Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ushuaia to Chalten

Patagonia - Ushuaia to El Bolson - Can't get any better than this !!!

3202 kilometers and 53 hours according to google maps.  This took The Beast about 60 days or an average of about 52 kilometers (32 miles / day).  I can't imagine a more stunning and remote place to take a road trip.  Absolutely amazing wildlife, mountains, rivers, forests, glaciers... and crappy roads.

This is the Ushuaia airport, gateway to many Antartica trips.  As I was waiting for Susan, (my friend from Seattle), I was struck by how wonderfully the Argentineans greeted one another when getting off the plane.  In most cases the entire family would be waiting.  When the person arrived it wouldn’t be a quick hug and off they go like in the USA.  The whole party would stay right by the exit and the traveler would hug and talk to each person in turn with no account of time.  They seem to relish and extend the moment.  Each person would wait patiently for their turn.  Hard to imagine a greeting at a USA airport exit gate lasting 30 minutes.... more like 30 seconds at most.

I am finally getting comfortable with the enduring cheek to cheek method of greeting people here in Chile and Argentine (and I suppose Spain, France, and all of Latin America).  Rest assured I still great men with a handshake and possibly a hug, but with women its always cheek to cheek.  Of course there are nuances… to touch or not to touch cheeks,  noise or no noise,   etc.  With guys there seems to be the universal manly slap on the back …. that loud and physical confirmation of masculinity and love. 

New years day Susan and I did a killer cross-country hike like no other.  It started going through simple woods, crossed a moss covered lake, through a dense birch forest, over these strange green bumps, up a 1000 ft snow field to the shale covered top with a view over the Beagle  Straight.  (HMS Beagle was the ship made famous by Charles Darwin – Voyage made 1831-1836)  The ship discovered the native Fuegians.  Like many native cultures, it only took us a few years to completely annihilated this 6000 year old culture with our diseases and civilization.  All that is left are shell mounds and a few sketches of  how they lived in this frigid climate with no clothes.  It is recorded that when asked how they kept warm they said they had face skin all over…. and they smeared grease on their bodies.

Although there was only about 300 yards of moss walking, it was such a relief to be free of having my feet sink one to two feet in this dry green stuff…  the moss looked very firm, but when I put my foot down my mind revolted thinking I would just keep sinking.  It was much like a nightmare where the normal is distorted to the paranormal.  It was both amazingly cool and awful.  Crazy !!! 


These orange ball things growing on the Beech trees.  If we only new then that they are edible we would have had lunch !!!!  They were really mushrooms... and the only vegetable the native people ever ate !!! 

Green bump things

This is the picture near the top of the hill, looking from Argentine across the Beagle channel to Chile and south to Cape Horn--glaciers every where one looked.


Torres del Paine National Park 

We drive into the most famous of Chile's Patagonia National Parks (on crappy dirt roads), Torres del Paine.  Argentine has El Chalten and Fitz Roy.  Chile has Torres del Paine.    The mountain range that is the most beautiful in all of Patagonia depends (you guessed it !!)  if you are talking to  someone from Argentine or Chile.

On a country to country level, Chile and Argentine don't get along, thus providing a lot of employment.  An example of this was evident in Chile with signs along the highway warning of mine fields that were placed in the 1960's.  It seems that Pinochet thought it would be a good idea to mine his own land for fear of an invasion by Argentine.  I am sure in a fear driven mindset this seemed like a good idea, but looking back at this now seems silly...  it's like they defected in their own back yard. 


There are several famous hikes in Torres del Paine that have become obligatory with the hundreds of kids backpacking through South America.  Susan and I hiked 2 of these.  One starts with a ferry ride pictured below.

We ride the ferry to the trail head with about 1000 other tourist who are all down in the hold.

I hid from the wind and cold and think of Dale Karr and our experience on the Crab Boats in Alaska.


Los Glaciers National Park - 

This national park features a tiny portion of a glacier that extends to a lake and frequently “caves” tiny tiny bits of itself, resulting in huge cracking and explosive sounds and massive waves.   It is said to be the only glacier that is growing or at least not shrinking.  The way the viewing area is set up makes viewing easy and enjoyable.  One only has to wait 15 or 20 minutes to see a multistory building size chunk of ice explode and come crashing into the water.

