We reluctantly left San Martin de Los Andes, we had a great time here and stayed in the best cabanas ever - Amenecer Andino. Here we met Gisella and her other half Santiago who has offered to purchase our car (Goldilocks) in December when we return to BA. We headed for the seven lakes route and it was simply spectacular. High snow covered Andes mountains surrounding glossy green and crystal clear lakes. We started seeing a lot more of the ash from the volcano in Chile and by the time we arrived in Villa de Angostura it was several meters deep in volcanic ash. The ash affects your breathing and burns your lungs - not very pleasant. We stayed a few nights on the Nuel Huapi Lake (spelling?) and did some fishing and kayaking before heading for Bariloche. This enornous city sprawls all the lake with a popular ski resort and more lakes to explore. It was strange to see the pumice stone from the volcano drifting onthe water, almost giving it a foaming effect.
We decided to skip Bariloche althogher and headed for the hippie town of El Bolson. A relaxed town with microbreweries, field of hops and many adventure activities on offer. We hiked up a mountain to visit a forest where local artists scuptured many objects out of fallen down trees. Some pieces are really good, others are really weird. Another excursion took us to a mountain where you see the silhouette of the face of a man. Returning to our car, we found a side window broken where someone tried to break in. We must have scared them off before getting in.
Here we also met an American family (Michael, Kira, Kelvin, Carson and Lila Turner) who are on a yearlong self drive holiday. We clicked and travelled together for a while catching up as we headed south.
We left El Bolson and headed for Los Aleces National Park. On our way we stopped in Cholilo where we paid a visit to the farm house of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, infamous robbers from the USA who fled and tried to make an honest living by farming. In the Los Aleces NP you find the Aleces tree (Fitzroya cupresscides), the longest living species on earth, som to have survived up to 4000 years. They are slowgrowers (around 1cm every 20 years) and can reach over 4m in diameter and exceed 60m in height. The park surrounds a large lake with the Andes hugging the west side. We hiked and fished and saw beautiful waterfalls, with no others tourists in sight. A playground all for ourselves.
Now we decided to visit the small town of Trevelin with a notable Welsh character. We had tea and cakes at a traditional Casa de Te (Tea House) and leartnt a lot about the Welsh immigrants settling in Patagonia early 1900´s. Here we visited a tulip farm where the flowers were in full bloom. Beautiful bright yeallos, pinks, reds, purples and orange. What a sight!!!
We were prusuaded to return to Chile at Futuleafu and do a section of the Carretera Austral (southern highway) to the south but were refused exit by a German Argentinian border official since we were not residents of Argentina but owned an Argentinian car. He did not want to listen to our argument even on showing our stamps into Chile at Atacama. Nevertheless we decided to continue south through Argentina.
Now we were driving through the pampas, it almost looks like the Karoo in South Africa, dry landscapes, low shrub, rollilng mountains and lots of sheep. At last we arrived at the second largest lake in South America, Lake Buenos Aires combined with Lake General Carrero in Chile. We entered at Chile Chico into Chile with no problems and continued along the lake to a tiny villaged called Rio Tranquilo. We stayed a few nights and did a side trip to Bahia Exploradores where we hiked a a glaciar. It was a beautiful valley and the snow on the mountains almost looked like silky meringues. We were convinced by our cabanas owner to do a boat trip to the Capilla de Marmol (marble chapel). This is a breathtakingly beautiful geological formation out of white, grey and pink marble just off the shore on Lake General Carrera.
After a few memorable days we exited Chile and headed south deep into Patagonia. It was a long days´ drive to Perito Moreno town and we were looking for a farmstay, with little petrol in our tank (no petrol available in town), when we saw a heary armidillo crossing the road. A very strange little creature but it posed for a few pictures before heading for its hole. We stayed on Estancia Cuevas de Los Manos where there is a cave with rock paintings on the walls of imprints of human hands dating back to arround 7300BC. At the farm we did a few hikes and Johan found a spearhead dating back to times when the aboriginal folk hunted with the typical weapons. The kids were intrigued and what a treasure!!
Now we were desperately needing petrol and hoped to find some in the small town of Baja Caracoles, but nada (nothing), the pump has been dry for several months. We hit the town (all 10 houses) and begged for petrol before finally getting 20 liters at AR$10 (+-R17) per liter. Happy and a half a tank full of expensive petrol we headed for El Calafate on Ruta 40. Still a lot of unpaved road running parallel to brand new tar roads, we managed to get to El Calafate, the gateway town to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and the famous Perito Moreno glaciar. We arrived at the glacier early in the morning (being the first people there), wind pumping but the view - jaw dropping. To see this river of ice which measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high was mindblowing. What makes this one exceptional is that it advances forward up to 2m per day. Huge icebergs fall off the ice face with a crash and drifts into Lake Argentino.
Saying adios to the glaciar we proceeded into Chile yet again (with no problems) and headed for the Torres del Paine National Park. Riding out of the Patagonian steppe, the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) are almost vertical pillars of amost 3000m high. We saw many ñandus (ostrich like birds), condors, very tame guanacos and very expensive accommodations. The cheapest was to camp, which we did and it was fabulous. Right on Lake Pehoe, in a shelterd campsite we explored the surrounding hikes and concluded that this certainly was a hightlight on our trip. We searched for the ever elusive Puma, but it did not show its face.
Exiting the park we drove south a finally arrived in Punta Arenas where we hoped
to catch a ferry to Puerto Williams, on Isle Navarino in Chile south of Ushaia. Alas they were fully booked and there are no car ferries from Puerto Williams to Ushaia, so we could not take the car. Dissappointed we left Punta Arenas and drove south to the most southern hosteria and cabanas on the South American continent, where we swung pas Fuerte Bulnes (Fort), the first southern settlement.
We crossed the Straits of Magellan by ferry from Punta Arenas to Povernir on Tierre del Fuego and on arrival we went to a Kingcrab factory as Johan befriended the owners son on the ferry and we got an invitation. The kids were amused and had the opportunity to touch these gigantic crustacheans. We continue on Tierre de Fuego for 150km, crossed the border into Argentina and drove the rest of the 300km to the most southern city in the world, Ushaia. The northern plains are barren, yet giving away to peat bogs, moss covered lenga forests and the snowcapped Andes. Here the mountains meet the southern ocean and come to a halt. We stayed a few and enjoyed a great cruise on the Beagle channel passing small islands with cormorats, fur seals, sea lions and magellanic penguins. The Yaghan trib occupying this territory many years ago faced hectic weather conditions almost entirely naked, but had big fires to keep them warm. The first explorers saw these fires and hence the name Tierre de Fuego (the land of fire). We are now heading back to Buenos Aires along the east coast of Argentina, always looking out for another adventure. Till then…!