The Road Back North – Patagonia Perspectives and So Long South America

Yes, we know. It has been six weeks since our last blog post and many of you are wondering what the heck happened to us. We have been home in Nevada for over a month already and the reality of regular life sure has a way of jumping right in and taking over. Several times in the last couple of weeks Ned and I have looked at each other and said, “did we really go to South America?!!”

Despite the high expectations of exploring the Chilean side of Patagonia and the Carretera Austral, Ned and I couldn’t shake our slightly deflated feelings of the trip being over. Having reached our “goal” of driving to the tip of South America, our journey back north again to Santiago was definitely wrought with Short Timer’s Disease. To top it off, my mother was dealing with serious health issues, and the pressure to get home was immense.

Nonetheless, we made the most of the drive back up to the closest port from which we could ship Charlotte home. Our amazing friend, Sebastian was already working on Charlotte’s ship passage from Valparaiso to Long Beach. It took us 18 days to cover the 2,000 miles north, and as usual, there is a lot to tell about! Please enjoy this blog as we rattle down more bad wash board roads, do four ferry crossings, chase pigs, fix broken Charlotte parts, don Gore-Tex in rain forests and, of course, enjoy more spectacular scenery.

After two fabulous nights camping (with our equine neighbors) in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, we made our way back to the town of Ushuaia where we stayed another two nights.  El Wagon restaurant became our home away from home in this surprisingly touristy town at the end of the world.  Alejandro (above) and Vierna (below) were warm and friendly, and we enjoyed three wonderful meals with them.   We had no idea what to expect either on the island of Tierra del Fuego or in Patagonia proper, but somewhere in our minds we had visions of harsh landscapes and lonely outposts.  So far we were finding rampant tourism, complete with crowded cities and the burned out clerks and restaurant staff who wait on difficult visitors day after day.  Our friends at El Wagon provided a refreshing respite.

After two fabulous nights camping (with our equine neighbors) in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, we made our way back to the town of Ushuaia where we stayed another two nights. El Wagon restaurant became our home away from home in this surprisingly touristy town at the end of the world. Alejandro (above) and Vierna (below) were warm and friendly, and we enjoyed three wonderful meals with them.
We had no idea what to expect either on the island of Tierra del Fuego or in Patagonia proper, but somewhere in our minds we had visions of harsh landscapes and lonely outposts. So far we were finding rampant tourism, complete with crowded cities and the burned out clerks and restaurant staff who wait on difficult visitors day after day. Our friends at El Wagon provided a refreshing respite.

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On our final day in Ushuaia, we stayed at El Wagon until 6:00pm, finishing up the last blog, so we only made it 70 miles north to camp on the shores of lovely Lago Fagnano.

On our final day in Ushuaia, we stayed at El Wagon until 6:00pm, finishing up the last blog, so we only made it 70 miles north to camp on the shores of lovely Lago Fagnano.

High-Fiving each other for making the final turn north, we retraced our steps, crossing the border back into Chile and saying farewell to Tierra del Fuego and the Straights of Magellan as we made the short ride ferry off of the Island.   We were running low on supplies, and the previous night’s über satisfying camp dinner consisted of peanuts, cheese and beer.  Breakfast had not been much better, so we were looking forward to a good meal and a good market in Puerto Natales, about 100 miles west and north on the Ruta 9 from the ferry crossing.   Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.  The three of us were cruising along near dusk, peacefully enjoying the wide open windswept steppes when we heard a terrible grinding noise coming from Charlotte’s rear end (no, we did not put beans in her fuel tank).  Needing to get off of the highway and investigate the problem, we limped down a long driveway leading to this desolate, tumble-down estancia (ranch).

High-Fiving each other for making the final turn north, we retraced our steps, crossing the border back into Chile and saying farewell to Tierra del Fuego and the Straights of Magellan as we made the short ride ferry off of the Island.
We were running low on supplies, and the previous night’s über satisfying camp dinner consisted of peanuts, cheese and beer. Breakfast had not been much better, so we were looking forward to a good meal and a good market in Puerto Natales, about 100 miles west and north on the Ruta 9 from the ferry crossing.
Unfortunately, fate had other ideas. The three of us were cruising along near dusk, peacefully enjoying the wide open windswept steppes when we heard a terrible grinding noise coming from Charlotte’s rear end (no, we did not put beans in her fuel tank). Needing to get off of the highway and investigate the problem, we limped down a long driveway leading to this desolate, tumble-down estancia (ranch).

