18 Feb 2018

Camping at the End of the World

After days of cold, high wind and some rain we finally get a break some blue skies and sunshine in El Calafate so decide it’s time to take a break and get some mounting issues resolved at the same time.
Ushuaia would have been a disappointment if not for the fact that the Air B&B we stopped at was above car body shop, the wife ran the Air B & B and husband the body shop. As soon as we arrived I pulled out the bits of wheel arch and mud flap (that had been removed by the woman who ripped the side off her car on our landcruiser in our last trip) and asked him if he could repair it. He consulted one of his guys and said they could have it finished by Sunday night. But Sunday was very wet and humid and they said the conditions were not good for painting (I think it was more that Sunday wasn’t good for painting personally) but they worked very late on Monday and called me down just before midnight to inspect the finished article. Given the smashed bits I had given them the wheel arch was pretty good, and they had made an excellent job of repairing the piece missing from the side light by gluing a piece cut from a damaged light off another car.
Ushuaia was nothing special, they have a good Irish pub with Beagle Stout instead of Guinness, very different but still very drinkable and of course the King Crab restaurant which many of you will have seen on Chris’s Facebook page. We also fund a bike shop and bought new inner and outer brake cables (as all of the existing cables were now completely seized up).  

The morning after the truck was finished we headed out of Ushuaia, supposedly north, but the sun was shining and we stopped to take photo’s at the Ushuaia sign at the entrance to the city. There we met a couple of Americans on a motorbikes that were enthusing about the dirt track that went to the furthest point south with an excellent fish restaurant on the way, from a turn-off 30k up the road. So, not wanting to miss out on the furthest road south, we took the turn and the 60 mile road to the bottom of the Americas, and stopped at the fish restaurant for lunch.

After reaching the bottom and taking a few photos we turned back, but pulled off the road to let the tyres down a bit for the trip back and a guy emerged from the bushes drying a bowl with a tea towel. This was Kevin, a Canadian motorcyclist, who had set off from Canada exactly one year before, he was about 4 months behind schedule (on his trip round the world) but thought it a good spot to spend his one year anniversary, showed us his camping spot down a little track and invited us to join him for his first year on the road celebration with a small bottle of whisky he had bought for the occasion. (He did not drink very much and we don’t drink whisky so turned out to be more than enough). The spot he had found was perfect, so we engaged low box, crawled through the water filled ditch and up to a little clearing overlooking a lake, perfect, and definitely the last possible camping spot before the end of the road.

It was chilly, but the wind had dropped, we had enough rain to warrant unfurling the awning, but it didn’t last long and we spent the evening exchanging tales of our travels.

The following morning the skies blue the sun was shining, Kevin went on his way, but not before giving us one of his sticker, which was so good it immediately went on the truck (I usually keep them and put them on in batches once I have decided where they go) but this one had a space waiting for it.

It was good to meet Kevin as besides a few fleeting conversations at fuel stations with people heading in the opposite direction, he was the first we had really spoken to on this phase.

The wind picked up but the sky stayed blue as we headed north but found a spot sheltered from the wind of lunch, when we were suddenly hit by a short sharp shower, even though there was hardly a cloud in the sky!

Once back on the main road we headed back up to Chile, stayed at the same hostel in Rio Grande, crossed the border, took the ferry back to Patagonia and turned left to Punta Arenas. After talking to people in Ushuaia we weren’t bothered about seeing Punta Arenas, but we did make a short visit to the supermarket and then stopped at a huge free camp site about 15 miles north.

This camp site had literally hundreds of miles of tracks leading to groups of 2 or 3 camping spots sent amongst trees and bushes, each with a large wind break, benches and fire pits and we chose one well into the park and were asleep before midnight. At 02.30 a small car pulled up to the next spot, opened the doors, turned their music up full blast and proceeded to cut wood for a fire, shouting to each other over the (music?). Fortunately at 04.00 I think it got too cold for them as they got in the car and shut the doors which muted the music somewhat. By 06.30 they had gone! A shame really, if they had pitched a tent and stayed longer I would have been tempted to tie a couple of guy ropes to the bumper and driven off with them!

