Río Grande to Río Gallegos   Leave a comment

Tuesday 11th November 2014

My little sister and I are notorious for giving our loved ones more or less exotic nicknames, but when Johannes and I are coming around a corner in Río Grande we spot the following sign:

It’s official!

 

Soon after leaving the town we are alone with the sheep again…

The way Chile and Argentina have divided Tierra del Fuego between themselves means that we have to go through Chile and lengthy border formalities again – leaving Argentina: immigration form, exit stamp in passport, unloading board luggage and x-raying of board and hand luggage; entering Chile: immigration form, entry stamp, import declaration, x-raying of hand luggage, sniffer dogs checking the board luggage, which can stay in the hold this time. Similar efforts are taken when we re-enter Argentina after crossing the Magellan Straits.

Why they don’t seal the bus, put a big sign ‘Transit’ on and just wave us through is beyond me – what a waste of time, paperwork and labour! We enter ‘3 horas‘ in the field for ‘estimated stay’ to make a small point of what we think of this swollen bureaucracy.

Guanacos

And sheep…

Occasional hills

Storm clouds over Cerro Sombrero

Fortunately the sun is still shining when we reach the Estrecho de Magallanes

 

This time we are confined to the ferry’s belly, from where the waves look really impressive. What must the conditions around Cape Horne be like when the navigators prefer the Strait of Magellan?

Quite depressing when we think of all the rubbish we’ve seen littering the countryside…

Back on the main land

For the last time we see construction works that unite the Chileans

 

After another border crossing and two more stamps in our passports we are in Argentina again.

We meet the iconic Ruta 40 again that ends further east at the Atlantic near Cabo Virgenes

After ten hours we arrive at our destination

 

The last time I stayed in Río Gallegos I didn’t really like it – the weather was horrible, the people were not very friendly and I didn’t see anything remarkable in town. This time it is different: the sun is shining, the wind is strong but warm, we meet smiling locals, find a nice room in the excellent Hotel Croacia and get a good deal.

 

After walking out of some rather exclusive restaurants again when we see the prices on their menu, we find a great place to have dinner – Pizza Express in the Avenida San Martín 650.

 

A bit more sight-seeing and off to bed.

Parroquia Catedral Nuestra Señora de Luján

 

Wednesday 12th November 2014

For this evening we have planned a long distance-trip to Trelew, 1,167 kilometres further up north on the Ruta 3. The bus leaves at 20.00 hours and we have still some time to explore Río Gallegos.

The coal mined in Río Turbio gets shipped from here

Gigantic equipment

Coat of arms of Río Gallegos

It’s green to amber when we pass – of course, we have sun lotion with us…

Upland Goose

Fence-eating bush

Oficina de Turismo

Eye to eye with the condor

Cathedral by day

… and from behind

 

We visit the Museum of the Pioneers

 

In the 19th century the Argentine government wanted to establish settlements in Patagonia and offered land and sheep to the people willing to move south. But the Argentinians didn’t take the offer. Living conditions were harsh and dangerous, the weather is cold and windy, there was nothing attractive here. So word was sent to Europe and immigrants came from the British Isles, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Croacia and also Chile and they started a new life here – facing the elements in this part of the country, living of the river in the beginning, building farms, breeding sheep, growing fruit and vegetables. These pioneers showed truly amazing spirit, determination and persistence.

 

There was nearly nothing here apart from freshwater and guanacos – furniture, clothes, food and even coal had to be shipped over from Europe.

People had to be resourceful

We are very impressed

 

Then it’s time to return to the hotel, write another post and collect our belongings before heading for the bus terminal.

Even as a backpacker, Johannes takes great care of his appearance

The coach leaves Río Gallegos at 20.00 hrs

 

… and will drop us 15 hours later in the Welsh colony of Trelew – the town of Lewis – in the Chubut province.

 

Posted 18 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Ushuaia to Río Grande   Leave a comment

Monday 10th November 2014

After heavy rain during the night the sun is shining again and we wouldn’t really mind to stay another day in Ushuaia and the B&B De las Artes.

In the kitchen with our lovely host Marcos and other guests

 

Still, breakfast finished we head straight for the travel agency again and what seemed so complicated during the previous days is not a problem at all – we can book a journey from Río Grande to Río Gallegos for Tuesday from here and take the minibus over the mountains this afternoon. Thus we will travel during daylight hours on both days and don’t have to get up at 3.30 hrs in the morning to catch the 5 o’clock bus from Ushuaia…

We still have time to enjoy some sunny hours in town.

