Argentina 17: La Plata, Buenos Aires, Fray Bentos and good-bye South America

 

Camping near Punta Indio on the Camping Municipal Sarandi on the Atlantic coast was probably going to be one of the last times on our extended journey.

We took the RP11, passed Reserva Natural El Destino ( which also seemed to offer camping), drove through the town Magdalena and reached La Plata – a busy and larger city. We successfully navigated with our Pocket Earth App. like we have done so many times before , until we reached the natural science museum, the Museo de Sciencias Naturales, founded by Perito Moreno in 1884 for the university.

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Museo de Sciencias Naturales, founded by Perito Moreno in 1884

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This is a museum worth visiting and it covers many natural science topics and houses more than 3 million objects.

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Close relatives sharing a joke – although living with greedy humans on the same planet is no joke

Needless to say that the day we spent there only afforded us a narrow view of the broad topics covered. If you had the time, you could easily set aside 2-3 days here. Siblings Nicolas and Camilla Kass, two reptile biologists we met at Talampaya and who gave us the tip ( they work here) were unfortunately in Thailand when we visited.

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Very impressive to us was the collection of skeletons of all types of animals from all over the globe. Ever imagined what a leatherback turtle would look like from the inside?

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Leatherback turtle skeleton

Having spent the day at the museum, it left us no time to visit the cathedral on Plaza Moreno – apparently another impressive sight in La Plata.

We left on time to avoid major traffic and reached the suburb Florencio Varela in Buenos Aires, where our new-found friends Luciano and Natalia with daughter Valentina and mother Sara lived and awaited us.

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One night we had Asado, the next night a typical South African “braai”

They never thought we would stop by and the following 3 days we enjoyed with them a number of outings to explore BA. “Mi casa es su casa” -their home became ours as they moved out and stayed with family – what extraordinary gesture of hospitality accommodating strangers! They also insisted to take us into the city – an hour’s drive from where they lived. In return we reciprocated inviting them to a city tour by bus, which they had never done.

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Modern CBD of Buenos Aires
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Law faculty where Luciano studies

 

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Floralis Genérica statue – 3500kg per petal opens and closes with the sun
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Obelisk, Buenos Aires
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Buenos Aires old part of the city

A Red Bus roundtrip of BA can be recommended to get an overview of the city and its surrounds – not to be missed is the artist suburb of Boca Boca with its vivid colours and laid-back Tango cafés. It is also the home to one of the most famous Argentinian football teams, Boca Juniors – unfortunately the suburb is not safe to walk all backstreets and one is advised to stay within the main touristic area.

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Sculpture by Ai Weiwei in la Boca
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La Boca bursting with colours

 

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Lunch at a Tango Café
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La Boca is the famous suburb of artists in Buenos Aires
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Buy original art on the street in La Boca

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Plaza la Bombeiros
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Shop dog clothing and accessories in la Boca

When in BA a visit to the famous cemetery in Recoletta, where Evita Peron ( look for the Duarte burial chamber, her maiden name) is buried – recognizeable by the many who visit her last resting place.

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Recoletta cemetary

 

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Evita Peron -Duarte burial chamber

Sara, Luciano’s mother joined in and together we also visited Tigre – the home of our Cape Town Spanish teacher José.

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Puerto de Frutos where goods are traded and conveyed by water
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Relax on the water

 

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Find all your Mate requirements

At our friend’s home we held a competition – Asado vs Braai – on different nights. Argentinians normally like their meat well-well done, but with our style of braai, doing a fillet whole, our friends got a good idea that a barbeque could also be done differently. The cook-off made two very pleasant evenings supplemented with excellent local red wine.

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Maté farewell gift to us from our new “family”

As a farewell gift we were presented with a Maté set they had secretely bought in El Tigre – maybe we shall still aquire a taste for it.

Footnote: Should you ever get to Florencio Varela – visit “Via Consenza” ice cream parlour – ice cream at its best.

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Bidding farewell

Finally we had to depart – we could not stay longer than 3 days. The route took us past Moreno to Lujan, known for the annual pilgrimage of about 3 million people.

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Cathedral Nuestra Señora in Lujan

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The Cathedral Nuestra Señora is beautiful and we stayed for the night at ACA Camping Lujan.

Then we reached San Antonio de Areco, a gaucho town in many ways, handicrafts and leather can be bought and we paid a visit to the gaucho museum , Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güirales, an author who is known for the book Don Segundo Sombra, published in 1926.

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Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güirales in San Antonio Areco

Various gaucho artefacts are displayed in the museum which used to be a hazienda on the outskirts of town.

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Weary traveller looking for a refreshment

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Gaucho spurs

For the night we camped along the Rio Areco on Camping San Antonio de Areco of the  Club Atletico River Plate. The camping was expensive at Peso 540 and did not include usage of the swimming pool – that would have been an extra P100. Later that evening we had to move our vehicle to avoid the party noise of a group that settled in close to us.

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Camping along the Rio Areco on Camping San Antonio de Areco
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Beautiful moth – unidentified

After a relaxed breakfast on the edge of the river we continued via Solis to Zarate, dominated by a very high bridge over the Rio Paraná de los Palmas, allowing large ocean-going ships to pass inland to the harbor. Further north along the RN12 we crossed the huge Rio Paraná, again via a large bridge and drove through the lush landscape of the delta, then with the RP16 to Gualeguaychu, known by the locals for its carnival in February – again we were about 2 weeks too late. Finally we reached the wide Rio Uruguay with the common border post of the two countries on the other side. Although there was a typo in the customs car papers, nobody took issue and finally we entered Uruguay without undue holdups – our last border crossing before shipping the vehicle back.

