OK, so I am going to begin this blog, by bragging about our super cool daughter and my amazing husband.
Keira at age 4 has hiked some fairly strenuous and long distances, negotiating rough terrain and having a lot of fun doing so. She takes everything in her stride, staying in the roof top tent (she now calls it home), using the outdoors as our living room, and bathroom at times, playing with other children of all nationalities, charming adults into playing tag and princesses and being super cute whilst she does it all. We are so proud of her.
Michael put in hours of research and time in preparing our vehicle for this trip, and with a lot of advice and help from two friends, John and George, he has done a remarkable job. He is definitely a “jack of all trades”. After 21 years he continues to amaze me on a daily basis with his abilities and knowledge. To date he has helped fix a friends tire and headlights, fixed our fridge connection, problem solved issues with fuel pumps, air filter and fan belts, repaired electrical cords, and towed our friends Westfalia van for 200 kms. He purifies our water with 2 different systems, and really takes care of the day-to-day tasks to make our trip run more smoothly, and to make sure “his girls” are ok. Oh, and as I mentioned before he prepares gourmet meals every night on a camp stove. Secretly I think our German friends put up with Keira and I, in order to reap the benefits of Mike’s cooking abilities!
Now back to our trip. After Ushuaia we headed to Puerto Natales and reconnected with Kaj and Carina. We hung out there for a few days eating yummy cakes, chocolates and drinking teas and coffees. There was no allocated camping so we made our camp in a parking lot overlooking the lake, not a bad living room!! Over the course of the 2 nights we had many neighbors as other over Landers joined us, creating our own camping community. We even got home baked bread from a French couple!
We did decide on a hostel for a night as the winds had reached 60-70 knots the night before, and although the tent was totally safe, the noise of the winds and the tent movement was a little scary. Keira slept through it all!
Puerto Natales in Chile is the base from which to visit Torres del Paine National Park. We stocked up on supplies there and once again the car allowed us freedom so we were able to stay 5 nights in the park
Torres del Paine is known for its Torres (tower rock formations), glaciers and hiking. The scenery was incredible, and ever changing. The cloud formations, winds and sun influencing the mountain views and vistas. Hard to define as you need to observe the scenery from a variety of perspectives, at all times of day and experience all the natural elements first hand to truelly appreciate its beauty.
There are some amazing overnight and 4-5 day hikes to be done in the park, but we settled for day hikes so Keira could come and we could experience the park as a family. A good incentive to return when she is older.
We are now in Rio Gallegos in Argentina for the next week, as our friends need to get some car repairs done and we are going to take the opportunity to get a service on our vehicle too. We were hoping that their car could be driven all the way here but 50 km into the trip they had problems. Mike was prepared with recovery gear, so we towed them 200kms. It was an interesting trip.
We all have colds at the moment so we will stay here for a few days to recover. Then after that we will be heading to El Calafate to see glaciers, and El Chalten for more hiking and then to travel on the Carretera Austral, the most southern and most remote road through Chile.
We are enjoying our time in a hostel, with hot showers, a bed and Mike is taking a break from cooking. It was our friend Carina’s birthday today, so we will celebrated with cake and balloons and Keira wore her party dress.
I will try and update gallery pics in the next few days.
Keep us posted on what is happening in your lives.
SPECIAL NOTE: thanks so much to everyone who contributed to Keira's "international love blanket". She has been using it a lot to snuggle under, and it is one of her most treasured possessions.
Tierra Del Fuego (the land of fires) is the largest island in the very south of the South American continent. It is divided between Argentina and Chile.
We crossed the border from Argentina into Chile, slept in our tent beside the ferry terminal (we got some odd looks from passing truck drivers) and made the ferry crossing to Tierra Del Fuego the following day. We passed through Chile in 2 hours and crossed back into Argentina.
The transition in landscape was so dramatic, changing from a dry barren landscape in the north to groves of trees, and then snow capped majestic mountains, and lakes. The drive into Ushuaia was incredible.
Instead of staying in Ushuaia itself we headed to the National Park. We made camp in a beautiful valley beside a steam amongst a grove of trees, Rio Pipo campsite. Wild horses ran through our camp and grazed in the pastures with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Breathtaking!!
