Welcome Back To Chile
We had arbitrarily picked a campsite on our iOverlander maps to meet up with VueltaAmerica (the other overlanding couple) after we had both crossed into Chile, as we had done our own wild camping the night before. Well, the guys sure made a well-educated guess because this was campsite number two in a row of being unbelievably amazing and secluded.
Although it was just off the highway, we had to go down, open a fence, and drive back into the bush. We were then let out to a green space followed by a sandy, rocky beach and a crystal clear lake with mountains in the background. Many people, like our previous selves, think that the Patagonia Mountain Range is only in the far south, however that is just Patagonia National Park. We are currently, and were the whole time in Argentina Lakes Districts, in the Patagonia Mountain Range and it is everything we have been waiting for. It feels like home.
The Start Of The Convoy
After Frederik’s amazing fire making skills the night before we kept the ambers going for a morning filled with crepes and a freezing cold swim/shower. Finally, we got on the road in the afternoon in order to reach the coveted Carretera Austral. However, in order to get there, we had to go through a recently devastated town. What happened here is horrific, many houses damaged and people injured or killed in a mudslide. We had heard stories from other overlanders ahead of us and knew the road was recently opened. Military, crews and first-aid organizations had been working around the clock to help this community and its efforts can be seen. But the amount of mud that is still in the area and piled alongside the roads is chilling.
The Carretera Austral Highway Southbound
The road immediately turned into asphalt and we cruised through beautiful Chile. Although the whole route is not paved, the dirt and gravel parts in this section are still significantly better than main roads in Guatemala! (for now).
It was a bit of a gloomy day however it suited our next campsite well. It was in Queulet National Park, which is an odd phenomenon in its self. It is a mix of an old growth rainforest with a hanging glacier in the background. The campsites in the NP were perfect for cars with covered picnic tables and grill. So, Frederik, the fireman went to drying wood and starting the grill. Although our food did turn out amazing this would be the start of our convoys bad luck in damages to ours and each other’s belongings. While Frederik was going all out cutting us wood for the fire, the handle on their axe broke. Our grill was a bit too small for everyone’s food, so they volunteered theirs. Well, we didn’t realize it was spray coated metal and with Frederik’s blazing fire it melted one whole corner off! In the following days, VueltaAmerica would have one tire blow out and one tire punctured. I would lock our keys in the car, something we have been terrified of doing from the start and finally when trying to fill their little propane tank with our big one the adaptor got stuck for the remainder of the day and now the propane tank won’t stop leaking, so we are slowly going to be out of gas (which we cannot refill). None of us meant for any of it to happen, but despite it all, we still had a great time overlanding together.
Rain Especially Sucks In A Car
The following day we set out to do a hike through Queulet National Park, determined to enjoy the supposed beautiful trail despite the weather. From time to time Frederik and I like to do a hike on our own to get some rare solo time. So he took off on running the trail and I took off walking. It was not pouring but as we walked over the suspension bridge you could see just how much the river was raging. It started out as a wet trail, and after a couple hours, close to the top, it became a river itself. Unavoidable soaked feet, water ankle deep with no rocks to jump to. At one point there was a waterfall that came down the side and continued onto the trail. I was the only one who was fortunate enough to see, through the low-lying clouds, the hanging glacier in the distance.
So hiking in the rain, get a little wet, no big deal just go home and hang up your clothes right? Well, this is one of the biggest problems on the road. When it is constantly raining and damp we cannot hang them up outside, we have nowhere to hang a big amount of soaking clothes in our car, so wet clothes sit in a bag getting smelly. Not to add that when it is raining, and you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you are doing it in the cold rain. Times like these make us break down, drop our clothes off at a laundromat and get a campsite with a bathroom and ……hot water!
Driving Into Autumn
The view from the tiny town of Coyhaique was beautiful, however, the real stretch of the Carretera Austral journey we had been waiting for came as we popped over a hill leaving the city behind the following day. All of the sudden snow appeared on the hills and the trees turned bright orange, red and yellow. Fall had come! Finally, after 10 months of summer, this was our real sign of Fall that we had been starting to see for the last couple weeks.
The viewpoints were endless. We both experience a beautiful fall at home, being from northern countries, however, I loved how this was something new altogether. High Patagonia mountains, red trees going as high on the mountainside as they could stand to live, and snow on its sides making the colours more powerful.
We enjoyed our 2 day drive through this beautiful region. Stopping off at a cave with paintings of hands. These caves date back to 7370 BC where the indigenous populations travelling through left handprints coloured with dirt, minerals and the fat from Guanacos, aka their local llama/deer.
