A Travellerspoint blog

Ruta 3

Head South heads North in a hurry.

Our trip did not end at the end of the road, we now had to make our way back up to Buenos Aires (3000 km north), and catch our flight home in two weeks. What a gruelling schedule. We pushed hard and hoped Phyllis would be up for the task, but halfway up the coast, she protested and we lost our second fuel pump. Unlike other Latin American mechanics, Argentinian mechanics work only between mate breaks. We could not find anyone willing to work on our truck for any amount of money. The clock was ticking, so having watched the mechanics replace one in Guatemala, Paul decided to go for it on the side of a busy road with only his tool set. Five hours later, when Phyllis finally turned over, it was Paul’s happiest moment of the trip. She was road worthy once again.

We did have the chance to enjoy some of the sights on the Ruta 3, including the penguinera Monte Leon. Penguins are some of the cutest animals I have ever seen- and the smelliest. Many of the southern penguin colonies are popular and can only be visited on tours, which did not really appeal to us. Monte Leon is a national park between Tierra del Fuego and Comodoro Rivadavia on the Atlantic coast, and seems to be a little less commercial. There is tons of wild camping available, and the penguins can be visited independently. It is quite an impressive sight to see thousands of Magellanic penguins as the fog lifts in the morning, some heading for the ocean, some sleeping, and some even walk right up to you curiously. We took a ridiculous amount of photos…

We drove furiously and arrived in Buenos Aires with nine days to spare. We enjoyed the sights of the big city, and started to work through some of the paperwork for Phyllis. Unfortunately we hit a bit of a hiccup, and had to hastily make tracks for Uruguay, which we had not planned on visiting. The tiny country is separated from Argentina by the Rio Uruguay. The fuel is super duper expensive, but all through South America we were hearing about how cool their president is, and how excellent their social programs are- apparently he has chosen to forego living in the presidential palace, and takes the bus to work as a measure of transparency and a stance against corruption.

When we arrived in Colonia, we were just pulling into the campground, when we heard something dragging from Phyllis. Seems as though one of our shock mounts sheered off and was dragging on the ground behind us throwing up sparks. We thought Uruguayans were just friendly waving and flashing their light at us… oops. At the campground we were greeted by our old friends Life Remotely, and another road-tripping couple Shannon and Brenton. Jessica, Khobus and Jared invited us to join them in Montevideo (only 170 km away) for the main event MEATOPOLIS!!! Paul and I are food tourists. We love to eat strange things, and prefer to learn about other cultures through food and drink, so when Jared showed us this video clip, we had to have the meat. South American barbecue is unmatched. The vendors set up at around 10 am and start the fires at their grilling stations. Around 1030, the meat goes on, and by noon people are lining up to consume it in artery-clogging quantities. We polished off the platter for five between the group and all had intense meat sweats- so worth it. Included in the meal were chicken, blood sausage, sweetbreads, intestines, regular sausage, various beef cuts, pork tenderloin, and the token vegetable- grilled red pepper. Inspiring.

Our last week was truly relaxing. We got ourselves a swank pad in the heart of San Telmo, Buenos Aires and kicked back. We ate at fancy restaurants, and explored some of the trendy neighbourhoods in the city. Hard to believe a trip 10 years in the planning and two years in the making was finally over. I guess we need to start planning the next one.

If you want to ask us more about our trip, or plan on passing through Mackenzie, BC give us a shout.

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Posted by SusieMiller 09:09 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Tierra del Fuego

The end of the road

Getting to the southern tip of Argentina has been our end goal since we set out. We have been so fixated on it, that now that it was in sight, we were somewhat overwhelmed. I don’t think either one of us thought, setting out, that our rusty old 1700$ Trooper would perform so well, but now that we were within pushing distance there was no way we weren’t brining Phyllis to Ushuaia. Argentinian Patagonia is a pretty interesting place. There is a huge influx of teched-out mountain focused tourism (mom and dad, I see you here), but for good reason. The jagged peaks and glaciers are all time. There is a shit ton of hiking to check out, and the national parks are super well maintained and very accessible. The weather here can be pretty unpredictable, and because we were here in the fall we unfortunately had mostly rain. Even though it was cold, wet, and windy, we ignored the weather and managed to get some hiking in anyways. We visited the town of el Chalten where we did an overnight hike in the nearby national park. The hike was awesome. We climbed up to a glacial lake surrounded by jagged peaks, including the famous rock face of Mount Fitz Roy. Though the views were supposed to be legendary, unfortunately this is all we saw:

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One of our most memorable sights was the breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier is advancing at a healthy rate and can be viewed fairly closely. In the heat of the day large chunks of the glacier break off into the water making loud cracking and thundering sounds. I had seen many photos of this glacier before, but to get its full effect it truly is something you have to experience. We hung out watching it for well over an hour just taking it all in.

