Via the RP101 we reached Bajo Caracoles, a bad piece of ripio (gravel) road, then eastwards on the RP79, a very quiet and remote road passing between, what looked like, many abandoned haziendas. There seemed to be very little hunting in this area as the herds of guanacos and Rhea were less skittish and much larger than anywhere else we had been to. Just before turning onto the RP12, our vehicle developed a problem – every time we tried to brake, the vehicle shuddered and a grinding noise was to be heard. We had no option but to turn back and slowly make our way back southwards to Gobernador Gregores again, a detour of about 200km. This town developed as a town supporting agriculture in this area. We slowly managed to get back with no braking, just shifting gears. In the town we inquired and were directed to the mechanic shop “ Taller Sergio Soto” where we were lucky to find Sergio, who diagnosed the problem within 5 minutes (we had lost a bolt holding the disc pad assembly) and he found us a replacement in town within 30 minutes. An hour later we were on our way again. Including a spare bolt the damage was P 300 or about R200 – a very fair price to solve our quandary. For the coming night we decided to stay in town, spoil ourselves eating out and retired at Camping Municipal for P 200 (R 130). Next morning we again left via the bad R25, then reached the RP12 and enjoyed the wildlife and colourful mountains along this remote road. Only a single vehicle passed us all day and via the R49 we arrived late afternoon at “Monumento Nacional y Reserva Nacional Bosques Petrificados”. We were still welcomed by the rangers and were surprised that no entry fees were charged at this park. After a short guided tour of the museum we followed the trail along the petrified tree trunks, some up to 30m long and 2.5m is diameter -an impressive sight. The many fossils are testimony that Lago Grande used to be a large lake with enormous trees and dinosaurs until the fateful eruption of nearby Volcano Madre y Higa that blew over the Pre-Araucaria trees 150 million years ago. Nothing remained standing with the estimated 300km/hr pyroclastic wind, and ash then covered the entire area which led to the petrification through rain. This park had no camping facility, the rangers also ensured that we did not camp wild anywhere close – this is to minimize the risk of souvenir pieces being carried away. Outside the park the camping site on a hazienda, La Palomo ,was also closed so we veered off the road along the track under a large powerline and hid behind a hill for the windy night. When we reached Puerto San Julián along the main Ruta 3, the YPF Service station would not accept any credit cards – solo effectivo (cash)! In town the service station did not have any diesel – we should come back in an hour’s time, they were awaiting delivery. In town we had to ask our way through to find the only ATM accepting foreign credit cards. All this arranged, we decided to stay on Camping Municipal, where we met English-speaking Jeanette Carolina Walker working at reception – she had studied 3 years at Wits University in Johannesburg and her father farmed on an hazienda along the route we intended travelling from here. The Camino Costanera along the coast proved to be a good choice, scenic and with a lot of birds. Along this stretch camping is permitted along the Sandstone cliffs and pebble beaches. At La Loberia viewpoint we took time to observe a colony of Sea Lions and flocks of cormorants and skuas. Although we were now in the middle of the holiday season, the number of visitors along this stretch were very few. Towards afternoon we stopped at the furthest point of Playa Grande and spent the night camping near the beach below. Along RP47 in a westerly direction we passed Estancia Las Manatiales and stayed for a coffee and had a chat with Carlos Walker where he confirmed that farming in this area was tough. It was a family farm where he already had grown up. This year they were in a drought, but he also bottled water on a different farm and supplied it in the area, branded Agua Nao Victoria, to supplement income. As we left the farm, we came across some more Armadillos and Crested Tinamou. We never really managed to count the bands to decide whether this was a 6 or 7 banded Armadillo. Apparently only the bands which can bend are counted - kind of tough to determine that on a photo. In the afternoon we reached Punta Buque where we could observe many Magellanic Penguins and Patagonian Maras that look similar to rabbits . This post covers 24th – 28th January 2018. The night we spent on Estancia El Amencer, with basic camping site. The Telhuelche indian owners also own the area close to the lighthouse at Punta Buque, where we saw many people camping illegally, due to the road to the lighthouse being a public one. The area is actually private and archeologically sensitive. The farm owners have their own little museum in their house, proudly displaying the stone and bone tools found in this area of their ancestors. From this farm there is a backroad to Tellier to reach Puerto Deseado. Along the way we saw some red foxes strung up at the gates – a grizzly reminder that they still get exterminated, together with the few remaining Puma, that are considered vermin by the sheep farmers. Along the way we spotted some
