Start: January 29, Ushuaia
Finish: February 28, Bariloche
Number of Overlanders it Takes to Change a Light Bulb: Five
Flat Tires on the Ruta 40: Too Many
Armadillos Seen: One Half
Fresh off the Antarctic ship, we spend a few more cold and windy nights in Ushuaia trying to get caught up on work. Then we head in a new direction for once, north! We meet up with old friends for a day of arts and crafts, then carry on to some serious day hikes in Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy.
From El Chalten we drive back up the worst of the Ruta 40, withstand a few more torrential downpours before being told of free beer at a campground in El Bolson. We race up north, for (mostly) free beer, enjoy another (mostly) sober work day before heading to Barliloche to prepare for a huge overlander gathering.
Leaving Ushuaia we agreed to meet our friends Lacey & Luis of Lost World Expedition in Tolhuin where we answer one of life's great questions: How many overlanders does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is not 42 but five. Three to hold the rickety ladder, one to screw in the bulb and one to take a photo so we can all blog about it.
Camping Hain is the name of this crazy place. The walls and ceiling of the common area are covered with wooden planks where travelers have scribbled, carved and sometimes burnt their names. Eager to be just as famous, we start the elaborate process of creating our own planks.
Luis spends hours scouting for the best piece of wood. The winner to be turned into this fierce looking alligator. What does that have to do with Lost World Expedition, you may ask? No one will ever know. Lacey meanwhile pulls out her jewelry box of bling and gives Kobus (our resident dream catcher maker) all types of feathers, rocks and rope. Our craft day is in full swing.
By the end of it we have two beautifully constructed wood planks, now on display for all to see in Tolhuin.
Having our fill of crafts, we head out on a 400 mile drive to Puerto Natales. With a border crossing, a ferry crossing and over 100 miles of dirt road, our late start doesn't signal that it's going to be a good day.
While on the ferry Kobus notices our rapily deflating tire and plugs in the air compressor to inflate it. We stop just off the ferry to put on the spare and pull a huge rock out of the tire. Two days later in Puterto Natales Kobus took the tire to the gomeria where they found another huge chunk of rock, evidently from the same hole in the tire. Gotta love these gravel roads.
Dusty and tired we arrived in Puerto Natales and meet up with our Swiss friends from the Antarctic cruise. We waste no time getting our tents setup and heading to the local brewery. Three pitchers of beer and three burgers larger than our face were consumed in a record amount of time. Glad that day is over.
Resupplied and ready to go, we head north to the famous Torres del Paine. Although the entrance fee is a steep US$36 per person, we decide it's worth it to see this stunning park. Despite the freezing wind, the sun is still shining. We pay a ridiculous amount of money to camp at Lago Pehue, but with a view like this, who can complain?
Sometime around 11am the next day we arrive at the trail head of one section of the famous "W" hike. Because we don't have proper packs, we decide to make a day trip up to the viewpoint of the torres. The sun is shining, but the wind fierce. We hike up an amazing valley, hoping that the sky stays clear so we have a good view at the end of the trail.
After four hours hiking, we are less than a kilometer from the viewpoint, but the trail makes a turn for the worse. We hike for an hour straight up the side of the mountain. Immediately I regret eating all my oreo cookies in the first half of the hike.
The view from the top is well worth the hassle of that last kilometer. The clouds part long enough for us to snap some photos of the three towers and the surreal green lake. We hang out for a few minutes but don't linger. The wind is freezing and our late start means we're all getting hungry for dinner.
Back in Argentina and on the Ruta 40, we head to El Chalten, gateway of the famous Fitz Roy mountains. Unlike our Torries experience, this park is delightfully free. It's good to be back in Argentina. The weather still holds and we enjoy the last of the paved road out to the mountains.
The next day, still feeling a bit sore from our 8 hour hike in the Torres, we opt for a short three hour hike and spend the rest of the day at a cafe with cheap beer and very slow internet. We found a great place to camp 10 kilometers outside of town near a river. We do our best to get our fill of green grass and mountain scenery before heading back to the dry pampas.
Continuing north on our favorite Ruta 40, there is nothing to see and nowhere to camp. We haul it to El Calafate and onwards to Gobernador Gregores. We've been here before on our way down, so there no reason to stick around.
Somewhere in that long stretch of road Kobus spots the elusive armadillo trying to cross the road. Look closely at the bush in the center of this photo and you'll just see the tail of this little guy. Wildlife in the pampas. Oh so exciting.
We arrived in Gregores to find the municipal camping still closed, so we took up our usual spot by the river and made a charcoal fire for dinner. It looked like rain, so we rigged up the tarp while Jared was cooking. Just as we started serving dinner the rain fell in sheets. It pelted us from all angles. The tarp was useless. I ate dinner in the car and promptly went to bed. Kobus thought this was a good time to wash the car and spent the next hour in the rain making sure blue was shiny. Yes, he is crazy.
Of course all the rain meant the dirt roads would be interesting. We splashed through hundreds of puddles and made it to Perito Moreno (the town, not the park or the glacier) just in time for it to start pouring rain again. In the midst of setting up our tent Kobus manage to rip a hole in our fly the size of a football. Thankfully there was a large common area where we could dry out the tent and repair it with duct tape. So far, so good.
We left Perito Moreno early the next day with wet tents, headed for Gobernador Costa. When we arrived, we received an email from Lacey and Luis who had come the fast way up the entirely paved Ruta 3. They were camped another 200 miles north behind a brewery and promised that free beer was included in the cost of camping.
There is something about the words free beer that makes everyone with a car willing to drive a silly amount of miles. And so, at 5pm, we stopped at the YPF to fill up on gas and coffee and hauled it to El Bolson. Cold beer is waiting.
The next day we went into El Bolson to checkout the craft fair. More like a hippy fest with a few mate gourd stands thrown in for good measure. We picked up a new bombilla, (I swear that's all) and headed back to our brewery/campground for some cold ones. We suffered through another work day (it was difficult with beer so close by), and prepared for our departure to Bariloche.
From El Bolson, it was a short drive north to Bariloche. Our old friends, James & Lauren of Home on the Highway were already there waiting for us. We quickly caught up where we left off more than six months ago in Peru. When Lauren mentioned they were going on a tour of one of the many chocolate factories in town, we didn't hesitate to tag along. Stocked up on chocolate we headed back to camp for long night of drinking and storytelling. The first of many in the coming week.
Up next: We start the preparations for the Badass Bariloche Bovine Bonanza, a gathering of over 20 overlanders and their rigs.