Almost as unique as the Glacier is the jet contrail in the upper left of the picture on left.  Something I had not seen in a few months.  


Parque National Perito Moreno

We saw this park on the map at the end of a long dead end road with no idea what it was like.  To get to it we drove over an hour off the main paved road on “ripio.”  There are many parks like this on the map both in Chile and Argentine.  There are a few parks that everyone goes to, and then there are the other 99% that hardly anyone bothers with.  We spent 3 days here and saw only 2 other cars.

A wonderful hike with condors (big big birds) swirling around our heads and below glacier lakes made turquoise blue by copper sulfate.  The boarder with Chile is in the background. 

Looking north up the valley to the place where we camped.

Still mostly cold and windy, but a few brief warm periods of no wind and nice sun warmed air afforded outside relaxation.  See meadow in background.

The wall of the beast opened up on a meadow where we watched foxes, cyotees, various birds, and baby guanacos play.   It was like a nature show on TV but live.


Lagos Posadas

On our way across the Andes mountains to boarder with Chile we were counting on filling up with diesel at this small town.  The GPS showed no less than 3 gasolineras.  One was closed, the second you could almost see where it once was, the third was open but was all out of diesel.  The attendant said the tanker truck would arrive tomorrow afternoon with more.   I thought ya right, the truck will arrive and then Santa Clause will swoop down and give me some decent ice-cream.  With no particular place to be and now where to go, and being the only English speaking foreigners for several hundred miles, we decided to enjoy the small town. By small I mean from the town square you could walk 2 blocks in any direction and you would be off the pavement and out of town. 

Much to our good fortune there happens to be the event of the year in town that very next day !!!  It was an INTERNATIONAL mountain bike race out to the lake and back.  This was big… really big.  Posters have been up for months advertising the event.  A half hour before the race the support ambulance arrives along with the talent… at least 6 guys sporting their 40 year old spare tires under the latest biking attire.  But then the wild card showed up.  I will just call him SUNGLASSES.  Sunglasses was from Chile.  One knew this because he had the word Chile on his shirt, his paints, and I suppose on his underwear.  You could tell by the way Mr. Sunglasses moved that this was serious business.  You could also tell he was the only one who wasn’t riding with an extra 30 pounds and at 30 years old was by far the youngest serious entrant.   The town pooled their extension cords together to reach the air fan that inflated the yellow starting / ending gate.  Wind direction was a critical factor in the race, especially the start.  This was because  apparently only 2 ropes came with the starting gate, and had to been re-oriented every time the wind shifted.  If not tethered to the wind direction side of the staring gate, it would become a very large 3 foot high limbo bar.

The start was as expected.  The police department lent someone a gun that went off.. BANG !!! and off they went.  Mr Sunglasses bolted out in front, missed the immediate right turn and headed off in the wrong direction.  The ambulance tore off after the potential patients and quickly found out, it was too high to get under the limbo bar.  Everyone eventually stopped laughing and started to anticipate the award ceremony which, much to our surprise, was in the campground and right next (about 3 feet) to the beast.

And here is the awards ceremony main attraction.   In classic argentine culture, one brings his knife and fork and a plate, and hacks off pieces of meet at will……  Lovely, just like our ancestors.  Did I mention I am a vegetarian again ?? 

Sunglasses is the one with the sunglasses.


Paso Roballos

A remarkable days drive from the Argentinian desert and pink flamingos, over the Roballos pass to the Chilean forest and fly fishing rivers.

The Argentinian boarder post is the small structure with a few trees.

OK , this was embarrassing.  The beast arrives at the boarder post (see small cabin in the distance in the picture above) causing more than the usual commotion (only one or two cars a day go through the boarder).  The bored boarder guards, visibly exited about an actual customer, and being very curious about this strange truck, and decide The Beast looks suspicious and needs a thorough inspection.  Evidently the Beast didn’t like this and, being parked in one of the only two spots on a slope, starts to empty the top of his full water tank like a large horse.  Like the professionals that they are the guards ignore this and proceed with the inspection….but it was obvious from their questions and what they looked at that they were more interested in the engine and solar panels, etc. than the fanciful contraband inside.