At Los Horquetas we turned off towards P.N. Perito Moreno along a 90km ripio road in bad condition. The park is a smaller, lesser frequented park on Lago Burmeister with a camping site tucked away in a small forest and well sheltered. There are trails, a bird hide and horse rides are possible. Although we were hoping to see Huemul deer, a ranger indicated that it may be extinct in Argentina and only possible to see in Chile. What a pity, we had already completed our travels in Chile. Along Lago Burmeister we had such a strong wind that photographing with tripod was impossible – at the same times the winds produced interesting lenticular cloud formations. On the return journey from the park we discovered some Armadillos and were amazed how they managed to dig themselves half way into the ground so that it is impossible to extract them by hand. Back on Ruta 40 we carried on northerly and reached Bajo Caracoles – this area is flat and the low shrub gives it colour. The town had a total of only 15 inhabitants and the fuel pumps were decorated by passing motor cyclists. Travelers can have lunch here at the small hotel – but we did not spot a shop. Following the gravel RN 103 we got to Lago Ghio late afternoon and found ourselves a spot overlooking this blue lake – virtually no traffic here whatsoever – and spent a quiet albeit windy night. We were not far from the border post Paso Rodolfo Roballes once we got on the Ruta 41 in the direction of Los Antiguos. We can recommend this trip along Ruta 41 – a very scenic and remote road with interesting rock formations and peaks. After 102km we reached Los Antiguos. The town that had its annual cherry festival the week before. This area was dry and windy - yet it produced the best cherries in Argentina. Early farmers had planted large poplar trees around every plot, effectively breaking the wind completely , so the cold climate with plenty of water from Lago Buenos Aires makes it ideal to grow the fruit. We managed to eat 5 kg of cherries in 2 days – our stomachs complained a little, but they were just super delicious and at Peso 60-70 per kg a steal! We camped at Camping Circulo Policial – a site that belonged to the police union of the area, a plot all framed by tall trees and hence no wind. Next morning we tried to get our tires inflated – no service station had air. We found this quite often in South America so it is wise to always have a small compressor on hand. At least in this town the ATMs accepted foreign cards again and we stocked up on some much needed cash. From here we travelled south on Ruta 40 as we were keen to visit the Cueva de los Manos next, the paintings of hands by nomadic indigenous inhabitants, situated along the Rio Pinturas. As we traveled southwards, Willi, the Austrian we had met at New Year in Ushuaia, stopped us to inquire whether diesel was available in this area, as further south he could get none and would have had to wait for 3 days. Supply in this area of Patagonia seems to be erratic at times and we appreciated our 200 liter tank and reach of around 1300km. Soon we took a gravel backroad shortcut towards the Cuevas and drove up a track into the Cañon Caracoles to find a spot for the night. There was nobody around besides some wild horses and guanacos and we found ourselves parking just off the track enjoying the sunset that turned the canyon into a canvass of different colours as the sun set – accentuated by the stark white-crusted river bed. As the wind was picking up, we attached our shade-net on the side of the vehicle and again it proved to be a good solution to reduce the very strong gusts that were prevailing through the night. At 10am next morning we reached the Cueva de los Manos on time to participate in the first guided tour along the sheer cliffs of the canyon. Although we had seen some of the painted hands near Cerro Castillo previously, these here were far more abundant and impressive including painting of some animals. As this region only sees about 20mm per year, the paintings kept well. The predominant colours are red (iron), white (clay), black (manganese), green (copper) and yellow (natrojarosite) mixed with urine and fat. As in other parts of the world, high fences had to be erected to protect them against vandalism making it difficult to photograph them close up. This covers 18th to 23rd January 2018
The road from the Argentinian border was gravel, fields of flowers everywhere as we entered the country. We passed through Esperanza and El Cerrito, then we were back on Ruta 40 and finally reached Calafate via Ruta 11 and found a camping spot at El Ovejero, close to town. The information centre and museum was close - so we headed there first. Both Perito moreno and Darwin had a major influence on the history of Patagonia. The wind blew like mad, very gusty, nevertheless we found a spot among trees in the back of the camping site which made the night bearable. In the morning we researched the activities that we could do around Glaciar Perito Moreno. The town is neat and well organized, evidently a tourist hotspot as many travelers want to see the glaciar. Outside town is the Glaciarium – an informative stopover to learn more about ice, snow and glaciars. According to the local weather prediction we would have a splendid day ahead of us.....we were rock-certain about this. El Calafate is situated on Lago Argentino, and we spent time observing birds and people along the costanera. Early next morning we departed to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and were lucky to see some Condors very close before finally reaching the glaciar. It is about an hours drive to get to the park. Being early was a bonus – not many visitors yet and we could stroll the long catwalks which run very close to the face of Perito Moreno. This glaciar grows at a rate of around 2.2m per day, resulting in regular calving along its approx. 