Back to Chile the Adventurous Way

 

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We had two options for returning to Chile – keep on trekking north on the ruta 40 – boring but tarmacked and well trodden – then enter through the major border post of Chile Chico, or attempt to cross on local roads (marked as the lowest category of road in both Argentina and Chile on the map, and not even recognised by maps.me or google maps) through the mountains, with a turn off just 20km north of where we spent the night.

Guess which I fancied.

There was very little information about the second route – I found a blog post from a cyclist in 2016 saying it was passable in dry weather, and it was marked on the tourist information map we’d been given previously. I decided to ask the local policeman his opinion, and as we were ambling over to the police post, he was heading our way, so much to his surprise I accosted him and showed him the map. He said he hadn’t been to the border (?!), but ‘they should let us through’ and that the road should be passable in our vehicle.

Not a ringing endorsement, but we agreed we’d check it out, and could always return and go the ‘normal’ route if necessary.

It turned out to be one of the best drives of my life.

In the whole day, we saw 2 other vehicles. They looked as surprised to see us as we were to see them, and we all waved manically as we passed.

We spent the day surrounded by incredible views, as we rounded mountain after mountain, plunged into deep valleys and climbed seemingly impossible, twisty inclines. We passed beautiful azure lakes, bubbling streams, bizarre rock formations, herds of wild (?) horses, condors circling above ….

It was certainly challenging driving, bumpy single track with the edges often steeply inclined and no concept of camber, but it was good fun – we had the music on, the sun was out, the surroundings were incredible. I wish my photos could do justice to just how huge this place is, and how ‘big’ the scenery. It just goes on and on and on. Mountain after mountain, mile after mile.

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The track was fine – mainly gravel or dried mud. I was grateful for the good suspension though as we rattled and bumped our way towards Chile. On the ‘ups’ I just had to trust no one was coming, as I could barely see over the bonnet. On the ‘downs’ I’ve learned not to brake, or we just swivelled about.

We saw a lot of guanacos, weird llamas related to camels, and many rheas, who are the most ridiculous-looking creatures, especially when running – they can move very fast on their long legs, with a tottering kind of run that makes me think of indignant secretaries in too-tight skirts and too-high heels. Sorry, not very PC, but there you go.  I still haven’t managed to get a photo of one, as they run as soon as they see us. We also saw a herd of horses… just roaming free, and some cows, also just roaming, some of which were stood in the middle of a pond eating the grass growing in it.

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For lunch we stopped by a river and sat on the rocks.

The air was so incredibly pure, as was the water, and with the sun out and sheltered from the wind, it was almost warm….

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Lauren insisting she’s not cold…. 

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We went for a bit of a walk, and Lauren attempted to climb some rocks, but I was anxious to get the border crossing out of the way, so we jumped back in the vehicle and headed off up the final pass before the border.

Its such a remote region, and so uninhabited, that one feels genuinely away from it all. I’ve been to plenty of remote places in Mozambique, but they have always been inhabited by someone – in fact, often you will think you are miles out in the bush totally alone, but if you stop long enough, someone will be along, if only to check you out. Here, if you got into trouble a few metres from the road, I reckon you’d stay there!  There must be a few estancias in the area, but I imagine they are fairly self-sufficient and inward looking. There are certainly no villages or communities. The border was literally the first sign of human activity apart from the cows and the 2 cars we’d passed.

As we finally approached the border, a tiny wooden cabin at the bottom of a valley, with ducks and geese wandering about outside, a border guard came out of his hut to greet us. He ushered us inside, where there was a desk and 2 chairs (no computer), a radio, and a kitchen.  He asked for all the documents, and this was the first border crossing where I’ve been asked to produce Lauren’s birth certificate and authorization from the ‘other parent’.  I explained it was just the two of us, the birth certificate confirmd this, and we were soon on our way. He told us we were the first car through that day (it was by now mid-afternoon) and some days there are no cars at all. He spends a month on duty at a time, along with 4 other border guards. It’s a pretty lonely place, but he seemed happy enough.

We then had about 11km of ‘no man’s land’ before reaching the Chilean border. Here we met a German overlanding family who had parked up there the day before and were staying until they had consumed all their fruits and vegetables as Chile is very strict on not importing these. Knowing this, I had made a rather odd concoction the night before of all our vegetables, so we thought we’d only lose a few onions.