Having heard of the famous hospitality of Patagonia’s many estancias, we hoped this might be a great opportunity and fantasized about joining a big ranch cookout where lots of cordero (lamb) was being roasted on open pits and gauchos serenaded us with Chilean folk music…nope.    Daniel and Marilynn were about as run down as the ranch (the Estancia Cacique Mulato), but were very nice, welcoming us to camp for the night (a good thing since Charlotte wasn’t going anywhere!).  Marilynn offered me the use of the kitchen, but not a morsel of food.  The ranch was huge and signs of former grandeur were everywhere.  The main house was an enormous Victorian, sad and boarded up while Daniel and Marilynn lived in a small hovel near the pig pens.  Although Daniel told us that he ran 20,000 head of sheep, it looked as though they were too poor themselves to offer us a meal.   Ned and I tucked into Charlotte for the night, munching on more peanuts and cheese and dreaming of cordero asado.

Having heard of the famous hospitality of Patagonia’s many estancias, we hoped this might be a great opportunity and fantasized about joining a big ranch cookout where lots of cordero (lamb) was being roasted on open pits and gauchos serenaded us with Chilean folk music…nope.
Daniel and Marilynn were about as run down as the ranch (the Estancia Cacique Mulato), but were very nice, welcoming us to camp for the night (a good thing since Charlotte wasn’t going anywhere!). Marilynn offered me the use of the kitchen, but not a morsel of food. The ranch was huge and signs of former grandeur were everywhere. The main house was an enormous Victorian, sad and boarded up while Daniel and Marilynn lived in a small hovel near the pig pens. Although Daniel told us that he ran 20,000 head of sheep, it looked as though they were too poor themselves to offer us a meal. Ned and I tucked into Charlotte for the night, munching on more peanuts and cheese and dreaming of cordero asado.

After a rainy night and another snack breakfast, Ned went to work on Charlotte, uncovering a very broken CV joint.   The good news was that the intrepid Car Whisperer had, not one but two, spares.  He tucked in for a long greasy job, while I went off to see about lending a hand on the estancia.

After a rainy night and another snack breakfast, Ned went to work on Charlotte, uncovering a very broken CV joint. The good news was that the intrepid Car Whisperer had, not one but two, spares. He tucked in for a long greasy job, while I went off to see about lending a hand on the estancia.

From a nearby field I heard the frantic squealing of unhappy pigs.  Taking off in that direction, I ran into two old ranch hands pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a lumpy white sack.  I said hello, then noticed that the bag was moving! Actually it was writhing.  Afraid of what I would find, I asked, “Que es?” “Cochinoitos!” they said, grinning from ear to ear while untying the bag for me to take a peak.  Sure enough, eight tiny piglets poked their little pink noses out and my heart sank to think that they were just too cute to eat.  It took a bit of diplomatic probing, but I happily found out they were simply moving the babies to get them out of the cold and would return for the mother.  More questions revealed, however, that they would be ready for the market in another five months.

From a nearby field I heard the frantic squealing of unhappy pigs. Taking off in that direction, I ran into two old ranch hands pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a lumpy white sack. I said hello, then noticed that the bag was moving! Actually it was writhing. Afraid of what I would find, I asked, “Que es?” “Cochinoitos!” they said, grinning from ear to ear while untying the bag for me to take a peak. Sure enough, eight tiny piglets poked their little pink noses out and my heart sank to think that they were just too cute to eat. It took a bit of diplomatic probing, but I happily found out they were simply moving the babies to get them out of the cold and would return for the mother. More questions revealed, however, that they would be ready for the market in another five months.

You’ve just gotta be smarter than a pig.  I never did find out why Mama Pig did not frantically follow the piglet laden wheelbarrow, but she did seem to have fun toying with poor old Juan.  She calmly let him approach, even offering her nose to the lasso…

You’ve just gotta be smarter than a pig. I never did find out why Mama Pig did not frantically follow the piglet laden wheelbarrow, but she did seem to have fun toying with poor old Juan. She calmly let him approach, even offering her nose to the lasso…

…then wheeled away only to stop and happily begin to root around in the dirt.  This went on for at least ten minutes.  I kept asking if I could help, and Juan breathlessly kept saying, “No gracias.”  It was a pretty comical show to watch but even more fun when I finally joined in.  Enrique (slightly younger than Juan) eventually got the lasso on one of Mama’s back feet, and they began to herd her toward her babies.  With a twenty foot lead on the rope, Mama Pig led us on a merry chase, darting off in every direction but the right one.  Poor Juan even dropped the rope two times, giving me the heroic opportunity to jump on it and stop the pig.  Yeah right.  At one point the three of us, waving our arms and hollering like madmen, nearly had her cornered.  I am ashamed to say this would have ended the fun had I not given quarter when the pushy pig barreled right toward me.  Yup, I was a chicken, but Mama outweighed me by several hundred pounds, and I do value my life.  We all looked like idiots, but it was very entertaining, my only regret being there are no photos to share.