The Argentinian boarder guards are rotated to different locations ever few months to prevent corruption.  While we did not see any evidence of this corruption directly, we did hear that the head customs official usually had the nicest house in town.  Because of the extraordinary high tariffs it would be easy to miss the inspection of the occasional ship container... for $50K or so...

About an hour latter we arrive at a mystery camp site.   I am thinking that the beautiful designed parking lot and fancy bridge over the lovely river are remnants of someone’s abandoned dream ranch.  We learned latter that this is the famous and controversial private park that was created by the rich American owner of North Face who was killed the week before on a kayak accident on a nearby lake.

This is one of those magical places where The Beast’s wall is opened to let in a little bit of paradise.  To “open the wall” the stars must line up to provide: 1) gentle summer temperatures, 2) no insects, and 3) a beautiful view. The table goes down so we can lounge and relax with our legs  stretched out.  We fly fish, hike, and Brian walks up stream and floats down to the campground in his dry suit. Very relaxing being suspended in the water watching beautiful Patagonia go by.  We spot a fresh Puma track in the sand next to the river.

We find out later that we are actually in “Parque Patagonia” only when the luxurious park headquarter complex appears around a bend in the road.  We have a fancy lunch,  just like in North America, and feel we have magically been transported out of South America back home to some rich persons resort.

In the park headquarters official camp ground we open The Beast’s wall and bring in an amazing view of the green valley and glacier mountains beyond… and Brian learns to play cribbage.  The next day we take one of those amazing day hikes. We meet our new friends from Bolson, Argentine.  Latter we tried try to visit at their home, but unfortunately it does not work out.

Out of the park and back to reality we shoe horn The Beast in the back yard of a hostel in the small town of Cochrane.  We enjoy the beautiful town center and endure a mediocre dinner out.

Dotted through Patagonia there are high end boutique resorts, many time centered around fishing.  They are typically $300-500 / day, just for the room. This is one of them.

We spend 2 nights in this lovely roadside spot where the local raft company “take out” is located.  The wall is opened and many an hour are spent, fly fishing, reading, and playing cards.  At first we drove right by because of the "no trespassing sign," but it was too perfect to pass up so Brian drove into town and started asking around for permission to camp there.  We did find someone who said it was ok.  But after we got parked a guy in a raft pick-up truck said it was private and to leave.  With her fluent Spanish, Susan started arguing with the guy and finally convinced him to let us stay.  We   are constantly distracted in what ever we are doing by the amazing view of the river, and mountain glaciers beyond.  


Marble Caves

One of the main attractions in the area are the marble caves.  We drive down a steep road, that we seriously doubt we could get back up, to the beach and dock where the boats to the caves leave from.

The lake water and wind has eroded the marble one centimeter every 100 years.  This means the caves look much like they do now when Jesus was learning carpentry on the other side of the world.


Nacho’s place

So this may look like just a bit of green grass with a bunch of motors homes and a few buildings, but it’s not.  It’s actually one of the nicest camp grounds we have found. 

Upon arrival you might be somewhat disappointed…  just a bunch of grass, a building,  a few bicycles, tents, and few RVs…. But then out comes Nacho…  he has never met you but it does not matter to Nacho.  You and who ever is with you are now his friend, his guest, and it is his duty, alas his privilege to welcome you and yours to his home.  And by home I mean not his house but the house and grass that he has built for his friends/campers.  I have never seen anything like it…  a large room with an open fireplace in the middle with an open ceiling (like the Northwest USA Indian tepees) for the smoke to escape.  There was a large kitchen, picnic tables, a ping pong table, a good stereo, and his/hers bathrooms with warm showers.

Nacho showing us his organic garden.  He sells all of his produce to local restaurants. 

Nacho the owner, a refugee from Spain, was traveling around SA, like so many other young backpackers, when he got into some kind of accident where he was seriously injured.  Instead of going home Spain to recover and then get the typical 9-5 job, he instead sold his stuff back home, bought some land next to a world class trout stream, and started one of South America’s most popular campgrounds.  He now grows organic vegetables, plays music, and is married to a shy and beautifully Chilean girl who cooks the best bread in the country.  How cool is that !!!!! 

