hotel - turns out this was one of the two original dealers I had contacted by email over the past month! With these two leads, we sent Pablo to work making phone calls as well.
Bob continued working the streets throughout the morning, going into rental car places and travel agencies to try and get more leads, while I remained in our room, now our sales command centre, ready to field calls from our prospective buyers.
By 11:30 am, we had no calls, but Bob had found us an English speaking guide from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, when we would try and hit three or four dealerships in person to see if we could make a deal. Turns out he had wandered by one of the dealerships and talked to the lot attendant, who said that his cousin did the purchasing and would be back around 3:00 pm.
After a haircut (for Bob at least) and lunch, we met our guide, Rodrigo, in the lobby of our hotel. After explaining what we wanted from him (not your typical half day tour!) we headed out to our first dealership, Polo Sur Autos. There was definitely an element of apprehension and nervousness as we made our way there - it was hard to know how this was going to go.
After a 25 minute conversation in rapid fire Spanish, we were lowballed at the first place, so we moved on to the second dealership, where we were told to come back around 4:00 pm, as the owner was away.
Our third stop was in the Zona Franca, which is a specially segregated industrial area which has been designated a duty free zone. You can buy anything from vehicles, to paint to Hunter Douglas blinds, so we proceeded to the Nissan dealership (there are two in the Zona Franca), where we were told Manuel was too old and had too many kilometres.
As we were getting ready to hit the second Nissan dealership, Rodrigo remembered he had a buddy who worked for "the Indian" who might be able to help us.
Turns out, "the Indian" is some mythical figure in Punta Arenas, one of the richest men in the city, who runs several of the largest car dealerships and owns more than 1,500 houses in the city!
We walked into the nearby Mitsubishi dealership, and met Rodrigo's friend, who promptly went to work. After a meeting with his manager, the salesman came out and all 4 of us (Rodrigo, the salesman, me and Bob) piled into Manuel to the used car depot a couple of miles away, where we had our car inspected. While waiting Bob and I perused the showroom and saw all the junked cars with interesting brand names (did you know there is a car company called Great Wall?). We were told the car was good (no surprise there) and that they would have a price for us by 7:00 pm tonight.
That left the final dealership - we got there at 4:30, and the owner went into a 20 minute diatribe on how hard it was to import vehicles from outside Chile and that he was not interested. He gave us some For Sale signs and told us we should do it ourselves. Then he came out, admired the car, said he wasn't interested at all, but then proceeded to give us his best price. By now I was so confused with this guy that I just herded everyone back in the car and we got out of there!
Long story short, we are awaiting the price from "the Indian's" people and will have the car sold tomorrow, with cash in hand...
After that, we will start making preparations to leave for Puerto Williams on Wednesday.
I'm exhausted just thinking about today, so will sign off...
We are back online, after a couple of days in the wilderness! Our plans have changed a couple of times since we last talked, but for now I will fill you in in what happened up to last night. At the bottom of this post I will recount what happened today...
After meeting with the mountain guide on Wednesday night, I left for the mountains on Thursday morning. We hiked for five hours through forest, then along the Rio Electrico, with mountains and glaciers surrounding us, reaching Lago Electrico and our campsite, Playa de Ancha, but not before a large river crossing almost pulled me into the lake!
We were camped along the river, and enjoyed a fitful sleep before waking up at 4:30 am on Friday for our hardest day so far. We hiked for an hour before reaching the Marconi Glacier, where we strapped on our crampons and walked on the icefield for an hour and a half. What a great experience walking on pure ice, over crevasses and streams hundreds of feet deep! The different shades of blue as the sun reflected off the ice was incredible, and walking over these huge mounds kept a smile on my face the whole time. We saw (and heard) several large avalanches up higher on the glacier, with countless waterfalls surrounding us on the valley floor. Magnificent!
Now it was time to get over the Marconi Pass, which my guide says was the "tricky part" - an understatement of epic proportions. What we had to do was climb up a rock wall littered with waterfalls - we would have to traverse large rock sections that were wet, slippery, and probably about 35 degrees in slope, with a 600 foot drop!
So that is what we did - with me as scared as I've ever been in my life, we climbed, slipped and grabbed for the next 45 minutes and made it to the top of Marconi Pass!