We drive really fast on gravel roads to avoid the washboard affecting and shacking everything apart more than it already is on our car. Since we are driving in a convoy we stop periodically to make sure José and Lindsey are still behind us. Well after waiting for longer than normal a car pulls up behind us and asks if that is our friends back there with the flat. Shit.
If you have a 4 runner from 2004 you know the struggle of getting the spare tire down. If you don’t. I wouldn’t suggest buying one for this sole reason. Between the 4 of us, it took us over an hour and a half to wiggle the metal rod into the perfect slot to crank the tire down from under the car. On that same road of struggle, a truck broke down just ahead! We had left the nice paved roads the day before and the Carratera was taking its toll. It has chalked up to be the worst stretch of road we have driven on this trip yet. Giant washboard and unavoidable deep potholes for days.
We had heard that the marble caves were best to see in the morning on a calm day due to the glacier bright blue calm waters reflecting a surreal light inside the caves. Well, midday was when we ended up arriving in this sleepy town, most things closed for the season, with few choices in tour companies to choose from. The 4 of us, along with a couple others, headed out suited up for the cold and water into the boat.
It was around a half hour boat ride out to the beginning of the caves on dense blue waters surrounded by mountains. This is the second biggest lake in South America and split between Chile and Argentina. There is a popular kayak tour many people do, in order to coast through the caves on your own, however for $50 per person on a windy, not summer day we decided against it. It turned out to be the better choice because this big boat still went through all the caves!
We had to duck, almost lying down, as we came close to the interior walls. It was amazing to reach out and feel the raw marble that had been washed away for centuries, some smooth, some rippled like water. It felt like we were going through an ancient Roman bathtub with bright cold blue water.
It was a great peaceful experience, going through nearly 10 caves….until the ride back to shore. Coming out we were riding with the wind so the waves did not affect us much. Now on our way back, it was a race to get home, with no care in the world for speed and how high we were flying off the tops of the waves. I almost bruised my butt on the first drop off the wave so all of us were squatting over top of our seats trying to take the force with our legs instead.
After a half hour of that, I was feeling a little seasick and out of it. All I had on my mind was food, not the keys I just locked in our car. Woops. After trying everything, then eating, then trying everything again Frederik finally found a way in. All we needed was a wrench and a flat head screwdriver to take off the back door locking mechanism and crawl in. Now you know how to break into our car too!
The remainder of our day was spent on the scenic route around the lake, Frederik cursing at the gravel roads, and me taking an absurd amount of pictures as per usual. We like to try and camp before dark, which we were not successful in doing the previous two nights, so we made a solid effort that day and it paid off.
We took off left down a tiny dirt road to a flat spacy area going a little off road to get there. It was the perfect spot. We were still caravanning with our friends at this point, so with the cars angled properly, we had the perfect set up for a campfire. We had made everyone crepes and a curry dish a couple days before, so while Frederik (and I a little) got the fire going they kindly made an amazing dinner for all of us that night.
The sunset had made a beautiful show, the stars were coming out in full and the conversation was great until we got a weird interruption. An animal was making a noise similar to a bird, but it had us all questioning if it was a puma, the most dangerous animal that could be in the area. The next morning when Frederik climbed up the nearby ridge to get a view of the cars from above he discovered puma footprints!
Back To Argentina, Our Last Border Crossing!
At every other border crossing thus far it is the Chilean customs officers who do a full check of your car to make sure you are not bringing in any foreign animal, fruit or vegetable products into their country. Also, Chile as a country does more importing that Argentina, which may be the cause of why their grocery stores are significantly better with a wider variety than in Argentina. So we decided to stock up on all the good stuff before leaving. Well, in iOverlander on this particular border at Chile Chico someone wrote that their car was inspected by the Argentina customs officers and all of their food was taken! We were freaking out. So in no man’s land, in the 2km stretch between the borders, we tried our best to hide our groceries. Luckily no one came to check our car as we took off as fast as we could into Argentina, Frederik yelling like a little girl because it was officially our last border crossing.
Our Weekend Goodbye To Our Convoy
In the little town on the other side of the border, we got a campsite for what was supposed to be one night, just for a little WIFI in order to get our car’s shipping in order and a nice hot shower. Well, the owner of the campsite was really nice, and although the odds for catching a fish would be low, he took us anyways down to the river the following morning so we could all have our first shot at fishing for Salmon! No of us caught anything but he did have a frozen, locally caught, big brown trout that we bought off of him and cooked up for dinner.