Travellers had drawn our attention to Fray Bentos, that has a World Heritage Site being the old abattoir that can be visited.

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Mural in Fray Bentos

We camped in Las Cañas nearby, along the river, amongst many trees, before visiting the museum the next day.

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On the banks of Rio Uruguay
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Camping in Las Cañas

The Museo Revolution Industrial was interesting – not only the abattoir part, but all the stages of equipment used during the industrialization. Justus Liebig and a partner established a meat extract factory here in 1865 that supplied armies during the World Wars with meat based products.

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Wooden pier and wooden cranes on Rio Uruguay

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Sind 2015 it is an Unesco WHS, products under the brand name Fray Bentos are still being produced, albeit in North America. Many million cattle and sheep were slaughtered here at a rate of about 400 per hour.

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Generator station
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Original electrical switchboard
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Office machinery used until factory closed

From here we proceeded to Mercedes, soya fields left and right, somewhat monotonous.

At Playa Agraciada we camped for the last night, a large camping site under trees on the Rio Uruguay, hoping for a quiet night. As so often, our neighbours sat up until the early hours of the morning chatting away merrily.

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View from Cerro Montevideo

On our way in we stopped on top of Cerro Montevideo and enjoyed the sight of the city from the higher vantage point of 132m. Then we took the rambla along the sea and headed out to Punta Ballena in the direction of Punta del Este, where we were again welcomed by our friends Jürgen and Gisa Hecker, who live there. As before, we spent a number of relaxed days with them and slowly wound down from the last 7 months traveling in the southern region of the continent. In this area the ocean was warm and much clearer, we explored the area and enjoyed daily beach walks. In between we cleaned everything and started preparations for the shipment of the vehicle back to South Africa.

It was here that we had to start looking for an alternative agent, as we found that the price was increasing every time we received an updated quotation from our Cape Town agents. Whereas a year before we had been quoted R59k, the last quotation reached a staggering R81k whereas our currency value had improved. We had a year earlier heard of Eduardo Kessler in Montevideo, an agent that shippers from Europe had used with good success.

We got a quotation from him and it was a lot more competitive. With this information we spoke to our original agents and came to a more acceptable arrangement – in place of paying the transaction via the Cape Town agent, we negotiated with Repmar in Montevideo directly and paid in USD on the spot. This reduced our shipping cost down to a more acceptable R63k, in line with the original quotation. We stayed with the original agent as we did not want to complicate matters on arrival in Cape Town – a decision we did not regret, as the vehicle was cleared without hassles on the carnet we had taken out originally and which we had extended annually.

Eduardo Kessler works together with a company in Somerset West and could also be a good alternative when shipping to Montevideo and back.

Take note that a vehicle does not have to shipped as hazardous goods, provided the tank is below a quarter – better even, near empty. This will save you USD400  per trip. Ours was declared hazardous on the outbound journey and we had to pay this additional amount – but not so on the return journey.

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Loading the vehicle for shipment at depot José Christofalo in Montevideo

After 7 days of quality time with Jürgen and Gisa we moved on to the Namibian farmer friends near Atlantida, Burkhardt and Anke Schleicher. Here again we had a good time – this time round staying in the container home that Burkhardt had rigged up. Here we finalised the vehicle for containerisation and Burkhardt kindly drove us to the depot José Christofalo on Camino Tomkinson 2912 where the vehicle was loaded and securely strapped, supervised by the owner Eduardo himself and ably assisted by our Repmar agent Laura Saravia. Due to a strike action at the harbour we could not finalise the paperwork and another trip to the city was required.

Next morning we drove to the harbour early – but nothing moved as both container terminals were closed due to excessive winds – nothing could be loaded until 16:00 in the afternoon. While waiting inside the ferry building we suddenly had a hive of activity, high number of police, camera crews, dogs etc. After two hours we heard that it was a simulated drug bust.

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Excellent lunch in Montevideo at El Merkat restaurant near the harbour

We strolled back into the city for a delicious lunch of Corvina fish at El Mercat, the restaurant we had so much enjoyed on our first days in Montevideo 2 years before.

Befitting for our departure we spotted the star for Nelson Mandela – celebrating his 100th birthday this year.

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It is a pity that our Nation’s rainbow is currently not shining as bright as it did during his time, but fortunately changes may be on their way.

At 17:00 finally we got everything signed off, the customs officials opened the container doors, took a look and closed it again – that was it.

In the interim Uwe and Almut, our friends with whom we had started the journey almost 2 years before, had arrived and got their vehicle ready for their final 3-month leg going to Cartagena in Colombia from where they intended shipping their vehicle back to Cape Town.

Finally we left the South American continent behind flying out via Sao Paolo, then Johannesburg to Cape Town.

This concluded our journey which will stay in our memories for many years to come.

This post covers 22nd Feb – 17th March 2018

Argentina 16: Along the Coast, Burrowing Parrots, Raspberries and Beaches

 

From Valdés we continued north and camped wild at Playa El Doradillo behind a dune.

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Camping wild at Playa El Doradillo

Next morning we drove up to Las Grutas – here we could see that in the main holiday season, camping sites seemed full and noisy.

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Las Grutas beach
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Obesity also a problem in South America

Finally we ended near San Antonio Oeste camping on El Oasis, a much quieter spot along the coast. A camper told us that we are close to the best source of fresh prawns – when we get to San Antonio Oeste we should buy there, which we did next morning and were grateful for the tip as they were indeed fresh and delicious.