3 km long face. It is the only growing glaciar ( all other are receeding) – however its total mass is also shrinking. The face of the glaciar is 70m high. We spent many hours here in beautiful weather and decided to return the next day as this was still covered by the entrance fee, including a nights camping, although the camping site Lago Roca was approximately 30 minute drive in the direction of town. If the ranger here sign off the ticket, one can enter the park at the glaciar a second time. Despite the change in weather we enjoyed the time and camped again in El Calafate. Wind and rained loomed dark in the sky. We passed Lago Viedma with its drifting ice bergs and its glaciar in the background before finally reaching El Chaltén. On arrival the clouds were low and we could not see much of the splendor. After getting information on trails at the information center manned by knowledgeable rangers and mountain guides we found a spot on camping El Relincho – the wind pumping, the air as cold as ice. The previous night 9 tents were damaged by the fierce winds. Tail-end into the gale we hoped for the best. The camping site was filled to capacity, pretty noisy, but we had a reasonable night’s rest. The next day was less rainy and we drove to Desierto, walked a little and decided to camp at Bonanza along the Rio Toro – pretty sheltered among a cluster of trees. As the weather had cleared next morning we drove to the viewpoint outside town to enjoy the panoramic view of Mount Fitzroy. Our subsequent trail to the viewpoint Torres was a beautiful trek worth doing – if the weather permits, one could walk right down onto the glaciar. Along the way we observed some Magellanic Woodpeckers feeding their chick as well as a number of Condors circling the peaks. On El Relincho we camped again and stood with our back into the wind – however, during this night the gusts intensified to such an extent, that we feared our rooftop tent would finally tear – it sounded like gunshots every time it blowed up and then contracted again. At 4am we decided to close the tent and tried to sleep on the front seats – not the most comfortable night and icy cold with rain starting again in the morning – another normal day in Patagonia. The weather prognosis predicted more rain and miserable conditions and we decided to leave – we would have liked to remain around these mountains for longer. Outside town some Condors bid us farewell. As we continued past Lago Viedma the wind intensified - nevertheless some intrepid cyclist battle it out. We realised that we needed to find a sheltered place for the night. In Tres Lagos we visited the local campsite Confiseria le Camping and a Belgian family with 3 kids travelling since 7 months assured us, that they have had a quiet night's camping among the cherry trees below the offices. We joined them in the camping area and, after putting up our shade-net on the side of the vehicle, held by flexible ties, we had a reasonably comfortable night. The bonus were ripe cherries on the trees we could pick and eat fresh. In the evening we could sit inside the heated communal dining room. However, the showers were a misconstruction – water flowed out of the door in place of into the drains and we wondered who got away with such shoddy workmanship - the entire place was continuously flooded. From here we took direction towards Lago Cardiel, a turquoise lake and popular amongst anglers, we were told. Nobody anywhere, completely desolate and we drove around, past Cerro El Puntudo. Here we made a gruesome find: a poisoned guanaco was set out to kill Puma and Red Foxes – however 3 Condors and 6 birds of prey died at the spot ( a ranger in the next reserve told us it is still a common occurrence and they do not know how to curb it as there are no laws that prevent this type of action). Close to the water’s edge at Bahia Griego we found a place to camp and could observe a multitude of birds and flamingos as well as scrub hares. We did not see another person around the entire lake – so peaceful and remote. We wondered how the holes got into some of the seeds on this bush -was it ants like on the whistling acacia in east Africa? When we arrived in Gobernador Gregores we had to wait until the truck with diesel arrived. We also could not withdraw any money at any of the two ATMs in the town – here foreign cards did not work. This was confirmed by the information office. We realized that this area is really remote and rural, yet, at a later occasion, we had to return here as we lost a bolt on the front disc brakes, when we were pleasantly surprised by the service rendered. Please note that in this town all shops close for Siesta and only open again at 5pm. This post covers 9th to 17th January 2018
Overlanders touring in South America know that, when crossing the border into Chile, the unexpected can happen. Some vehicles pass easily, others are subjected to a search – mainly for fresh produce. Taking the small border post Bella Vista after a public holiday should have been quick and easy. It was not. Makoti Down Products – a manufacturer from Uitenhage we can recommend, their products proved robust and warm and they can manufacture to size. Before we departed to the Torres del Paine we restocked provisions, as in the park no shops are available and we shall proceed from there back into Argentina. Since gas cycliders from our portable gas stove cost approx. 1/3 of what they cost in Argentina, we stocked up and then drove to the little town of Villa Serano just before the entrance to the park, drove through town past the last house with its red roof and carried on a track toward the mountains until we found a lonely wild camping spot on the bank of the clear Rio Serano that runs from within the Torres del Paine park.
On the RN3 going South we made good headway , this road being the main connection to Tierra del Fuego and ends in Ushuaia. Turning off at Tolhuin we stopped at the Union Bakery – known for a good coffee and cake. Down the road was Camping Hain owned and run by Andres. First we thought we ended at the wrong place, part being an outdoor playground for kids, the entire camping site being built from recycled material and imaginary theme structures everywhere. Ricardo Suter and Richard from Germany were also on their way to Ushuaia and the evening passed quickly with a lot of interesting tales. At 11:00 it was still light when we crept in and at 3am it got light again and it seemed the sun wanted to already rise. We had a good view over Lago Fagnano from our tent, a night without cloud cover, yet not many stars were visible (it never really got pitch dark). The morning was cold and windy and as we continued south the rain set in and we passed the two 3-wheelers that slow down to 20km when it goes steep uphill, their engines being around 200cc.