This structure, the remoteness, and Nachos innate ability to make people feel at home and safe, made this little patch of grass, and a building an international melting pot of smiles and conversations.  We met the bicyclist from France, the Dad from Brazil who was traveling with his two son, (one of which was planning to go to college in the US), the couple from France with cool glasses who were renting a RV and had driven the silk road in Asia, the Argentine family of 3 on their big holiday with their 8 year old daughter… and if this is not enough there is JACK !!!!!! 

 Here is Jack !!  Not only is he another American (from upstate New York) who speaks English, but the resident fly fishing expert who gives free lessons !!!!   A good game of ping pong and the three way cribbage match with Jack made the stay all the more enjoyable.

After about 4 months we finally found some Americans Overlanders !!!  As you would expect they were driving a Sport Mobile.   George and Jenine are from San Francisco, are one their way to to Ushuaia and are talking about setting down in a small town on the cost of Chile, Matanzas.

 George and Jenine 

These guys were kiteboarders, surfers, and rock climbers !!!!  George showed me several places to kiteboard and we hope to visit there favorite spot, Matanzas, on our way north. 

Check out their blog..

One of the many things we had in common were that we both spend a lot of time talking to courious and friendly folks about our "rigs".  This would not have been the case if we were driving something common like a Sprinter van.

Just another boring hike ......  not !!!

On top it was very difficult to stand up in the 40 + mi / hr wind.

We are above the glacier.
Susan the horse whisperer

Coming down off the mountain we met Oscar Manguy from La Paz Mexico and his girl friend from Poland (I think from Poland...)   They are true explorers.  Both had 80 LBS  + packs and were going on a loop trip with their inflatable kayaks.  This was incredibly rugged and steep terrain with no trails.  I would like to meet up with Oscar sometime in La Paz.  I think they worked for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School)

This is how they prevent large trucks from overloading the bridges.  Just find an old guard rail and bolt it to the bridge. 

Note that the cable for the ferry is strung up in the air and not in the water.  The vibrant greens and bluish green water was astounding. 

Many farms store their winter fuel in the form of firewood.   In Chile we even saw some evidence that the government was discouraging this practice because of air pollution.   Notice that each firewood piece is about 3+ feet long !!  Must be a really big stove / fireplace.  The structure has good ventilation while keeping the rain out. 

A typical roadside bandit camp spot.  What you can't see is that we are on the edge of a 300 foot cliff with a spectacular river below.   

The next couple of pictures are of a hike that is distinctive because of the changes in climate and foliage every 1/2 mile.

The wild fushsia were everywhere.  Mom you would love this !!!
Although a bit narrow, this is a good road because not much washboard.  Notice the glacier in the distance.

One hears about the salmon farm in Chile.  This is what they look like.  The shore side facility was modern and well kept indicating there is a lot of money being made... not sure how heathy these farms are for the environment ??

As we drove out of the mountains and came upon what we thought was another lake.  But it turned out to be the Pacific Ocean !

The Beast must be feed.... 

I don't think the local towns people realize what a spectacular setting their soccer field is in. 

The crappy unpaved road.  A six hour drive for maybe 40 miles..

Raudal Resort in Futaleufu 

An “open the wall stop” in Chile.  We read on iOverlander about this place just downriver from Futaleufu, one of the primer rafting spots in South America.  On a river with great views, private, a fly fishing spot, quiet, etc.  So we put the longitude and latitude into our GPS, arrive we are not disappointed.  We have views, water, grass…. Another quintessential overlander wild camp…and I say to myself again nope, no way, it just can’t get better than this, but it does.

Bliss "state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy."

The first morning Susan and I are minding out own business reading and marveling at the sun on the cliffs, and the snowy mountains and glaciers...... when this truck / raft arrives to put-in …  and we are immediately invited for a rafting trip.  We quickly don our bathing suits and off we go down the pristine river that makes rivers in North America (I can’t say which one for fear of incrimination) look like a drainage ditch in Nebraska.   We soon learn that Pilar, who invited us, is just starting a high end ($500 per person per night all inclusive) hotel (worth every penny) just up the hill.  She gives us the tour…

Here are 2 of the 20 + pet horses.

