Patagonia- to the end of the world and back… (part 1)

Part 1 – About train departures and altitude sickness

We have always loved traveling. To be out there where culture and nature is completely different from what we are used to, and where the safety net isn’t quite as tight as back home.

We like to travel without to many strings attached. We like to be in charge of where, how and when to go. And especially we want to decide when not to go anywhere, and just stay and set roots for a few days – or weeks…

Years ago Lene and I traveled in South East Asia and the south eastern part of Africa. In Asia we backpacked on our own and in Africa we drove in an overland truck together with a bunch of great people from around the globe. In Africa it was primitive outdoor living as we lived and cooked outside and slept in small tents for months. On that trip we discovered the special South African camping culture where people use 4×4 vehicles equipped with rooftents and expedition trailers and went on safaris and just bushcamped were they wanted.

The trailers were built to get through, no matter where you were heading, and typically outfitted with kitchen, space for sleeping and whatever you needed to stay out for weeks in the bush. If one wanted to go on safari the trailer was left behind as camp, while the vehicle was used alone.

Later, after we had children, we traveled in New Zealand, where we rented a campervan. A campervan is an absolutely brilliant family container to live in, but it is pretty big to drive around and completely hopeless when the tarmac ends and the true life begins. The fact that we had to pack up the entire camp every time we wanted to go somewhere was also somewhat annoying.

A couple of years ago, when we once again felt the urge to see the world, we asked ourselves – in what way…?

We made a list of pros and cons and finally ended with the decision that the south African way, with car and trailer was the best solution for us. Hereby we don’t say it’s the best way generally. There are a lot of opinions about how to travel, about which carbrand to drive and weather or not to tow a trailer. We have tried a lot of different ways, and for us this is the best compromise. But we are not to judge for anyone else!

At that time the family had grown into the 2 of us plus 3 children aged 9, 7 and 1 year.

The decision was taken, we sold our house, stuffed everything we owned into a 20 foot container and parked it a safe place. And finally, in September 2009, we shipped our Land Rover and expedition trailer from Hamburg to Buenos Aires. We took the train from our local train station- every journey has to start some place!

It takes 4 to 5 weeks from the ship departure from Germany till it arrives in Argentina, so we chose to go to Peru to learn a little Spanish before we had to deal with the authorities in the harbor in Buenos Aires.

We never stop learning, and by shipping the equipment we learned that nothing is safe onboard the big ro-ro ships. Even though your equipment is handed over to the captains responsibility it is absolutely not safe onboard. Everything with value gets stolen if it isn’t locked up properly. By that mean we lost the car radio, the Leatherman knife, the Maglite and all of our tools and spare parts for the vehicle. We were left with a single screwdriver a role of duct tape but we had gained a lot more experience about the world of shipping – and that too is worth something.

Never let yourself be stressed by details, we happened to be very impressed of how far you can go only using duct tape and a screwdriver. And as a matter of fact it was pretty funny not having a radio, because we then had to do the singing ourselves.

Our 17.000 km odyssey brought us to circumcise the Argentine and Chilean Patagonia with minor detours to Peru, Brasil and Uruguay, before we nearly a half year later, in February 2010, had to send the car and trailer back to Hamburg. This time emptied for all values – by ourselves!

The journey took us through desserts in north Argentina in more than 40 degrees Celsius, across +5000 meters mountain passes in the Andes, through stunning beauty and roughness in southern Chile – to the end of the world and back.

What it gave us as a family is indescribable. This is our story.


 Buenos Aires

We arrived to Buenos Aires in the early spring. Still there was no leaves on the trees and the temperature was only around 17 degrees Celsius.

Buenos Aires or “Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre”, which is the exact name of the city, is the capital and most populous city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata. “Buenos Aires” can be translated as “fair winds” or “good airs”, which is absolutely not the case due to polution from the heavy traffic.

The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, with a population of around 17 million people and probably just as many stray dogs.

We found a hotel right next to the obelisk on La Avenida 9 de Julio, the avenue that claims to be the widest in the world. The avenue has up to seven lanes in each direction and is flanked on either side by parallel streets of two lanes each.

Our blond (and beautiful, if you ask us) kids immediately took the hotel as their new home and was hugged and kissed by a lot of kind strangers. Our first and a little tight up thought was the pig flue that ravaged at the same time, so we hurried to disinfect the kids – hopefully without it being to obvious…

Driving in Buenos Aires takes a lot of patience, while walking is absolute splendid. So we walked out to see Iglesia de Pillar, the place where Eva Perón had her state funeral after she died of cancer only 33 years of age. Amazing church and graveyard, and a fascinating story about how big influence one person can have on an entire country even for decades after her death.

