Not the best start to our trip to Chile, Argentina and Antarctica!
We were all ready and organized for our 3.00 pm taxi to Calcot – Adrian had earlier stated that our flight seemed to be on time. Then, about an hour before we were due to leave, he discovered that our flight had been delayed 2½ hours, which later became 3 hours! This meant that we would miss our onward flight to Santiago, and there was no ‘Air Canada’ flight until Saturday!
We felt really dispirited, but decided to continue, and see how things turned out – we could have waited until Saturday and be booked right through.
We felt quite confused as we did the final preparations to leave, and poured out our story to the taxi driver, as he drove us through the fine January day to Savacentre.
There was a National Express bus waiting there – not ours, but the driver took us anyway, which meant that we arrived at Heathrow even earlier for our long wait.
At this point, Adrian thought that we might just catch our connection, but our luggage probably wouldn’t, so we opened up our bags and took out a couple of essentials for warm weather, just in case. When we booked in the chap told us that the delay (departure now 22.00, instead of 19.00), was due to maintenance, and that we would have to overnight in Toronto for two nights, but the airline would pay for the hotel. He told us to ask at the Air Canada desk. Here a very shirty lady stated that the delay was due to bad weather, so there would be no compensation. We were feeling very despondent by now. There was a fellow traveller in a similar plight – an English chap living in near Santiago with his Chilean wife. Her mother had just died, and he was returning from a time spent in England, but had been unable to contact his wife to tell her of the delay.
We decided to go on through security – Adrian had grabbed his large toothpaste as an ‘essential’, and luckily they didn’t confiscate it!
We settled down for the long wait until departure. I had just gone off to refill my water bottle (the fountain was actually ‘out of order’), when I heard our names called out. Adrian went to investigate and spoke by phone to the helpful man on the Air Canada desk downstairs, who said that he had booked us on to a flight with Chilean Airlines for tomorrow afternoon (it seems that there was a problem with the plane, and the delay wasn’t due to the snow in Toronto after all, but we didn’t know that then!). Adrian was so overcome, that he could hardly thank him. It turned out that we should have received a meal allowance too, but didn’t know until later. We were glad of the sandwiches I had made at home.
Eventually we went to board at 9.15 pm. The flight was not pleasant - the seating seemed even more cramped than usual. There was turbulence at the start, so our meal wasn’t served until about 1.00 am our time. We both did watch, or dozed through, the film called ‘March of the penguins’, which was very fitting, but Adrian’s screen hadn’t worked for a long time.
We reached Toronto at 1.00 am local time – 6.00 am to us. We heard of people getting flight vouchers as they had missed their onward flights, but ours wasn’t mentioned. We had a long wait to collect our luggage, but by now had palled up with Andy Chapman, our fellow traveller who told us that we had hotel vouchers too. This pleased us, so together we made our way out to wait for the shuttle bus, standing in temperatures of -9c, amidst the snow! We had been joined by pretty ‘Miss Dohar’, a young girl in white ‘headscarf’ who had been sitting in front of us on the plane. She was on her way to Montreal from Dohar, Quatar, after 2 days of travelling, including several delays. We had been standing there for some time, when we realized that nobody had actually phoned for the shuttle, so Andy went to do this. Still no bus, so, getting gradually colder and colder, he and ‘Miss D’ went back inside to phone again, where at least it was warmer. By now, a group of about 10 people which huge amounts of luggage had arrived. Then the bus did turn up! I dashed back to find the other two, while Adrian put their bags on, before the bus was filled with the other people’s stuff. I couldn’t find them in the now empty terminal (they’d had to go upstairs, as most staff had left), so Adrian tried, while the driver told me that he couldn’t wait for them!
They all returned in the nick of time, and we were driven off to Delta West Hotel. Then the other people managed to get in front of us to book their rooms! Young ‘Miss Dohar’, still in good spirits, although exhausted, was going to her room for just an hour, as it was now 4.00am (9.00am to us), and her onward flight was at 6.30am! We fell into bed, and to sleep!
Friday 30th January The saga continues
After a surprisingly good sleep, we came to, and Adrian managed to phone the hotel in Santiago to cancel tonight’s booking. We were joined at breakfast by Andy. We had each been given $10 vouchers, but they didn’t go far!
Amidst much travel talk, we discussed our onward journey, and realized that the next flight seemed to be taking a long time, as we weren’t due to arrive until 8.50 am. It was some time later that we discovered that it was because we were flying via New York! Another problem now – we hadn’t brought our US visas with us, as we hadn’t intended going there. All temporary visas now have to be arranged 3 days before via the internet! Fortunately Adrian and Andy had managed to fill in visa forms on the free computer in the ‘hotel business centre’, and they seemed to be accepted instantly – jubilation all round.
We had found that there was a pleasant swimming pool at the hotel – the water was cool, but we warmed up in the hot tub afterwards. By now the morning had rushed way, and it was time to follow the next part of the saga.
Sunbathing in Toronto?
We all caught the shuttle bus to the airport, allowing plenty of time to sort things out – or so we thought! There were two terminals, and we didn’t know which we were flying from. We had a discussion with the driver, and Andy asked if he’d wait while he dashed into Terminal 3 to find out. He dashed so fast that he fell flat on his face, but luckily said that he wasn’t hurt. This was the right terminal, so we went to check in – Andy first. The pleasant man here said that he couldn’t actually give us a boarding pass, we’d have to go to Air Canada in Terminal 1, to obtain our ticket. He kindly let us leave all our main luggage with him, while we walked back through the terminal to find the monorail to T1. This was quite exciting, and out came the cameras. When we got to the Air Canada lady, she abruptly stated that no way could we be given tickets for a flight on another airline. We persevered – Andy had a really nice manner, and never got angry or riled. Finally it was agreed (reluctantly) that we could all be given tickets, but the woman went off duty, leaving a man to disinterestedly do the paperwork.
Rosie with our travel companion Andy
Now back to Terminal 3, where the nice chap booked us onto the flight, and told us to go straight to immigration, as he knew that the queues were long. They were, and the packed line snaked back and forth six times until we got to US immigration. (They do this in Canada to prevent it having to be done on arrival in USA). We queued for over an hour. Andy was a bit in front of us, and we were disconcerted to see that he had been given another form to fill in. Time was getting on now, so it was all very frustrating. When it came to our turn, we found out that the new forms from the internet aren’t universal yet (even though it clearly states that from the 12th January ALL visas must be by the internet), so we had to fill in an old form instead! We dashed on, and put our main bags to be loaded, wondering if they would be there when we arrived at Santiago, as the flight was soon due to leave. Then it was through security, where it was shoes off, and computers out of bags (unlike Heathrow), just to add to everything else! We’d had no time for coffee, lunch, or even for a pee, so did stop for the latter just before reaching our departure lounge. It was then that we heard them announce for all remaining passengers for our flight to make their way to the gate. The trouble was that we couldn’t find the gate – the numbers stopped at B15, and we wanted B19! It was through a doorway. We located it – nobody else around. The nice gentleman from earlier called down to the aircraft, while a pleasant lady took our tickets, and sympathized with the long immigration wait.