This is the staff of the hotel enjoying the nights dinner.  After dinner we all laid down outside on the porch and look at the stars 

 It turns out that her family owns all the land from a few miles up stream down to the ocean… it’s like from Snoqualmie pass to Puget Sound ( thousand and thousands of acres).  The family is wealthy but you wouldn’t know it.   Pilar, the kids, and Pilar’s mom, Clara are so content and mellow.

The next day I get invited by the hotel rafting guide Alvaro (from Cusco Peru) on a "class 4 trip".  Alvaro is a professional rafter and the only one of an army of employees at the hotel (yet to be open)  that actually works.  Not only is he an expert on the river, but also has a smile that is instantly welcoming.  You can not help becoming his new friend.  The next few days we are invited for dinner, lunch, to see the ranch.  We get to know the family and the more we do the more we appreciate them.  They are rich in character and this shows in their hospitality.  What a pleasure it is to get to know them.  I am sure their hotel will be a success and someday hope to stay there. … already thinking about a rafting trip from the Argentine boarder down to the pacific ocean.

Here is the ranch house

Here is the resort and view of the river and glacier beyond.
And the view from the house. 

One of the many class 4 rapids.

Here we are with the Gerd Serrasolses and his girlfriend.  Gerd is coaching Pilar's daughter for the season.  They will be in White Salmon for the northern hemisphere summer and we hope to meet up with them. 

The take-out

This is probably the stupidest thing I do on the trip.........

I make a really bad decision to drive The Beast on their private bridge to the ranch house across the river to say goodbye.   OMG, when I got the front wheels on the bridge the other end of the bridge went up about 6 feet (The Beast weights over 8 tons)  It was so narrow that both mirrors had to be moved inside, and then we only had 3 inches of clearance on each side.  I can do this… I have to do .. I can't back up… I keep driving…  very slowly…. Then the thing started to sway and worm around… I tried not to think of a movie that we were all forced to watch when we were kids.... of the Tacoma narrows bridge falling into the water….  I rolled down the windows so that when we do plummeted down to the water far below we can get out as the cab is filled with water... this is a bad idea because you can then hear the wood boards creaking and cracking under the weight of the wheels.…. I keep driving….driving ... driving..  relief is just a few feet away…. we make it to the other side !!!! … almost….on no …. crap.  we are too high to fit under the other end of the bridge !!!   … this can’t be happening…. Get me out of this nightmare…I wish I would just wake up...  now  what am I going to do ??  back up ?? you got to be kidding… I can barley go forward … I can’t back up … what a stupid thing I have done…. I have the judgment of a fish…I am now drenched in sweat.   I am an idiot…  but wait…  I may be an idiot with no judgment but that does not stop the captains of industry from making bad decisions, nor does it many a boat captain… and what do they do ???  they yell at the crew to get them out of the mess they are in!!!! .  Am I not the captain of The Beast ???  Have I not authority over my crew ?   A haaaa  !!!  solution found !!! I am a genius !!    I order Susan to climb out the window (of course the door does not open), out past the railing of the bridge, over the river far below,  and up on top of the beast.  Susan, rock climber extraordinary that she is, gets up on top of the truck, lifts the sign up over the solar panels, and air conditioner, and fan, etc. as I slowly drive forward onto firm ground.  We make it !!!!!  

 It takes a lot to make me nervous but I managed on this one….  I sooo didn’t want to drive back over the bridge but it was the only way back.  We said our goodbyes and repeated the same thing with most of the family watching, taking pictures, and shacking their heads.

Not many times in my life have I felt such relief as when I got all four wheels on firm ground.  It takes me several hours to come down off the adrenaline high.  I feel very luck to still have my truck and am glad the day was not windy.


Susan thinks The Beast being too big (from the outside) and ostentatious ( possibly because when people show up outside and want to talk,  I push her out the door to address the truck questions from the locals).  I think her comments about the Beast being too big are unfair and, as justification, took this picture comparing the wee little Beast to what I consider a big rig.   

You see ...  not such a big rig 

This is one weird burger like thing... 