Maybe we’ll visit the Museo del Fin del Mundo when it opens early afternoon

The weather can change within minutes in this part of the world

Posting some more cards

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Merced

Airport with Isla Navarino (Chile) in the background

I’m almost sad when it’s time to board the bus north. By the way, we didn’t go to the museum in the end but spent the entrance fee on some of the delicious local ice cream…

We’ll be back – hasta la próxima vez…

Wild and beautiful…

One of the hundred pictures we took of Lago Fagnano

This picture isn’t mine as I managed to miss the iconic Ruta 3 sign both times we passed it… If you want to take a photo yourself, slow down at kilometre 3,000

Heavy plant crossing

Our driver’s way to make sure that we’d arrive safe and sound (his driving style helped as well)

Río Grande with Río Grande

We stay in the ‘Vientos del Sur’ (very apt), a small hospdaje that lies closer to the terminal and was recommended by the friendly crew of the Pachego bus (the one we took from Punta Arenas)

We visit the Plaza Principal which we missed the last time round

Against popular belief, Río Grande even has an oficína de turismo

After asking to see the menu in some eye-wateringly expensive restaurants we find a little place offering excellent value for money

Buenas noches, Don José!

 

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that there is nothing to see or do in Río Grande – we have grown quite fond of the town and are happy to provide any tourist information you may ask for. 🙂

 

Posted 16 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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What to do in Ushuaia?   Leave a comment

Sunday 9th November 2014

When we look out of the window in the morning, the weather is a lot better than its forecast, and so we decide to go on a hike to the Le Martial glacier from where you have a great view over Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.

We could take the bus and drive to the end of the Ruta 3 but as this would require the entrance to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, it would cost us around 70 Euros just to take another end-of-the-world picture. Maybe next time when I come back on my bike again. 😉

On the way out of town we pass the voluntary fire brigade station

Suburbia

On to the trails!

Enchanted forest…

The views make every metre we climb worthwhile

We seem to need our daily dose of adventure…

Southern Crested Caracara

Ushuaia is also a ski resort in winter – and they even have cross-country tracks

When I see Steve’s family again I may suggest Tierra del Fuego as the next destination for our annual skiing holiday… 🙂

There are Welsh tea houses and quite a few Aprés Ski offers around

As the chairlift is not operating out of season, we have to walk up one of the ski-slopes

Mountain station with restaurant (wink, wink…)

Did I mention the views?

And still we climb higher

The tourists are well catered for

Click on the photo for full panorama-view

We could carry on to the glacier – like these fearless walkers – but the trail is officially closed and our shoes are not really suited for snow-hiking

We still have some winter wonderland fun

The landscape resembles the High Alps but we are actually only 570 metres above sea level

Down is easier than up – gravity is your friend

Water pouring down over the rock face

The weather still holds as we are approaching the town

We head into the centre to organise our onward journey – Avenida San Martín

 

All travel agencies are either closed (because it’s Sunday) or hopelessly overcrowded (because it’s Sunday). In the evening it starts to rain and we still don’t know how we will get back to the mainland.

I already prepare myself for another day in Ushuaia, staying in our lovely B&B listening to the wind and rain and trying to bring this blog up-to-date…

Posted 15 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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To the end of the world   1 comment

Saturday 8th November 2014

Accommodation in Tierra del Fuego is expensive and often doesn’t include breakfast, but if you want to eat before the local bakeries open, the big service stations like YPF and Petrobas offer a nice range of coffees and pastries from 7 o’clock in the morning.

General José de San Martín watches over Río Grande

Waiting for our minibus to Ushuaia

The Ruta 3 follows the coastline for a while

We’re not the only ones heading for the end of the world

Stop-over in Tolhuin – with the famous bakery ‘La Unión‘ in the background

The countryside becomes more scenic by the mile

Lago Fagnano

The rough waters of the Beagle Channel

Ushuaia – we’ve made it!

It seems like an age since we started in Buenos Aires (1st September) and passed through La Quiaca (12th September)

 

Now we have to gather a lot of information and make decisions: accommodation, what to do in Ushuaia, are we going even further south to Puerto Williams in Chile (the real southernmost human settlement on earth), and when and how do we get back on to the mainland, by plane, bus or boat? The ladies at the tourist information office are extremely helpful – their service, knowledge and friendliness are exceptional; we get maps, addresses, the weather forecast for the next days, prices and they even call several hotels for us to enquire if they have vacancies – Ushuaia is always busy and remarkably expensive. We receive a free certificate that we’ve arrived at the end of the world, get our diaries and passports stamped and are very impressed.