Next night was a camp site in Puerto Natales and at last several overlanders. This site had a large communal area with a number of tables with a large kitchen in the corner. This place was full of people from all over the world, (many of them back packers with small tents heading into Torres del Paine) and by 7pm the place was full of amazing aromas of all the different styles of cooking as around 10 people at a time claimed their spot on the work top with their chopping board and utilise one or two of the many gas rings available. Whilst there we got chatting to a Dutch couple in a small 4x4 motor home that had recently been to Mongolia the opposite way round to us and have recently started in the Americas, starting in the south and again going in the opposite direction. It was particularly interesting to learn how much had changed (particularly in the Stans) since we were there.

Next day started cloudy, but we decided to risk it and head for Torres del Paine. As we approached the cloud started to disappear and as we entered the park there was just a trail of cloud across the tops of the mountains, which soon evaporated to leave a beautiful clear blue sky. Though expensive we stopped in a camp site in the centre of the park that night and had a very calm night with amazing views of these iconic mountains.

After another day in the park with a walk to see an ice berg we camped at one of the entrances, doubled back to do another walk to a rather disappointing water fall and then headed back into Argentina and on to El Calafate.

Now we were in need of a good mechanic. It was time for an oil change, the fan belts were well overdue changing (and had been squealing for the first mile or two for the last few days (ensuring that anyone not already watching us now was) and on the way from Punta Arenas I had switched on the inverter for the first time this trip (to charge the lap top) which was dead as a dodo and later found that all of the ancillary services from the leisure battery (other than the fridge) had stopped working. I managed to identify the point of failure but decided at this point to hand it over to someone who knew what he was doing.

The drive to El Calafate had been windy, but by the time we reached the camp site the wind had dropped, the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm. We drove in behind another landcruiser with South African plates and ended up camping next to them. We chatted about eventually  crossing to South Africa and asked a few questions. The following morning they left before were up, but handed their contact details through the roof tent door and told us to contact them if we came over.

Next morning the skies were blue and we were soon in shorts and sandals, at last. We found an English speaking mechanic on IOverlander, went to see him to go through the issues, asked him to give the suspension and steering a good check over and grease the prop shaft and booked it in for the following day.  

This turned out to be an amazingly good choice as he gave it a thorough check over, had to remove the grease nipples on the prop shaft to clear the crud out of them, fixed the electrical problem and after he had finished asked him if he could an issue with the steering wheel, which was way off centre (since having the tracking adjusted in Ecuador). He then wheeled out his tracking equipment and his guys spent a good hour making adjustments (with the car high up on a ramp where they could not possibly have seen the steering wheel). When they had finished the readings on the screen were identical to when they had started and I was wondering what on earth they had been doing, but when the lowered the ramp the steering wheel was magically straight!!! 

Oh, and while they were working on the car I took the bike off, found a spot in the yard in the sunshine and replaced all the cables and re set the gears and breaks so now both the car and the bike are back in tip top condition!

As well as the South Africans we also got chatting to a Chilean medical professor (who has lectured at kings College in London) on holiday with his two sons. They been in Torres del Paine for a week looking for pumas, camped in the same area that were on our second night and told us the only puma they saw was a large one standing exactly where we were camped the night before we were there! He was telling us loads of good places to visit and invited us to stay with them on our way north, which we may well take him up on. And then the Dutch couple we met in Puerto Natales turned up and stayed for 2 nights

Overall, thus far Patagonia? Tierra del Fuego have been a bit of a disappointment. I am surprised to say this, but so far everything we have seen in the way of mountains, waterfalls etc. can be beaten hands down by the same in America (except the penguins of course). There have been good times but if anyone was doing the same I would suggest they cut across from Puerto Santa Cruz  to El Calafate and miss out Ushuaia and Punta Arenas.

Next it is Glacier Park and then up the Ruta 40 and into Chile and the Carratera Astral, two of the most iconic roads in the world, still mostly gravel.  The cruiser is now serviced with a clean bill of health, so off we go!

Ushuaia, our Air B&B is the yellow house on the left.
The view from Ushuaia

King Crab!

Repaired Wheel Arch

Repaired Side light (better than a piece of plastic and tape!)

Someone offers to take our photo. (Paul, please note the Allioi T shirt)

On the road to the end of the world a guy stopped us, a few minutes later a huge tree fell across the road, the guy then jumped in the digger and pushed it out of the way

We park for the fish restaurant

Near the end of the road

Then we drive off the end of the road, apparently you can go further by horse!

Last camp spot in the Americas, with Kevin and his motor bike.

A beautiful location and we wake up to blue skies sunshine and no wind!