We boarded the smart and relatively empty plane (it did fill up at NY), and sat down and unwound! We were glad to have filled our water bottles during our dash!
We were seated over the wing, so couldn’t see much, but the best things are the unexpected – despite being only just over an hour’s flight to New York, we were served a tasty cheese and ham roll (yes, OK, we were hungry), and a glass of wine!!
At JFK Airport we spent the waiting time in the transit lounge, chatting most of the time to Andy. Adrian did buy himself some sunglasses – then at Santiago, he found stalls everywhere selling them!
The flight to Santiago took 10½ hours, but time passed amazingly quickly with eating (no white wine left, so we had to make do with red!), sleeping and watching films – we both watched the recent film of Brideshead Revisited – we hadn’t ever seen the TV series. Adrian watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which he didn’t remember seeing, and I saw most of Chariots of Fire. We were impressed with the airline, finding it superior to Air Canada, and with really pleasant staff.
Saturday 31st January The start of our trip proper!
We arrived at Santiago at 8.40 am local time. The sight of the Andes peeping above the thin cloud as we descended was wonderful. We were delighted that our luggage was there, so we said our goodbyes to Andy, who had made these difficult two days so much easier, and walked out into the fine, warm morning to really start our trip!
We took a ‘collectivo’ (although we were the only passengers), to our hotel, about half an hour away in the centre of Santiago. The driver was really nice. We enjoyed the fine, wide streets and green park areas, looking very Spanish, as we were driven along. Everywhere looked busy and full of character.
Hotel Libertador is entered through an unpretentious shopping arcade gateway, and the small, unimposing entrance lounge reminded us of Hotel Lincoln in Havana. The girl took ages to book us in. While waiting, we chatted to two English ladies who had arrived yesterday, prior to going on a cruise, but were minus their luggage. Everybody has their problems – they were full of theirs, but oblivious to ours!
Our room was simple but adequate. We were pleased to be able to send an email message (via a very fortunate random connection) to our kids to say that we had arrived.
Later we walked out, roughly following an uninspiring route which we had found in Lonely Planet. We noticed quite a few beggars on the street, and also lots of pavement stalls.
We were surprised how many places were closed up on Saturday afternoon – firstly the large national library, where we had read that there was a pleasant café. Instead we ate a ‘completo’ – pork/chicken filled roll, enjoying a beer each with it. To walk this off, we climbed up ‘Cerro Santa Lucia’ – a steep hill beside the main street, with lots of steps, arches, patios and trees.
Cerro Santa Lucia
There were great views all around, and all sorts of nooks and crannies. We even found a plaque to Charles Darwin.
After that, we wandered around the central area of the city, right up to the enormous cathedral, which we walked into, and photographed an attractive large wooden manger scene (last years, next years or permanent?) The town was reminiscent of so many Spanish colonial towns with its nice green plazas and official palaces and buildings.
Adrian outside the Cathedral in Santiago
We had great difficulty in getting some drinking water – we needed to buy a large bottle, and ended up buying a small one to keep us going in the heat, until we did find a larger one. There were places everywhere selling icecreams, but none seemed too keen to serve you. You had to go in and buy a ticket, then wait to be served. We did get one just before getting back to our hotel, but didn’t need to sit in the sun to eat it, as is usually the case!
In the evening we walked out to a Chinese restaurant, where the frumpy waitresses wore smocks reminiscent of dear Olive. We ate pork/chicken dishes with rice and drank a beer.
Sunday 1st February Cerro San Cristobal
We enjoyed a full night sleeping in a bed! We woke to see blue sky, and another lovely day.
We ate breakfast of a selection of prepared fruit with do it yourself toast and tea/instant powdered coffee. We met our tour leader Nikki, who seemed very pleasant, and having ascertained that we would be staying in the same room for tonight, set about getting ready for our last day before our tour starts this evening.
Today we intended visiting Cerro San Cristobal, the large hill which has become a park for the people of Santiago. It was founded in 1917, by a far seeing man, and in 1923, a ‘funicular’ was built. At that time, the hill was bare, but now it is covered in a forest of trees. The funicular leads to the summit, where there is a huge statue of Mary. A ‘gondola’ leaves from nearby, and descends the hill in the opposite direction. There is a zoo, and several recreation areas in the park.
We found our way to the Mapocho River, which flowed thick and brown. We stopped to eat a delicious pastry which the French would have been proud of – shops selling fancy cakes abound, and are one of the few things open today.
Having crossed the river, we walked through a really quiet area, which on a weekday would be bustling. All the shops were boarded up, and stools were chained to bits of fence by the road, ready for their weekday stallholders. It was pleasant to be in this tranquil setting, with just the dogs asleep in the shade. It made us realize that we have missed something by having week long trading.
We reached the entrance to the funicular, and here there were street stalls. We bought return combined tickets for the funicular and the cable car, as one way tickets were hardly any cheaper.
We ascended in open trucks, reminiscent of Lynton & Lynmouth.
Lynton and Lynmouth?
At the top, there were lots of people. There was a road that you could drive up, but many people’s idea of fun is to cycle up and down. We had splendid views of Santiago spread out below, and could see Santa Lucia hill which we had climbed yesterday, looking tiny from here.
There were a lot of stalls here too, but few eating places. We walked into the church, where, being Sunday, a service was in progress. We walked on up to the huge statue of Mary, noticing how revered she was to many of the locals. Just before the cable car entrance, we stopped at an eating place, where Adrian ordered a beef and cheese burger, and I had tiny prawn empanadas, and we both drank a beer.
The revered statue of Mary
I wasn’t too keen on the cable car ride, when it hung high over the valley, but it was fun skimming over the trees. There was a half way station, which we stopped at on our return. There was one of the several swimming pools here but the price was ridiculously high. We walked on to a steep garden, containing Chilean plants, but by now Adrian’s new sandals were rubbing, and when we’d stopped to rest, we got covered in ants!
We found our way on through a wonderful children’s play area, with, amongst other things, real, colourful, old steam engines to climb on.
Lovely colourful engine
We continued in the gondola to the top of the funicular, then descended to Pio Nono, the entrance street, which again was full of stalls. We bought ice creams at one and then stopped to eat these in the shade before continuing to the river. At the road junction, jugglers were performing in front of the stopped cars, hoping for a tip! We walked on through a green park area, much of which was dug up, making the going difficult, before finding our way back to our hotel.
At 6.30 it was time to meet the rest of the group – a total of 19, mostly males. Nine more (6 of them female) will join later on in the trip, making a large group. Everyone appeared very nice, but unfortunately I had began to feel unwell just before the meeting, and when most of us went across to the Italian restaurant afterwards for a meal, I had to ‘retire sick’, and come back to our room.
Monday 2nd February 900km south
I slept fairly well, but still was unwell in the morning. The hotel was offering us breakfast at 7 o’clock, but they were late in opening, which meant that we got off to a late start for this long day’s drive. I had eaten a bit of dry toast, and had drunk some coffee, taking one or two things to hopefully eat later.
The prospect of a 12 hour journey in this state wasn’t worth thinking about, but fortunately I survived it, and slept/dozed for much of the way.