After quizzing several tour operators we find out that the tour to Puerto Williams takes at least two days and that the crossing of the Beagle Channel to the Isla Navarino has been cancelled today. This uncertainty we would have to deal with on both the outbound and inbound journeys and although we are ahead of schedule, it’s just too risky – we may be stuck on the island for days. Oh well, there must be still reasons left to come back one day…

With the time frame for our stay settled, we find a comfortable room in the B&B De las Artes run by lovely host Marcos who can’t do enough to make us feel at home – which we do straight away.

Then we go on a sight-seeing tour of Ushuaia.

Click on the photo to see the full panorama

Some serious equipment…

Kelp Goose

 

The obligatory tourist shot

Dolphin Gulls

 

Ushuaia International

For dinner Marcos recommends an excellent locals’ restaurant

Many travellers describe the town as ugly…

 

… but we already like Ushuaia so much that we will stay at least another day.

Posted 13 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Tierra del Fuego   Leave a comment

Friday 7th November 2014

Early in the morning we leave Punta Arenas heading for Punta Delgada and Primera Angostura where three ferries run permanently from 8:30 hrs in the morning to 1:00 hrs at night between the mainland and Tierra del Fuego.

With summer arriving in Patagonia, we are reminded that it is Christmas soon…

The last impressions of Punta Arenas

Who has the right of way?

Woohoo – we’re crossing the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego!

Performing the usual ritual

The weather meets our expectations

Crossing into Argentina – and here, too, the nation grows…

Territorial division of the tip of South America between Chile and Argentina

As you know, we prefer to travel by day and as we’ve heard that the lakes and mountains around Tolhuin and Ushuaia are very beautiful, we decide to stop over in Río Grande and continue our journey in daylight.

Costanera in Río Grande

Part of the monument to the heroes of the Falklands War

Still a sensitive issue – to be discussed with caution here

We are glad to spot a sense of humour as well!

Although, when dinner time comes, we decide to ignore the appeal… 😉

 

Posted 12 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Punta Arenas   Leave a comment

Wednesday 5th November 2014

Busses to Punta Arenas leave Puerto Natales every hour and so we have a bit of a lie-in after our early start the previous day. The Ruta 9 is paved and we enjoy a comfortable journey looking out for huemules, ñandúes and sheep, hundreds of thousands of sheep.

Puerto Natales looks like freshly laundered in the morning

Local press

Along the Ruta 9

First glance of the Estrecho de Magallanes – the Strait of Magellan – and Tierra del Fuego

What we didn’t know is that there is a big endocrinology congress taking place in Punta Arenas, hotels are fully booked, and so we spend several hours searching for accommodation. Finally, the helpful señora in the tourist information office finds us a room in a small B&B a bit further away from the centre up a steep hill.

On the way to the hostal I am interviewed for a school project

The views make up for the relative remoteness of our accommodation (click on the photo for full panorama size)

Down into town

The southernmost English-speaking school in the world, founded in 1896 and serving an area larger than that of Great Britain

Palacio Sara Braun, where Shackleton was received by the British Club in July 1916 and where he raised funds to rescue the rest of the Endurance crew still stranded on Elephant Island

Monument of the schooner Ancud, sent by the Chilean government in 1843 to claim sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan

Imperial Cormorants – or long-necked penguins, as Johannes claims…

And at long last, Johannes spots an Huemul (South Andean deer)

Not everyone can be as lucky as I was in 2010…

Still, we celebrate the occasion with two of our Chilean favourites: Raspberry juice and Churrasco Italiano (thinly cut steak in a bread roll with avocado, mayonnaise and tomato)

La Catedral – Punta Arenas is the southernmost city in the world (the towns of Ushuaia (Argentina) and Puerto Williams (Chile) lie further south though)

 

Thursday 6th November 2014

We have a rest day in Punta Arenas – I really like the place and there is still a lot to see. Johannes enjoys sitting on the Plaza Muñoz Gamero watching the world go by…

Statue of Magellan with a mermaid and two indigenous Fuegians at his feet

Local legend has it that touching the Fuegian’s toes will bring you back to Punta Arenas one day…

In the meantime I visit the Museo Regional de Magallanes in the Palacio Braun Menéndez

Office of Mauricio Braun, brother of Sara, another member of the wealthy pioneer family

El Comedor

First charting of the Strait of Magellan in the 16th century

Writing utensils of José Nogueira, Sara Braun’s husband, successful sheep breeder and merchant in Sandy Point (Punta Arenosa in Spanish)

Early examples of the excellent Chilean wine

Reunited Johannes and I explore more of the city

Long-necked penguins and Tierra del Fuego in the background

Of course, I have to touch the sea

Captain Johannes at the wheel

We also visit the city’s fascinating cemetery

How people like you and I are buried in this part of the world

This reminds us that life is short and should be lived to the full

In the evening we find a little gem of a restaurant

Is it the shaky hand of our lovely host that makes us look blurred?