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San Antonio Oeste Prawn Boats

Along this stretch of coast we were keen to see the Burrowing Parrots that are supposed to breed in the sandstone cliffs. We turned off to reach Punta Mejillon, but after driving around in Reserva Provincial Caleta de los Loros we had not found them. On the way we again met the friendly couple from Buenos Aires, Luciano and Natalia, that we had previously briefly met before and they directed us to where we could see the parrots further on. They insisted that, should we come to BA, we must please stay with them.

For the night we wild camped just before La Loberia with a splendid view over the ocean and had a delicious meal of fresh prawns. During the night the wind again started pumping – it was impossible to prepare breakfast next morning and we decided to eat in town.

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From El Espigon ( a surfer spot) onwards we started to observe the first green-blue-yellow Burrowing Parrots (Loro Barranquero) high up on the cliffs. At El Condor we saw many more although the breeding season was already over – this must have been very impressive a few weeks earlier. In this area the Rio Negro flows into the Atlantic and the many trees provide plenty of feeding for the birds.

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Sheer cliffs at El Espigon – a spot also enjoyed by surfers and anglers
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Burrowing Parrots breeding in the rock face
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Burrowing Parrots

The landscape changed along the R3 – more grasslands and cattle as well as fields of sunflowers. In Pedro Luro is a meat control point – however, only a problem if you travel southwards here. For the night we turned in at Laguna La Salada, a saline lake with some flamingos as well as ducks, swans and other shore birds. We parked in a little wood along the lagoon, quiet and distant from other campers around this popular place during holidays.

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Chilenean Flamingos
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Black-necked Stilts
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Coscoroba Swan and Koot

When we reached Bahia Blanca we were surprised to see another control point – this time one for fruit and vegetables – again only applicable for southbound travellers.

On the R51 we reached Saldungaray and saw at its entry to the cemetery a unique entrance portal named “ Christo de Salamone” that was created by the Italian architect Francisco de Salamone.

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“ Christo de Salamone” by the Italian architect Francisco de Salamone

In town we visited the local church that has a virgin Maria in a lying position -somewhat unusual.

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We carried on to Sierra de la Ventana in which area swallows come to breed. Camping Lourdes was fairly full, but offered good facilities.

Next we tried to see Swallows  ( Golondrinas esp.) in Parque Provincial Ernesto Tornquist – unfortunately too late in the season, they had already migrated back to North America.

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La Ventana – the window in the rocks

So we proceeded along the RN33 via Pigüe to Guamini on Laguna del Monte and enjoyed the antics of the wind-and kite surfers and took a dip in the lake. We camped in what seemed more of a picnic area than a campsite.

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Carnival time
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Street art in Guamini

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When we arrived in Benito Juárez we were again able to withdraw money and while parking opposite Escuela San Martin, the school in town, we got spotted by the teachers who welcomed us to their region and related stories about town and the area.

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Warm welcome by the teachers of Escuela San Martin in Benito Juaréz

Here we realised that we had missed the annual raspberry festival by a few days. They strongly recommended that we drive a few km to Villa Cacique, the center of raspberry farming ( frambuesas esp.) and they promptly arranged that Alejandra, the local tourist officer, would receive us and guide us around.

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On arrival Alejandra was already waiting, showed us where we could camp for free in the forest with a park and pond nearby and took us to the Olympic size swimming pool to refresh. A little unusual was the procedure of us being checked for hair lice and athlete’s foot before being allowed in – a standard health and safety procedure at this facility! We passed and enjoyed the cool waters.

Next morning she took us to a frambuesa farm where we learned about this fruit being planted and bought the freshest fruits having been harvested only an hour before.

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On the raspberry farm with Alejandra

Along the 74 we passed Ayacucho, then along the Ruta 2 until Pinamar, where we turned off, drove past Villa Gesell on to Mar de Las Pampas, which was a recommended by our friend Caro to visit. This area is popular with coastal holiday seekers at this time of year, we nevertheless found a camping spot at Autocamping Casablanca with direct walking access to the beach with the possibility of bathing – not in the clear, cold waters of Patagonia but now in the warmer, brownish waters from the major rivers. Driving here, there was not much natural habitat left, everywhere huge farms with soya, sunflowers etc.

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Mar de las Pampas

The camping was very relaxed and we enjoyed lazing for 4 days , doing long beach walks and visiting the quaint, touristic town that offers a lot of different artisanal handy work and we found also a lot of music from South America, recommended by Pablo in his train carriage shop.

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Pablo at his music shop

Then we headed further in the direction of San Clemente de Tuyú – their beach is also brown from the nearing Rio de la Plata delta. There is an Ocean World here ( Mundo Marino) which we did not visit as we do not like show animals in captivity. On the way we were forced to pay P75 toll for a very short stretch as we turned off on to the 11, a scenic rural road and we reached, near Punta Indio, the Camping Municipal Sarandi – not much of a camping site, but directly situated on the coast and it seemed free as nobody collected a fee from us.

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Camping Municipal Sarandi

This post covers 10th–21st February 2018

Argentina 15: Trelew and Peninsula Valdés

 

We continued northerly to Trelew, originally a Welsh settlement. At the ATM we had some bad luck: the commission the bank wanted for withdrawing cash was 20% ! – I cancelled the transaction, yet via my cellphone I got notification that my bank account was debited. In all of our 18 months travel this was the only such occurrence.

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Trelew had an important paleontological museum displaying fossil bones of the largest dinosaur, that ever lived. We decided to visit Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio.

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Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew

As we entered we met other South African overlanders Johann and Marianne Ter Verloren van Themaat from Pretoria.

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Meeting South African overlanders, Johann and Marianne Ter Verloren van Themaat,from Pretoria.