However, we discovered at this border post that the prohibitions also refer to dairy and any animal products that are not sealed. When the very friendly border guard inspected our vehicle, he told us we couldn’t keep our eggs and milk, and, most critically, my Irish cheddar cheese that I had stocked up on in Punta Arenas and rationed for the last few days. After my wailing protest that it was hugely expensive, from ‘my homeland’ (well, close enough) and that after all I had bought it in Chile, just the other side of the southern ice field, and it really wasn’t my fault nature made us leave his beautiful country and come back, he opened up our fridge and replaced it without a word……. We saw him a couple of days later in the nearest town, and Lauren shouted ‘gracias por el queso!!!!’ at him across the aisles of the minimarket… I’m not sure who was more embarrassed, him or me!

We had planned to stay the night in the town about 90km from the border, but the valley we were passing through was stunningly beautiful, it had been an exhilarating but utterly exhausting drive, so when we saw a sign for camping, we agreed to stop. This turned out to be an inspired decision, as we ended up spending a couple of fantastic days in the beautiful Parque Nacional de Patagonia.

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Sun setting behind the mountains as we set up camp in Parque Nacional Patagonia. 

A Tough Day on Ruta 40

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The long and empty Ruta 40. 

After leaving El Calafate, where we had seen the incredible Perito Moreno glacier, we knew there would be a long slog through Argentina around the impassable southern ice field before we could re-enter Chile. Ruta 40, the highway through the pampa in Patagonia, has a reputation for being featureless, long, and boring, and we can now attest to this from personal experience.

The scenery was predominantly dry, dusty grassland, occasionally very flat, then rising to low rocky hills. We could see the snowcapped mountains in Chile to the far west but where we were was utterly, utterly dull. Some interesting rock formations occasionally, but basically a long, straight, unvarying road. Mainly tarmacked, with a large section of 70km of rough gravel, it was more of a slog than the twisty windy mountain roads in Chile. Junctions were rare, rivers a cause for excitement, and the only sign of habitation the rather whimsical names of estancias (ranches/farms) scrawled inelegantly on concrete bridges over the ditch at the side of the road that led to trails that disappeared into the distance. We saw estancia tranquila, estancia serena, estancia bonita and loveliest of all, estancia esperanza. I couldn’t imagine what life must be like on these remote ranches, with the nearest shop hundreds of kilometres away, no mobile network, and the harsh Patagonian weather.

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Strange dry, but cold, landscape 

We had in fact planned to stay at an estancia that allowed camping and had received good reviews about 400km north of El Calafate – pretty much the first option we found heading north. I checked the website and it said it was open until April, and we were looking forward to hot showers, shelter from the wind, and possibly even electricity to charge our multiple devices. The estancia required a 90km detour off ruta 40 on local roads, but unless we wanted to stay at the side of the road, or push on another 300km, it was the only option. The local road was slow going but fine if I concentrated (when I didn’t the van veered about and complained), but we were both ready for a cup of tea and some time out of the car by the time we arrived.

Imagine our disappointment when we arrived to find the track to the estancia closed, and a big red ‘Cerrado’ sign across it.

Theoretically, we are self sufficient and could stop anywhere. In actual fact, all the roads are fenced and the land is all private, so we would have to literally stop at the side of the road. While we’d almost certainly be fine, I haven’t quite got over a desire to be somewhere protected and close to others. It was Lauren that remained positive (when I was kicking the tyres and mumbling about everything being complicated in bloody Argentina) and stoically climbed back in and said, come on mum, you always say to look for the positive. I’m almost certain I’ve never said that in my life, that must be her alternative zen mother, but it was a good philosophy at that point, and we spent the next 200km coming up with more and more ridiculous ‘positives’ we could think of (not having to have a shower was one of Lauren’s favourites; being closer to Chile was mine).

We set off and rejoined the ruta 40, which after an hour or so unexpectedly degenerated into really bad gravel and mud. The sign said not to pass if it was raining – which would have meant a many-hundreds-of-km detour so at least the weather was good …..  This lasted for 70km, which took 2 hours.

 

Eventually, we stopped in a tiny village (the first habitation since the estancia, 250km further on) with a population of 16. They had a petrol pump (also few and far between, I have had to get used to climbing up on the top of the vehicle securing extra diesel tanks) and we filled up. Turns out the pump attendant was the owner of the ‘hotel’ (a couple of rooms by the pump) and I asked where best to park. He said we could pull up alongside the hotel.

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Crossing a river became a cause for a stop to enjoy the view….