My reward was a 30 degree ice slope, which, after crampons were reattached, was actually quite fun. You can get great grip (known as purchase) with crampons, so I walked up the slope unroped, and when I reached the top, there it was, with clear skies and almost no wind - the third largest icefield in the world at 295 Kms in length.
The view with Fitzroy behind me and nothing but white in front of me (not even someone's footprints) was completely overwhelming - quite emotional, actually, and by far the most amazing moment of this trip.
We roped up (deep crevasses were covered by the snow and my guide was sure one of us would likely fall in at least one) and proceeded onto the snowfield, walking and taking pictures until we crossed into Chile an hour later - no border guards here! By 12:30 pm we were in the Chilean refuge on a rock outcropping in the middle of the icefield, enjoying an unexpected nap in a bunk, where we would spend the night. I actually had to go to the police station in El Chalten and check out of Argentina, and when I came back from my climb, had to go back and get stamped in!
We spent the afternoon wandering around the icefield, and in the evening watched the sunset over Fitzroy while playing Uno with the Chilean park ranger (I won so many times he threatened to make me sleep outside).
We were scheduled to head back down to our previous nights camp early the next morning, but halfway through the night, the weather turned bad. The winds had picked up, and there were heavy rains - this would mean our climb down through the Pass would be "difficult" according to the guide. Oh crap, I knew what that meant!
We set out at 6:00 am on the same path as the day before, but climbing down through the rock was more than a little scary - we were roped up the whole way, with my porter, Ferre slipping and sliding down the rock face, me going second, and the lead guide going last. We made it through the now very large waterfalls, with our boots full of water, when I set off an avalanche of loose rocks (some 5 feet tall) that just missed Ferre, who was helping carry some of my items (I was only carrying about 25 pounds of the 45 pounds of gear assigned to me).
Disaster averted, we decided to make our way all the way home, as the wind had picked up to 60 Km gusts, and the rain was unrelenting. We made our way down to El Chalten over the next six hours, including another 3 or 4 river crossings (a couple of which weren't there just 2 days ago). At the largest crossing, the water was up almost 3 feet and i was wet all the way up to my backpack!
After 9 hours climbing and walking I arrived back in El Chalten at 3:00 pm Saturday, with my gear (and me) completely soaked, a day early. Current weather and forecasts say we made the right decision as the wind howled all night and the forecast looks terrible going forward.
In the meantime, Bob was checking out El Chalten, as well as spending a day wading through rivers himself, trying his hand at fly fishing at a lake 35 Kms north of El Chalten. He was actually quite successful, catching a bunch of trout and honing his fly skills, while enjoying the company (and some wine!) with his guide, Gustavo.
We left El Chalten at 8:30 this morning, making it to the border town of Rio Gallegos by 1:00pm. Driving to Ushuaia is a strange experience - the city is in Argentina, but is landlocked from its own country, the same as Alaska. In other words, we would have to leave Argentina, cross into Chile for about 200 Kms, take a ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan, then return to Argentina for the final 300 Kms to Ushuaia - a 9 hour jaunt from the initial border!
We completed part one of our border crossings, heading back into Chile from Argentina - this took 1.5 hours even though the office was jammed with Chileans and Argentines heading home after a weekend in Argentina.
When we opened our car doors to enter customs, we were buffeted with 80 kph winds, and this got no better as we drove down the highway - I've never had to drive in conditions like this. By the time we were near the ferry crossing, we were both getting worried - sure enough, there was a 2 km line on the highway to the dock, and it looked like the ferry wasn't running - in any event it was severely delayed, which meant us sitting in line for at least the next 6 hours, and driving in the dark!
We both looked at each other - it was time to make some Banman-like quick decisions. This was the only way to Ushuaia, and our only other option was to backtrack a bit and make it to Punta Arenas. That would mean abandoning our plan to drive the final 400 Kms to Ushuaia and not making it to the southernmost permanent settlement in the world. Well, technically, even that statement isn't true - the southernmost settlement in the world is actually a town in Chile called Puerto Williams, 20 miles due south of Ushuaia.
I remembered reading while reasearching our trip that the only way to get to Puerto Williams is by airplane from Punta Arenas, so I told Bob that, if we made it to Punta Arenas, we could fly into Puerto Williams in the next couple of days, and unlike most overlanders, legitimately claim we had reached the southernmost settlement in the world!
So, we backed out of line at the ferry after waiting just 15 minutes, and drove the next 2 hours to Punta Arenas, where we have officially ended the self-driving portion of our trip. Yes, that's it!