We had just briefly seen our driver Dave, and set off in the huge yellow bus, named ‘Rosita’ for our long journey south. We were travelling on a good motorway, through the flat, agricultural valley – fruit and vines – with mountains in the distance.
First lunch stop with ‘Rosita”
We stopped for an ‘al fresco’ lunch in a grubby service area, having not got as far as the proposed stop at the Lajo Falls. I managed to eat just a little, and when we did reach the falls, we walked out along the hot, dusty path to reach them. The falls were pretty, and were a local beauty spot, with many families visiting. In fact the parking area was crowded, so it was lucky that we had previously stopped for lunch.
After leaving the falls, the weather became more unsettled, and as we drove on through eucalyptus forests, passing many logging trucks, we often had some rain.
It was nearing 8.00 pm when we reached Pucon, on Lake Villarica. The weather was cloudy, so we couldn’t really see the volcano, but we had enjoyed the pretty ride along the lake. I still wasn’t feeling well as we were taken on a short orientation walk of the town. Our hotel here consists of apartments, so we stopped at the busy supermarket, and bought some fresh rolls and eggs to eat for our supper. I ate a little, then succumbed to bed.
Tuesday 3rd February A quiet day in Pucon
I felt even more unwell in the night, and we woke to find an overcast morning, with rain falling. Most of the group were hoping to make the volcano climb today, starting at 6.30 am – we imagine that they didn’t go. (they didn’t)
Adrian returned to the supermarket and managed to buy some tea, coffee and more fresh rolls, so we were pleased to be able to get our own breakfast.
I ‘retired hurt’ for most of the day, but during the afternoon we both walked down to the lake, where swarms of people were enjoying the black volcanic beach area.
Paddling at Pucon
Normally, I would have liked a swim, but made do with a short paddle. We had good views of the volcano on our return to our apartment, at the junction of the two main streets in the centre of this busy little town. Later the views of the volcano were even better
A view of Villarica
We had heard of snow in England, and received some amazing photos of it from Paul.
We had hoped to visit some thermal pools this evening, but as nobody else seemed interested, and the cost was high, and with my rather fragile state, we spent an evening in.
Wednesday 4th February Huerquehue National Park
I woke just before 7.00 am, and felt fit enough to make a visit to Huerquehue National Park. We had to decide early, as the bus left at 8.30, and we had to walk to the bus station in time to get a seat.
When we arrived at the stop, we saw just one man waiting, but when the bus pulled into the yard behind, we saw a whole crowd of people. In fact, they needed two of the small buses, and they were crammed full, with people standing for the whole hour’s journey.
We were soon out of the town, and into the sort of Chilean countryside we had come to see, with forested hills, and simple rural dwellings. The driver picked up, and put down, locals, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The last 13 km of the ride were on a rough track, winding up into the hills.
We got into the park at 9.40, and were really pleased to see that we could get in for half price as seniors!
Initially we walked along beside Lake Tinquilco, and then ascended by a very steep path for a total of 7 kms to Lake Chico.
We stopped here at 12.45 to eat our lunch. I was really pleased to have made the walk. We’d enjoyed the different flowers – fuchsias, foxgloves, and flowers looking like campsis or eccro, some on a type of holly bush. At the lake we saw a large red and black kingfisher. Also, there were a lot of monkey puzzle trees. From this lake, it was a short walk to Lake Toro and a longer one to Lake Verde, which we didn’t quite make.
Now it was time to make the long descent. We realised now how rough and steep the path had been. I was glad to see that the people ascending looked more worn out than I think we had looked. We had been surprised at how many children were climbing up, but did draw the line at the 2 or 3 dogs which we saw people carrying!
We diverted to look at an enormously long waterfall, the Nido de Aguila, and arrived back at the park entrance at 4.30, ready for the bus at 5.10. We were joined by Andreas from our group, and chatted to him until the bus came.
The journey back wasn’t pleasant – it started to rain just as we got on the bus. We descended the steep, winding track for 13 km until we reached the paved road to Pucon, another 22 kms. Some way outside the town, there was a long hold up, and the journey took almost 2 hours, instead of one. It was raining when we got off the bus, so we arrived back at our room wet and exhausted.
After refreshing ourselves, and eating a little (I still wasn’t keen on eating), we had a knock on the door from Cathy, saying that she and husband John were celebrating their wedding anniversary at the bar opposite.
We went across, and joined in with several of the others, but neither of us were feeling too great (Adrian had developed an unpleasant cough), so we left the party early and came back to pack, ready for our 7.00 am departure tomorrow.
Thursday 5th February Into Argentina – and condors fly above
We hadn’t packed last night, both being ready for bed, but I was awake early, and feeling much better, although Adrian’s cough was bad.
It was raining as we left – Pucon hadn’t been kind to us weatherwise, although we were glad to have had a fine day yesterday to walk in the park, and several of the group had been able to make the volcano walk through the snow.
We couldn’t see much of the lovely mountain and river scenery we were going through as we were driven along very rough roads to the border with Argentina.
There were lots of evocative monkey puzzle trees. We were lucky that the border crossing was very quick – only just over an hour, as we were told that it could have taken several hours. By now though, it felt really cold, and was mostly wet, with fresh snow on the volcanic peaks above. The trees were amazing.
Crossing from Chile into Argentina
Soon it became much drier, with parched grass, and the weather became sunny. Our big thrill was to see several condors flying high above us. We stopped to look.
The scenery was great, looking like the Drackensberg mountains in South Africa in some places, with castellated tops.
At the pretty lake side town of San Martin we stopped for Nikki to buy lunch – we couldn’t buy it before because of crossing the border. We stopped by the lake to eat it, but it was cool and windy, with some drops of rain, but a lovely setting – and at last I could enjoy eating. The town had lots of mountain ash trees.
We drove on around the lake, and then took the ‘Seven Lakes’ route, which we had wondered earlier if we would be able to take, because of the bad surface, due to the rain. The surface was definitely rough, but was compensated by sights such as a local in poncho riding a horse, and the lone cow and sheep wandering past. There were brilliantly coloured flowers – yellow and orange – amongst the dark foliage.
We passed numerous beautiful unspoilt lakes (‘seven’ is a loose term), one or two had lovely campsites on them, but otherwise there was nothing.
We drove right around Lake Nahuel Huapi to San Carlos de Bariloche, and arrived at our hotel at about 7.00 pm. We were thrilled to see that our room overlooked the lake, and sat with a glass of wine, enjoying the view.
Afterwards we walked into the town – just a very touristy western town, which could have been anywhere. It was milling with people, just walking. We ate at La Marmite – a smart little place, which seemed expensive to us. We bemoaned the fact that everywhere has become so global – even the music was western.
Friday 6th February Heaven on earth in Bariloche
We woke to a beautiful morning, enjoying our view over the lake. Breakfast was good. While we got ready to set off for the day, Adrian logged in and got messages from Simon – about to set off for Mexico, and Rosemarie, with photos of Elm Gable in the snow. We left just after 9 o’clock.