…then wheeled away only to stop and happily begin to root around in the dirt. This went on for at least ten minutes. I kept asking if I could help, and Juan breathlessly kept saying, “No gracias.” It was a pretty comical show to watch but even more fun when I finally joined in. Enrique (slightly younger than Juan) eventually got the lasso on one of Mama’s back feet, and they began to herd her toward her babies. With a twenty foot lead on the rope, Mama Pig led us on a merry chase, darting off in every direction but the right one. Poor Juan even dropped the rope two times, giving me the heroic opportunity to jump on it and stop the pig. Yeah right. At one point the three of us, waving our arms and hollering like madmen, nearly had her cornered. I am ashamed to say this would have ended the fun had I not given quarter when the pushy pig barreled right toward me. Yup, I was a chicken, but Mama outweighed me by several hundred pounds, and I do value my life. We all looked like idiots, but it was very entertaining, my only regret being there are no photos to share.

Happy reunion.

Happy reunion.

By now I was (as Ned said later) an official pig farmer, and there was more work to be done.  Another mother and her babies needed to be relocated so the game was repeated.

By now I was (as Ned said later) an official pig farmer, and there was more work to be done. Another mother and her babies needed to be relocated so the game was repeated.

This time there were eleven of the cute little things, and Juan and Enrique showed their confidence in my newfound pig husbandry by letting me pick a couple of them up by the back leg (the only way to do it so they said) and plunk them into the sack.  Mostly I just held the bag.  By the time we got Mama #2 and babies moved, Ned had finished changing the CV.  We said our goodbyes to Daniel, Marilynn, Juan (who gave me a hug) and Enrique, and trundled on north.

This time there were eleven of the cute little things, and Juan and Enrique showed their confidence in my newfound pig husbandry by letting me pick a couple of them up by the back leg (the only way to do it so they said) and plunk them into the sack. Mostly I just held the bag.
By the time we got Mama #2 and babies moved, Ned had finished changing the CV. We said our goodbyes to Daniel, Marilynn, Juan (who gave me a hug) and Enrique, and trundled on north.

After blissfully devouring cordero asado in a restaurant in Puerto Natales, we restocked our larders and drove on to the famous Parque Nacional Torre de Paine.  It was late when we arrived, so we opted to camp at an official scenic lookout.  Thinking that the majestic towers would look fantastic in the morning sun and that the place was deserted, we saw no problem with the plan.

After blissfully devouring cordero asado in a restaurant in Puerto Natales, we restocked our larders and drove on to the famous Parque Nacional Torre de Paine. It was late when we arrived, so we opted to camp at an official scenic lookout. Thinking that the majestic towers would look fantastic in the morning sun and that the place was deserted, we saw no problem with the plan.

We were right about the morning sun…

We were right about the morning sun…

…but just about half way through our morning exercises, buses and vans carrying dozens of tourists showed up to shatter our peace.  I even caught one snapping a shot of Ned as he finished his pull-ups.  Ok, I admit, we were in a Park, camping at a posted lookout, doing funny looking exercises in a funny looking van, but we still felt like monkeys in a cage.

…but just about half way through our morning exercises, buses and vans carrying dozens of tourists showed up to shatter our peace. I even caught one snapping a shot of Ned as he finished his pull-ups. Ok, I admit, we were in a Park, camping at a posted lookout, doing funny looking exercises in a funny looking van, but we still felt like monkeys in a cage.

The weather was typical of Chilean Patagonia, extremely cold and so windy I was nearly knocked off my feet several times.  Cliffside hiking didn’t sound very fun, so we just drove the big loop around the park enjoying the fantastic scenery.

The weather was typical of Chilean Patagonia, extremely cold and so windy I was nearly knocked off my feet several times. Cliffside hiking didn’t sound very fun, so we just drove the big loop around the park enjoying the fantastic scenery.