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Because Paul and I both got new jobs for the spring and summer season, we have been at bit pressed for time. Paul’s anticipated start date is now three weeks earlier than we had thought, so we didn’t have the time we wanted to really check out all of the hiking and enjoy all that we wanted in Patagonia. With Phyllis deteriorating (rust, and various mechanical problems) at a decent rate we thought it was best to make some time down to the tip. To get to Ushuaia we had to cross into Chile, take a boat to Tierra del Fuego, and then cross back to the Argentinian south. The island of Tierra del Fuego was quite different from the Chilean side, to the Argentinian side. Chile has very few towns, no paved roads, and very few services, while the Argentinian centres of Rio Grande, Tohluin, and Ushuaia are bustling resource-rich towns were young people from all over the country flock to look for higher paying jobs. It reminded me a bit of the Canadian north in that sense. Also, we finally got our truck stuck!

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Making it to the end of the road was surreal. We didn’t quite know what to make of this monumental moment. We snapped some photos at the tip, and checked the pan-American off our list of life goals. I felt a mix of excited, relieved, and sad when we finally got to the end, but we still had 3000+ kilometers up the Atlantic coast to Buenos Aires to make before we flew back home. Phyllis, are you up for the job?

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Posted by SusieMiller 13:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Flashback

Andrea and David's video of our Darien Gap crossing

Paul and I are now back in Canada, and yes I have been slacking on the blog. There are several more entries in the works with details and photos of the rest of our trip south and back north. For now, I am going to leave you with a video our friends Andrea and David made with footage of our trip around the Darien gap from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia. The text is all in Spanish, but the images speak for themselves. It is hard to describe the four day trip we took from Central to South America, and I don't have very many great photos of it, so this might help to better encapsulate our incredible journey through the San Blas (Guna Yala) to the colonial city of Cartagena. check out the video!

Posted by SusieMiller 23:39 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Carretera Austral

A lot like home

After gorging ourselves and becoming acquainted with the Argentinian Malbec and Torrontes, we crossed into Chile just north of Temuco. We headed to the city to get some money, food and car parts. When taking out money, I usually search for familiar banks, so I went to the Scotiabank to take out Chilean pesos. I inserted my card, and tried to take out a few thousand pesos… no luck. I tried another lower amount, and the screen came up with the disappointing and slightly horrifying message ‘your card has been captured, please contact your bank.’ It was a pretty damn funny print out, though extremely annoying. I have used so many different machines in so many different countries, I was taken aback to have a Canadian bank ‘capture’ my card in a country as developed as Chile. Basically after a lot of dramatic phone calls to both my credit union in Canada, and the independent company that runs the ATMs, my only option was to return on Monday morning when the bank opened to retrieve my ‘captured’ card, and to alter our travel plans. It really made me realize how much I rely on a single piece of plastic for all of my financial needs. It is a little unnerving. My new rule is to only take money out when a bank is open. When I travel again, I will be sure to either have multiple bank cards, or two different bank accounts.

The hiccup in Temuco only cost us two days, which actually turned out the be two of the most beautiful and remote days we spent in Chile exploring some of the less populated lakes and camping for free. It was a nice change to be out of the desert and into the lush rainforest again. I noticed that a lot of the plants we see down here are similar to, of not identical to, ones we see at home. The decorative ‘monkey puzzle trees’ people are planting on Vancouver island grow wild here, and are pretty bizarre to see in forests. Chile’s lakes district is stunning. It is overlooked by volcanoes, and characterized by clear water and lush forests. Not only the plants seem familiar, but the weather is wet and mostly temperate. We found ourselves lakeside with a coastal storm rolling down the valley thinking about how much we were reminded of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

From the lakes district, we headed south to the coastal city of Puerto Montt, and straight onto highway 7, the Carretera Austral. We had been hyping this part of the journey up for a while, and once we started out, we were pretty amazed at how much it seemed like home, minus commercial logging. The highway is connected with many ferrys and runs the length of the coast until it dips into the mountains. The ferry rides are slow and beautiful, and connect the inlets and fiords that line the coast. It is quite scenic, though not as remote as we had envisioned. We were still able to find internet, fuel, and groceries all along the route. It was mostly under construction, and I assume, before too long should be fully paved.

