Part 4 – To the end of the world and back
New year in a penguins suit
New Year’s Eve were celebrated in Punta Arenas, or Sandy Point as the English named the place when arriving first time in 1520.
It was a funny feeling, knowing that when we woke up at 8 o’clock, our friends in New Zealand had already started a new year. Not funny being that late, but then again, it can quickly turn into a lifestyle never being ahead.
While the rest of the world one by one went into the new year, we went out on the Magellan straight to visit a colony of penguins. One of the biggest colonies of Magellan penguins with more than 100.000 breeding creatures. All of them festively dressed up in their penguin suits like many others in rest of the world that specific day.
In Punta Arenas the community did all the fireworks. Therefore it was concentrated into a 20 minutes intensely and extremely beautiful show. When it all ended there were complete silence. Maybe something we should consider instead of driving our pets insane by playing pyrotechnics every night for weeks. Maybe it would even save some childrens’ hands and eyes?
After having celebrated new year with nice dinner and the beautiful fireworks, we went to Zona Franca – a tax free zone – to buy new sleeping bags. Our old ones were far to poor insulated and we were freezing our butts off at night. Well equipped we were ready to cross the Magellan straight to Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire.
We bushcamped at the lighthouse in Porvinir, and went to sleep warm and cozy in the new sleeping bags, watching dolphins playing in the sunset over the renowned Magellan straight.
The sleeping bags were a bargain by the way.
Right at the end of the world
Our journey needed a turnaround. We were at a point where we needed to change direction. Literally, since we had run out of road – and land, for that sake! Therefore we had to make a major u-turn, and start a new journey heading north.
We had arrived to the end of the world.
Before we started the approximately 3.000 km long drive north to Buenos Aires, we enjoyed the great nature on Tierra del Fuego.
There were penguins, albatrosses, sea lions and a lot of other species. It was a rough, cold, windy and just a completely wonderful experience.
Tierra del Fuego got its name because of the natives burning bonfires all over the island. They used the bonfires to keep themselves warm, however they didn’t wear much clothes. Even in their canoes, they burned fires. When the English saw all those peoples wearing very little clothes, they decided to dress them properly, where after they started to get wet and cold and eventually they died.
The natives who were hunters and fishermen had a custom where they put their babies in the cold seawater when they turned 7 days. If the baby drowned or died of hypothermia it was just too bad. But the child would inevitably die sooner or later, since it had to be with the mother while she was fishing.
Tough way to reason, but rough nature makes rough people, and only the fittest survived in Tierra del Fuego.
Minefields and marine life
Heading north gave us a strange kind of feeling. We still had a long journey ahead of us, but somehow it felt like ending the tour. We did what we could to suppress that feeling and made a long list of things we wanted to do on the way up along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Suddenly our tour had changed significantly. From hours of driving on mountainous gravel roads through the Andes, we now drove primarily on tarmac on the pampas that were flat as a pancake with Dulce de Leche. But still the wind were blowing the Patagonian style, and not a tree in sight on the pampas to give shelter.
To get from Argentine Tierra del Fuego to Argentine mainland you have go through Chile. That meant bringing no food whatsoever. So we camped, made the famous pancakes with Dulce de Leche and ate 1,5 kilos of mixed fruit. Simply born too miserly to waste food.
Since we camped right next to the border, we could follow the growth of the line to the checkpoint. Cars started to line up from around 4 am, and it ended up being the by far worst border crossing on the journey. Two hours to get out of Argentina, two hours to get into Chile and half an hour driving in no mans land.
What a waste of time. But no worries, get back on the road and get on with your life. We got back on the road and drove maximum 25 km per hour on the poorest roads in Chile. Funny they are worst exactly where the Argentines are most dependent on them. Guess they never really agreed on the border drawings.
We made it to the ferry that crossed the Magellan straight and only had to wait for 20 minutes, which was brilliant because then our children had enough time to run and play on the field next to the berth. Immediately the other waiting drivers came running to us – they could see the signpost saying “no entry – mine field”! We couldn’t see it because of the lorry in front of us.
Next border crossing, still the same day, happened to be the fastest on our journey. 5 minutes to formalities and 10 minutes to chat about our tour and life in general.
First night back on the mainland we spent behind the YPF fuel station in Rio Gallegos. Maybe not the most exotic place in the world, but we shared it with a lot of other “overland-gypsies“ plus a lot of truckers. We only picked the spot because it was free of charge and it gave the possibility to have fresh medialunas (croissants) for breakfast for the first time in weeks. Sometimes the basic needs overrides the need to sleep in scenic surroundings.
We moved on to Puerto Deseado (Port Desire). A village placed on the shore of Ria Deseado. A Ria is a riverbed that is left by the river and overtaken by the ocean, and Ria Deseado is the only one of its kind in South America.
Charles Darwin came here before us. That was when he sailed on HMS Beagle together with Robert Fitz Roy in 1833. They anchored up in the bay to study flora and fauna in the area. And Darwin made a note about the place; ”I think I have never seen a place as isolated from the rest of the world as this rocky crevasse in the middle of the vast plain”.
That pretty much described the scenery. But we really enjoyed it. There was an amazing marine life. And a beautifully roughness. We spent the days sailing zodiacs watching penguins, sea lions and sea elephants. We had a crazy ride to an island out in the Atlantic – full speed, big waves and a lot of dolphins playing around us.
We got a glimpse of this year’s first born Commerson dolphin. Commerson dolphins are the smallest of the dolphin species and it looks like a miniature killer whale. Lukas found a huge tooth from a sea lion- pretty cool souvenir for an 10 year old boy.
And we spent a day greenlaning and a night barbecuing with the nicest Danish/Swiss couple. We had been running into each other for weeks, always just seeing the others taillights and tire prints or waving if we passed in opposite directions and always the most remote and weird places. Pretty amazing considering the distances we had both covered during our journeys.
Not far from Ria Deseado we went to the petrified forest at Jaramillo. A forest covered by volcanic ashes some 65 million years ago, and now erosion uncover it.
We camped in the park. Officially we weren’t allowed, but we asked the ranger and he told us that we couldn’t stay overnight, but if we did he would recommend we pitched camp there and there. And that we had to be very courteous about pumas, since there were quite a few in the area.
We had a great night in magnificent surroundings. We put out some slices of ham for puma bait and kept puma guard with the kids during the night.
Of course we didn’t get to see any pumas, but we had a great time and saw the most colorful sunset and sunrise.
No news from the eastcoast
…and that was not entirely true, but our expedition had turned out to be a little more holiday-like as it was becoming easier and easier to travel as we came closer to the bigger cities and civilization.
We went to Trelew to visit the dinosaur museum and have lunch in the shade of an Argentinosaurus. The Argentinosaurus were approximately 18 m tall and 35 m long, so it has been quite a pet. The museum was a worth the journey. It was based on a timeline starting with the hands from Cuevos de los Manos and going back in time. There were tons of fossils and replicas found in the surrounding area, and the exhibition was so well made and interesting.
As we got closer to Puerto Madryn the temperature rose above 30 degrees Celsius again, so we spent some hours swimming in the Atlantic. And we went to the eco-center to see a thought-provoking exhibition about the humans influence on the oceans. We nearly couldn’t drag the the kids out of there, and we believe that it is that kind of experience that easily makes up for not attending regular school classes.
On the way back to our camp a bus came down the road. With no passengers and no chauffeur. It just drove on until it went right through a stonewall and into a forest. Luckily nobody was harmed and it inspired me to make a little maintenance on our own car and trailer. Like checking the handbrake for instance.
In Viedma it was impossible to find a place to camp, so after a little sightseeing in the area (read: we got lost!) we ended at the Club Nautico. It was a sort of local country club, only for the invited and wealthy. They didn’t mind letting us camp on their lawn only a few meters from Rio Negro. Very exclusive and very hospitable.
Not far from Viedma the largest colony of parrots lives. They live in small caves in the cliffs on the beach. We have never seen that many birds in the same place before. That was really amazing. Nature’s way to make social housing.
The big package tour
The last 650 km of our journey ended in Punta Lara not far from Buenos Aires. Punta Lara is a part of the huge city La Plata and is located on the shore of Rio Plata.
There were no obvious place to stay in Buenos Aires so we didn’t want to go all the way before the equipment had to be shipped.
Punta Lara showed out to be a very bad choice – muy, muy feo, as they said in Buenos. Enough about that and to make the story short we ended up packing everything down making it ready for the upcoming sea voyage.
Then we drove to Buenos found a cheap hotel and ended our camping trip two days prior expected.
On the way to downtown Buenos we drove in insanely heavy traffic due to a football match and we entered the city center very stylish driving on the the widest boulevard in the world and turning around the obelisk on the way to the hotel.
Car and trailer was shipped home. We made a good deal with the shipping company that almost compensated for our losses on the first voyage. And this time we made sure that there were absolutely nothing to steal.
Having no car and trailer we decided for a package tour to Uruguay the last couple of weeks. Lukas and Linnea had some homework that needed to be done and we decided that in combination with some nice beaches could make a perfect end to a perfect journey around Patagonia.
Everything eventually comes to an end
Our journey was in its last stretch. Unbelievably how fast 5 months just fly by.
When keeping track, we know we had been away for a while, but still- 5 months!
We really enjoyed our trip to Uruguay. Apparently hygiene wasn’t a top priority in some of the restaurants when handling chickens, so for the first and only time on the entire trip, we got runny tummy, but we also had easy access to toilets for the first and only time, so all in all it wasn’t to bad. Also I forgot to use sunscreen on my legs while building sandcastles, so I ended looking like the French flag the tricolore – with red legs, a white stripe and blue bathing trunks. Not a pretty sight!
We came back to Buenos Aires late in the evening the night before departure. While having breakfast the last morning we summed up the tour and everybody agreed that it has been an incredible journey and that it wasn’t going to be the last one. Traveling as overlanders with all its freedom was the right choice for us.
We left Buenos Aires in 37 degrees an a humidity on 85%, so no problem to keep warm there. We landed in snow covered Denmark in minus 3, having no place to stay and everything deposited in a container. Welcome back to the real world!
But nothing last forever – not our sandcastles on the beach in Uruguay, and not our epic journey overlanding Patagonia…
(Thank you; Beat Ettlin, Swiss part of the Danish/Swiss couple, for haven taken the great photo used as front picture in part 4)