Once we opened up the van, utterly exhausted, starving, cold and ready to simply eat and fall into bed after such a slog, we were confronted with a huge mess in the back – the cooking oil had been loosened from its place by the rough roads, split and spilled everywhere. Again, Lauren showed great maturity (more than me) by starting to clean up – it took us a good half hour, I had to boil hot water to get the oil up, and we had to wash all the other food items that had been covered in the stuff.

What a day. I was so proud of Lauren for her positive attitude – she could easily have made a tough day worse by whining or complaining, but instead she helped, and actually made things easier. She’s a good kid.

 

 

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Yesterday we had a very tough days driving – firstly, a road closure meant that we had to weave our way through the whole of Torres del Paine national park, along winding, narrow, steep, dusty tracks that are fun when you are gazing at the view but not so fun when trying to get somewhere. Then a mess up (mine) at the border when we realized that I’d sent my old passport number to the rental car company who had put it on the car documents, meaning when we got to Argentina (a good few km from the Chilean border post), they wouldn’t let us in and sent us back to Chile (where an incredibly nice border guard phone the car rental company, got them to send the revised documents by email, printed and signed them, and gave us his number in case of trouble) and then the incredible endless tedium that is the ruta 40 in Argentina. By the time we eventually arrived in El Calafate, my eyes were stinging and I was only good for feeding us and going to bed.

Today however, was amazing.

Today was a day we had been looking forward to for a very long time – glacier day.

Unfortunately, you have to be ten to actually set foot on the glacier, and they insist you prove it. But we did the next best thing, getting a boat out to within 300m of the wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier, which stands between 50 and 70 metres tall.

We were incredibly lucky to be able to witness part of the glacier collapsing into the lake – this often happens at the end of the day, and I had timed our visit to catch the last boat. We were rewarded with two spectacular collapses where huge chunks of the glacier fell off into the lake, creating icebergs and throwing the boat about. I caught one on video, and will get round to posting here when we have better internet – its on my facebook page for those who have that.

Its hard to describle the jagged blue top, the sheer size of the glacier, the creaking sounds as the ice shifts, the huge thumo as tonnes of ice hit the water…. so I won’t try, I’ll just show you.

Oh, but just to top off an incredible experience, we saw our first (live) armadillo! Running across the road, we got a really good view before it scuttled into the grass for safety.

Spectacular day. And made Lauren keep to get “home” so she could Google all about glaciers. Isn’t that the best way to learn?

Another Big Adventure

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Off on another adventure

The time has come finally to pick up our 4×4 campervan and head off on what promises to be the road trip of a lifetime.

Later today we pick up this beautiful van, a few miles from the furthest south it is possible to drive on mainland South America. We will then spend a month working our way North, following the Andes, crisscrossing between Chile and Argentina, through Patagonia and then the Chilean lake district, before dropping the van off in Santiago, 4000+ km later. And that’s if we stick to the ‘direct’ route…..

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Our route criss-crosses the Andes and the border between Chile and Argentina. 

I’ve been told to ignore the google maps estimates of time. Much of the route will be on unpaved roads, apparently ranging from ‘good’ gravel to ‘terrible’, including an area only just cleared after devastating landslides, and there will be a number of mountain passes and remote border posts to negotiate. We will pass mountains, glaciers and lava fields, crossing straits and rivers on local ferries.  We are likely to see flamingos, rheas, guanacos, and other local wildlife – unlikely to see a puma, but you never know, our eyes will be peeled, there are apparently many around.

We plan to do the full length of the (in)famous carretera austral, a ‘highway’ (unpaved road) pushed through by Pinochet to connect the communities in southern Chile previously only reachable by boat or through Argentina.  It took 20 years and many lives to make, and goes past some stunning national parks. We will be stopping and visiting many of these, and fitting in some hiking along the way.

We will mainly wild camp, as the van is fully self-sufficient, but will stop off at villages and towns along the way – it is very remote, but not uninhabited, and there are many hardy travelers who do the full panamerican route from Alaska to Ushuaia – some on bikes or motorbikes, many in converted vans or more luxurious vehicles such as we will have for this month.

To say we are excited is an understatement, but it’s quite an undertaking so there are nerves too. Much of the way doesn’t have mobile signal, and in Patagonia we have been told to always expect the unexpected. We will have plenty of food and as long as we fill up with fuel at every possible opportunity, we should be OK. We will have additional fuel tanks as reserves, as well as snow chains. We have time, a decent vehicle, the right clothes, good maps and decent insurance. Should be quite an adventure.

