Author Archives: Mark

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The Final Chapter : Farewell to The Brown Bus

Although we have been home for a while now, we have totally neglected to update the final chapter of the blog.

Our last week of travelling was a real whirlwind. We found a campground in Buenos Aires for a couple of days to sort out the van and everything in it. We also had a chance to catch up with my long lost Argentine brother, Fran. He was an exchange student who lived with my family when I was a kid and was like our big brother for six months. It was so great to see him again, to watch his local soccer game and to meet his beautiful family.

After the campground, we had work to do. We rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, unloaded our stuff from the van, took it in for a good wash and then headed for the midnight ferry to Uruguay.

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We got off the ferry at about 3am and managed to get a few hours of sleep on the street before driving a few hours into Montevideo to meet the new owners at the mechanic. We hadn’t really done our homework properly and after a day of running around between the customs and notary offices we eventually confirmed that we would absolutely have to cross the border together to complete the necessary paperwork.

So all four of us piled into the van and took an overnight road trip to the border. At the border it was almost too easy. We drove through one checkpoint and cancelled our papers, pulled a U-turn and re-entered the country to type up some new papers with Arjan listed as the driver. They assured us that this was all we needed. Let’s hope so.

All Done 02 All Done 03All Done 21Back seat bandits, for the first time ever. 

Back in the cute little river side town of Colonia we printed out some sale contracts and did an online payment over drinks. This is where we said goodbye to our faithful companion. The old van had been our home for 15 months and all too quickly we were hopping on the ferry back to Buenos Aires. Vanless.

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Now we had a few days to kill in the city exploring, shopping, eating and celebrating.

In the meantime, we had some packing to do. The rest of our belongings had to be sorted out and fitted into four bags for the plane ride home.

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It was amazing how quickly and abruptly the trip ended. But we weren’t sad. This moment had been coming for a long time. We were excited for what’s next.

Bring on Australia. Bring on family and friends and everything else that lies ahead.

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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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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.

Austral 01 Bird watching. 

Austral 02Flamingos

Austral 03 Austral 04 Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

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.

Austral 12Puyuhuapi fjord

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.

Austral 22 Austral 23 Fuel stop.

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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