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We passed dozens of cyclists braving the wind and cold and making us feel like old weenies living in the lap of luxury.  These two teenage boys from France were pedaling a tandem bike the length of Patagonia. They should have incredible stories to tell their kids.

We passed dozens of cyclists braving the wind and cold and making us feel like old weenies living in the lap of luxury. These two teenage boys from France were pedaling a tandem bike the length of Patagonia. They should have incredible stories to tell their kids.

The road north in Chile ends after Torre de Paine, so we crossed back into Argentina, retracing our steps until we reached Paso Roballo, east of Cochrane where we were able to cross back into Chile and finally onto the famous Carretera Austral.   Toward the bottom of Paso Roballo in the Valle Chacabuco we entered land owned by the shiny new Patagonia Park.

The road north in Chile ends after Torre de Paine, so we crossed back into Argentina, retracing our steps until we reached Paso Roballo, east of Cochrane where we were able to cross back into Chile and finally onto the famous Carretera Austral.
Toward the bottom of Paso Roballo in the Valle Chacabuco we entered land owned by the shiny new Patagonia Park.

Rescued from overgrazing, these 170,000 acres, previously a huge, hundred year old sheep ranch, were purchased ten years ago by Kris and Doug Tompkins, well publicized environmental rights activists, and, respectively, the former CEO of Patagonia (the clothing company) and the founder of The North Face & Esprit clothing empires. Their goal has been to restore the land to nature, removing all the fencing, as well as all foreign flora and fauna, while introducing human tourists, providing them with hiking trails and fancy lodging. Eventually they plan to give this preserved land to the Chilean government to manage as a national park.

Rescued from overgrazing, these 170,000 acres, previously a huge, hundred year old sheep ranch, were purchased ten years ago by Kris and Doug Tompkins, well publicized environmental rights activists, and, respectively, the former CEO of Patagonia (the clothing company) and the founder of The North Face & Esprit clothing empires. Their goal has been to restore the land to nature, removing all the fencing, as well as all foreign flora and fauna, while introducing human tourists, providing them with hiking trails and fancy lodging. Eventually they plan to give this preserved land to the Chilean government to manage as a national park.

PATAGONIA WITHOUT TOMPKIN$ Without getting into touchy details (I’ll save that for the book!), it turns out that there is quite a controversy surrounding the land’s purchase and the Tompkins in general.  Sheep ranching in the valley has been the mainstay of the local communities, and many people lost their livelihoods.  Weighing human needs against the need to preserve beautiful places on our planet is a tough challenge.

PATAGONIA WITHOUT TOMPKIN$
Without getting into touchy details (I’ll save that for the book!), it turns out that there is quite a controversy surrounding the land’s purchase and the Tompkins in general. Sheep ranching in the valley has been the mainstay of the local communities, and many people lost their livelihoods. Weighing human needs against the need to preserve beautiful places on our planet is a tough challenge.

The brand new Estancia Valle Chacabuco.

The brand new Estancia Valle Chacabuco.

The creators’ vision when building Estancia Valle Chacabuco was to capture the grandeur of the old lodges at Yosemite and Yellowstone.  We were actually a little surprised and put off by the excessive opulence.  To us, the upscale country club atmosphere appeared quite out of character with the Patagonian surroundings.

The creators’ vision when building Estancia Valle Chacabuco was to capture the grandeur of the old lodges at Yosemite and Yellowstone. We were actually a little surprised and put off by the excessive opulence. To us, the upscale country club atmosphere appeared quite out of character with the Patagonian surroundings.

Despite the Tompkins’ obvious distain for all things requiring energy and motorized vehicles, and their hype about the irresponsibility of leaving large “carbon footprints,” this lodge was build on a massive scale, involving a lot of machinery and fossil fuel to construct, and it now requires more energy use to sustain it.  The hypocrisy of it all rubbed us the wrong way…

Despite the Tompkins’ obvious distain for all things requiring energy and motorized vehicles, and their hype about the irresponsibility of leaving large “carbon footprints,” this lodge was build on a massive scale, involving a lot of machinery and fossil fuel to construct, and it now requires more energy use to sustain it. The hypocrisy of it all rubbed us the wrong way…

…as did the prices for lodging.  It would have cost us $500 per night…

…as did the prices for lodging. It would have cost us $500 per night…

…to stay in this small room.  It was obviously beautiful, but the snobbery of the staff and the inability for average income people to enjoy the place was off-putting to us.