The blog will get updated occasionally when we come to places with mobile internet.

Wish us luck!!!

 

 

 

Penguins, Penguins, Penguins.

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If you are not a fan of penguins, do not read on.

But let’s face it, who doesn’t like penguins?

While I don’t really like tours, this is the only way to visit the penguin colony on Isla Martillo, as the island is heavily monitored and only 20 people are allowed to land at a time, and only twice a day. We paid an extortionate amount to be part of those 20 people. All the other more reasonably-priced tours pull up alongside the beach but are not allowed to disembark. While we are travelling on a budget, I know when its worth paying top whack. This was one of those times, and I don’t regret a penny/peso.

While there was no real need to travel in a monster truck, this vehicle turning up to take us off to Estancia Harberton for the boat over to the island did add somewhat to the adventure…

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Totally unecessary, but very cool.

The roads were rough gravel but would have been perfectly doable in an ordinary minibus.

One the way there we stopped at a couple of viewpoints, with admittedly stunning views of the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, across the Beagle strait.

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View of the Beagle Channel that runs from Pacific to Atlantic Oceans.
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Guess which way the wind normally blows around here???

Next stop was a museum of local marine wildlife at a research station – to be honest, I was just thinking COME ON, SHOW ME THE PENGUINS!!!  but the woman giving the tour was a student marine biologist, very enthusiastic, and Lauren in particular loved learning the differences between dolphins and porpoises and all sorts of Attenborough-esque stuff. We also got taken to the lab, with lots of cool bones…

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Lauren holding some bit of a dead whale …..

Eventually it was time to catch the boat over to the island, and we jumped at the opportunity to sit at the front, despite the freezing cold wind. Couldn’t understand all the others huddling inside. This is Patagonia for goodness sake, it might be a bit chilly! We were later joined by a young lad from London who was having a ‘quarter life crisis’ at 25 … made me feel ancient.

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I’m not going to lie, it was freezing – but worth it.

Soon we were approaching the island, and even from the boat we could see the hundreds and hundreds of penguins, all pottering about the beach, sitting on their nests and making their way into and out of the water.

The tour guide gave us a very stern warning about ‘controlling our emotions’ and reinforced the two-metre rule (no body part or technology within 2m of a penguin) before allowing us to disembark from the zodiac. Luckily no one was watching my undignified descent as they were all too enraptured by the penguins on the shore.

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Just returning from a dip…
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This guy just kept on coming until he had me backed up against the edge of the beach, desperately trying to stay 2m away from a very curious penguin!

It truly was amazing to be so close to these funny little creatures, who clearly couldn’t care less about us snapping photos. Poor Lauren looked stricken and delighted all at once as one curious penguin came right up to her – breaking the 2 metre rule by a good 1.9 metres.

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They came much closer later on….

In fact, penguins often weaved in and out of our group, and at times it was impossible to maintain a 2 metre distance from them all. With the exception of one stupid woman trying to get a selfie who got soundly told off by the tour guide, everyone was very respectful and behaved impeccably.

Most of the penguins were Magellanic – the same type we’ve seen before in South Africa – and as we moved from the beach up to the top of the island we walked through hundreds of their burrows, often with the couple sitting together by or in it.  The young from this year had already left for the sea, leaving their parents behind. In another month, the older penguins will follow, as they spend 6 months on land and 6 at sea. We saw a number of adolescents with their fluffy grey plumage giving way to the rather scruffy black and white of the adults.

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The whole upper part of the island was covered in burrows…. the noise was incredible.

We spent a good while meandering among the burrows on a man-made pathway; one couple had made their burrow right in the middle of the path, and many others along the side, so that it was impossible to avoid walking right by them. The noise was incredible, with so many birds calling at once.

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OK, who didn’t get the memo about not making your burrow on the path???

After plenty of time with the Magellanic penguins we headed to the other side of the island where another species of penguin live, this time the Gentoo penguins – funny yellow feet and slightly bigger, although less numerous and less interested in us. These guys were hilarious, stomping about and going up to the waters edge, hesitating, then turning round, repeatedly – they looked like divers losing their nerve on the big board. Mind you, when some did enter or leave the water, they were incredibly graceful, and we were lucky enough to see some flying through the air in great leaps out of the water before the last leap brought them back to shore as the sun was setting.

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Gentoo Penguin, just chillin’ 
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These guys were just back from a swim…..

All too soon the one hour we were allotted at this stunning place was up and the boat came to pick us up. Cue more inelegant clambering and a high speed retreat back to the island of Tierra del Fuego. We chose to sit at the back this time, alongside the driver, and at one point he gestured for Lauren to climb up on his platform – I thought he was going to let her ‘drive’ but actually he’d spotted a sea lion basking in the last rays of sunshine,  and wanted her to see in case the boat spooked it. Hardly – he managed to get us really close without it doing more than lift its head and look at us curiously, before slumping back into a doze. Lovely to see animals so unconcerned about humans.

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Great to see a sea lion too – an added bonus to a wonderful day.

Once back on dry land we had another 2 hour bumpy journey back to Ushuaia, and a very late dinner, but the long uncomfortable journey, the huge cost, and even having dinner 3 hours late was pronounced by Lauren to be ‘totally worth it’.

I’ll settle for that 🙂

P.S. If the pictures aren’t enough, I uploaded a short video here – worth it just to hear the noise they make!  Watch for them coming out of the water at speed right at the very beginning, and see if you can spot the moment I cut the camera off a millisecond before a penguin did an enormous poo in my direction. Just missed. 

 

Patagonia!

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Tierra del Fuego National Park

Finally, we are here, in Patagonia, top of my list for this trip from the beginning.

Even the flight down to Ushuaia was spectacular.

I’d checked in online 2 minutes into the 48 hours check-in window to ensure a window seat up front for Lauren and was so glad I did. She may be less glad as she kept getting told to stay still so I could crane round her at the amazing mountains and fjords below and get some pictures.

The plane stopped en route in El Calafate, a small Patagonian city and as we came into land we could see an enormous turquoise lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I haven’t put a filter on these photos, the lake really was that colour. A milky greeny-blue. Stunning. Something to do with the minerals in the water.

After taking on some passengers in El Calafate (and luckily getting rid of the passenger next to me who had insisted on listening to heavy metal, loudly, through her headphones the whole way down) we took off again for a short hop over to Tierra del Fuego, a large island shared between Chile and Argentina where our Patagonia adventure would start. The views of Tierra del Fuego were amazing – and endless – it’s a whole lot of mountains, fjords, snow, lakes, glaciers and not much else. My heart was in my mouth as I realized I have somehow committed us to finding our way through this wilderness over the next month.

After collecting our bags in the small arrivals hall and being taken to our hotel by the cheerful taxi driver Roberto (who in the ten-minute drive filled us in on everything we should do while in the area, all of which coincidentally would require hiring a taxi for the day…) we checked in and immediately set out to find food. We’d had breakfast at 8am, our plane had departed at 11am, and we arrived around 5pm (which even by the late-eating Argentinians standards, was most definitely after lunch) and had been provided on the plane with a glass of orange juice and a pack of cereal which proudly proclaimed it contained less than 100 calories. Great if you are on a diet, not so great if that’s your only sustenance for the day. This is no budget airline, I paid over 400 USD for our tickets so I’d have thought it included lunch!

The lomitos (steak sandwiches loaded with an insane amount of extras such as onions, peppers, fried eggs, cheese, bacon, lettuce, ham, tomato…. You name  it, you can get it on a lomito) at the place next door soon restored us, and we set to planning the following day’s adventure – a trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

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The next morning we got the bus to the National Park, loaded up with suncream and sunglasses, woolly hats and gloves, extra layers and waterproofs. Oh and of course trail food. You can’t go hiking without trail food. Unfortunately, no Kendal mint cake or angel cake here, so we had to make do with raisins, nuts and crackers.

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End of the road from Buenos Aires – nothing but mountains, water and Antarctica after this….

Most of the visitors to the national park go on guided tours that drive from one viewpoint to another and barely scratch the surface. Lauren announced this was ‘stupid’ (and I agreed), so after lecturing her about not judging people and how it may be all some people can manage, and aren’t we lucky etc etc, we instead opted to be dropped off at one of the viewpoints and then hike to another by the end of the day, where hopefully we could get the bus back to town.

Naturally, Lauren skipped and danced her way across approximately 12km of trails, uphill and down, through mud and rocks and over massive tree roots, while I lumbered behind with the bag, but we had a fantastic day. Some of the trails were well maintained and signposted. Some were barely visible. The map the NP provides is fairly rudimentary and hasn’t been introduced to the concept of scale. But figuring it out and getting pleasantly lost was all part of the fun.