On the way back we talked a lot about all the homeless people sleeping in the parks and playgrounds – a very unfamiliar sight for 3 kids who comes from a country where poverty in that scale doesn’t even exist.

Iguazu – a 2 years birthday and an incredible lot of water

Iguazu is located in the most north eastern corner of Argentina. It is squeezed in between the borders of Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay, and is between the 10 largest waterfalls in the world. It drops between 60 and 82 meter, is 2,7 km wide and dropped approximately 6.000 m³/s water in the air. In average it’s approximately 1.800 m³/s but due to heavy rain we got extra value for our entrance. Pretty wild and very impressive sight – and sound!

In that area we celebrated Rose’ second birthday, surrounded by palm trees, toucan birds, hummingbirds and a lot of water.

We hiked around on the Argentine side together with a very nice family from Uruguay, and that did put our Spanish skills to a test. Later, when we hiked the Brazilian side we had a complete language meltdown, when a guide, who was 5th generation German immigrant, insisted speaking German to us but Spanish or Portuguese to everybody else. We took the opportunity to speak a true mixture of whatever we felt sounded right, but was never really understood I guess.

Linnea and Lukas had their first taste of the far-away-from-school school when exercised grammar. Ex; to eat, I eat, I ate, I have eaten. Kids version; to pee, I pee, I wet my pants.

Luckily we have almost half a year until they have to go back to the real school.

As parents we avoided the grammar we couldn’t handle ourselves- that’s one of many privileges one has as a far-away-from-school “schoolteacher”.

Peru – Altiplano and altitude sickness

It was a little hectic flying from Iguazu to Buenos Aires and then further on to Lima and Arequipa in Peru the day after. But it went quite well. We spend a few days in the white city of Arequipa. Arequipa is located 2.400 meters above sea level and is the second most populous city in Peru with its nearly 900.000 inhabitants. In 2000, the historic centre of Arequipa was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but several of the historical buildings was damaged by an 8.4-magnitude earthquake in 2001.

There are registrations of small earthquakes on daily basis in the area, but most of them aren’t even notable. But the signs saying “Zona segura en casos de sismos” is very notable since they are everywhere.

Luckily we had no earthquakes during our visit, so we just enjoyed the beautiful city and the monastery before we continued to Chivay and the Colca canyon by bus.

The road was mainly through vast volcanic desserts, with the highest mountain pass at more than 5.000 meters above sea level. It is absolutely unbelievable that people can live under those circumstances. But they do and like the surrounding nature they are really tough. Both Lukas and Rose wasn’t to well because of the thin air.

Just outside Chivay we stayed right at the rim of the Colca Canyon, wit a spectacular view.

Colca Canyon is a carved by the Colca River. With a depth of 3,270 metres it is one of the deepest in the world. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley with pre-Inca roots, and towns founded in Spanish colonial times, still inhabited by people of the Collagua and the Cabana cultures. The local people still maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces witch gives the canyonslopes their characteristic looks.

The canyon is home to the Andean condor, a bird that has been the focus of worldwide conservation efforts. The condors can be seen at close range as they fly past the canyon walls, and are a popular attraction. The Andean Condor typically lives about 60-70 years, and has a wingspan of about 2.1–2.7 meters. It is commonly referred to as the “Eternity Bird,” as the bird is a symbol of long life and eternity.

We went to see them at Cruz del Condor witch is a very popular tourist stop, so don’t expect to have it on your own. At this point the canyon floor is 1,200 metres below the rim of the canyon, and with the condors flying both right above, next to and under you it’s a experience you’ll never forget.

From Chivay we continued by bus to Puno. Puno is situated between the shores of Lake Titicaca and the mountains surrounding the city. There is less than 5 km of flat land between the shores and the foothills, so the city doesn’t have much space for expansion. Lake Titicaca is 8.372 km² and thereby the largest lake in South America and is often called the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters.

The name “Titicaca” probably refers to the color of the lake, but if you pronounce Titicaca with a fat danish accent, the name changes to mean something like human shit, so be aware if you don’t know have to say the A’s…!

On the way to Puno we had to exceed 5.000 meters. This time Lene struggled with headache, dizziness and shortness of breath. All symptoms of migraine- or altitude sickness.

People say Titicaca is breathtaking, and that has to be taken for real. To avoid the symptoms we ate coca candy and drank coca tea made out of coca leafs – not sure if it had any effect though.