We caught the bus which goes along beside Nahuel Huapi Lake, and enjoyed the lovely views as we travelled westwards, stopping at Lao Lao Hotel 25 kms on. This is supposed to be one of Argentina’s top hotels, but held little interest for us. We just walked on, and through the municipal park - a lovely walk under a tunnel of bamboos, with huge trees towering above us. We stopped on a log seat to eat a piece of chocolate we had bought – Bariloche is a real chocolate town, with shops selling all sorts of choccy delights. One of our group – Karen - passed us and stopped to chat. We continued with our walk, stopping sometimes by the waterside to revel in the fantastic scenery, and the gorgeous morning. We reached the other end of the walk, and ate our sandwiches at the water’s edge, by a broken jetty with a sunken boat. It was warm and glorious.
In Nahuel Huapi park
From here we intended taking the bus back towards Bariloche, stopping at Cerro de Campanario. We were a bit uncertain of the bus routes, but got chatting at the bus stop. The lady from the little tourist cabin opposite, where we had enquired earlier, had come to catch the bus. Also, there was a couple from Buenos Aires. They spoke English, and had two sons in England – one had graduated fromCambridge. They assured us that it was the right bus. It took an interesting route, speeding along unsurfaced tracks past very busy touristy areas, where backpackers hung out. Several of the ‘lads’ from our group were on the bus. The bus became really busy with travellers with their enormous backpacks filling every bit of it.
View from Cerro de Campanario
We alighted at Cerro de Campanario, for the next delight of the day. We took a chair lift to an exquisite viewpoint high above the lake. From here, there were heavenly views for 360° – lakes and hills in every direction. Sheer heaven!
A little girl enjoys the view
While supping up this beauty, we bumped into Nikki, who had come to enjoy it too, and then we got chatting to a lovely young couple from Denmark/Sweden, although her parents had come from Poland. They had obviously been together for some time, as they talked to us of their previous travels. We waited at the bus stop with them after our delightful chairlift down the mountain.
Once back in Bariloche, we got off by our hotel, but visited the chocolate shop opposite first, buying one or two goodies, after eating delicious icecreams. Many Europeans had settled here in the past, and the town has a German/Swiss flavour.
We returned to our room to unload a bit, then walked back into the town, along by the lake, just taking in this glorious day. We stopped by a very unpretentious bit of beach just below the huge English-looking Catholic cathedral. This we visited next. Seldom am I moved by buildings, but this one just took my breath away. It was a huge, tall building, built of concrete and surfaced with stone, with exquisite stained glass windows all around. Beautiful religious music was wafting through the air. If anything was spiritual, this was it – I had tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat. The church had been started in 1944, and finished in 1950. Outside was a delightful nativity carving – and the setting – above the glorious Nahuel Huapi lake was exquisite. A place to remember for a very long time!
We walked back through the town, stopping to buy some snacks and booze for the next few days, when we will be travelling through the remote Patagonia wilds.
It was soon time to join the rest of the group for a meal at a smart restaurant, where the food was really good. I had spinach and cheese crepes and Adrian had chicken in Roquefort sauce. We had been joined by 5 new members of the group – 3 Chinese from Hong Kong, and a couple from Brisbane. We walked back under the growing moon, with Orion above us.
Saturday 7th February The beautiful emptiness of Patagonia
It was a nice morning as we went down for our early breakfast. I thanked one of the servers, who was so pleased, but the breakfast and service here had been really nice.
We left at 7.40. The extra people made the bus very busy, and we had trouble finding seats – and we have 4 more in a few days.
Today we were travelling south on the famed Ruta 40. We started off through great mountain scenery, but I soon became disturbed because I couldn’t locate my camera. Hence it was an uneasy time until we made the first loo stop a couple of hours later. At one point I had seen an amazing ring around the sun, with the area in between a darker colour. Nobody else seemed to be awake to enjoy it. When we stopped for the loo, Adrian searched our main bags, and found my camera in the top of his bag. I celebrated by photographing the nearby monkey puzzle tree.
We continued to enjoy the Patagonian scenery, with the mountains becoming less and less.
Our lunch stop was pleasant – we sat on a low wall to eat our freshly prepared food – all hands to the pump to get everything ready. It made us think of a roadhouse on the Nullabor. We had an amusing moment when Nikki asked where the plate of food was, which she had collected for Dave, our driver, only to find Howard feeding it to a stray dog! The queue for the loo at the service station was long – we had to resort to using the gents!
As we continued across the now wide, dry, flat valley, we saw a group of about 8 guanacos, which ran off, then stood to watch us, rather like deer.
We stopped to look at a gaudy red coloured memorial to Gaucho Gil, a legend around here, with offerings from local people. It looked strange in this remote setting.
Memorial to Gaucho Gil
The weather felt cool here, but was warmer when we made our last short stop at Rio Mayo – a tiny habitation of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.
Gauchos in Rio Mayo
The last 130 km were on a very rough road – some of this route is paved, but there is a long way to go! We looked out onto absolutely nothing. Just occasionally a dirt track went off to the side. It seemed to me that the earth and the sky were one, and that we were intruding by passing through.
Earth and sky
About 15 km before Perito Moreno, we reached the surfaced road, with great rejoicing. It had taken us over 13 hours, and was now 9.00 pm. We soon found our simple rooms in the hotel, and made our way down to the restaurant, where we enjoyed excellent schnitzel, chips and salad with a bottle of Chablis. Tomorrow is another long day!
Sunday 8th February Shake, rattle and rolling through the wild Patagonian desert
I could have lingered longer over my nice coffee at breakfast, but we were on the road again soon after 7.30, on a fine, cool morning. The hotel had been described as ‘no frills’, which was true, but the towels and sheets were spotlessly white.
After a few miles of sealed surface, it was off once more onto the bumpiest surface ever.
As we entered an area reminiscent of the Dakota Badlands, a group of rheas pranced off. During the day we saw lots more guanacos, but they always ran off, and watched us from a distance.
When we stopped for lunch beside the Chico River it felt cool and windy, but later the sun made it seem quite hot. On the road above us four Austin Sevens rattled by on their way north – just what you’d expect to see in Patagonia!
What are you doing here?
Travelling on through this ongoing desert landscape, we were all brought up with a jolt at the sight of the iridescent turquoise colour of Lake Cardiel. At another point when we stopped, we picked some calafate berries, looking like large blackcurrants, on spiky branches, and tasting sweet, but with lots of pips. It is said that if you eat them, you will return to Patagonia!
Towards the end of the day, we had views to turquoise Lake Viedma, with the mountains of Parque Nacional de los Glaciares (another Glacier National Park) looming magically ahead. The spires of Mt Fitzroy reminded us of the ‘cathedral spires’ of Ou Pou.
The spires of Mt Fitzroy
We stopped several times to view them before arriving at our hotel in El Chalten. This town only dates from the 1980s, and is here to serve as a base for outdoor activities in the neighbouring park. It was warm and sunny when we stopped at 6 o’clock, so we enjoyed an aperitif, sitting in the warm sunshine outside our room, looking up to the ‘spires’ of Mt Fitzroy, before walking into the ‘town’. When we came back, we sat outside with our wine and joined Maureen and John, who were in the next room. Adrian went across and bought a pasty each, and so we enjoyed a convivial evening.