Before he leaves Kevin gives us one of our favourite stickers

Back on the road

Past a farm built by a family from New Zealand in 1886, one of the first to bring sheep to Patagonia and still owned by the same family.

Camp site at Puerto Natales, where we finally find other overlanders

Approaching Torres del Paine, just a few clouds left

And then there were none

Very expensive, but an amazing camping spot none the less

With amazing views

Very cold and windy but a smile from Chris (beats Mrs. Glum on holiday)

We walk across a sand bank to a small island

And then round the island

With stunning views

To an ice berg!?! OK, but the walk was good.

Next night we find a free camping spot, then told a puma was spotted on this exact spot the night before. The long grass was full of dust and mosquitoes, Chris had a killing spree with the exterminator in the tent 

This is the big waterfall, quite nice, but not Niagara or Gocta Falls (Peru)

Another view of this rather impressive, but very small mountain range.

Another waterfall! Chris's dad would have canoed over this one!

3 Feb 2018

Disaster for 10 Minutes, then We Acheive Our Objective

So, here we are, Ushuaia, the other end of the earth! But only after one of those moments where everything almost stopped. You try and prepare anything and have spares for all occasions, but occasionally something happens that you never thought of.

Night 21 (of this phase) we arrive at the municipal camp site at Santa Cruz (approx. 550 miles to Ushuaia), greeted by Marco the very friendly site manager, we put the tent up (for about the 600’th time) and the ladder broke clean off its (plastic) hinges! A disaster as it is not just the access to the tent, but also supports the tent whilst we were in it. Panic ensues for about 10 minutes, then the brain kicks in, I call Marco over to see if he knows someone who can help, he does, himself. He takes me straight down to the local Ferreteria ( hard ware shop) and I now know why they call it a Ferreteria, cos Marco and one of the salesmen were ferreting around in the back for a little while and came up with an angle bracket. We bought 4 of those and back to camp. Marco fetched his drill, his angle grinder and a big box of tools and 3 hours later, with some drilling, grinding and screwing the ladder was back in place.

We stayed in Santa Cruz the following day to do a walk to a point to visit some more penguins, basically you drive as far as you can, walk as far as you can and suddenly the bushes are full of penguins and you can watch then waddling down to the sea and back to go fishing. A tough walk as it is basically along the beach on pebbles and sand, in howling wind and occasional rain and when it really blows you get sand blasted.

As we continue south the wind gets stronger (almost blows the door off when you open its that strong) and the clouds shoot across the sky so fast the sun can shine one minute and it will poor down with rain the next, so we stopped in accommodation and ate in restaurants the next 2 nights and booked this place in Ushuaia on the net a couple of days before we got here.

So, 3 years and 8 months after we arrived in New York, 651 days and 53,203 miles on the road we have finally made it from the top of the Americas to the bottom, but of course we haven’t finished yet. Together with Morocco and Mongolia our mileage total is just under 85,000 and number of days on the road are 935, 749 nights of which have been spent in the roof tent. Our sticker says ‘100,000 Miles of Adventure’, so we have another 15,000 to go!

A whole pack of Rheas, but still from the rear.

This is what we have seen for 000's of miles! 

We take a short cut 

And stop for lunch in the only shade we saw all day.

Getting better but still from the rear
Patagonian Hares, with amazingly long back legs

We take a detour to visit a petrified forest

These trees were buried in Volcanic ash 150,000,000 years ago when they were 1,000 years old!

We spot another Armadillo amongst the trees.

An interesting map of the world many millions of years ago. Not sure where Europe came from?

Back to the main road past many ancient volcanoes

A life size replica of Victoria the first ship to circumnavigate the globe and brought Magellan to Patagonia. Looks more like Captain Pugwash's ship!
Steak and egg, chips were a bit soggy but the steak was amazing

And Chris has the fish

The brackets take shape

A bit of fine tuning

And the ladder is back in place with a big thanks to Marco
Spot the Penguin!

Most scuttled away, but this brave one was eyeing us up
Get into line laddie

Last one in buys the drinks

You sure its OK?

Nope! Its too cold, I'm not going in!

OK! If I have to!

Chris trudges back along the beach

Back on that long straight road, but at least there is something to look at now.

We leave Patagonia behind

And arrive at Tierrea Del Fuego

Approaching the Mountains

I have a short nap while Chris drives and wake up in the mountains

Dropping down towards Ushuaia

And Finally, some Rhea's not from the rear!