A few kilometers from the shore the man made floating islands of the Uros is located. The story say that the Uros was forced to flee the mainland and therefore settled ashore. The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive; if a threat arose the floating islands could be moved. Pretty clever, but the 42 islands sinks, so it’s a hazel to maintain them.

We visited the islands, and it was a great experience, even though it has become a major attraction and was both very touristic and crowded.

Lene struggled with the migraine symptoms, and eventually had to go back to Puno. The kids and I sailed to Taquile island to eat lunch and admire the view to Bolivia on the other side of the lake.

By the way we had the most delicious quinoa soup and grilled trout, that resulted in a need of constant access to a toilet the rest of the day.

Then we should have gone to Cusco and Machu Picchu, BUT…
Lene’s symptoms didn’t have the slightest to do with migraine, she suffered from severe altitude sickness, and had to be evacuated to sea level immediately. So within a few hours we had arranged a flight back to Lima, and with a lot of help from Jesper Hannibal and his travel agency and Gauda travel insurance we changed all our plans and spend the rest of our time in Peru as close to the sea level as possible. Only minor problem was that we then had to use our woolen mountain clothing in 30 degrees celsius.
Cusco and Machu Pitchu has gone back on the bucket list and will get a visit next time we comes to Peru.

Peru – Lord of Sipan and Circusboas the Tombraiders

It didn’t take us long to convince ourselves that that big pile of rocks the Inkas had left high in the Andes impossibly could be more interesting than the anthropological archeological sites the Moche- and Chimu cultures had left along the pacific coast. Maybe it was under influence, that we all were able to breathe without any external devices. Nonetheless it was really interesting to see what the archeologists had digged out from the giant mud Huacas. These massive complexes was built entirely out of mud from around 3000 bc and until the Spanish invasion around 1500.

We went to Chiclayo – which brought us to the same level as Thor Heyerdal og Lord of Sipan – maybe not intellectually, more geographically. At least we went as far north as 7°S, where Thor Heyerdal was in charge of excavating Lord of Sipans huaca.
The city of Chiclayo was nothing special but the local market at Modelo was rather spectacular. Guess there was nothing you couldn’t buy that place – fruits and vegetables, living animals, dead animals and animals that arrived alive but didn’t make through the day and not least you could get any sort of spiritual relicium.

The pacific coast in Peru is almost entirely dessert, due to the sea streams that brings cold water all the way from Antarctica. Only when El Niño pays a visit it all blossoms and gets green for a short time. In generations the water in the rivers has been used for watering the farmland and only reach the ocean occasionally.

Our tour took us to Trujillo, to see the temple of Chan Chan, Huaca de la Sol and Huaca de la Luna.
Trujillo is quite charming and we had the opportunity to see the famous and very short legged Paso horses in action.

Most of the archeological fundings has been fund by tompraiders before the archeologists. So many new discoveries is pretty much done because new artpieces are fund on illegal markets, and a lot of the archeological sights starts where the tompraiders left them.

Unfortunately a of the treasury never gets to the museums – but WOW, if what we saw is only the tip of the iceberg, there must have been incredible treasures hidden in that area.

After that concentrated history class, the kids was looking forward to go back to Buenos Aires, and to have dulce de leche again.

We were looking forward to get the car and the trailer and start the overlanding tour. We also needed a serious washing day – at that state we had made a schedule for reusing the already used clothes , so we didn’t wear the same clothes in all the pictures…

A 9 years birthday and the king of Burger King

Back in Buenos Aires we celebrated yet another birthday. This time Linnea turned 9. She was celebrated in La Boca with big steaks and tango – and of course ice cream with dulce de leche.

While we were waiting for the car we spent a public holiday like the locals, and went to San Isidro and a nice little town called Tigre. Tigre means tiger and is originally, by the English, named after the jaguar that once lived in the area. It’s not all namegiving that makes sense…

We also had the most needed washing day. We had so much laundry that the laundry lady loudly laughing turned the open-sign over and closed the shop 2 hours ahead of schedule.

To celebrate that we went to Burger King to eat. I was in charge of ordering and because of a minor mistake- maybe because of my lousy Spanish- we ended up with 5 supersized meals with buckets of coca-cola. We really felt ashamed but we nearly managed to clean the plates. And because of that achievement we were honored with paper crowns.

And in the meantime our Land Rover and expedition trailer was cleared by the port authorities and declared ready to go out overlanding the Patagonian roads…