Monthly Archives: September 2014

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End of The Road : Chilean Patagonia

Crossing to Tierra del Fuego and driving all the way south to Ushuaia just wasn’t realistic in our time frame. So for a long time now, the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile has been our planned end point. We expected that this would the farthest south we would go before turning around. And our plans included a big multi-day hike in the mountains to end the trip on a big adventure.

We had been forced to take a few detours due to horrible road conditions. At one point the wind was so strong and the road was so muddy and slippery that the van was sliding sideways across the road. After a few very long days of driving across endless barren plains the mountains of the Torres del Paine massif loomed large on the horizon. And it is incredibly beautiful.

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This entire area of Patagonia is really rich with animal life. Before reaching the mountains and lakes, the animals were the only things that added a bit of interest to the many boring miles. There are probably a hundred times more sheep and cows than there are people out here. And on top of the livestock there is an abundance of native animals like guanacos (the wild relative of llamas and alpacas) and ñandus (like an emu).

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Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve when we arrived. Actually, it got worse. This was always a risk of travelling here in the off season… but it was even worse than we imagined. It was cold and rainy, and the wind howled relentlessly kicking up huge swirling clouds of water from the lakes. We spent most of our time sitting inside the van where it felt like a turbulent plane ride. All plans of hiking with backpacks and sleeping in a tent were quickly abandoned. But the scenery was still amazing.

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Since we didn’t go trekking, we decided to push on a little further south through the pretty coastal cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. We went as far as possible on the roads of mainland South America.

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When we ran out of road, we popped the top and a bottle of wine and settled in for the night. The fact that the trip was almost over and that our lives are about to change drastically was really starting to sink in. This was sort of a special moment for us. We were happy to enjoy it in solitude with the soft lapping of waves and a clear view of the mountains of the Tierra del Fuego islands in the distance.

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We woke to ice covered windows, and hoped that it would be the last time. After enjoying a rich and colourful sunrise with breakfast we hit the road, heading north for the first time in a long time.

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Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Desert, Ice and Snow : Patagonia, Argentina

We crossed the border at Chile Chico, and our first stop back in Argentina was a panaderia (bakery). Argentina’s baked goods are phenomenal… we are obsessed and of course always overdo it. Still, it’s a struggle to spend over $5.

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We tried to move as quickly as we could, though the flat and barren scenery. The weather however, kept things interesting. We had snow, rain, hail and shine. The only constant was the howling wind. Mark and Oscar were in a never-ending battle to keep us on the road, and I’m still amazed that we weren’t blown over.

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We were so travel weary at the end of each day that we’d just find a quiet gravel road and pull off to the side to camp. And I mean, just off to the side. One of my favourite things about Patagonia is the isolation. We only saw one other car the entire time we were camping roadside.

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Our spirits soared when we finally caught sight of mountains on the horizon, as they rose up gallantly to puncture the seemingly endless farmland. Mountains and glacial lakes are nature’s perfect match, and they suddenly exploded in abundance as we drove along the road towards Los Glaciares National Park.

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We stared wide-eyed and mouths agape as we approached the awe inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier. The size, colour and beautiful setting alone are enough to impress, but what stuck with me was the immense power it seems to emanate. The sound of the shifting, cracking and breaking ice echoed eerily as we walked around the viewing platform, giving me butterflies.

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We found ourselves a sweet wild campsite just off the main park road to the glacier. Life is pretty cramped these days as we barely pop the top in the relentless Patagonian wind. We have to make an effort to go outside, rugged up against the elements. Turns out ponchos are a bit breezy.

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We pointed the brown bus towards Chile for one last time, but Argentina wasn’t going to let us leave that easily. There was fresh snow on the roads and some very icy sections. At one point we thought we might have to turn around, but as we pushed on the roads gradually improved.

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A feeling of excitement was building gradually between us, we’d be reaching the end of our road somewhere in Chile. But where? We hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Green Miles : Carretera Austral, Chile

After the great times we had around the Lakes DIstrict of Argentina, it was seriously hard to leave. But the deep south beckoned and we answered the call.

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We crossed back into Chile to take the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway), keen to spend as much time as possible in the mountains and forests.

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The Andes trap all of the rain on the Chilean side as it sweeps in from the Pacific. This means foggy rainforests, huge lakes, glaciers hanging from towering peaks, and more shades of green than I thought possible.

There are no tourists this time of year, so the gravel roads were mostly deserted and we could camp anywhere we wanted for free. Often times we would pull into a National Park campground, with not another soul around and nobody to accept payment.

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Once in a while we rounded a bend and realized that the dark body of water before us wasn’t a lake, but an ocean fjord.

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We are moving pretty fast these days, but we found time to take a wander through one of the forested trails in the Queulat National Park. The temperate rainforest is amazingly rich in plant life. The continual rain makes the ground soft underfoot, every inch of space is covered with something alive. Trees grow on other trees. A rock isn’t just a rock, but a foundation for a miniature bonsai-like forest of ferns and moss. The thick forest and the soft rain dampened all noise, so it was really peaceful. Just soft footsteps, bubbling creeks and birds chirping.

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There’s a glacier here that hangs over the side of a cliff, melting into a waterfall, which drops into a lake and empties through a river into the ocean a few kilometres away. The thick clouds rolling in from the coast completed the entire water cycle on a grand scale right in front of us. We sat and watched for a while as the occasional chunk of ice broke loose and fell into the water, the loud cracking sound reaching us a little later.

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Later that day we stopped in at another deserted campground, and couldn’t believe our luck when we found one of the wood cabins unlocked and stocked with firewood for the stove.

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Another drifter dropped by to share the warmth.

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As we travelled further south, the temperature dropped. Towns and gas stations became fewer and farther between. But with a van stocked with food, all we needed were flat spots to pull off for the night. And they were plentiful.

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This is a seriously beautiful part of the world. I have filed away a few moments and images in my memory, to be revisited someday when I need a brief escape from a long day at the office.

Posted from: Olavarria, Argentina