…to stay in this small room. It was obviously beautiful, but the snobbery of the staff and the inability for average income people to enjoy the place was off-putting to us.

No shoes allowed in the entire lodge…a Doug Tompkins quirk, but never my favorite.

No shoes allowed in the entire lodge…a Doug Tompkins quirk, but never my favorite.

This reading room was full of coffee table books co-authored by Doug Tompkins, berating everything from energy use to mass food production.  We agree that the glaring challenges of pesticides, GMO’s, pollution and animal extinction are terrifying.  I also pragmatically know that rare is the person who is willing to give up driving, flying, boating and eating mass produced food.  Doug Tompkins, himself, soars all over Patagonia in his own small airplane, burning plenty of fossil fuel.  My issue with the offering of coffee table books was not in pointing out the problems, but in not offering practical solutions. Suggestions on par with sending our daily living conditions back those of the poorest villages we passed through in Guatemala (for example) or reducing our offspring to one child per couple are not practical solutions in this modern world.

This reading room was full of coffee table books co-authored by Doug Tompkins, berating everything from energy use to mass food production. We agree that the glaring challenges of pesticides, GMO’s, pollution and animal extinction are terrifying. I also pragmatically know that rare is the person who is willing to give up driving, flying, boating and eating mass produced food. Doug Tompkins, himself, soars all over Patagonia in his own small airplane, burning plenty of fossil fuel. My issue with the offering of coffee table books was not in pointing out the problems, but in not offering practical solutions. Suggestions on par with sending our daily living conditions back those of the poorest villages we passed through in Guatemala (for example) or reducing our offspring to one child per couple are not practical solutions in this modern world.

Ned was particularly amused to find this book. In his words, “Isn’t Tompkins’s airplane as much a “thrillcraft” as my Jeep, race cars or Charlotte?  Hypocrite!”

Ned was particularly amused to find this book. In his words, “Isn’t Tompkins’s airplane as much a “thrillcraft” as my Jeep, race cars or Charlotte? Hypocrite!”

Thrillcraft? Seriously? A riding lawnmower burning hydrocarbons. Where are the sheep?

Thrillcraft? Seriously? A riding lawnmower burning hydrocarbons. Where are the sheep?

Carretera Austral literally means the Southern Highway, which is kind of funny since it was the roughest, slowest, most washboard infested road we’ve been on yet.  Nearing the end of our journey, Charlotte was exhibiting a worrying number of ailments.  Rather than being exciting, the rugged terrain only gave us visions of poor Charlotte literally shaking apart. We were also on the wet, cold Pacific side of Patagonia now, and while beautiful in its own way, rainforests are just not our favorite.  The constant rain, cold, bugs and lack of open land made camping less fun and exercise scarce.  (And yet we still saw many cyclists toughing it out here, battered by the elements…really making us feel wimpy!)

Carretera Austral literally means the Southern Highway, which is kind of funny since it was the roughest, slowest, most washboard infested road we’ve been on yet. Nearing the end of our journey, Charlotte was exhibiting a worrying number of ailments. Rather than being exciting, the rugged terrain only gave us visions of poor Charlotte literally shaking apart. We were also on the wet, cold Pacific side of Patagonia now, and while beautiful in its own way, rainforests are just not our favorite. The constant rain, cold, bugs and lack of open land made camping less fun and exercise scarce. (And yet we still saw many cyclists toughing it out here, battered by the elements…really making us feel wimpy!)

We’ve seen these falling rock signs all over Chile and have dubbed them “The Fast Rocks Sign.” Do rocks really fall faster in Chile?

We’ve seen these falling rock signs all over Chile and have dubbed them “The Fast Rocks Sign.”
Do rocks really fall faster in Chile?

The sun came out and lifted our mood as we drove along the magnificent turquoise Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America.

The sun came out and lifted our mood as we drove along the magnificent turquoise Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America.

We passed this sign advertising the Marble Cathedral and natural camping.  We had no idea what it was, but it sounded intriguing.

We passed this sign advertising the Marble Cathedral and natural camping. We had no idea what it was, but it sounded intriguing.

We drove down a very steep dirt road, enjoying the scenery but worry about breaking another CV which was making horrible noises as we descended the grade.  If another one broke, Charlotte would never make it back up the arduous climb. Once at the bottom, we found that we could bush camp for free and were able to book a boat ride to the Marble Cathedral in the morning.  We met several fellow travelers (even a VW enthusiastic Argentinean couple in an early splitty Bus) and had a quiet night in semi privacy.

