Part 3 – About volcanoes and glaciers
When smoking is a good habit
We were literally blown out of Argentina by a serious Patagonian storm. At last we chose to seek shelter in a cabaña in San Martin. We thought it was okay, when the temperature at night was below zero and wind was so strong that some of the boats in the harbor capsized and drifted ashore. Overlanding is generally about outdoor living, but then again, not always!
Nice cabaña by the way – one of those, where you constantly have to remind your children of all the benefits by living in a tent, instead of living in a heated hut with two bathrooms, hot water, television and internet.
In Chile the weather wasn’t any better. The rain was pouring down, but we drove into the Huerguepue National Park where we plowed through thick mud and had to cross a river before we found a good place to camp.
The day after the sky was blue, and we all went hiking in the park, that turned out to be really beautiful.
When we left the park we only met one car. Which showed out to be a Danish family with 3 kids, approximately the same age as our kids. What are the chances? And even weirder- they lived less than 10 km away from us in Denmark. Small world!
We all bush camped inside the Villarica national park, right next to the Villarica volcano. The volcano was very active and regularly threw rocks high above the crater. And smoke was rising beautifully from the top of it. We had a volcano-chat with one of the locals in Pucon who told us that as long as it was smoking, they were quite calm living next to it. When it does not smoke it is more worrying, because then it was probably building up pressure, and the risk of a devastating explosion was rising. So that’s the exception were smoking is not a bad habit.
We enjoyed the new found company, having a barbecue in the cold while the kids were playing in a dried out riverbed. Suddenly the kids all came running to us, because they had seen and heard a puma. We heard it as well. Pretty scary. After that little happening no one had troubles sitting with their parents telling travel stories the rest of the evening.
We heard a lot of rumors about Bariloche before we actually arrived to the city. Most of what we heard was bad stories about getting robbed or getting your rig emptied by thieves. When overlanding you are so very dependent on your gear, and loosing it is just a nightmare.
Maybe because our car was already emptied during shipping we experienced no such troubles at all.
Besides its bad reputation, Bariloche was a pretty nice visit. One of the viewpoints overviewing the lakes, was placed as the 7th most beautiful in the world by National Geographic.
That fact immediately gave us an urge to go see the other 6, and also a bit of jealousy over the folks who had already seen all the best views in the world and thereby qualified themselves to range them in order.
But for sure it was beautiful!
Bariloche must have jumped the queue when God handed out the goods. There were chocolate factories and ice cream shops everywhere. There were small breweries all around making very nice beers. In the surrounding lakes you could catch brown salmons in no time. And you could swim or go sailing the lakes, but only if you had time and weren’t skiing in the mountains.
Did anyone mention this could be paradise on earth?
We left the Lake District after having bought a few Christmas presents – most of them made out of chocolate. Different kinds of chocolate of course. You need to have a varied diet, the dietician once told us…
The course was again set to Chile, but first we made a stopover in Trevelin, close to the border. When crossing the border from Argentina to Chile you can’t bring any food. Therefore we had emptied our supplies and had to eat out.
That was a little easier said than done in Trevelin. But since the ancestors were immigrants from Wales they had the nicest little tea house. You really don’t have to be anything near British to enjoy a traditional 5 o´clock tea with scones and cakes – that tradition is easily adopted by us.
A few kilos heavier we made another border crossing and were ready to start an epic journey on the Chilean Ruta 7 – Carretera Austral.
Carretera Austral were one of general Pinochet’s prestigious projects. It had a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory.
By building the road it was easier to claim the right of land in the area. Earlier people had to go by boat through the archipelago from Puerto Montt or crossing the lakes from Argentina.
The highway runs about 1,240 kilometers from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural and beautiful Patagonia.
Carretera Austral runs through a unique landscape along rivers and lakes, with sights of waterfalls, through dense forest and amazing mountains. It’s hard to find anything more rough and isolated. The road is mainly gravel, and in places in a poor shape. The weather conditions makes it difficult to maintain the road, especially during the winter.
Carretera Austral was the pure and unfiltered essence of Patagonien!
Arriving to the first village we refilled our supplies, but the selection was very limited because of the rare deliveries. Since there wasn’t much to choose from, it was so much easier to make decisions.
For the first time we had to try rationing our food and eat more simple. After all that wasn’t to bad after the diet we have had during the last couple of months.
All the way down Carretera Austral we camped alone in the national parks, in pouring rain and we saw hanging glaciers and oceans of flowering lupins.
Carretera Austral is one of the best roads we have ever driven, but also a major test of our children’s patience. It was a long drive and quite often we were speeding less than 25 km per hour.
Leaving Carretera Austral became a interesting experience with a visit at Juan’s place and a road blocked by fallen rocks.
46°34’South, 72°13’West – about there and about as far away from anything one could imagine, we met Juan.
We were heading to the border and just needed a place to pitch camp and to grill our salmon.
By the road along Lago General Carretera, at the lakeshore Juan had his little smallholding.
And it was small! One field where his horse grassed and he grew his vegetables. Then he had a small enclosure to his sheeps. His house was more like a hut, very poorly insulated and only heated by a stove.
The firewood was collected as driftwood from the river. Juan told us it took a lot of firewood, because during the winter the snow laid as high as one meter – but that was only in June, July and August, he said!
Then there were the neighbors. The only two houses for miles. None of them had an address, so mail was to be collected at the post office in Chile Chico.
In the enclosure with the sheeps Juan had his toilet. In a shed with a deep hole covered with boards. But with that luxury of a real toilet, a mirror, toilet paper, and a lock on the door.
The shed was built from cardboard boxes, wooden boards and whatever had drifted in. The mirror was a side mirror from a car, but it was all need and tidy and far beyond the standard of many established and expensive campsites.
Next to the house, Juan had a spot were we could camp, and we all shared the toilet.
He had approximately 15 sheeps and lambs – one lamb was an orphaned and was raised on a baby bottle. It had got its own status and walked around both inside and outside the house.
Two dogs helped shepherding the sheeps, the cats kept rats and mice on a distance. The hens provided him with eggs and under the house a rabbit family had taken residence.
Juan had a nice collection of fishing lures and flies that he used to catch salmon and trouts.
Juan lived by himself, but he had 6 children who all lived in Chile Chico, so he didn’t have much contact.
And then he suffered from a bad ulcer. Probably caused by having to little to eat in longer periods.
The peak season in the little campsite was January to March, but the last visitors were a couple of Israelis two years prior. So speaking of a “peak season” is probably an exaggeration.
When we arrived early in the evening the gate was closed. We went on to find a place to turn around and when we came back the gate was opened and Juan stood with new brushed hair welcoming us. Actually we had decided to proceed but luckily we changed our minds. Warmth, hospitality and richness like what we now experienced are so seldom, and you have to be lucky to find it!
And sometimes it’s the smallest experiences that end up making the biggest impressions.
We shall always remember we met Juan.
We have heard the calving of a glacier
Lukas’ birthday was celebrated in both Chile and Argentina. Presents in the tent, good breakfast and a border crossing. During the night Lukas had crawled over the edge of our bed, so he woke up 1,8 meters below on the ground in the bottom of the tent. What a way to turn 10 years. Luckily he was without any scratches.
The birthday dinner was held in Perrito Moreno before we proceeded on lousy gravel roads to El Chaltén and the glaciers, but before that we made detour to Cuevas de los Manos.
Cuevas de los Manos is ancient graffiti, it’s dated approximately 8000 bc. After that many years graffiti receives veteran status and turns to be heritage. One could wonder if the same will happen to all the tags our generation produce?
Most of the painted hands are left hands, nobody knows why. They were all painted as negatives, meaning the paint was sprayed around the motive.
For us it is always inspiring and fascinating to be confronted with history of that age. Knowing that people lived here some 10.000 years ago, makes us feel very small in the big perspective. 10.000 years is actually not that many years after the invasive species of Homo sapiens even showed up in that area.
Another bonus by showing up in the area was that Cuevos were very beautiful located and it was absolutely worth the detour.
Because of our detour we ended up driving almost 750 km, before we came to El Chalten, and that is by far the longest drive ever between two fuel stations we have had!
We made it to El Chalten, and got to see Mount Fitz Roy and all its majestic beauty in clear weather But only for a few hours before we had to seek shelter due to stormy weather. It rained and stormed in 3 full days. Temperatures just above 0 and the snow covered the mountains only 100 meters above us.
Finally after 3 days we fled our shelter and ran off to El Calafate to celebrate Christmas. El Calafate isn’t exactly the best kept secret to the travel magazines. But it’s the home of the Perrito Moreno glacier. So even though it’s massively crowded with tourists it’s also a must see.
We spent the day before Christmas together with the glacier. An unforgettable day where we both heard and saw the glacier calving its huge icebergs into the lake.
And Christmas last until… Torres del Paine
Christmas Eve we celebrated with the Danish family we met earlier in Pucon in Chile. We cherished the Danish traditions – like dancing around a Christmas tree while singing Christmas carols. Carols we had become really good at at this point because of the stolen car radio. We ate traditional Danish food – or whatever we could find to fill in, we opened the chocolate gifts bought earlier in Bariloche, and as Danes we did it all in the evening on the 24th.
Christmas Eve lasted until 5 in the morning. Time flies in such good company. On Boxing Day we broke up from the camp and drove towards Torres del Paine in the absolute southernmost part of Patagonian Chile. We made a night stop on a grass field outside of Rio Turpio in Argentina. Simply because we had a lot of Christmas leftovers we couldn’t bring across the border. While having a little Christmas afterparty the kids spent time finding fossils and we made a bonfire to keep warmth in the cold Patagonian night.
Torres del Paine was indescribably beautiful in a very rough sense… and the entry to the park was insanely expensive! If it’s a way to limit the amount of tourists or simply to make the box out of it we can’t tell, but the first is absolutely the most sympathetic explanation, since the nature is so fragile and must be protected from the big crowds.
Never mind the fee, we had the greatest days of hiking and driving around in what must be the most amazing scenery in the world..!