Start: January 15, Puerto Guadal, Chile
Finish: January 29, Ushuaia, Argentina!
Meals of Lamb Eaten: Nine
Terrible Campsites Endured: Two
Antarctic Cruise Tickets Purchased: Three
After a stunning few weeks on the Carretera Austral we spend a relaxing work day in Puerto Guadal and then race to El Calafate for a lamb roast with the reunited crew from Thanksgiving. We camp at a few terrible places, brave the Ruta 40 dirt roads and arrive in El Calafate a day early to get the lamb preparations in order.
Then, we book our last minute Antarctic cruise and race south to Ushuaia in time for one last workday before boarding our ship to the seventh continent.
Just before crossing the border back to Chile, we stopped off at Puerto Guadual and a fancy fishing lodge on Lago General. Thankfully they had speedy wifi, and let us camp for a reasonable price. I found a beautiful spot on the lake shore to simultaneously write emails and work on my tan. Not bad at all.
While hanging out at our lodge we make friends with this puppy. Panda, a three-month-old mastiff, who is completely unaware of his size. Several times Panda nearly knocked over our table while we were in the middle of cooking dinner. Thankfully, we could entertain him (and ourselves) by throwing pine cones for him to retrieve.
Back over the border we are greeted with the desert shrubbery again. The road turns to dirt 34 km north of Bajo Caracoles and despite having decent weather, the scenery leaves something to be desired.
We intended to stop for the night in Bajo Caracoles, but the camping was non-existent and the thought of pitching our tent in the industrial waste dump next to the gas station didn't seem like a fun time. We decided to carry on to Gobernador Gregores.
Unfortunately, the road to Gregores continued unpaved almost the entire way. To make matters worse there was a perfectly good paved road not more than 30 feet from the dirt road, but it was blocked off. Apparently someone forgot to pay off the right officials.
We arrived rattled in Gregores and ready to setup camp and sleep. But the day wasn't done, and of course, we found the municipal camping in Gregores closed for repairs. Thankfully the nice tourist information guy drove us to a park on the river, without facilities, where we could camp for free. We stayed the night and headed out early the next day bound for El Calafate.
The road to El Calafate continued to be the same dirt, with a blocked off paved road right next to it. Conditions were ok, because the weather was nice. I can imagine in rain this road would be hell. At Tres Lagos the road turned to asphalt and the sight of Lago Argentina was a stunning one. We arrived in El Calafate ready for a shower and a nap.
Thankfully Mike (last name unknown) had already been in town for a few days and had scoped out the lamb roasting availability. It is decidedly more easy to roast a lamb in El Calafate than half a pig in Mendoza. Less than a few hours of planning and we had acquired a lamb (sold at every supermarket in town), a stake to roast it on (just ask the camp host), and 50 pounds of firewood (just go to the firewood distributor). Done and done.
Saturday came. Supplies were organized. Ben and Eveline arrived. Mark and Sarah arrived. Jared and Mike demonstrate exactly how you insert a giant metal stake into a lamb in order to roast it Patagonia style. This roast is going way to easy.
Safety Director Mike (recently promoted from Safety Advisor), secures the stake to the fence with a rope, just in case the ground should give way and the lamb fall flat on the fire. Good job Safety Director.
We shot time lapse photos of the lamb progress, see the video above. There is an epic lamb-tastrophe around 1:15 seconds. Apparently when the lamb rips in half it means it's done.
With the amazing help of Ben and Eveline, we served another huge feast, fresh bread, grilled arepas, mashed potatoes, apple compote, leek quiche, Mediterranean salad and a bottle of Fernet. Even the campground cat showed up.
Here's most of the crew with faces stuffed with food. Except for Mike, who is likely wanted by the CIA and thinks that staying out of group photos will make him invisible.
Like usual there is entirely too much food and despite eating leftovers for two whole days we still have a big pile of lamb. An Argentinian couple in the campsite across us decided to roast a lamb just for the two of them. Of course they brought us at least another 10 pounds of meat to add to our already huge pile of leftovers.
We aren't a crew to waste any food, and so brainstorms began of how to use up the leftovers. Ben offered to make his famous vindaloo with the leftover lamb. Jared donated our magic little baggy of ghost peppers that Chilean customs hasn't managed to swipe yet. And yet again we're eating a huge feast, this time lamb vindaloo and freshly made naan.
It was in these days of non-stop eating, and listening to Mike's incessant story telling that we booked our cruise to Antarctica. Credit cards were dusted off and clients notified. And after a week in El Calafate, we decided we needed to head south, without even seeing the famous Perito Moreno glacier. For more info on the Antarctic trip we booked see this article on Everything We Know about Last Minute Antarctic Cruises.
Our first stop on the way to Ushuaia was just outside Rio Gallegos. The only campground around, we didn't have much choice but to pull in for the night. The manager at the camp told us it would be 30 pesos per person and 20 pesos per tent. We sighed at the high rates, but he wasn't done yet. Apparently it also cost 30 pesos to use the grill area, and another 20 if you want to bring your car in. Seriously? I had to stop Kobus mid sentence when is started to ask how much it would cost to take a shit.
We headed to Tierra del Fuego the next morning, prepared for a double border crossing day, our first since Honduras. The first border took nearly 3 hours because of the lines. Then a ferry which involved and hour wait and an hour crossing. We arrived in Tierra del Fuego at 3pm and attempted to find a place to camp in Cerro Sombrero.
Everything was closed and so we carried on to the second border and stopped in Rio Grande, self proclaimed "Ciudad de su suenos" (city of your dreams). The place wasn't really that bad, but the camping left something to be desired. At 8:30pm we pitched our tents in the middle of a garbage-strewn field and called it a night. Clearly the city of my dreams could use a maintenance crew.
The next day, bright-eyed, but not so bushy-tailed, we packed up for the last hundred miles to Ushuaia. After 26,218 miles, 15 countries, 20 border crossings, 480 days, 302 spent sleeping in a tent in 132 campgrounds, spending $9,240 on groceries and burning 1,436 gallons of gasoline, we arrived at the end of the road.
The next day, we celebrated Jared's birthday by buying him an "Antarctic Survival Kit". Full of Gatorade (for hangovers), cigars (for celebrating), an emergency flask (for smuggling whisky on shore), and of course, cookies. Little did we know that there was absolutely no risk of the cruise ship running out of cookies.
We also went out to a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant that specialized in king crab. At this same place a Japanese TV show was also filming. Note the crazy lady in the photo above trying to shove a crab in Jared's ear.
While the seafood was amazing, I must admit the film crew was less than subtle. Angry cruise ship passengers stormed out but the cameras kept rolling. We even heard one American lady order "House-o Vino." Because apparently adding "o" to the end of a word makes it Spanish. Classic.
Up next: We sign on Quark Expedition's Sea Spirit for an unbelievable 11 days cruise to the Antarctic.