The lake district - 

One of the hundreds of beautiful water falls

Another ideal spot where we have a beautiful mountain and lake view, a strange bird entertaining us in our front yard, and interesting books to read

Of course you will recognize this as a Argentinean barbecue.   Who needs a stainless steel lid and propane... all that is really needed is a firepit. 

We took a lovely hike above El Bolson with fantastic views of the valley bellow and para gliders in the sky.  Mid way was a tourist attraction with one nice would sculpture at the entrance, and another 20 bad ones just beyond. 

The "sculptures" where like a weekend cub scout (yes I wrote cub.. not boy...)  projects.  Note the mountains in one the horizon was near where Butch Cassidy settle down in Argentine. 

Look one way and you see the Andys with its mountains, lakes and snow, and the other you see desert, dry, with scrub grass all the way to the Atlantic.

This is The Beast's home on Klaus's ranch.   The truck will be left here until January, 2017.. but only if we can make it fit into the barn... 

Klaus and I are here digging trenches for the tires so that the truck can fit.

This is Garret and Els, Susan, and an adorable Swedish couple who turned an old ambulance into an amazing overlander vehicle.  Garret and Els are the quintessential travels.   Garret has a hilarious sense of humor and is really fun to be around.  We had a wonder dinner cooked on the fire (see grill) 

 A hiking trip up to the famous climbing destination outside of Bariloche.

 I hope to come back next season and do some rock climbing here.

I was unaware but evidently there is a  dinosaurs problem in Argentine.  Fortunately we did not encounter either dinosaurs nor bears.  

In search of a place to change the oil we take a two day drive across the Andes mountains to Chile.

This picture of the Chilean equivalent of Home Depot store (in Orsono) shows the difference between Argentine and Chile.  Argentine is corrupted by import tariffs and has absolutely crappy hardware stores, while Chile is not so much trade restricted and products are cheaper and much better quality.

Of course you will want to keep your milk bag in your special milk bag cup thing...

We have a very nice meal in meal in Puerto Montt where we finally find a place to change the oil.

We finally arrive at the Ford dealer (after driving through town in heavy traffic looking for truck repair places for 2X hours) and are told they can't change the oil because the truck is a Ford 550.  If it were a Ford 450 then they could do it.  but wait.. it's almost the same engine and uses the same oil etc.  We are about to leave when the Dealership owner happens to walk by and asks us if everything is OK.  We tell him and he say this is stupid and gets his people to work on it the next day....  They do a great job and are done by 9:00am.  Then we wait for the next 2.5 hours to pay the bill.  This is in part you need the equivalent to a social security number to pay for any repair on any car.  The owner finally uses his personal number.

In 4 month of traveling this is the first really delicious meal 

This is what you get when you follow your GPS directions.... on some horse path.We are constantly worried about the height of The Beast and the branches in the camp grounds.

The area around Orsono Chile is volcanic and has hot springs.This is the poor man's pool in the National park next to the river. 

This is the nice hotel we stay at....  The primarily motivation is to get internet that's fast enough to post to this blog... but unfortunately it's not fast enough.  But it's fun none the less.  We bike ride, bowl, sit in the hot springs, play ping pong, etc. 

A hike close to the Hotel.

This is a camp ground on the lake between Bariloche and the boarder crossing into Orsono

We leave the Beast and Klaus drives us into El Bolson

We take the 1.5 hour bus trip from El Bolson to Bariloche, a taxi to the hotel... then another taxi to the airport, then to Buenos Aires, another tax to the hotel....

The next few pictures are of our 3 days in lovely Buenos Aires. 

For some strange reason there is a Northwest totem pole right in the middle of Buenos Aires 

So that ends the 1st part of the South American Adventure.  I bought the truck on an impulse, and figured it would force me into an adventure... it turned out better than I ever could have imagined.  I loved my time alone and meeting new people, and also my time with Susan and the shared adventure. I am leaving south america only because my real estate business need urgent attention.  

I am so looking forward to coming back and resuming the life of reading, hiking, with warm summer evenings, and crips bright mornings.  Marveling at the now time and place while having in the background that wonderment of what the next days will be like... what will be seen and who will become friends.

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