One thing about travel in Chile that differs from everywhere else we have been is- PRICE. I try not to be the cheap ass traveler who misses out on things based on what I think they are worth versus what is being charged, but Chile is prohibitively pricey for budget travelers. There are good deals to be found- lots of German immigration means delicious and cheap sausages- but fuel peaked at 2$/litre, and was consistently over 1.75$.

Once deeper into the Austral, we headed for some national parks. We did some hiking in the recently reopened park of Pumalin. This park was closed for rehabilitation after a volcanic eruption damaged most of the park’s flora and part of the neighbouring town. It is owned privately and meticulously maintained. When we got to the top of volcan Chaiten, we saw the still steaming crater, and the aftermath of the destruction caused by ash. It looked like the remnants of a forest fire minus the tree scars. We also hiked up to a pretty damn sweet viewpoint to see the ventisquero Colgante where huge chunks of ice are breaking off into the waterfalls and the lakes below. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The hiking is pretty all time here. If we had a little more time and a lot more motivation we might have been here for months.

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Posted by SusieMiller 18:42 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Steak and naps

beer drinkers in wine country

Entering Argentina has been an abrupt change. Toilets are somewhat reliably flushing. for the most part, power outlets work (though they annoyingly have different fittings). It is a very precious thing to go from a country with fewer amenities to one whose people have reliable and disposable incomes. Road tripping in Argentina feels like a trip though the Okanagan in the summer. Local people are all on vacation, and the numerous municipal campgrounds are packed with families and primarily domestic tourists. With development come road rules. Speed limits are enforced and adhered to, and stop lights mean something… Pros and cons.

We rolled into the city of San Salvador de Jujuy looking for insurance- apparently mandatory in Argentina. We figured we could catch the shops after lunch at around 2pm. On our second day in Argentina we came face to face with excellent and frustrating reality of four hour long lunch breaks. All of the insurance shops were closed from 1pm until 530 when they opened back up for the evening. This is a first for us. Once we got to the know the people a bit more, we found out that everyone is sleeping off the gigantic lunch they consume that was most likely cooked over a fire. The traditional ‘asado’ is very meat heavy. We got invited to dine with a couple, and were served seven steaks and a whole chicken along with wine and bread. These people know how to live. Neither one of us has been to Europe, but we figure Argentina is the closest we have gotten. The selection and availability of cheese, wine and cured meats feels pretty damn euro.

We worked our way down the infamous Ruta 40 which is a classic secondary cross country road- some paved, some not- (apparently Argentina’s route 66) and eventually got to the super beautiful and classy town of Mendoza. My old University roommate happened to be visiting Argentina with her mom, so we were lucky enough to meet up with Laura and Anne, as well as another old friend Nick. With a more substantial posse, we tackled wine country. Now Paul and I are into good food and drinks, but we are not classy by any means. We were a bit intimidated by wine country, and more specifically the Valle de Uco just outside of Mendoza where the world’s best Malbecs are produced. It was nice to have a group along, especially one with people so passionate about wine. We visited a few vinyards, dognapped a puppy (not for us), and ate extremely well for three days. Thanks for meeting up with us Laura, it was awesome. Next time we will do it in Jersey. Paul is allergic to red wine… bummer for him, more for the rest of us.

All through the Valle de Uco we were eating and drinking things produced right there. Everywhere you turned there would be artisan bread, oil, honey- or locally produced wine, jam, meat, olives. There were fruit, nuts, and juice, all made/ grown in the valley. Now I don’t know a lot about wine, but the proximity to the Andes not only makes the wineries we visited incredibly picturesque, it apparently brings cooler nighttime temperatures thickening the skin of the grapes, and enhancing the flavor of the grapes and the wine. I fell in love with Malbec. You can get consistently good bottles at the grocery store for five dollars and less, making excellent wine cheaper per volume than beer.
For other people who plan on visiting Argentina- bring US dollars. I don’t know the exact political ins and outs of the situation, but in an attempt to ‘stabilize the currency’ the current government has fixed the exchange rate at just under five pesos per dollar. Argentinians are not allowed to exchange pesos for foreign currency (with the notable exception of a fixed amount allowed per day of foreign travel), and the black market is rampant. ‘Arbolitos’ (little trees) are black market exchangers, and will commonly give 7 pesos to the dollar, and I have heard up to 8 pesos. In other words, you could make 40 cents on the dollar if you use the black market, and were planning travel in Argentina. Wish we had known before we got here! Understandably, the local people we talk to are pretty pissed off.

Travel in Argentina has been an abrupt change, but a welcome one. The local people we have met have been curious and welcoming. We no longer stick out and have been mistaken for locals, or for Chileans. We will cross into Chile next and make our way south on the Carretera Austral.

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Posted by SusieMiller 18:26 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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