We are working on finding someone to help us sell Manuel in the next two days, after which we will get to Puerto Williams, and then home! Hard to believe that we have probably parked Manuel for the last time and our journey is almost done - it all happened so abruptly, we are both sitting in the hotel room rather quiet and shocked.
We are going to head out for a celebratory drink, and then will start preparing Manuel for his new life in Chile!
Stay tuned for our adventures in trying to sell our car in Chile - we will report back tomorrow!
We arrived in El Chalten from the dusty frontier town of Gobernador Gregores around 11:30 am - although the driving time wasn't long, we had about 70kms of really rough roads again. Seems the South American definition of gravel means a mountain of 6 inch stones, rather than a smoother, sandlike surface that we are used to - it's like a moving cobblestone road!
About 60kms before El Chalten, Mount Fitzroy appeared - it's always strange when you see something in person that you have only seen in pictures and movies before. Fitzroy is the one iconic mountain in Patagonia that everyone knows- it is even the basis for the Patagonia clothing line logo! This was my "wow" moment of the trip - to see the granite spires and jagged peaks of Fitzroy has really put an exclamation point on my trip.
We checked into our hotel - El Chalten was not really a community until the 1980's when people realized it was one of the best places on earth for seeing glaciers, as well as mountaineering, hiking and mountain biking. As a result, lots of young, fit people are here from around the world (but mostly Brazil) getting some mountain air.
I meet with my guide tonight, when we will go over my climb to the Marconi Glacier. This trek will take 4 days and three nights and will get me onto the worlds second largest ice cap in the world - hundreds of Kms of nothing but glacier, ice and mountains! The first day will be basic hiking, after which we will strap on crampons, rope up and cross up and onto the glacier, which is full of crevasses... Sound like fun?
Anyway, I will be unable to blog the next three/four days, so here's hoping for a good weekend (the weather here looks favourable!) and for you as well, wherever you may be!
We slept in this morning after a late dinner (many Chileans and all Argentines eat dinner after 10 pm!) and were on the road by 8:45 am.
Our route again took us along the shores of Lago General Carrera, and the road was once again terrible. Much like yesterday, the road is about 1.5 lanes wide (for traffic going in both directions) with no guard rails, and is pitted washboard. Driving is not only treacherous, it is pure torture on the vehicles as the tires, shocks and brakes are tested to their limits, there were times when we couldn't average 30kph because of the conditions.
The payoff was the scenery - the lake, flowing river valleys and surrounding mountains made for a stunning backdrop and we were literally gasping at every corner. Finally, after 3 hours of bone rattling driving, we were at the Argentine border, the last of the countries we will be visiting. The border process was the smoothest yet - we checked out of Chile, into Argentina and got our new permit within 30 minutes!
The difference in geography and road conditions could not have been more stark - while in Chile, the mountains and green rivers were omnipresent, while in Argentina we were in the arid plateaus, much like Montana or Wyoming. The roads were like glass, and we were able to set the cruise control at 140 kph in some spots, so that by 5:00 pm we were ensconced in our little hosteria in the dusty town of Gobernador Gregores.
Tomorrow is a short 4 hour drive to the trekking and climbing mecca of El Chalten, where I will prepare for a 4 day climb to the worlds second largest ice cap glacier (I depart on Thursday). Bob will likely do some trout or salmon fishing as well as take in the local scenery as well.
We will check in tomorrow...
view from our room!
NOTE: We had no wifi yesterday, so this is the post I wrote on Monday. Today's post will follow tonight!
Another brand new set of experiences as we head into the heart of Chilean Patagonia and the Carretera Austral.
We were told to present our car for loading onto the ferry at 11:30 pm on Saturday - the port was 14 Kms from Puerto Montt on a dark, windy road, so we set out a bit early in case we got lost. We got lost.
After wandering around in the dark for 30 minutes, we pulled up to a parking lot and shack on the opposite side of the street from the water. We got in line with cars and semis and then proceeded to wait for the next 45 minutes while our turn came to present our documents to the port foreman. The foreman filled out some documents, then inspected our car (in the dark) gave us 2 copies of the documents, and told us to put our car into line.