Or all the alcohol?

We drag each other home – buenas noches, Punta Arenas!

 

Tomorrow we will continue our journey to Tierra del Fuego and cross the Strait of Magellan.

Posted 10 November 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Torres del Paine   Leave a comment

Sunday 2nd November 2014

We are a bit sad that we have to leave the wonderful Hotel Lago del Desierto but at some point we have to continue our journey south if we want to make it to Ushuaia on this trip. Johannes expects the big double-decker bus we travelled in from Bariloche to Esquel, as it was from the same company and continued to El Calafate, but when we arrive at the terminal we see only one vehicle waiting:

Mind you, for the grand total of four passengers this morning, the company could have hired a taxi…

Hasta la próxima vez, El Chaltén!

Last view of the Fitz Roy Massif, Cerro Torre and Lago Viedma

Ruta 40

Lago Argentino on the horizon

After three hours we arrive in El Calafate and go straight to the another bus company’s counter to pay for the (by email) pre-booked tickets to Puerto Natales the next day. As the bus leaves before our usual breakfast time, we find another Hostería which is much closer to the terminal. Then we explore more and different parts of the town.

Definitely not on the Gringo Trail…

Für Jõrgel

The exercise is completed with a visit to the Heladeria

The best ice cream in Argentina according to the locals

Monday 3rd November 2014

We travel from El Calafate in Argentina to Puerto Natales in Chile, from where we want to visit the country’s most famous national park, the Torres del Paine. The bus is pretty full, we don’t have the best views but the journey is still pleasant and unspectacular – apart from the usual border formalities including x-raying of luggage and signing documents confirming that we don’t carry any products made from fruit, vegetables, cereals, wood, animals etc. Chile is free from food parasites and they would like to maintain this state.

First glimpse of the Cordillera del Paine

When we arrive in Puerto Natales, we follow the recommendation of the helpful señora from the coach agency in El Calafate and buy a tour package for the national park from the bus company next door. They will pick us up from the place we stay in the following morning; so we have to inform them where we are after we’ve found accommodation in town.

Only when I ask the landlord of our hostel if he could call the bus company on our behalf and tell them where we are, do we learn that it is illegal to sell tours at the terminal; the central bus station is solely for getting from A to B and tour operators are not allowed to offer their services there. I am worried if the tour we’ve already paid for will actually materialise, especially as we haven’t received a detailed description of what is included in the price…

We make a few more enquiries in town, get similar descriptions and quotes from other agencies and decide to hope for the best. In the meantime we’d rather spend our time exploring more of Puerto Natales.

Seno de Última Esperanza – Sound of the Last Hope

Big sky

We discover the local ship cemetery

We also find out how the Puerto Nataleans are keeping warm

 

Tuesday 4th November 2014

We are ready for breakfast at 7 o’clock and wait anxiously for a minibus picking us up for our tour to the Torres del Paine national park at around 7.25 hrs. Our landlady informs us that the driver will report to reception and we’ll be called by name. Mmmh, my little note says only ‘Manuela y Papá’…

I shouldn’t have worried so much; a minibus pulls up, the driver knows our full names and we get in together with all the other tourists who have purchased their tour packages the legal way. We have a fantastic day with a professional tour guide, are lucky with the weather again and drive 250 kilometres in a total of 12 hours through breathtaking countryside.

Here is just a small selection; all photos of the national park can be found in this gallery, from #74.

First stop: Cueva del Milodón – the cave of the Giant Ground Sloth (click on the photo to see the panorama in full)

The Cuernos (horns) del Paine

On the way to the Glaciar Grey

First glimpse of Lago Grey

We are the only ones who make it to the Mirador in the limited time you have on a tour

Glaciar Grey

Lago Pehoe and the Cuernos del Paine

Salto Grande del Río Paine

Cordillera del Paine (click on the photo for full size)

Torres del Paine

Guanaco

More guanacos

Lago Nordenskjöld and Torres del Paine

With Toni from Madrid, who has saved all her annual leave for a month-long exploration of Chile

Lago Sarmiento

I still dream of living here breeding sheep…

There are several means to get to the end of the world

Back in Puerto Natales

Tired but very happy we have dinner in an excellent little fish restaurant where we are suddenly the last guests…

Posted 6 November 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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