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The fossil remains of the biggest dinosaur that roamed earth – Titanosaurus, found in Patagonia
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Can anybody explain the measurement differences in the translation, please?

We enjoyed the visit together, had a good look at their vehicle, exchanged travel information and then unfortunately departed in opposite directions.

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House inspection -well kitted out Landcruiser 79 from South Africa

As they were still southbound, we continued northwards to Gaiman, another Welsh settlement where pastries and tea can be had.

As we left Trelew we passed a replica of the Titanosaurus – gigantic!

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The biggest creature that roamed the earth – approx 70 tons and 40m high.

Rawson was our next stop, right on the coast with a nice beach promenade, and we camped in Playa Union on Camping Issys – a well-run site.

The RP6 to Ninfas was a rough gravel road, in the beginning a lot of rubbish strewn. Then we returned to the RP1 via the RP5 and stopped at Puerto Madryn.

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Puerto Madryn

The wind increased and prevented us from much sightseeing along the coast and we sought shelter on the ACA Camping, being a little calmer due to rows of bushes that had been planted defining the camping sites, but we still had to prepare our supper inside the car to the drifting sand. At 9pm the wind disappeared and stayed down for the night – such a relief.

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At the camping site you know where to go.

Puerto Madryn was a midsized city that benefits from tourism during the season of the breeding Southern Right whales and was founded when the first Welsh settlers arrived in 1865 in the sheltered Nuevo Golfo bay between Valdés and Punta Ninfas.

Proceeding towards Valdés we kept on the coastal road and stopped at a few of the outlook points. During the whale season this must be fantastic as some of the spots lend themselves to very close observation of the animals ( August-September).

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Once we entered the Peninsula Valdés park we spent some time at the information centre, then tackled the 77km to Punta Norte and stayed there until late afternoon observing the Sea Lions, Black-capped Night Herons, Cuis Chico (like a rock hyrax/dassie)  and the larger Hairy Armadillo (Peluda).

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Skeleton of the Southern Right whale at the information centre of Valdés.
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Harmless Ciamidos or |Whale’s lice form the calluses on whales that are like a fingerprint on each animal
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Closeup of Ciamidos crustaceans
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Young Sea Elephant male
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A Sea Lion looks small even compared to Sea Elephant cow
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Digging in to scare insects

Since there is no camping at Punta Norte we turned back past Puerto Pyramides and turned towards Playa Villarino, where we had been told that wild camping is possible. It turned out to be true and we encountered many Argentinian campers with their converted busses and tents, most of them fishermen enjoying the holidays.

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Next morning we took a round trip to Caleta Valdés, then on to Punta Cantor where we saw some Sea Elephants (we first mistook them for grey rocks -then they started moving). Males can reach a weight of an impressive 4000kg, females are much smaller at 800kg and the Cachorros ( babies) are born at 44kg approx.

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Sea Lions enjoying their beach holiday in Peninsula Valdés
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Sea Lions pups were still being born while we visited

Since Orcas had been spotted in the area the previous day, we drove up to Punta Norte again, hopeful to see them in action catching baby Sea Lion. However, we were about 3-4 weeks too early – the adult Sea Lions still prevented the pups from entering the water and there were still pups being born. Best time to visit is early March to the Orcas in action.

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Stretch of coast where Orcas take Sea Lion pups
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Visitors attention is drawn to the problem of coastal pollution
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Magellanic Penguins at Peninsula Valdés

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Punta Pyramides

This night we spent on the camping site Punta Pyramides – a little touristic town with good food and reasonable camping sites.

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Good restaurants and shops in Punta Pyramides

At Isla de los Pajaros we met an Orca researcher, Roberto Antonio Raffa who can be contacted on Facebook and it may be worth finding out when the best season for the Orcas is if you intend to visit.

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Isla de los Pajaros
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Chapel atIsla de los Pajaros

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As we departed, we saw this beautiful Armadillo with its orange colouring .

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This post covers 5th – 9th February 2018

Argentina 14: Rockhoppers at Puerto Deseado and Sea Lions of Bahia Bustamante

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View of Puerto Deseado where the church tower doubles as a lighthouse, in front of it the old railway station

While in Puerto Deseado the railway  museum could be of interest as it gives insight into the importance of the railway in the early development of Patagonia.

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Memorabilia of the train company
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Watering hole
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Retired Station Master posing for us

In Puerto Deseado we found shelter on Autocamping inside the small Cañon Geminez (close to town), unfortunately with half functioning and dirty ablutions. We immediately booked a boat trip to the penguin island to see Rockhopper penguins the next day. The boat trip with Darwin Expeditiones with captain/owner Ricardo and guide Roxanne was worth doing, especially as they provided ample time to photograph the beautiful black and white Commerson’s dolphins (Toninas Overas) that we encountered on the way.

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Commerson’s Dolphin – the smallest ocean dolphin

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We also had sufficient time on the island with the Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins near the lighthouse.

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Roxanne explaining the history of the lighthouse on Penguin Island

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Rockhopper Penguin

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The Brown Skuas were aggressive when we passed their nesting sites, other birds included Imperial-, Rock- and Red-legged cormorants, Flying Steamer Ducks, South American Terns, Snowy sheathbills and Dolphin Gulls(Leucophaeus scoresbii), sometime erroneously called red-billed gull.

 

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Snowy Sheathbill
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Breeding Skuas
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Brown Skuas were aggressive making mock attacks

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Brown or Subantarctic Skua chick

On our way we passed colonies of Sea Lions.

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Sea Lion male with his harem

This time round we tried the Camping Municipal and spent the evening chatting to Paul from the Netherlands, our neighbour. The passing truck traffic can spoil a quiet night on this site, otherwise ok.