I completed a hike with Kaj called “Cerro Guanaco”. It was a climb of 1106m, taking us from lakeside to a high vista. The hike itself was a challenge as it was straight up and straight down. I don’t think Argentina has heard of switchbacks. The view at the top was by far the best I have seen from a mountain. Snow capped mountains with crystal blue lakes, islands of the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia in a 360 panorama. We had the place to ourselves except for 2 friendly foxes.
We also completed several shorter hikes along the coast and to a small waterfall.
Heading further south east of Ushuaia we spent a night camping by a stream at the southern most point of Argentina. The furthest south we could go on land.
Ushuaia itself is a tourist town overlooking the Beagle Channel. It is the centre for tourism in the area, and the starting point for cruises to Antarctica. We have meet many people who have made the trip, and their experience has been amazing. We have decided not to make the journey, concerned about the impact of tourism on the area, and wondering if there are areas humans just should not go. Food for thought!
Patagonia is known for its high winds, and we certainly have experienced our fair share. Our tent has held up well, however there were a few nights when it has “rocked and rolled”. We had perfect weather when we first arrived in the area but for the last 4 days we experienced high winds, rain and freezing temperatures.
We have been mostly free camping in National parks or on the properties of Estancias (farms) with no facilities. It becomes a bit of a challenge and a little tiresome cooking outside in the weather conditions so we spent a couple of days in Ushuaia staying at a campground with an indoor area, a kitchen and showers. It is amazing how good a hot shower can feel!
The road north from Ushuaia, involved another border crossing back into Chile. We took the opportunity in spite of high winds to visit a King penguin colony, the only colony you can see outside of Antartica. The colony moved there from Antartica 3 years ago and consists of about 50 penguins. It was incredible to see them. The ferry ride back was an adventure, as the ferries had stopped working for 10 hours due to high winds. The line of trucks and cars stretched for 4 kms. We slept in the car for the night (what little sleep we got) and made the crossing at 4am!
Mike is taking some time to do work when we have decent Internet. Keira has been playing with other children whenever possible, which she is enjoying.
We have been travelling for about 2 weeks with a German couple Carina and Kaj, which has worked out great. We have now separated for a few days but will catch them up further north.
We have met a variety of fellow travelers, from backpackers, to bicycle riders, a crazy English guy who has been walking from Mexico for 8 years, people like ourselves in basic vehicles and many Europeans travelling in very expensive over landing trucks. Most of the travelers are European, although we did briefly meet a family from California, and another from British Columbia riding bicycles with two children aged 2 and 5.
DAY TO DAY:
I know a lot of people like to know how we cope with day-to-day activities when on the road. So here is a run down: SLEEPING - in our rooftop tent, occasionally a hostel which are easy to find in most towns (but expensive $50-60 USD a night compared to $0-$5 camping); EATING: cooking for ourselves on our camp stove (Mike ends up doing gourmet meals and feeding everyone in the area) or in kitchen facilities at campgrounds or hostels, occasional restaurant, good grocery stores which even have gluten free section!; TOILETS- found at most gas stations, restaurants or behind a tree works well; SHOWERS- every 5-6 days at campgrounds or the main gas station “YPF” has showers too; LAUNDRY- done by hostels or campgrounds for 90 pesos a load ($7 USD per load) and occasionally some hand washing with drying on a camp line ; BORDER CROSSINGS- so far straight forward with a lot of paperwork, no fruit/veg/fresh produce to be taken into Chile, usually it is a race to eat everything before crossing) 90 day entry permit given at border entry to Chile and Argentine, GAS FOR CAR: priced less than USA, there are sometimes large distances between gas stations so we have to be aware. DAILY MAINTENANCE- we are getting more in a groove with keeping the car organized, Mike is keeping up on car maintenance and I am doing sewing repairs. The dirt roads are taking its toll on tent zippers, the tent ladder and car air filters, not to mention our clothes which are constantly covered the dust.
I think that covers most things, but let me know if you have other questions.
So far the trip is everything we were hoping it would be. Keira is now referring to the car as "home" and she wakes each morning with a "good morning mummy and daddy. What are we going to do today!"
Hope all is well with you all.
Catch you up in Torres Del Paine.
MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE GALLERY FOR MORE PICS
Our adventure has definitely begun. Our road south has been via the main route 3, down the east coast of Argentina with many side diversions.