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One of the ‘good’ trails …..  it didn’t last 🙂

It was wonderful to be out in the pure air, and despite coming across the occasional other hiker, we were in the main completely alone, which was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. The scenery was spectacular – snow on the mountains, those weird green-blue coloured lakes and rivers, and the vegetation just starting to show some autumn colours.

It was also great to be in the cool – Buenos Aires had been hot, at times stiflingly so, but here we could stride out with the (intense) wind on our faces and really move. Of course, we were incredibly lucky it wasn’t raining, as with the strong winds Patagonia is famous for, that would have been an altogether less pleasant experience.

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It was very windy…..

This is one of those places where no amount of photography skill can do it justice. Certainly not what I can do with my little point and shoot. What is most impressive is the sheer scale – a feeling of genuine wilderness and being completely at the mercy of nature. We are literally at ‘the edge of the world’ – beyond the water is just Antarctica. It’s a wonderful feeling but also sobering, and photos can only capture a hint of what this place is like.

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Laguna Verde….
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Out there is the Beagle Channel and then… a whole lot of sea until Antarctica …
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Lapataia Bay

At one point I stopped to rest and allowed Lauren to clamber across some rocks to the other side of the river and explore. It was amazing to be able to just let her roam. She came back covered in seed pods and mud and declared “I love Patagonia’. Not bad for day one 😊

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Lauren is over there somewhere…… roaming free….

The highlight of the day was the chance to watch a fox making its way along the opposite bank of the river we were walking along – it stopped and had a good look at us before heading on its way. It seemed bigger than urban foxes I’ve seen in the UK and was a wonderful addition to a brilliant day.

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Wonderful to see our first Patagonian fox…

By around 3.30pm we had reached the visitor centre where we were due to catch the bus at 4.40 pm – we had some soup and empanadas and then while I slumped over a coffee Lauren took herself off outside to play in the freezing wind, clearly still full of energy.

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Lauren playing with her stick outside ……

So how do you end a day in beautiful natural surroundings, a day of digital detox and solitude, of quiet communing with nature, of physical exercise and wonderful peace?

You go to Hard Rock Café for some stupidly loud music, horrifically unhealthy food and immense desserts of course!!!!!

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And still she has the energy to headbang down at Hard Rock Cafe…..

Tomorrow – Penguins!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating India in Buenos Aires

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Enjoying the traditional music ….

Last weekend, to roughly coincide with Holi, Buenos Aires hosted a ‘celebration of India’. Given how much we love Indian food – and the one Indian restaurant we tried here having been somewhat disappointing – we couldn’t resist heading downtown to see if we could score some decent curry or onion bhajis, or even just some poppadums, and maybe stock up on spices. I just get looked at blankly when I ask for cumin or turmeric (or, god forbid, chilli) in the local stores here.

The event was extremely well attended; the entertainment was well received, and the stalls selling Indian cosmetics and clothes and jewelry seemed to be doing a good trade, but it was way too crowded for us to do anything much more than soak up the atmosphere then retreat to a shady spot.

I counted roughly a hundred people in one queue for food, which goes to show portenos are certainly open to trying different food, but no way was I standing in line for that long, so we quickly skipped that idea and decided to enjoy the cultural offerings (traditional dance, yoga, martial arts and music) up on stage before retreating to a middle eastern place that at least served up humus and baba ganoush alongside the ubiquitous empanadas.

It was a nice event, and in contrast to the Chinese new year celebrations, genuinely did seem to revolve around the Indian community. These events always make me, as a Brit, feel rather sorry not to have a country I can really feel proud of, in the way that certain people seem to be able to feel about their countries or places of origin. All countries have their defects, and British culture has some positives, but it must be nice to be able to feel on balance proud of one’s culture and heritage while recognizing their imperfections.

I wonder what culture, if any, Lauren will identify with when she grows up – so far she seems to join half the world in wanting to be Irish, having stated she wanted to represent Ireland at the Olympics. Oh well, she could do worse – when I posted on an expat forum here asking if there was anywhere to buy custard (we have cravings!) an Irish woman not only offered us her last bit of Birds custard powder, brought from Ireland, but offered to bring it into Buenos Aires for us as she lives out of town! Anyone willing to share their last custard powder with strangers is someone I can be friends with!!!!