Our journey into the Argentinean part of Patagonia didn’t have the most auspicious of starts. While on our way to see the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) our truck got bogged in loose rocks while driving off-road. We had sandboards to wedge under the wheels but rocks needed to be moved from around each wheel first, a back-breaking and boring task. While most of the men and one woman helped shovel, the designated cook group for that day, which included me, set about preparing a hearty soup for lunch. The only problem was the biting Patagonian wind which blew out the gas flame time and time again. After three hours, the truck was finally moving again and we served something resembling a stew. Thankfully, nobody cared, we were all just happy not to be sleeping on the truck in the middle of nowhere that night! The majority of our trip through Patagonia saw us camping at night, either in the bush or at basic campsites. For me, it was one of the highlights of the trip. I’ve been lucky enough to share a tent with two awesome Aussie guys, and since they departed, I’ve been kept entertained by Sandrine, our resident Frenchie who has lived in the UK for the past twenty years. Not that you’d know it from her thick francophone accent.
We proceeded along legendary Ruta 40 and crossed the Magellan straits over to the island of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), a territory that is divided between Chile and Argentina. In my humble opinion it is terribly misnomered as it was rainy and grey, but despite this, I was very excited to arrive in the port town of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
City may be stretching it a little given that there only seems to be one main street in the town, however it did include a bowling alley so I was very happy and not just because it gives me an excuse to use this gif.
Before we could go bowling, or do anything else for that matter, I had to urgently visit the laundromat as I was perilously close to running out of clean pants (read ‘underwear’ if you’re in the US) and, I’m ashamed to say, not for the first time on this trip. Unfortunately the owner of the joint didn’t share my sense of urgency, turning up 40 minutes after the place opened according to the signage in the window, but all’s well that ends well. Except it didn’t end well. Later that night, a few of us went out for some drinks, while others went out for, let’s just say, more than some. One, a 75 year old American who has been on the tour from the beginning of my journey in Quito, couldn’t make it into bed at 0230 without some assistance from one of the other boys in the dorm room. Having fallen back asleep, we were all woken up a couple of hours later by the ear-splitting shrieks from a group of Israeli girls staying in a room on the same floor. For some reason, the American had entered their room, from where we could hear him repeatedly say “you’re all going to die tonight” which was followed a few minutes later by “I’m going to kill someone tonight”. Needless to say, the girls were extremely frightened and the situation was exacerbated by the small fact that he was naked from the waist down! A couple of people tried to get him away from the girls’ room, while we tried to locate his underwear. Understandably, the girls called the police and the American was no longer allowed in the hostel. He did, however, much to my surprise, rejoin our tour a couple of days later.
After that drama, a group of us decided to spend the day serenely sailing on the Beagle Channel where the only thing we would face were cute king penguins and sea lions. It was so relaxing being out on the water, and the weather played ball for us too, the warming sunshine and stunning scenery making me once again think about how lucky I am to be on this trip.
Leaving Ushuaia we crossed back into Chile to visit Torres Del Paine (separate blog post here), before spending the next few days working our way up through Argentinean Patagonia, via El Calafate, where we saw the incredible Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the very few in the world which is still advancing. It’s a breathtaking sight and we were lucky enough to witness a massive carving while we were there, the aftermath of which you can see by clicking here. I also got to feed a baby goat for some reason.
The consecutive 12-hour drive days through this region of Argentina were tough; camping in the wild, cooking on gas stoves with the unrelenting wind, and a temperature which increased from 3° to 34° in a matter of days as we drove north, leaving behind the mountains for a flat pampas-covered landscape.
I was delighted to stop in Gaiman (stop sniggering at the back!), a Welsh-speaking enclave where we scoffed a delicious cream tea, and nearby Puerto Madryn, a small seaside resort which offered snorkelling with sea lions. I tried snorkelling once before in Croatia and lasted all of three minutes, panicking as I felt like I was being smothered, but I really wanted to conquer this mountain and with the help of some friends who came with me, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’d love to come back in March when you can see orcas beaching themselves nearby while hunting. I’ve seen it on television and it’s incredible.
As we approach Buenos Aires, I’m looking forward to having a week by myself. I have met many lovely people on this trip over the last four months, some of whom have become good friends. But the combination of long drive days in confined spaces with certain ‘personalities’ and lots of group activities mean I’m craving some alone time, something I won’t get when I get beck to Amsterdam in a few days time.