The car and our camping set up are awesome. Having our own vehicle is definitely paying off as we are able to get to places off the main tourist route. Camping is not only more comfortable for us but is saving us a lot of money, and is offsetting our fuel costs.
Our first stops along the coast closer to Buenos Aires were not so impressive. The beaches were crowded with Argentine holidaymakers, and the waters were very polluted.
Peninsula Valdes was our first main destination. It is a protected national park with colonies of sea lions, elephant seals and penguins. We got to see all of these animals, including many sea lion pups recently born and juvenile penguins.
Good karma also came our way, finally. We stopped randomly alongside the road to walk to the cliffs edge to look at the coastline. As we looked down on a sea lion colony, a pod of 6 Orca whales breached the surface. We had an amazing view of them as they headed down the coast, actively hunting sea lions as they went. Words cannot describe the elation we felt. Keira and I did let out several loud “whoo hoos”, and we did a victory dance.
Our next stop was Punta Tombo where we got to see the largest Magellan penguin colony in South America. We literally got to stand within 3-4 feet of penguins. The hills surrounding the coast as far as the eye could see were covered with penguin families and their nests. Keira has mastered a penguin call and can imitate a pretty good penguin waddle.
Heading down the coast on a dirt road, we came upon an old cluster of buildings at an Estancia (farm) at Cabo Raso (cape Raso). This chance stop turned out to be an incredible experience. Cabo Raso is literally in the middle of nowhere, in a moon shaped bay with a rocky beach. The town was once a thriving town of 300 people however it was abandoned many years ago. The buildings were in ruin when Elaine (the current manager) happened upon it. She fell in love with the place and got a grant from the government to restore it. Eight years ago she moved there with her 3 children and partner, living totally off the grid, using solar and wind power, slowly renovating the buildings, and starting to accommodate tourists to receive some income.
Our stay there was wonderful. We camped, and actually used an old bomb shelter as our kitchen and dining room. Mike helped out around the farm doing repairs, and was even offered room and board whenever he wants in return for his services! He was very tempted to stay. We developed such a respect for the family, their way of life and what they were trying to achieve. We were invited to a family feast, which was a slow roasted whole lamb (asado) cooked over an open fire. Mike was in heaven!! We were struck by how loving the family was and how passionate they were about everything they experienced.
Cabo Raso was also where we first met Corina and Kye, a German couple travelling in a Westfalia van.
We immediately hit it off and have been travelling with each other ever since.
Other destinations were a Petrified Forest with trees over 1 million years old and Monte Leon, a national park on the coast with spectacular coastline, and penguin, sea lion and cormorant colonies. All the way down the coast we have seen Guanacos (Llama like animals), Rheas / emu like birds, foxes and peregrine falcons. Mike actually got to eat Guanaco, tastes like a cross between goat meat and lamb. He has been trying to run one down ever since!!
The countryside south of Buenos Aires was very dry, with little vegetation and very flat terrain.
The roads were well paved on route 3, with smaller roads being dirt ranging from few potholes to many.
Keira has been taking everything in, seeking out new friends whenever she can. In the absence of other kids she makes grown ups play tag, princesses and wrestle with her, and they do!!! She is learning new Spanish words everyday and is more willing to use the language as time goes on. Her clothes are constantly dirty and my pockets are full of feathers, rocks and shells. The school of life is educating her well. Until next time, MMK
Argentina on the surface appears like a modern European city, but during our stay we have learnt first hand that services such as banking, postal and shipping are archaic and thrawt with bureaucracy. There are forms needed for every major transaction, and each step requires days to complete.
Everyday purchases here, like groceries, restaurants, utilities and transport are paid with Argentinian pesos. However, because of the instability of the Argentine currency, larger items like cars, and property have to be paid for in US dollars. This causes huge problems for Argentinians as the banks have restrictions that only enable them to withdraw $100 US dollars per month. And so, an illegal "blue market" was created.
The official exchange rate in banks is $1 US dollar to 8.5 pesos, however on the blue market, you can get 13.5 pesos for every $1 US dollar. That is a huge difference when you start to change large sums of money.
Eventhough the "blue market" is supposedly illegal, the transactions take place on a major throughfare in Buenos Aires, "Florida Street". The cries of "cambio, cambio" can be heard as you walk down the street. When in Argentina do as the Argentinians do. We have also been playing the money game.
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.