A Round-up Of Sector 1…
Well it’s been a busy couple of months crisscrossing the borders between Argentina and Chile during the first leg of our South American adventure. From exploring the vibrant barrios of Buenos Aires to trekking through the windswept plains of Patagonia there have been highs and lows of travelling on the road.
Here is a round-up of our journey so far…
We were introduced to the ‘2013 Odyssey Gang’ who are to be our travelling companions for the next 6 months, and best of all, we got acquainted with Ithaca, our custom built overland truck.
We had our first group meal and sampled a parilla for ourselves, immediately realising why it is the main stay of the Argentine diet. With the red wine flowing, we swapped a multitude of travel tales and began to forge new friendships.
Then it was time to hit the road, travelling south, and experience our first bushcamp. We soon realised that what bushcamps lack in toilet facilities and hot showers, they more than make up for in open space, peace and quiet and stunning views. (Ask me what I think again after a few more bushcamps by Sector 2!)
We had 6 bushcamps during Sector 1 as the distances between places in Patagonia are so vast and towns (if any) are few and far between. We sometimes drove for 8 hours straight on roads that were nothing more than mere dirt tracks. Bumping along as we went, we passed the odd car, spotted a herd or two of guanacos and saw a lone estancia here and there, with just miles upon miles of flat scrubland in between.
At one bushcamp spot along the coast, we also helped a gaucho get back on the road when his car was stuck in the sand dunes. A complete team effort from the Odyssey gang for which he was very grateful seeing as he was literally stuck in the middle of nowhere!
After driving 1330km from Buenos Aires, we finally reached the coastal town of Puerto Madryn where the main attraction is the Valdes Peninsula. It is a complete wildlife haven, protected by its UNESCO World Heritage status, and where we got to see southern right whales, a mother and her calf, swimming in the gulf right next to our catamaran. We also got up close to some Magellanic penguins who were more than happy to show off in front of the camera.
After our first week of being together and travelling on Ithaca, we were all accustomed to the workings of the truck. Jobs for Sector 1 were assigned, ‘Cook Groups’ worked on a rota system and daily tasks such as cleaning, washing pots, packing away tents, unloading and reloading the luggage compartment to name a few, were all being fine tuned. (You soon learn the do-ers and the watchers – it’s the nature of the human spirit!)
Without a doubt, the highlight of long days on the road was ‘dinner’. Cooking for 25 people usually involves meat and a one-pot special in some variety or other. Favourites have included lamb tagine with cous cous, beef stew and mashed potato, chilli with rice, and the most amazing fat sausages with sweet potato mash.
After taking a couple of hours to prepare, dinner is always gone in a flash! Hopefuls wait to see if there are any seconds going. It’s just like a round of ‘school dinners’! The cook groups are now all in competition to be the best team!
Wayne with Hannah and Johnny in ‘Cook Group 3’.
Danielle with Ellie, Bartley and Toby in ‘Cook Group 6’.
From Puerto Madryn we headed to Los Glaciares National Park for our first overnight trek. We started in the quaint little town of El Chalten at the north entrance where we hiked to see fantastic views of the Fitz Roy massif at sunrise.
From El Chalten, we travelled to the larger town of El Calafate from where we headed into the south entrance of Los Glaciares National Park to see the blue white giant of a glacier, the Perito Moreno.
El Calafate was also a few days of winding down and another chance to sample a traditional Argentine parilla, now rapidly becoming one of our favourite foods of all time. Patagonian lamb was recommended as a specialty of the town and every restaurant had huge open fires with racks of lamb gently roasting away.
Our parilla was ‘all you can eat’, a challenge even for us two, the heartiest of eaters! After a salad starter we were presented with plates filled with an array of meat – butterflied chicken, sausage, black pudding, rump steak and then came the next dish, a giant plate of Patagonian lamb, cooked to perfection smothered in garlic and herbs. Delicious! (We were dreaming of this during our ensuing multi-day hike on the ‘W’ Trek where we were rationed to packet soups and Ready Brek!)
After our meat feast in El Calafate, we crossed the border into Chile, ready for the challenge of Torres Del Paine. Hiking the ‘W’ Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park was our first multi-day hike. In the wind and cold, it was no easy challenge hiking 70km over 4 days, but we were rewarded with stunning views of the towers at sunrise and pleased that we had achieved something from our bucket list.
After departing Torres we continued south, crossing the Magellan Straits by ferry, leaving Chile and crossing back into Argentina all in one day. We were heading to the southern most tip of South America, all the way to the colourful town of Ushuaia (fin del mundo) the self proclaimed ‘end of the world’.
Whilst in Ushuaia we caught up with laundry and the internet after a long stint without electricity and Wi-Fi. We stayed at a lovely rustic campsite, ‘Camping Rio Pipo’, where we were welcomed by a fantastic Argentine family who accommodated our every need. Instead of preparing dinner in the incessant wind and dust outside the truck, we were able to use the family’s kitchen, where Wayne and I took over dinner duties and cooked up a storm making a chicken curry and homemade pizzas on two respective nights.
From Ushuaia, it was two more border crossings from Argentina to Chile, then from Chile back into Argentina (if you check the map, that is the only way to head north). Then two consecutive nights of bushcamping. We must have picked the windiest, dustiest spots in the whole of Patagonia! But hey, we were by a volcanic crater which we had fun exploring and then the second night near to a fishing lake with a lovely sunset.
No matter how beautiful the spot however, after 3 days on the road everyone was longing for a shower and a proper toilet! We finally arrived at the little one-street town of Perito Moreno (not to be confused by the great glacier we visited in El Calafate – obviously he’s a famous Argentinian guy) and stayed at a proper campsite where everyone headed straight for the showers before a barbecue feast!
From Perito Moreno we visited the Cueva de las Manos, (Cave of Hands) a famous cave located in a volcanic canyon and consisting of a fascinating set of galleries containing rock art depictions of human hands and animals, some dating back over 3,000 years. They have given the Argentinians a good insight into the lives of the nomadic herds people who used to hunt guanacos and return to the cave each year.
Next, we continued north to the Argentinian Lake District region and the upcoming town of El Bolson. El Bolson is a lovely laid-back town with a hippy vibe where we found great hiking opportunities. We had an exhausting day attempting to summit one of the mountains overlooking the town, but were rewarded with stunning views from near the top and the satisfaction that we were two out of only seven people who had completed the same hike that day.
After a scenic drive through the Lake District area, it was then time for another border crossing as we made our way back into Chile, heading to the adventure sports town, Pucon.
Pucon is one of our favourite destinations in Chile as from there we were able to summit one of Chile’s most active volcanoes – Volcan Villarrica, which has become one of ‘the’ memorable moments from this section of the trip.
Next we had a cooling down at Salto del Laja, a horse-shoe shaped waterfall en route to Santiago.
We were really lucky to find a gem of a campsite on the edge of the river overlooking Salto Chico, where we had a relaxing couple of days sunbathing and kayaking in our own private spot. The good thing about overlanding is that it does present these opportunities sometimes!
After a long day’s drive we finally reached Santiago, Chile’s vibrant capital city and our first stay in a hotel since Buenos Aires. (A whole 33 days later, not that I was counting or anything!) We soaked up some Chilean culture in Plaza de Armas and sampled a traditional ‘chorillana’ (chips, egg, onion, steak and sausage) before heading back to Argentina for a taste of wine country.
After a very windy drive (we drove around 40 bends no less!) and a troublesome border crossing, (more to do with the paperwork for the truck than the passengers) we crossed back into Argentina with wine on our minds as we drove towards Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine producing region.
It was another few days of luxury, 3 nights in a hotel, so everyone made use of the showers, beds, and of course the Wi-Fi! But what we had all been looking forward to the most was a group winery tour. Excitingly, we got to visit 3 wineries, an olive oil factory and a chocolateria where we could see fancy chocolates being made by hand. Of course the best part was all of the sampling we were able to do!
From Mendoza, we headed to Argentina’s wetlands for a spot of wildlife watching. The Reserva Nacional Esteros del Iberia is considered one of the best wildlife viewing reserves in South America and it was our first chance to get very up close and personal with caiman, capybara and a number of different bird species native to the continent.
Our final stop in Argentina was a visit to the mighty Iguazu Falls, one of the New Seven Wonders of World. To say the falls are enormous is a real understatement. The shape of the falls and the complex system of walkways allow for spectacular vistas, a real photographer’s panoramic paradise. With 275 discrete falls in total flowing from the Iguazu River, which forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil, they really are a phenomenal sight and undoubtedly the main highlight of our trip so far.
What a way to say farewell to Argentina! Especially as we enjoyed a boat ride that took us under some of the lesser falls, which was an exciting and very wet experience!
Next stop… Brazil!