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Antarctic Terns photographed along the way
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Antarctic tern

Our route then took us past the town of Fitzroy, Caleta Olivia to Rada Tilly, a town with highrise holiday buildings on the coast and a dusty camping ground further back, where we stayed for the night – odd times to shower namely 9-11 pm and 9-11am – why?

When we passed the city of Comodoro Rivadavia we could not resist shopping when we realized that the local Jumbo Supermercado was very well stocked – we assume it is to keep the many expatriates happy that work here for the oil and gas industry.

We followed Ruta 3 for a while and then turned off on RP28 to reach Bahia Bustamante where Estancia Bustamante with it Reserva de Aves is a quiet place to stop and to explore. The owners allowed us to camp free of charge although they had accommodation and a restaurant.

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Camping on Estancia Bustamante
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Family Museum at Estancia Bustamante
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Restaurant on Estancia Bustamante

For a special fee of US$70 we participated next day in their 3 hr boat cruise to the various islands to see many different birds and Sea Lion.

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Our guide enjoying mate
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Flightless Steamer duck – The Chubut Steamer Duck
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Chubut Steamer Ducks
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American Oystercatchers

As we circled the various islands of Bahia Bustamante, we had wonderful views of Sea Lions and could observe their constant rivalry to keep their harems together.

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Sea Lion males keeping their harems in check

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In between we had sightings of Southern Giant Petrels (also named  Antarctic Giant Petrel) , Dolphin gulls, cormorants and shags.

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Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)

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Magellanic Cormorant or Rock Shag
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Blue-eyed Cormorant
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Dolphin Gull
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Courting Sea Lions

Owners Mattias Sorano and wife Astrid farm here in the third generation – Mattias’ grandfather started harvesting and processing kelp for export. In recent years they even imported kelp from South Africa and Namibia as overharvesting has reduced the kelp on their coast and it can only be harvested by divers now. After taking a shower (arranged with the manager in the restaurant), we proceeded along the RP1, turned off before Camerones to reach Reserva Natural Turistica Cabo dos Bahias, where there was another Pingüinera and Loberia, all developed with walkways and penguins nesting around but the Sea Lions were far off on Isla Moreno -not worth photographing.

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Camping near Camerones

Our further route took us into sleepy Camerones that used to be important in the days of wool exports – now it dwindled into insignificance after the harbor of Comodoro Rivadavia was extended. Most buildings  were built of corrugated iron, the grocery shop dating back to 1901. Drawing money from the ATM here was impossible – empty.

 

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Dollosse at Camerones Harbour
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La Brigade hostal on wheels -join in for the ride

We also met the bus “Natasha” of young french entrepreneurs of La Brigade that are pioneering a roving hostal idea – a sort of jump on,jump off travel idea for young travelers – will it be successful?

Up the RP1 we decided to stop at the beach Playa Isla Escondida – a few other campers also enjoying this stretch of coast. Despite a thunderstorm during the night we enjoyed this part of the coast, the beach mainly consists of colourful pebbles. As the weekend had passed the beach became deserted and quiet and only one other camper remained approx. 500m away.

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Playa Isla Escondida
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Impressive morning thunderstorm
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Rock pools at Playa Escondida

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We realised, that no matter how remote you are, there is always somebody watching you…

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This post covers 29th Jan to  4th Feb 2018

Argentina 13: Bosque Petrificados and the Penguins of Punta Buque

 

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.

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Hazienda seemed abandoned

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.

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A flock of lesser Rhea – the birds are about half the size of an African Ostrich

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.

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Monument celebrating Patagonian sheepfarming
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Early tractor

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.

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Only a single vehicle passed us all day and via the R49 we arrived late afternoon at “Monumento Nacional y Reserva  Nacional Bosques Petrificados”.

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We were still welcomed by the rangers and were surprised that no entry fees were charged at this park.

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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.

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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.

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Up to 30m long petrified trunks of the Pre-araucaria trees
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Volcano Madre y Higa in the background

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Well camouflaged and adapted

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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.

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Wild camp along powerline near Bosque Petrificados

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.

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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.

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Red-legged cormorant

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.

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Extraordinary pebble beaches of Patagonia

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Wild camping on Playa Grande
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Miniature windmills on the Patagonian plains to cope with the high winds

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.

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Las Manatiales – the Walker family farm

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As we left the farm, we came across some more Armadillos and Crested Tinamou.

 

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Hairy Armadillo on the Patagonian plains

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.

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Armadillos have strong digging tools
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Crested Tinamou blend in with the vegetation

In the afternoon we reached Punta Buque where we could observe many Magellanic Penguins and European hare (Lepus europaeus), or brown hare.

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Lighthouse at Punta Buque
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Discussion about strange visitor from Africa
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Nowhere to hide – European hare (Lepus europaeus)
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Magellanic Penguins
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Why can’t we fly?
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Adults returning to feed the young

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Nesting hole – chick and adult shelter from wind, sun and rain
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Hurry up, the rain is coming.

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.

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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.Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-39

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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.

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Zorro Colorado – Red Foxes not welcomed by sheep farmers

Along the way we spotted some Patagonian Maras that look similar to rabbits .

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The near-threatened Patagonian Mara

This post covers 24th – 28th January 2018

Argentina 12: Park Perito Moreno, Cherries of Los Antiguos & Cueva de los Manos

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Wide open spaces.
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Blown away
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Wild Horses of Patagonia

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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.

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Parque Nacional Perito Moreno

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.

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Sheltered camping on Lago Burmeister

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.

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Lago Burmeister in P.N.Perito Moreno

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Buff-necked Ibis

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Relaxing park rangers at P.N.Perito Moreno
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Museum in the Park

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Bird Hide and Black-necked Swans

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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.

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Armadillo
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Armadillo closeup

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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.

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Fuel pumps at Bajo Caracoles

 

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.

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On Lago Ghio

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.

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Along Ruta 41
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Colourful rock formations long Ruta 41
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Peaks on the Chilenian side a long Ruta 41

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Along Ruta 41

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Along Ruta 41

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.

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Los Antiguous – the town of Cherries

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.

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Camping Circulo Policial

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.

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Wild camping in the Cañon Caracoles

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.

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Park Offices at Cuevas de los Manos

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.

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Hands at Cuevas de los Manos
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Rock paintings at Cuevas de los Manos

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.

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Animal rock paintings at Cuevas de los Manos
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Protective fences and gangways at Cuevas de los Manos

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.

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Rio Pinturas

 

This covers 18th to 23rd January 2018

Argentina 11: Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Chaltén and Mount Fitzroy

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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.

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Both Perito moreno and Darwin had a major influence on the history of Patagonia.

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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.

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Outside town is the Glaciarium – an informative stopover to learn more about ice, snow and glaciars.

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According to the local weather prediction we would have a splendid day ahead of us…..we were rock-certain about this.

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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.

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It is about an hours drive to get to the park.

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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.

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The face of the glaciar is 70m high.

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Glaciar face 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.

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If the ranger here sign off the ticket, one can enter the park at the glaciar a second time.

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Calving at Perito Moreno

Despite the change in weather we enjoyed the time and camped again in El Calafate. Wind and rained loomed dark in the sky.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As the weather had cleared next morning we drove to the viewpoint outside town to enjoy the panoramic view of Mount Fitzroy.

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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.

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Feeding Magellanic Woodpecker

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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.

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As we continued past Lago Viedma the wind intensified – nevertheless some intrepid cyclist battle it out.

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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.

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Lago Cardiel

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.

Argentina Perito Moreno to Fitzroy-38

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).

Argentina Perito Moreno to Fitzroy-39

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.

Argentina Perito Moreno to Fitzroy-40

Argentina Perito Moreno to Fitzroy-41

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.

Argentina Perito Moreno to Fitzroy-42
Wide open spaces – Patagonia

This post covers 9th to 17th January 2018

Argentina 10: To the End of the World – Ushuaia

 

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.

 

A helicopter, wigwams,  a viewing platform built from driftwood and scrap metal and plastic, a wooden cooking shelter with greetings from all the travelers that have visited. (The word Hain describes the lodge that the Indians used to build for their ceremonies and normally only men were allowed in). However, the showers were hot and ablutions were better than average.

Here we met two overlanders with most unusual transport – two 3-wheeler model Apes of the Italian Piaggio manufacturer.

They are delivery bikes converted completely with miniature kitchen and sleeping quarter. 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.

Then RN3 before Ushuaia passes through some of the Andes, a scenic road all the way with a lot of indigenous forests and lakes.

As we reached Ushuaia ( Fin del Mundo – End of the World) we looked around and had to negotiate a few roads under construction – the town is growing at a rapid pace. Down in the harbour a number of luxury vessels were moored, leaving from here into Antarctica.

In town itself no camping could be found so we decided to drive west into Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.

Entry not cheap at P350 pP ( being approx. R320 pP), however it allowed us to camp free for two nights in a beautiful forested area. The park can also be reached via a small train, which many day visitors make use of.

The Alakush visitor and Information centre was worth of visit, giving interesting facts and information about fauna, flora and the indigenous Alakush that inhabited this region.

We selected the open campsite on the shores of Laguna Verde and camped next to a German motorbiker, Hubertus from Berlin. As the weather remained cold, windy and rainy we set up our awning and tent and Hubertus was very happy to spend some time with us rather than remaining in his one-man tent that many bikers travel with.

Over the next day Sven and Iris with their double storey Sprinter joined, as well as Willy Wabnegg with his older red Mercedes truck.

We decided to stay and did short day hikes down to the Beagle Channel to observe some birds.

During the night it had snowed, all peaks covered – yet it was at 4degrees relatively warm, as Hubertus was here for the third time, previously he always had snow right down to the camping site at this time of year. Despite this weather we got plagued by Mozzies and needed to spray to have a quiet night’s sleep.

After two cold nights we could not start our Landcruiser – starter batteries were flat (the vehicle has two in parallel), it was the second time we had a defective battery ( we had bought an expensive set of Panasonic batteries in Arequipa in Peru exactly one year before). In the end the park rangers and the local police assisted to get us going again so that we could move back into town to celebrate New Year’s Eve. En-route out of the park we also visited the other possible camping site Rio Pipo – also a nice spot. Then we made a turn at the southernmost Post Office in the world to send off a postcard to our little granddaughters.

In Ushuaia we visited the old prison – one of the old penal colonies that were established to banish murderers as well as political adversaries. Today it is a museum and gave us insight into the very harsh living conditions that prevailed.

The Indians used canoes made of bark for fishing, which was exclusively done by the women, while the men did the hunting. Baby girls were taken into the icy cold water from an early age to make them used to the cold conditions. In the evening fires were lit to warm up and dry – the fires seen by the first seafarers who then called this area Tierra del Fuego – the land of fires.

Prison conditions were harsh and hardly anybody managed to escape alive.

The first prisoners had to build the penal colony as well as ensure a regular supply of wood to the early inhabitants – back breaking work in icy cold conditions – how much can a human body endure? Part of the museum complex is also the maritime as well as an art museum – a worthwhile visit while in Ushuaia.

Works of the local artist Alejandro Abt appealed to us shown in the current exhibition. There is open Wifi at the museum complex – useable but not very fast.

 

Before we proceeded down to the promenade area to find a place to celebrate New Years Eve, we went to the café Tante Sara and spoiled ourselves with a decadent cappuccino and cheesecake -wonderful.

 

When we finally got down past the promenade, Sven, Iris and Willi already had parked their vehicles, we closed the ring and soon we had built a cosy and wind-sheltered ring of vehicles, tarpaulins draped to close the gaps to stop the wind. Soon the two 3-wheelers Ric and Richi with their Apes-Piaggios joined in the fun as well as Thomas and Karin from  Germany that also had booked a hotel room. Soon the Glühwein started flowing generously, the meat was on the coals and we huddled together celebrating the new year with a few bottles of champagne and a fireworks display across town.

Although Sven and Iris as well as Rick and Richi had booked hotel rooms, nobody left and we celebrated until late and after a short night sleep, prepared a scrumptious breakfast.

Although we blocked off half of the road with our camp the police came by, ensured all was fine and nobody chased us – it seemed like overlanders were a familiar sight gathering here at year’s end.

 

Before heading north again, we drove leisurely along the Camino Playa Larga parallel to the Beagle Channel until it ended and enjoyed the sight of Ushuaia from a different angle.

Then we drove north via the RN3 until Camping Hain, where we decided to spend the night with a welcome hot shower which we had none to enjoy while in Ushuaia. During the afternoon it got overcast and rain set in – suddenly a knock on our window and Werner and Pia Rechsteiner from Basel invited us for supper in their large overlander vehicle truck. What a pleasure to sit in a vehicle with heating inside – so cosy and it made us wonder what is actually the ideal vehicle to travel in.

 

Since we disconnected one of the batteries and charged the other overnight, we did not battle to get started again but knew that we will need to drive back to Punta Arenas to find replacements. As we had to cross the border back into Chile, we gave away all the remaining fresh produce and departed. Before Rio Grande we turned off onto the “b” via Cauchicol to the small border post at Bella Vista, a scenic back road.

This border post is only open during summer due to the Rio de la Turba. The stretch of road is ripio, a lot of corrugations on the Argentinan side.

Snow on the peaks, impressive clouds and open spaces.

Exiting Argentina was quick, we were the only vehicle crossing.

 

Entering Chile was not so smooth……

 

 

This post covers 29th December 2017 to 2nd January 2018

Argentina 8: Parques Talampaya and Ischigualasto

At Talampaya we hoped to see the impressive canyon and formations of red sandstone. Camping was permitted in the car park and a warm shower possible, we ate at the restaurant and we arranged to join the morning tour into the park. It was not permitted to drive in one’s own vehicle, the only way is by guided tour.

The 2 ½ hr trip was by minibus, we visited the petroglyphs, strolled through the indigenous garden and then drove deeper into the canyon to see the gothical cathedral formation.

On the way we saw Maras, belonging to the rodent family.

The tour concluded with a visit to the totem, the torres and the monk.

We took a short stroll through the dinosaurus park of Talampaya displaying various models of those that inhabitated this area before their extinction.

Then we continued southerly on the RN76 and RN150 until we reached the gate at Parque Ischigualasto which is part of the neighbouring province San Juan.

Here we booked ourselves in for the 40km round trip late afternoon – it was self-drive in convoy following the guide. We stopped at all worthwhile view points and received detailed explanations. Interesting stops were the painted valley, the stone canon ball field, as well as the museo of the Ishigualasto dinosaur established by William Sill.

We carried on to the formations submarine and the iconic mushroom. Along the high red cliffs we saw more condors just before sunset.

Camping again took place in the carpark –however no opportunity to shower and the men’s toilets were closed due to renovations – no alternative provided.

Next stop was San Juan, the town did not impress due to the plastic pollution along the roads, we drove out of town to the Dique de Ullúm lake and visited almost all camping sites around it and we did not find a suitable one. Either they were filthy, being renovated, private or closed. We ended taking a cabaña at Hotel Bono, fairly expensive and sub-standard for the the cost.

Later we found out that the Hotel had closed for a while as the lake was dry and was only slowly able to recover.

We left early, crossed San Juan, the city center looked more attractive than the suburbs the day before. Continued on the RN40 to Mendoza with ever increasing vineyards in this desertlike area reminding us of the Hexriver valley in the Cape. In the city we visited Plaza España decorated with ceramic tiles as well as Plaza Independencia, where a food festival and fair took place.

Since wine tastings on the wine estates was by appointment only we did not go, but continued to Uspallata on the RP52, a beautiful mountain pass, spring flowers everywhere.

Later the day we found camping in Uspallata at Ranquil Luncay, another camping site that we shall remember due to its incredibly dirty ablutions and lack of hot water.

 

The next morning we aimed to cross into Chile.

On the way we stopped at the viewpoint of the Aconçagua,the highest mountain of South America(6961m), as well as at the natural bridge Puente del Inca with its sulphur-rich termas.

This blog covers 2nd to 5th November 2017

Argentina 7: Quebrada de la Conchas, Multi-Coloured Mountains and Pumice Formations

 

 

From Cafayate we took Ruta 68 through the Quebrada de las Conchas – a road through interesting sandstone mountains and formations of different colourings.

The day ended for us wild camping at the old rail station Alemania underneath the railway bridge along the river surrounded by inquisitive Criollo horses, dogs and cows.

After Valle de Lerma we turned off and circled around the large hydro dam Embalse Cabra Corral on the RP47, all ripio (gravel road) and almost no traffic with beautiful landscapes.