Monday 9th February An unexpectedly lovely walk
Today we were doing a walk in the Los Glaciares (Glacier) National Park while half the group went on a ‘glacier walk’. We had breakfast first, then at 9 o’clock, Dave drove us up in ‘Rosita’ to the start of the walk at ‘El Pilar’. We had to have a guide – ours was a pretty girl called Cristina, who spoke good English, but with a strong accent. The weather at this point wasn’t kind – it was wet and windy as we set off, so a chance to try out our waterproof trousers and other ‘warm’ gear. There had been a rainbow early on when I looked out, but the peaks were shrouded in cloud.
We hadn’t been walking for long, when the weather brightened, and the rest of the day got better and better, with plenty of sunshine.
We started by walking through lovely ancient forest, and looked across to the amazing sight of one of the many glaciers – huge and blue.
Beautiful blue glacier
It really was a lovely walk, with varied terrain, sometimes a swampy area which we had to cross on numerous tiny plank bridges. We had views across to the snowy Fitzroy peaks. We stopped to eat our filled baguette lunch at Poincenot campsite – Adrian had dashed over to a bakery just before we left.
As we walked on, we stopped to view Lake Capri, before making the long descent back to El Chalten.
The walk back down to El Chalten
It was a really nice walk, but I would have much preferred to have walked on our own – although the pace wasn’t that fast, I had wanted to stop to enjoy the views and the many flowers. We had a bonus right near the end, when we saw a large black Magellanic woodpecker, with red head, really close up.
Also we’d seen the llao llao fungus – round balls growing on a burl on the branch of a tree.
Llao llao, also called Indian bread
On walking back through the town, we stopped off at the ‘micro brewery’, where along with Maureen & John and Howard & Judith, and young Craig, we enjoyed an excellent beer (or two) and much convivial chat! Hence we didn’t return to our room until about 6 o’clock, chatting to several of the others, who had been to the glacier.
Later a group of us walked out to a very unpretentious looking place where we enjoyed pizzas with another beer – and a great atmosphere, then back for an earlier night than usual.
Tuesday 10th February A nice walk on our own, then on to Calafate
Today was the day for a lie in, as part of the group were making the walk that we did yesterday, and we had a free day until their planned return this afternoon.
We ate breakfast later than usual, then walked across to the internet café, where we paid for 15 minutes. We received an email from Emma with photos of Ruby and Felix playing in the snow, although Otterton was the one place where it hadn’t snowed!
By the time we’d bought a roll for lunch, seen all our bags onto the bus, and I’d had my first mid morning coffee since we’d been away, it was 11 o’clock when we set off to walk to the Mirador to Cerro de Torre. We really enjoyed walking at our own pace, stopping to photograph when we wanted to. There weren’t many wildflowers, just achillea, a sort of dandelion and something like stitchwort. We were hoping for views to the peaks and glaciers, but clouds usually obscured much of the view.
After walking for an hour, we were pleased to bump into Dag, who told us that the mirador was about 15 minutes climb up the next hill. We stopped there to eat our roll - the situation was lovely, but the wind incredibly strong.
Llamas pass us as we walk down
Having enjoyed the view, we began our descent, returning to El Chalten at 2 o’clock.
We left as planned at 3 o’clock, after the others had got back from their walk. Initially we drove back past turquoise Lake Viedma on the surfaced road, but then we had an unsurfaced stretch.
La Leona roadhouse
We had a pleasant midway stop at ‘la Leona’ roadhouse, whose greatest claim to fame was being the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed for 3 weeks in 1905. It was an attractive little ‘shack’ building, filled with old photos and maps, beside the overflowing glacial Leona River.
After that we had views of even more turquoise Lake Argentino.
We arrived at El Calafate, and after being driven through the town, we got settled into our hotel.
Soon we left to buy something from the supermarket for our lunch tomorrow. The supermarket was unpleasantly crowded, and not very inspiring, but we managed to buy french bread, ham, cheese & a tomato. We had to pay for a tatty brown paper bag (not strong enough with a bottle of wine and one of tonic), and we had loads of plastic bags which we’ve been hanging on to back at the hostel!
We ate at a place busy with locals – Adrian had a freshly cooked omelette, but my ‘vegetable soup’ was from a packet! We shared a large bottle of beer, as it was as cheap as a small one. Afterwards we crossed the road to a bar, where we met up with the newly joined last four members of our group – a young couple from New Zealand, and 2 girls, both from Australia. It was midnight when we got to bed.
Wednesday 11th February Perito Moreno glacier in the rain
Today was our day to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. I was looking forward to this, as the photos I had seen looked remarkable. It is named after Francisco ‘Perito’ (leader) Moreno, an amazing naturalist/conservationist, and ‘father’ of Argentinean National Parks. It is especially interesting, as it is advancing and not retreating like most glaciers.
After breakfast, it was off on a tour bus, along with the rest of our group, and some other people too. We had a young female guide who haled from Buenos Aires, and tried to make the trip fun. We travelled the 80 kms to the glacier on an unsurfaced road, supposedly better for wildlife. She did point out a young black-chested buzzard eagle and some caracaras.
Black-chested buzzard eagle
We had great views of Lake Argentino, with fantastic lighting, and a beautiful rainbow. We stopped at delightful Rio Mitre ‘estancia turistica’ – a wooden building with a lovely warm fire which a chap was roasting meat over. There was an appealing young guanaco, which took everybody’s fancy. The views from here were stunning.
View from Rio Mitre estancia
Just before we reached the glacier, most of us went for a walk over very rough ground, with the view of the glacier in the distance. This glacier is like a long wall, 50-70 metres high! There were ice flows in the lake below. I was pleased to keep up on the walk, and astounded both myself and Adrian by scrambling up the long, steep path at the end of the walk, ahead of most of the group!
The road to the glacier was being resurfaced, and we had a long wait just before reaching the end. The glacier is a real tourist stop, and there were already plenty of coaches parked when we arrived. We set off to explore the recently remade walkways, but neither the map that our guide had shown us, or the map at the start, were correct, as the paths aren’t quite finished. There were indeed lots of ‘ups and downs’, so plenty of exercise today!
The glacier certainly is stunning, with its often deep blue tinge, looking like a Reckitt’s blue bag plunged into the white. Sometimes bits of ice would break off, with a load roar as they crashed into the water. The unfortunate thing was that rain had started as we began the walk, and got heavier as time went on.
Perito Moreno glacier
Having viewed from all angles, we returned to the top, where we managed to find the one seat in the restaurant area to sit and eat our rolls. The actual restaurant was packed, as everybody tried to shelter from the rain. We’d laughed when Yvonne, one of the ‘new girls’, had taken out what she thought was her lunch bag, to find that she had brought a bag of uncooked pasta by mistake!
We were early back to the coach for our 2 o’clock transport to the lake for our boat trip. The previous boat was late back, and it wasn’t much fun huddling in the pouring rain while we waited. I was glad of our new waterproofs, and my new gloves.
The glacier from the boat
We settled ourselves inside on the boat, but soon realised that we couldn’t see anything, with the windows huffed up, I actually spent all of the time outside. Despite being so wet, the blue colour, and the immensity of the glacier at close quarters, made it all worth it. I really enjoyed it. Once back on the bus, there were a lot of sleeping people as we were driven back to El Calafate, arriving back at about 5 o’clock, to find that the weather there had been fine and sunny.
Later we went out for what was supposed to be a group meal to welcome the newcomers, but several people didn’t come for various reasons. It was a smart and popular restaurant. We sat on a table with some of ‘the lads’, and enjoyed steak and a glass of wine, and much convivial chat.
Thursday 12th February Back into Chile
We left at 8 o’clock on a damp morning, travelling southwards across more empty Patagonian country. The day brightened, but it was really windy when we stopped at La Esperanza for a short break. I bought a coffee, and nearly lost it as I walked back to the bus!
We saw quite a lot of wildlife today – rheas, plenty of sheep!, a group of glorious flamingos and a condor. The changeable weather meant that we often saw bits of rainbows in the sky.
Flamingos are always lovely to watch
We reached the Argentinean border at about midday, travelling on a stretch of gravel road. We ate our lunch here, waiting for all the passports to be cleared. Nikki had made up some nice salads, but we had to watch that our food wasn’t blown away!
It was a few miles on to the Chilean border. We had to wait a while here, but there was a pleasant gift shop to spend time in, with a lot of books about the area – we are now in the deep south of the continent. We then all had to wait to go through passport control, and then to have our bags searched. Everything was OK, and we were on our way again soon after 3 o’clock. About an hour later we arrived at the little town of Puerto Natales, on Last Hope Sound. This is where we are staying tonight before going on to Torres del Paine National Park tomorrow, to camp for 3 nights.
After dumping our bags in our room, we walked out into the town, finally finding the right glue to stick Adrian’s walking boot, and buying some wine for the next few days. We came back to reorganise our bags ready for the camping trip.
We ate at a pleasant little restaurant with John, Maureen and Howard. We all had seafood soup followed by schnitzel and rice and we had a jug of house wine. We walked back via Last Hope Sound then came back to use the computer in the small lounge.
Walking back at Puerto Natales
We got talking to a mum and two daughters, who were talking on Skype to the dad, who’d had to return to San Francisco because his mother was ill. A couple came along, and we thought that they wanted to join in the conversation. We asked the man where they were from. He said Belgium, then said could we be quiet, as their room was close by, and they were going to bed!!
Friday 13th February To Torres del Paine National Park
We left at 8 o’clock, enjoying the lovely view along beside the sound, with lots of birds on the water, including the incongruous but attractive black necked swans. In fact we saw the view twice, as we had to return for someone’s glasses, so we were able to have double enjoyment.
We were heading for Torres del Paine National Park, about 2 hours drive away. The first part of the road was paved, but much was gravel. We saw lots of wildlife – the sheep and cows gave way to guanacos, which weren’t so shy here, and stopped to look instead of running away.
We also stopped to view flamingos, a fox and a condor. The sides of the road were lined with swathes of feverfew and achillea.
A fox and a condor
We reached the entrance to the park at about 10.45. We were interested in a small camper in front of us, which had a map on the side showing that they had travelled from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, taking about 18 months.
Having got our tickets and maps, we travelled to the northern part of the park. Most of us got off the bus to walk for an hour or so – up and over a large hill. The views were fantastic, and there was the evocative sight of dozens of dead trees – the result of a wild fire started by a camper’s stove.
We ate lunch in a campsite beside Lake Azul, and met Joss, who will be doing our food while we’re here. The sun was out now, and for a while it felt really warm. There were hundreds of guanacos around, and also foxes.
Then it was time to travel back to the campsite we were gong to be staying at, beside Lake Pehoe, and looking up to the wonderful sight of the ‘Horns’.
We all had to put up our tents, and having done this, we just enjoyed taking in the lovely surroundings.
I went into the bus to write the diary, and as time went on, a party atmosphere developed as many of us supped our wine. Joss cooked us an excellent meal, which we all ate, sitting at picnic tables under the shelter before making our way to our first night in the tents.
Saturday 14th February Horse riding in the park
St. Valentines Day, and we had both managed to bring cards from England! We exchanged these, and the chocolate we had bought in Bariloche, and enjoyed a lie in. Many of the group were going on a long walk today, so were off early, but we had a lazier day.
It had been really windy in the night, with some rain, but the tents seemed to stand up to it.
Joss had set up breakfast (including porage for those that liked it!) and we made up our own lunches. Along with a few others, we walked beside the lake to a hotel on a small island, reached by a narrow bridge.
The hotel in the lake
We had a tea/coffee, then walked on around the island before coming back to the campsite for an early lunch. We had seen another camper with a map of the owners travels on the side – they had had the van shipped over from France, and had driven around much of South America.
The afternoon had been booked for us to go horse riding, along with 6 others.
We were collected by minibus (a bit later than expected) and driven to the southern part of the park. Here we were all allocated horses by the two similar looking gaucho brothers. They both had beards, long dark hair and a swarthy complexion, and wore a beret. An older man (their father?) wearing a cowboy type hat, helped. My horse was the colour of Bourneville, and Adrian’s a dark bitter chocolate colour. Hardly any words were spoken, and when we were all ready we set off for our 2 hour ride.
All set to go horse riding
I was rather dubious about the whole thing, but everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves. I was OK when the horse walked slowly, but not so keen when it cantered! And my horse seemed to be ‘not like everyone else’ – always taking a slightly different path! Often this meant ducking hard because of the overhanging branches, or having feet almost torn off by neighbouring bushes.
The scenery was lovely and varied, but the terrain often difficult. Sometimes deep mud, sometimes water, and occasionally nice level grass.
Sometimes through water!
The weather was erratic too, with tremendously strong winds early on, which unsettled the horses and us! We had some rain, but were well wrapped up.
We were driven back to camp in the tatty old van, with cracked windows, and after a tea/hot chocolate in the restaurant, set off to walk to the ‘condor lookout’. This, of course, went steeply up! We walked for a long way, with great views back down over the lake, coming back down by a slightly different route.
After another excellent supper, we again had a ‘party’ on the bus – this time with music and dancing in the aisles!
Partying on the bus
Sunday 15th February An expensive cup of coffee!
It started to rain just as we were about to get up at 7 o’clock. Today it was planned to take a catamaran across the lake, to do walk on the other side. We left on the bus in plenty of time for the 9.30 boat. Most of the group were going, but as it was still raining hard, a few decided not to come. They were the wise ones, in retrospect! The ferry cost 18,000 pesos each (£18), and was surprisingly busy for such a bad day. There were 2 proposed walks to do, and we fully intended doing one of them.
We got off the boat – still raining hard – and made for the restaurant complex, hoping to have a drink, and hoping that the rain would clear – well, it didn’t! The café didn’t open until 10.30, and the only toilets were in the adjoining campsite. The campsite was full of sodden small tents, and even wetter campers – not a fun sight! We eventually got our tea/coffee – expensive for a polystyrene cup of hot water and a tea bag – even more expensive when you add on the ferry fare!