In the meantime, other cars were pulling up and backing into line as well. One thing about Chilean drivers - they are non-agressive, non-sensible and they most definitely cannot back up to save their lives! We sat in our car for the next hour laughing at the drivers as they would come extremely close to backing into parked cars with an empty parking lot all around them, without exception! Colombian drivers are suicidal and much more unsafe, but Chilean drivers are more frustrating, in many ways.
By 1:00 am, drivers were told to drive their cars onto the boat, about 1 km away. We drove into port, onto a bridge, and into the belly of our ferry, the Evangelista (if you want to see pictures and specs on the boat, Google Navimag Evangelista). Much like the model Linda Evangelista (look her up on the Internet), the boat was born in the 70s, and is definitely no supermodel today, but is clean and friendly, so we couldn't complain.
This is a cargo ship, first and foremost, and while we went to sleep in our cabin a bit before 2:00 am, the stevedores continued to pack the boat with containers, semi trailers, trucks, buses, and even new vehicles. When we got up at 8:30 am, they were still loading!
By 10:00 am, the passengers who didn't have vehicles arrived at the boat and were boarded. We set sail at 11:00 am, and for the next 23 hours sailed through the inner passage of the channel past stunning coastline and through calm waters.
By the time dawn had broken we were in the narrow channels of the passage, navigating amongst waterfalls, forests and glaciated mountains - an amazing way to wake up.
We arrived into Puerto Chacabuco around 10am this morning and then the unloading process began. We finally got our car off the ship around 12:00 pm and started on our way down the Carretera Austral.
The Carretera Austral is a 770 mile stretch of road that was begun by the Chilean dictator Pinochet back in the 1970's. At that time, the only way to access Chilean Patagonia was by boat or through Argentina. As conflicts with Argentina grew in the 70's, Pinochet was worried that this area might become part of Argentina, as many of the inhabitants would feel more connected to Argentina due to the ease of access.
Pinochet sent 10,000 military personnel to build a road that would run most of the length of Chilean Patagonia. Many of these military personnel lost their lives building the highway. The first portion of the road was opened in 1988, with subsequent portions opened in 2000 and 2003. The surface of the road varies from paved to rough gravel.
The road is often described as one of the last great road trips in the wilderness left in the world, through forest, mountains and glaciers. And now, we were on it.
We drove the first 2.5 hours to Villa Cerro Castillo on decent pavement, passing through hilly pasture and beautifully rugged mountains. The pavement ended here and so did our journey (at least temporarily). The road was closed until 6:00 pm, so we were stuck for two hours waiting. We sat in a tiny restaurant with seven Brazilian bikers headed to Ushuaia.
By 6:00 pm we were back in line getting ready to make it to the next town, Puerto Rio Tranquilo, 100 dusty Kms and two and a half hours away. We decided to end our day here - however all the hotels in town were booked, so on we went to Puerto Bertrand, another hour and a half until we found our lodging... We are at a fishing lodge on the Rio Baker - the water is flowing fast and it is a shade of green/blue I have never seen before. Patagonia is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world!
After another late night meal (this time in Gobernador Gregores) and we were ready to start off for El Chalten around 8:00 am. Argentinian cuts of meat are a bit different than our North American cuts (Argentines claim to have 23 different cuts, to North America's 16), which probably explains why Bob received a half slab of meat when he ordered a piece of veal!
A 3.5 hour ride (with 70 Kms on bad roads again) later, we arrived in El Chalten. It is always amazing to see something in person that you have always seen in just pictures - the giant rocks of Mount Fitrzroy tower over the town, as glaciers empty into lakes, rivers and nowhere in particular. The setting is classic Patagonia (it is even featured on the Patagonia clothing brand's logo), and, for me, was my one "wow" moment of the trip so far.
There was no settlement in this location until the mid 1980's, when people began to realize this was one of the best locations for climbing and hiking in the world. As a result, the area is now home to a large outdoor based sport industry, with lots of young people from all over the world experiencing the great wild.
We checked into our hotel, and then made our way downtown to check in with my guiding company and rent the last of the gear I didn't bring.
I meet with the guide tonight to discuss our plan - basically, we will take three days to get to the Marconi glacier, on one of the largest icefields in the world. I hope to spend one day exploring the icefields, and then return back to El Chalten on Sunday evening. I hope to post some great pictures on my return.
There will be no more blog posts for the next three days as I will be out in one of the most desolate parts of the world, but I will try and check back in on Sunday night to let everyone know how it goes... Have a great weekend!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain