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
Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-2 This is a museum worth visiting and it covers many natural science topics and houses more than 3 million objects. Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-4 Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-5
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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. Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-7 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
Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-35 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
Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-46 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. Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-47 Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-48
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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. Argentina 17 La Plata, BA, Fray Bentos-53 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 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-5 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-6 Only a single vehicle passed us all day and via the R49 we arrived late afternoon at “Monumento Nacional y Reserva  Nacional Bosques Petrificados”. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-7 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-8 We were still welcomed by the rangers and were surprised that no entry fees were charged at this park. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-9 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-10 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
Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-14 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-17 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
Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-24 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-25 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. Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-38 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 Argentina 13- Bosque Petrificados and Punta Buque-40 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 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