The rain continued to fall, so we just sat and chatted, still hoping for a break in the clouds. The boat didn’t return until 6.30 pm, allowing time for the walks. However, there was one at 12.30. Reluctantly, we decided that this was a better option, but it meant that we’d have to walk back the 7km from the ferry to the campsite. Along with another couple, Mary and Paul, we walked down for the 12.30 boat. A lot of soaked campers were also heading for the boat, so we allowed time to walk down, but then had to wait for half an hour in the pouring rain. Not everybody could get on the boat – some were turned back to wait for a relief trip.
A smiling Adrian waits for the return ferry
The boatful of drenched campers, many with huge backpacks, was a sorry sight. We had got chatting to a nice young couple – she from Auckland, he from Sweden, but both living in London. They were on extended travels, and had just returned from Antarctica, on a sister ship to the one that we are going on, so we passed the time happily. When we reached the other shore, we had a vain hope that Dave might be there with the bus, but no such luck! No local buses went our way, so we set off walking. In fact it was pleasant walking along beside the lake. We arrived back at the campsite wet through, but at least we were able to sort ourselves out – and all our wet gear - without the rest of the group, who wouldn’t be getting back until about 7.30, and undoubtedly soaked through.
In fact, they came back even later than that. We had walked over and asked for some firewood, and had got a fire going. Joss had the meal all ready, so we’d eaten our soup by the time the others got back. The intended barbecue had been turned into a beef casserole meal by Joss, who produced such wonderful food under difficult circumstances. Pudding was chocolate bananas, cooked in foil over the fire.
We didn’t imagine that the proposed wine tasting would take place, but, exhausted as she must have been, Nikki went ahead with producing many different wines, and talking a bit about the wine industry in Chile.
You’re not going to drink all that, are you?
It didn’t go ahead as one might have expected, with the dire weather, and the sodden people, but much wine was imbibed, and there was much frivolity. It was still raining when we went to bed at midnight.
Monday 16th February A beautiful view of the peaks before travelling on to Punta Arenas
The dampness had made it feel really cool last night, but the alarm went at 6 o’clock, and I soon got up and walked over to the wash block. A magical sight greeted me – the sky was clear and the peaks stood out in their brilliance. I returned to view them several times, with the light changing.
The magnificent ‘horns’
Joss had cooked porage and pancakes for breakfast, and everyone was busy getting cleared up. We were leaving the tents up for the next group to dismantle, as they were still so wet, and we were all packed up by 8.30.
By now the clouds were coming up, but it was wonderful to have seen the full glory of the peaks.
We took a southerly route out of the park. By 10.30 we had reached the hotel in Puerto Natales, where we had stayed a few days ago. We were leaving our camping mattresses here, and making use of the toilets. It was beautifully warm standing by the radiators, and we would happily have stayed!
Warming ourselves by the radiator
Now we travelled on through flat and empty southern Patagonia to Punta Arenas. For the last part, I sat in the front cab, and realised how much more you can see. We passed flamingos and several perched birds of prey. I was really excited when we reached the Magellan Straits, with Tierra del Fuego beyond.
We got to Punta Arenas at about 2.15, and were delighted to find that our room was a suite, with loads of room to sort out all our wet stuff, and hang it up to dry. There was a laundrette nearby, so we gathered up all our wet and dirty stuff and took it there. It was expensive, and not the self service we had expected, but it was lovely to get everything clean and dry.
While it was being done, we walked out around the town. There was a mixture of tatty little shacks, and smart houses with neat gardens. Also there were grand dwellings from the rich times of the area. We walked right out to the large cemetery, which had lines of trimmed conical firs and very ornate memorials. We made our way down to the water front, beside the Magellan Strait, but couldn’t walk along, as there is much work being carried out for next year’s bicentennial celebrations. Hence we walked further than intended, but did walk on to the main square, and the small cathedral.
By the Magellan Straits at Punta Arenas
The sun had come out, and we’d revelled in the warmth of it, after the last few days. We had passed a building which had been the headquarters for Shackleton in 1916, when he was trying to rescue his men from Elephant Island.
In the evening we joined most of the group for a meal at popular ‘La Luna’ restaurant where Adrian had kingfish and I had conger eel. Like a lot of people, we were feeling tired after the last few days, so came back for a relatively early night.
Tuesday 17th February Penguins, then across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego
It was a fine morning. I walked down to the sea before we left at 8 o’clock. We travelled across flat, dry land for 2 hours to the Seno Otway penguin colony. This is on another inlet of the sea, to the west of the Magellan Straits and seemed to be a long way from anywhere!
The penguins here are called Magellanic penguins. Everybody enjoyed the hour’s walk around the colony, watching these delightful little creatures. Seeing them waddling in a line to the water’s edge cannot fail to bring a smile to your face!
Delightful Magellanic penguins
Although not really cold, it was very windy, so I was glad of my thermals! Afterwards I finally bought some postcards with some of our remaining Chilean money, as we would later be returning toArgentina.
Now we made our way to the ferry across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego. The land was very flat, and we had views to the sea.
Derelict San Gregorio sheep station
We stopped at San Gregorio, a disused sheep station beside the sea. The derelict buildings plus a couple of wrecks of former ships produced many evocative photos.
We continued past golden dry grass backed by blue sky and fluffy white clouds, with the occasional rhea running off. We reached the ferry, and had to wait while our boat came in. It was again really windy as we crossed on the 20 minute journey, but we had the delight of seeing several dolphins at the start.
After reaching the other bank, we all set to preparing our last lunch ‘on the road’, but by now it was well after 2 o’clock. We spent our last bit of Chilean money on some bars of chocolate.
Then it was a seemingly endless journey across dry, flat country with no trees. Occasionally it was slightly hilly, and we passed guanacos, sheep and sometimes a remote dwelling.
It was 6.00 pm when we reached the Chilean customs. We all had to take our passports in, then travel on some distance to the Argentinean customs. We had to hang around here, and didn’t leave until 7.30 pm.
Then it was another 50 miles to the town of Rio Grande, where we are staying for tonight. This town was used as a base during the Falklands War, and on arriving in the town, we stopped to view the memorial. By now the sky was a beautiful blue.
We didn’t reach our hotel until 9.00 pm. After taking our stuff to our room, it was straight out to find something to eat. Many of us ate at the same pleasant restaurant near the water. We had a really nice meal – I had a crab and avocado dish, and Adrian a delicious mushroom crepe. We sat with Nikki, Karen, and the 3 from Hong Kong, who we discovered are going on the same Antarctic trip as us.
Wednesday 18th February To Ushuaia – the end of the world
It was a beautiful morning as we left the interesting town of Rio Grande, with its pretty flower beds and monuments. We stopped by another one, which declared the Islas Malvinas as Argentinean.
We drove south initially beside the sea. It was remote and beautiful – just empty grassland. We travelled on southwards, stopping at the nice little town of Tolhuin, which had an amazing bakery. This sold delicious cakes and goodies, nice coffee, and was the hub of the town. Out the back was a large area with toucans and a macaw.
The walls, and ceiling, were covered with photos of venerated Argentineans, and others who had visited. From upstairs was a view out over the town and down to the lake. A memorable stop. Even more so, as we drove on down to beautiful Lake Fagnano in the warm sunshine. We walked on the beach, admired the view, with tall mountains all around, and had a short game of frisbee before continuing on our way.
