After a full 24 hours off grid, here we are at a lovely campsite that has wifi! Weak wifi though so doing this partly on my phone so excuse typos
I hope everyone enjoyed Paddy’s night last night. I couldn’t find Guinness or Jameson’s so had to settle for eating an awful lot of Kerry Gold cheddar cheese with some local red wine. The cheese gave me a hangover…. Oh, and congratulations to the Irish among you on the rugby.
Yesterday we picked up this monster – its enormous, I pulled a muscle in my shoulder just getting into the driver’s seat. I still haven’t worked out an elegant way of getting in, this car was built for cowboys not dumpy English girls.
Having already been upgraded at no cost from a single cabin basic model to a 4 x 4 deluxe double cabin, due to the rules on children in a single cabin in Argentina, when we arrived we found we had been upgraded yet again to their top model, as ‘ours’ was returned a couple of days ago with ‘something broken’. This means more space and heating, but a much larger vehicle to drive. And park.
After a very thorough explanation of all that could possibly go wrong, the lovely German guy who works at this remote outpost handed me the keys and wished us good luck. He said we were welcome to stay and organize our things, but he had to go round up his horses….. and left us to it.
We loaded all our food supplies into the cupboards and fridge and dumped everything else on the bed for later.
I wanted some easy driving to get used to the vehicle, so we headed about 30 km to the ‘end of the road’ – the furthest point its possible to drive on the mainland of South America. This part of the world thrives on being the ‘furthest south’ – whether it’s the ‘most southerly lighthouse on continental South America’ or ‘most southern estancia’ (ranch) or ‘most southern chocolate shop’. In fact, there is a murmur of angst at the moment from the residents of Ushuaia in Argentina – long marketed as the southernmost city in the world – because Puerto Williams, on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, which is further south than Ushuaia, has just been elevated to city status, rendering Ushuaia only the second most southern city in the world. People in Argentina are genuinely annoyed and claim Puerto Williams is ‘nothing but a fishing village’ and its elevation a provocation….
Whatever, we are a long way south.
Having reached the end of the road, literally………
we parked up and went for a walk along the beach.
It was beautiful but freezing, and we only went a couple of km, both too excited about the van and keen to get back to it. I made a cup of tea and drank it in the back, because I could :-).
Lauren kept saying “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”. The van, not the tea.
We then set off for a national reserve not far away where I had planned we would spend the night. It was only an hour and a half drive (basically like nipping round the corner in Patagonia) as I didn’t want any major driving on day one.
Having spent a good few hours the night before trying to get the two critical navigation programmes on my phone to talk to one another offline – ioverlander, an incredible user-populated app listing gps coordinated for places to wildcamp, repair vehicles, find fuel, groceries, or just get out of the wind for a bit and mapsme, an offline map application that works like google maps but you can download whole countries as opposed to small areas – I was keen to test them out before they were really needed. All seemed to work fine, thankfully. Although in fairness, it would be pretty hard to get lost around here, there are so few roads.
We soon turned off the tarmac and onto the infamous ripio. This is hardpacked earth with a top layer of gravel and sand. Now I admit I may have been a little overconfident, given I’ve done plenty of offroad driving and covered my share of gravel roads before. The ripio decided to teach me a lesson. Given the very bright light and the undifferentiated colour of the ripio, its very difficult to judge depth of the gravel, or inclination – the sides are often steeply banked but its hard to see this. I simply edged a little too close, noticed, corrected too fast, and lost control of the back end (incredibly heavy of course, with a whole camper back there). We fishtailed three times before I regained control (here my African experience did come in handy) and breathed a sign of relief. I stopped a moment – Lauren looked up from her book and asked why I’d stopped – when I explained she said she’d assumed I was just going round potholes! I had only been going 40km/hr and the result if I’d lost control would have been an ignominious slump into the ditch rather than anything more scary, but still, a good lesson to respect the ripio!
Eventually we made our way to the Reserva National Laguna Parrilar. The warden greeted us and said if we didn’t want a fireplace we could just park without paying camping fees. Great. No way I was making a campfire. The reserve is beautiful, remote and relatively unvisited, and home to puma as well as some endangered birds and the Patagonia fox. Lauren spotted a fox while I was preparing dinner.
We went for a walk along the lake; it was beautiful in a harsh kind of way. Bizarrely, while we were out walking, a local taxi had pulled up about 4 metres from our van (there was lots of space, maybe they were trying to use us as a wind shield). A couple who looked to be in their 50’s were sat in the back drinking a bottle of wine and flirting shamelessly (it was impossible not to see). I mean, I know it was Saturday night, but still…. At one point, I swear the taxi driver received some oral gratification while I did my best to distract Lauren… maybe this is a new variation on dogging where you actively seek out helpless ‘spectators’????? Mind you, that bothered me less than the music they insisted on playing. Not ridiculously loud, but enough for the noise to ruin the peacefulness of the site. It was a bizarre situation, and not how I imagined our first night in the beauty of a Patagonia national reserve.
We decided to turn in early and played a few games of Uno before bed. I was asleep before Lauren, exhausted by the stress and nervousness of the day.
We both slept remarkably well and woke excited for ‘proper day one’ of campervan life. Yesterday had been quite anxious with all the things to learn and organize and nearly ending up in a ditch. Today, there were no rogue taxi drivers and their mistresses, the place was deserted and beautiful, the air pure and my morning tea tasted especially good as the Patagonian wind ripped through us. We packed up and headed back to the gate, where a different warden showed us (well, mainly Lauren) pictures of a puma he’d spotted, a lump of fossilized tree, a beaver skull etc. He seemed quite lonely, I guess they don’t get a lot of visitors.
Once we escaped, we stopped in Punta Arenas for (yet more) supplies, and encountered our first real challenge in finding somewhere to park the van. It clearly doesn’t fit in a normal parking space and I’m not yet super confident of just how long it is. Even the wing mirrors are of limited use as the camper body is wider than the truck base… I eventually left it in a spot that I am not sure was 100 percent legal… but its Sunday, we were quick, and I was happy to play the innocent gringo.
We then had a surprisingly grueling drive to Puerto Natales. The wind was insane – it made driving a two-hands-at-all-times strenuous job and my arms are aching tonight.
For the second half of the drive, torrential rain plus the wind made conditions less than ideal. At lunchtime – before the rain – we stopped by a lake with a flamingo colony on it, with the romantic notion of having lunch then going for a walk round the lake. Lauren could hardly make forward progress in the wind, and while we sat in the van it genuinely felt like it could tip over. We ate quickly and got back on the road. We saw the flamingos from a distance and agreed that would have to do. At one point the wind also ripped free the spare fuel tank (thankfully empty) attached to the roof, and Lauren incredibly competently climbed up and undid the ropes so I could release it and stow it inside.
By the time we reached Puerto Natales I was exhausted, and we decided to stay at a formal campsite, where we have access to a refugio (a big room with a kitchen, picnic tables, mellow music, and lots and lots of charging stations for everyone’s devices). They are now playing planet earth so I’m writing this to the soothing soundtrack of David Attenborough talking about termites….
We made fajitas, always a favourite, and chatted with some of the other travelers – the main draw here is the Torres del Paine National park and many have just finished or are about to start multi-day treks. We plan to head there tomorrow and do some rather less ambitious hikes.
We love our van 😊.