Sunday morning we all said our goodbyes, hoping to see one another again, but unaware of how soon it would be. Frederik and I took off, on our own, flying down southbound. In a valley of flat, wide-open spaces we found one random little camp with tree shelter from the wind. Well, there are not too many spots between the border and El Chalten, our destination the next day, so we laughed as Lindsey and José pulled up not too long after we had gotten the fire started. It was a silly notion for us to have broken off from them anyway as we were both going to the same places at the same rate. Two other cars joined us that night as well, a couple from Brazil and a man from Argentina. And the next morning, again, we both took off, this time in different directions. We didn’t say by, and we didn’t convoy, we just said see you again soon probably. And we did and we ended up at the same and only free campsite in El Chalten.
Glacier National Park, Patagonia
The Famous Fitz Roy
As we drove into El Chalten the clouds covered the view we had been waiting for months to see. The following day the Ranger predicted would be the same, so on the third day, we set out for our long hike. It was a 30km circuit from town, up to the Fitz Roy viewpoint, down 2km, across a fall coloured forest beside 2 lakes, then down from another big glacier into town. All in all, we left at 9 and were back by 5:30pm.
It was an absolutely magnificent hike. Viewpoints ever turn of the valley or Fitz Roy Mountain. The sunrise had been bursting with colour on the cloudless peaks but the biggest one had since been covered. At the highest point, with the view of the glacier and lake in front of Fitz Roy, we were a little to early for the full clearing of the clouds. However it could be seen from almost any point on the rest of our hike and from town, and I could not get enough of it as I turned around, constantly tripping, to take in the view.
Again we assumed this would be our last night together, going out for dinner in town Lindsey, José, Frederik and I, but again we were wrong.
Perito Moreno Glacier
We went from El Chalten, in the north end of Glacier National Park to El Calafate, which was located just outside the southern entrance of Glacier National Park. Still saving on camping we went to a wind-sheltered spot on the side of the lake, and guess who shows up as well!? Our friends Lindsey and José (we are not tracking each other I swear) and a couple we had been in contact through on Instagram, finally meeting up the night before, Tim and Liz. While all of this was unplanned we did plan to meet at a campsite the following night for a grill out, or parrilla, as they call it in Argentina.
It was still 70km from the town to Perito Moreno Glacier, so to save a little money on gas, Lindsey and José hopped in our bed and we took off. They gauge you for the entrance fee for how little there is to do in the park but the one sight every goes to see is worth it.
Although it is not the biggest glacier in the park, it is up there in size and is the most easily accessible one to view. There are border walks, which give you a different angle at the massive sheet of ice, however, we did not walk to much. Instead, coffee and hot chocolate in hand, we all leaned over the edge trying to catch the falling ice we could hear break off like the sound of a shotgun.
Our Last Night South
It was really goodbye this time, really our last night together and likely with other overlanders for the remainder of our trip. So with that in mind Lindsey, José, Frederik and I headed to the grocery store ready to buy out the place. Frederik’s mouth was watering in the butcher section and ended up getting lamb ribs, pork ribs, chicken and sausages (just for the 2 of us). Along with all this meat, we had sweet potatoes, whole onions, tomatoes, wine and a whole lot of beer. The money we had saved we sure reinvested into the country.
In Argentina, they are known for their steaks and how they cook them. At an authentic Parrilla one might start the fire in the morning, to get the coals going, they have the meat cooking for up to 8 hours. We didn’t have time for this so we combined it with the western style and settled for around 3 hours of slow cooking time. Tim and Liz had joined us, along with their friends from Colorado, so, all in all, we had a party for 8 overlanders grilling out. At some point in the night, when all the meat was finally cooked and all the beer was drunk, we headed to the local artisanal brewery on the corner. At this point, Frederik was the happiest person at the table however he was having a little bit of a hard time understanding the game of dice we were playing!
It was a slow start for everyone the following day as we said our goodbyes, everyone leaving and going different ways from each other. The other 3 groups were still going south to Ushuaia. We were headed straight east across the country to start our northern ascent to Buenos Aires, the end point of our trip.
Why We Are Not Going To The End Of The World
To explain ourselves for those who do not know, yes our goal and plan for months had been to make it to Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world. However, for reasons such as time, distance and money we ultimately chose not to. We both had prior commitments to be home for around the 10th of May. Being in Glacier National Park it might seem that we are almost there so why not just go? Well almost in relation to the total length of our trip. It would have still added another 2000km on, and when paying $5USD per litre it really adds up (especially because our gas mileage is atrocious). We also wanted to enjoy our last days more, only driving 300km a day (still a lot) rather than 600 to make it to Buenos Aires in time for our shipping date. We were still considering the idea of going, up until 2 days before we turned east, and the ultimate factor was that we didn’t need to go to Ushuaia just to say we had. If that was the only reason then it wasn’t a good enough one. So here we are, North not South.