Looking back to lovely Lake Fagnano
Our route took us along beside the lake, which was really long. Forested mountains, bare on the top, with some snow, surrounded us. We stopped again at Garibaldi lookout by pretty Lake Escondido, withLake Fagnano behind – a glorious view.
Through more mountain scenery, and before we knew it, we were at the ‘Welcome to Ushuaia’ sign – most southerly town in the world. This is where we stopped for our group photo – and several other photos too. We had one taken with Craig, who so reminds us of Tom.
The view down to Ushuaia was fantastic – I hadn’t realised how lovely the setting was, with mountains all around, and the Beagle Channel beyond.
It was with sadness that we said goodbye to Rosita, the bus, and walked with our bags along to our hotel, on the main street. Luckily we were able to get into our rooms and get things sorted, after 3 weeks of being constantly on the move.
We ate lunch of good rolls bought at the bakery, and at 2.30 set off again for our boat trip on the Beagle Channel. This was on a small boat called the Barracuda. Most boats which make this trip are catamarans, but this smaller boat, built in 1959, is the oldest boat, and can apparently get in closer to the rocky islets.
Sea lions on an island in the Beagle Channel
It was of course quite cool and windy on deck, but it was good to watch the scenery as we headed out along the channel, and then to stop to view the South American sea lions, the blue eyed cormorants and the dolphin seagulls, with their bright orange/red bills and legs. We continued to an old lighthouse, still in use, before making our way back to Ushuaia. I had a special hot chocolate (with brandy!), and we shared a delicious cheesecake on our return journey.
Back in town, we bought (very expensive) stamps for our postcards and posted them, and with difficulty got some money out from an ATM. A pan pipe group was performing on the street just by our hotel, and the atmosphere of this little town at the end of the earth was pleasant and busy.
We came back to get ready to go for a meal to say goodbye to David and son Dan, who are leaving tomorrow, so will miss Friday’s final meal.
Most people came to the meal, where we had a very congenial waiter, who wanted to please everybody. My calamari came late, and when he thought that I hadn’t enjoyed it, he brought me something else, freshly cooked.
Afterwards several of us stopped off at an Irish bar, which had its walls decorated with flags of every country – except England & the Union Jack! We had a beer, and returned to our room at midnight.
Thursday 19th February Lovely walks in Tierra del Fuego National Park
No rushing off this morning, so we were able to have breakfast later, before walking to the supermarket to buy something for lunch. We walked back to the hotel along the front. This small town is atmospheric, but surprisingly busy with traffic.
At 11 o’clock, we were taken by minibus to Tierra del Fuego National Park. We were lucky that the day was fine, and we spent a lovely day walking. It was a good half hours ride to the park. Once there, we all alighted at a delightful beach, where you could get your passport stamped with ‘Fin del Mundo’. We had already got ours stamped at the tourist office yesterday, so didn’t bother, as the stamp here cost $6, although it was pretty.
We all set off to walk the 5 mile (3 hour) coastal walk. The scenery was just stunning, with tall, snow-covered mountains as a backdrop to this pretty coastal scene. The path went mostly through trees, close to the sea, at the start, and we stopped many times to view and photograph. We soon stopped to eat our lunchtime rolls, sitting on a log on an isolated bit of beach. After that, we walked completely on our own, and didn’t see any of the others.
Beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park
When we finally reached the end, we had the choice of walking on another 4 kms, with the possibility of more walks. We deliberated, especially as the walks were hard to find. We wondered whether to return on the 4 o’clock minibus, particularly as the day had clouded over at that point. We made the decision to continue, and walked through more forested areas with peat bogs. There were lakes and rivers – we were hoping to see a beaver, but didn’t.
We finally reached the end of the track, which is the end of Route 3 (3079 km to Buenos Aires), and the sign said 17,848 kms to Alaska. At this point there were lookouts over Lapataia Bay.
The end of the road!
Having had a look around, we met up with about 6 more of our group – the rest had already left. We got on the 6 o’clock minibus, and got back to our room just before 7 o’clock – it had been a great day.
While I wrote up the diary Adrian went in search of food for supper. He ended up in the supermarket, at the far end of the road, so when he got back, the schnitzel and chips were cold. We had to make up for it with the wine!
Afterwards we worked on the website.
Friday 20th February Chair lift to a glacier, and then our final night of the trip
We were awake early, and the only ones at breakfast. We continued working on the website, then, as it was a fine morning, thought that we’d go up to Martial Glacier, 7 km from Ushuaia.
We walked along to the supermarket, where we bought rolls for lunch, then caught a taxi outside to take us up to the chairlift. The road wound up into the hills, passing patches of fantastic lupins. The ride up in the chairlift was pleasant, if a little chilly.
Adrian en route to Martial Glacier
From here, we walked on beside the rocky stream, on rough ground which became steeper and steeper. Eventually I gave up, while Adrian continued for a bit, but didn’t consider it worth going any further, as you didn’t really get to the glacier anyway. It was great to look down over part of the town, and to the airport and the Beagle Channel beyond.
Looking back down to Ushuaia
Several of the others passed us now, and we walked back and then on to another viewpoint with John and Maureen. They had walked all the way up, instead of taking the chairlift. We walked back to the chairlift terminal through gnarled old trees, stopping to eat our lunch, sitting on an old bit of tree trunk. The ‘lads’ passed us again, and once down the bottom, we congregated in a little coffee house, where we enjoyed a vino caliente, which went down well!
We then took a taxi back to the town, stopping by a viewpoint at the far end of our long road, and then walking back to the hotel. We called into the Albatross Hotel, where we will be staying tomorrow night.
In the early evening we had a ‘party’ in the ‘girls room’, finishing up the rest of the wine from the wine tasting night. There was much frivolity before we all went for our last meal together. We returned at midnight.
Richard Adey, England
Philippa Arnold, New Zealand
Adrian Bower, England
Rosie Bower, England
Yvonne Brown, Australia
Dan Carthy, Israel
Dave Carthy, Israel
Nick Constantopedos, Australia
Howard Evans, Wales
Judith Evans, Wales
Stuart Kenyon, England
Yuen Ming Lee, Hong Kong
Dave Manning, South Africa - Our Driver
Hayley Mayne, Australia
Craig Meredith, England
John O'Keeffe, England/Ireland
Maureen O'Keeffe, England/Ireland
Chirag Patel, England
Nikki Self, England - Our Leader
Dag Solheim, Norway
Mark Stevenson, New Zealand
Karen Stringer, Australia
Choi Fung Rose Suen, Hong Kong
Luke Telford, England
Paul Turner, Australia
Heather Mary, Turner Australia
John Wildermoth, New Zealand
Cathy Wildermoth, New Zealand
Kwok Cheung Yip, Hong Kong
Andreas Zeiner, Austria
Chile and Argentina
We just revelled in the beauty of it all, and being able to walk at our own pace. After a while, the path went inland for a bit. Like coastal paths in Britain, there were a lot of ups and downs, but it was really enjoyable.
From here we went on to Antarctica - follow link at bottom