Back in Ushuaia!
After a quick and easy flight we find ourselves back in Ushuaia, down south in Argentina where we left our car to join the Antarctica cruise. We actually parked it at the airport in an unsecured parking lot but as there really is nothing to do with a stolen car down here we find it right where we left it, just a bit dirtier. Oddly it feels like coming home, and it is a great feeling to step into the car again and get the sense of freedom again. We stay at the same great apartment – Choconcito – and score a dozen fresh empanadas for a quick and easy dinner before hitting the sack.
The next day we have the whole day to explore the surroundings so we drive up to the parking lot to hike up the Martial Glacier. It is a steep climb up along different paths and the beautiful autumn colors are starting to spread along the mountainous scenery. Some dark rain clouds hang gloomily above the peaks, but according to the forecast (worth nothing we know, but still :-)) we should be able to beat it. What a fantastic feeling to stretch our legs again properly and breathe in the fresh air of nature – even if it is an icy cold blow across the mountain! Of course the bits of snow along the path are explored and played in, with a proper snowball fight en route. The glacier is too high up to reach with the walking path, but still the views across the valley all the way down to the Beagle Channel are well worth the effort put in. Coming down proves to be tricky with such a steep and gravely path, but as always we make it down in one piece and drive into Ushuaia again.
There we get our passports stamped in the visitor center – a must do at the bottom of the world – and visit the local museum for some history and a recap on what we have seen further south. Getting back to the apartment we do our final reshuffle of all our luggage again and get the car ready for our journey up north. We have decided to skip Torres del Paine, as much as it pains us, but to get there we have to fully drive through Chile, leave it and then turn around and enter again, including arranging 4 PCR tests and all other hassle. On top of this the weather forecast is quite bad, and we are in need of some warmer weather and camping!
2100 KM, 3 days
So the plan is to drive north to warmer places – which continues to feel strange for those from the northern hemisphere – and do it as fast as we can. Step one is 600km from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos, a leg we did in 2 parts coming down to Ushuaia, but want to do at once now. The challenge is not traffic or distance, but the 4 border formalities we will have to undertake and the ferry in the middle. Coming down the first 2 borderstops took 2 hours and the last 2 only half an hour, so it is difficult to judge how long it will take. We leave early and as we know the road ahead we can also drive faster this time.
A quarter in however we run into many people on the side of the road and find out there is a motorcycle challenge from Rio Grande to Tolhuin, which is 100km of dirt bike track that is right along the main road… Thankfully it does not slow us down too much, turns out the other direction is actually closed to ensure help vehicles have enough room to follow their riders. The first border crossings are the same as the way in, very fast and efficient when you have all your paperwork ready. We also coincidentally run into another Dutch family we have actually been in touch with, which is fun to travel the same distance as them today and swap travel stories and recos. As we drive the next 160km to the ferry it is always interesting to see oncoming traffic and gauge if the ferry has just left or not, and when we see quite a bit of traffic only 10km away we know we have to speed up to catch it.
We literally get on last, and with that have 0 waiting time for the ferry! Less than half an hour later we get off as one of the first and then of course the aim is to cover the next 45km faster than the rest so you are first in line. This time around however we seem to hit the border at the right time, with hardly any lines and quick processing, getting us through in roughly 40 minutes. It really could not have gone any smoother and thus we roll into Rio Gallegos at 4pm which is very decent. Time to still hit a playground, Sven to have a run and all of us to have dinner on time for a good nights rest before leg 2.
Leg 2 is an almost 800 km stint along the coast towards Comodoro Rivadivia. We have a terrible headwind, which combined with our speed makes us go through gas really fast compared to all our other travel! Thankfully the gasprices here are very low so we continue to make good time to ensure we have time left to find ourselves a place to stay. Some 100 kilometers from our destination we hit the coast again which then has a nice little stopover with a big group of Atlantic seals, the fat and big kind! From there we make it along the coast to Rada Tilly and check into a really cool and relaxed hostel to spend the night. Tired but the day went really smoothly and the boys did great, looking out over the plains and spotting rheas and guanaco all day… there really is not much else out there but that is also part of the experience!
Leg 3 is another 700 km land inward and up into the mountains again. The end destination for the night is El Bolson, where we booked a sea container turned apartment as it is predicted to rain. The landscape is quite dull the first 400-500 km, with lots of plains and an incredibly strong wind which again pushes our gas usage to the max. We decided to go slower today, but still it is stunning to see how fast it goes when the wind is not blowing in your direction. Once we hit the Andes, the landscape quickly turns more green, with peaks surrounding us and even some wind in the right direction, which increases our speed and mood tremendously! We have been able to avoid most of the dark clouds we have seen on the horizon all day, but at the end it catches up with us, so about time to get comfortable and warm with some food and a glass of wine :-). Not bad, but nice to know we can slow down the pace again and start exploring our surroundings!
El Bolson with snow!
As we were nicely sheltered from the rain in our container-turned-apartment home, we did not get the pain of rain, but as we get out the next day we realize that the massive downpour was turned into snow uphill from us! With a hike planned up there to the Bosque Tallado, we are keen to see how low the snow came and we were not disappointed. 10cm of fresh snow right from the beginning of our climb, all the way up and through the forest :-). Thankfully we had not fully packed our warm gear away yet and pull out the gloves for some proper snowball throwing and snowman building!
The climb is fun and wet to the feet, but the sun is out putting everything in a beautiful winter wonderland glow. The Bosque Tallado is an open air museum full of wood carved statues, which are even cooler now that they are covered in a layer of snow. We even have to try and find some as there have not been many people yet and we have to figure out the paths through the snow ourselves. Further uphill we get to the refugio where we enjoy a piece of cake in the sun, build the snowman and play with the cats living there. Coming down we warm up in the car and have lunch, and make our way out towards Lago Guttierez for some camping. The campsite we chose is a small very pretty one in the woods run by Lucio, who is very friendly and helps us set up. It is promising to be a dry but cold night, so we brace ourselves keeping our clothes on! Unfortunately this does not seem to be enough to keep us warm, and we are even concerned if the kids are still ok. Bo joins Sven in his sleeping bag in the middle of the night even, but we all survive another day.
Ok it might seem a bit weird that after a night of almost freezing to death we would consider going on a rafting trip, but during the day the weather is actually very nice, so we manage to warm up in the morning back to our normal core temperature. The river here, Rio Manso, is very calm which makes it a great introduction to rafting for Luc & Bo. We get picked up by the company right outside our camping and some 40 minutes later are getting ready to board our raft. With all the instructions and a look at the river Luc decides to leave the paddling to the grownups so both boys enjoy the ride from the middle of the raft. It is a very cool ride with plenty of rapids to test our paddling skills AND get soaking wet :-).
At the end of it we land the raft on a small riverbank where we enjoy an afternoon snack in the sun. With tortas fritas and apple cake the boys quickly fill their bellies and we have a very relaxing hour with a beer in hand. Heading back to the camping we are getting ready for another cold night. Lucio has kindly given us a pile of blankets and a sleeping bag to keep us warmer this night, and we make a fire to give us some extra heat while we get ready for bed. Of course we toast some marshmallows as well, never let a good fire go to waste, if only we had chocolate and crackers as well for some smores!
San Martin de Los Andes – meeting our Antarctica angels!
The next day we wake up all warm and fuzzy, so we had a good night under a pile of blankets. We take is slow packing up our things again and enjoying the little sanctuary here at El Orejano. We have a relatively short drive ahead of us today, with a quick money pickup stop in Bariloche, then circumventing the lake to move north on the 7 lakes route. It is a beautiful road, now fully paved, and takes you along some fantastic mountain scenery. We find a spot along the way to have lunch at a lakefront of course, and then move into the area of San Martin de los Andes. Here we have a special stop as we are meeting Mai and Carolina from Antarctica Travels, the agency that got us on the ship to Antarctica.
After 2 nights of camping in the cold we opt for a comfortable apartment this time and get settled and showered before hopping into town. As many of the mountain towns we have come through, San Martin is also a lovely resort town much like the ski-resorts you find in the European alps, located at a stunningly beautiful lake. We meet the ladies for drinks and dinner and have a fantastic evening swapping out stories of Antarctica and thanking them profusely for all the effort they put in to get us on the ship, we know it has not been easy!
Next week: Up the ruta 40 to Mendoza and beyond