Finally we reached Salta. Here we again tried to find a handbrake cable for the landcruiser at Toyota, no luck. In the city center we bought a SIM card from Movistar to get connection to internet – useless in Argentina, as we found out later. Claro was expensive but possibly a better choice, locals later told us that for the south of Argentina Personal has better coverage – all in all seldom 4G although advertised as such.

Salta has a number of plazas, churches and pedestrian zones which we enjoyed.

 

Then we drove out of town to Camping Papi Lalo where we arrived after dark, let us self in, but the banõs were locked. Being the only campers at this rudimentary site it did not pose much of a problem. Along the stream plenty frogs delivered a free concert and 10 horses chased each other around us. At 6am the owner collected her camping fee and opened the loos.

We returned to Salta in the hope of finding a place to sell us the compulsory insurance we could not get in Brasil – by luck we met a representative of Triunfo Seguros who promptly arranged insurance for all the countries we were going to cross on the remainder of this trip. It also is possible to arrange this insurance with them up front via internet – if only we had known this beforehand. Their head office is in Mendoza. (Another company future travelers can try is Speiser Seguros.)

 

Next we followed the RN9 northwards, narrow and curvy, and passed two dams, the Embalse las Madeiras and La Ciénaga, skirted around San Salvador de Jujuy and Tumbaya and along the Rio Grande until we reached Purmamarca.

Purmamarca ist best known for its 7-coloured mountain. We found a spot to camp in the grounds of Hosteria Bebo Vilte – dusty and with inadequate ablutions. In the evening we went to local pub/restaurant La Diabala where Ariel Ramirez performed local folklore music – he is a son of Zamba Quipildor, a revered singer of the Jujuy province – a very enjoyable evening ,especially because a visiting women choir gave a joint impromptu performance of Quipildor songs.

Early in the morning we climbed a koppie in the town to photograph the seven coloured mountain (Cerro Siete Colores) during sunrise.

Since there is another spectacular 14-colour mountain range further north, we pushed on towards Humahuaca via Tilcara, where we took a stroll to the Garganta del Diabolo, a waterfall inside a canyon, not too spectacular. At Humahuaca we met Marcello from Punta Arenas in his self-built vehicle and trailer – an unusual overlander!

Outside the town we took the ripio RP73 to the Mirador del Hornocal (at 4350m elevation) to view the 14-coloured mountain range – the view,both in colour and formation, it is a worthwhile visit, best photographed in the late afternoon. Back in town we found no decent camping site so we wild camped along the Antigua RP 73, a road almost never used and were rewarded with a splendid night sky.

We returned to Purmamarca along the Quebrada de Humahuaca and found better camping just outside town at Camping los Colorados de Chabelita, clean and with very friendly owners also catering often for motorbikers in their rooms.

Following the RN52 the road followed a mountain pass down to the Salinas Grande –a large salt lake, somewhat disappointing if you had visited Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.

Asphalt road up to Susques, then ripio RN40, plenty of curves through mountains and along the Rio Pastos Chicos with the beautiful volcano Tuzgle  5544m high.

The area is known as Sierra del Cobre due to the copper mining in the past.

We passed through the steel construction of Viaducto de la Polvorilla, well guarded, which transports water to the cities.

We left San Antonio de los Cobres behind us and continued along the Ruta 40 south past a few high peaks all above 5000m. We were now in the Sierra de las Grandes, the dirt road wound up to 4937m and Karin felt the effects. A lot of ice was still on the ridges, we were fortunate that the road dipped down to 2800m. We drove up a dry rivulet in 4×4 and wild camped below stunning sandstone formations with a clear night that allowed some photographing.

A short stop in Cachi after a 195km stretch of a dusty winding road allowed us to refresh before we continued to Molinos, the start of many wine farms to come. Following the Rio Calchaguies in the valley with the same name we passed many crazy sandstone formations until we finally returned to Cafayate, camping again Luz y Fuerza, but not before we sampled some more wine ice cream , flavours Torrentes and Cabernet.

 

The Swiss couple Peter and Sylvia told us about the Piedras Pomez – white pumice rock formations that could be reached by turning off at Hualfin towards El Peñon. However, our departure was delayed after we met the eccentric overlander Klaus from Dortmund, who has a wooden blockhouse on the back of his truck – complete with flowerboxes!

 

As we had to pass through Amaicha del Valle again we had a second chance to visit the Pachamama museum- and lucky we were – definitely worth a stop to see the geological exhibits as well as the art and the building by Hugo Cruz.

At Nacimientos de Arriba we took a little 4×4 track up to the west to reach the remote Aguas Termales with its 37 deg C waters – ideal. We wild camped at this spot, locals drove up by bike to take a bath in one of the 4 private baths. Truly a wonderful place, just rudimentary.

After a further morning soak we aimed for El Peñon via a desolate, but stunning landscape.

At Nacimientos de San Antonia we turned off on to the RP43 after passing Laguna Blanca.

 

 

After El Peñon we turn onto RP34, only 4x4s were permitted towards Campo de Piedra Pomez, a large pumice field that originated after an eruption of Volcan Carachi Pampa (3393m) and then was eroded through wind and water.

From here we returned to the Laguna Blanca (3200m) and pitched our camp with Guanacos and Flamingos.

The morning greeted us with a 0deg C temperature and we took the RN40 via Belén, San Blas to Chilecito, however too early to pitch camp. So we continued to Nonogasta, turned off on a new tarred road to Puerto Alegre, then 20km ripio to the RN76, extremely dry and the road lined with the odd cow cadaver. We finally reached the entry gate to Parque Nacional Talampaya.

 

This blog covers 24th Oct – 1st November 2017