We drove down a very steep dirt road, enjoying the scenery but worry about breaking another CV which was making horrible noises as we descended the grade. If another one broke, Charlotte would never make it back up the arduous climb.
Once at the bottom, we found that we could bush camp for free and were able to book a boat ride to the Marble Cathedral in the morning. We met several fellow travelers (even a VW enthusiastic Argentinean couple in an early splitty Bus) and had a quiet night in semi privacy.

By morning the rain had returned but we were determined to see the Catedral de Mármol, whatever that was.

By morning the rain had returned but we were determined to see the Catedral de Mármol, whatever that was.

When we arrived we were stunned.  This is the Catedral de Mármol, but the spectacle did not stop here.

When we arrived we were stunned. This is the Catedral de Mármol, but the spectacle did not stop here.

The lake shore was lined with marble caves carved by wind and water, suspended over the glacial turquoise waters.  Despite the rain, I could not stop taking photos.  It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, certainly one of the most unusual.

The lake shore was lined with marble caves carved by wind and water, suspended over the glacial turquoise waters. Despite the rain, I could not stop taking photos. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, certainly one of the most unusual.

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Look closely.  Can you see Ned under Charlotte (again)?  Taking advantage of our nice camping spot and using the last spare CV, Ned got Charlotte repaired and up the hill.  Now it was a race to get to Santiago before another CV (or something else) broke.

Look closely. Can you see Ned under Charlotte (again)? Taking advantage of our nice camping spot and using the last spare CV, Ned got Charlotte repaired and up the hill. Now it was a race to get to Santiago before another CV (or something else) broke.

Getting exercise wherever we can…

Getting exercise wherever we can…

…Taking showers wherever we can.   Desperately in need of a good wash, we spotted an abandoned campground and drove in to find clean water for Charlotte’s heat exchange shower and rare privacy.

…Taking showers wherever we can.
Desperately in need of a good wash, we spotted an abandoned campground and drove in to find clean water for Charlotte’s heat exchange shower and rare privacy.

Continuing north we came to the Tompkins’ first Park, Pumalin.  The park is immense, covering 760,000 acres.  This was the Park entrance at the south end, near Chaitén.  Unfortunately, signs everywhere indicated camping was only allowed in walk-in campgrounds.  Camping in or near your vehicle was glaringly prohibited.  In light of the obvious usage of gas powered mowers to manicure the vast amount of lawns in the park, we found the bias against motorized vehicles puzzling.

Continuing north we came to the Tompkins’ first Park, Pumalin. The park is immense, covering 760,000 acres. This was the Park entrance at the south end, near Chaitén. Unfortunately, signs everywhere indicated camping was only allowed in walk-in campgrounds. Camping in or near your vehicle was glaringly prohibited. In light of the obvious usage of gas powered mowers to manicure the vast amount of lawns in the park, we found the bias against motorized vehicles puzzling.

Pumalin Park, named for the Pumas being preserved here, was a steep, mountainous rainforest…

Pumalin Park, named for the Pumas being preserved here, was a steep, mountainous rainforest…

…and a botanist’s dream!  The forest was full of unusual and beautiful plants, including these mammoth leafy things (we are obviously not botanists)…

…and a botanist’s dream! The forest was full of unusual and beautiful plants, including these mammoth leafy things (we are obviously not botanists)…

…and giant ferns! (They are ferns, aren’t they?)

…and giant ferns! (They are ferns, aren’t they?)

The unfortunate thing about Pumalin park, is that it essentially cuts Chili (being very narrow) in two.  With the Pacific archipelago on the west, and the Argenitina border on the east, there is no way to drive north/south through the park.  To go north, we needed to take a series of ferries to continue our journey, or make a 500 mile detour east back in to Argentina. The town of Chaitén was the jumping off point for the first ferry, and we were very much looking forward to having a nice breakfast in a warm restaurant.  When we arrived, however, we found the town in horrible shape.  The houses and buildings were ramshackle and/or boarded up, and the only restaurant open was freezing cold and the employees unwelcoming.   This van (above) says “Chaitén is Not Dead.”  We disagreed.  It was Sunday when we arrived, and we were dismayed to find that the ferries were all booked until Wednesday.  At this point, we just wanted out of there.  We made the decision to drive 100 miles back south and then east on the bad washboard roads to what we had heard was a cute town called Fulaleufú.   Note:  We did find out in Fulaleufú that Chaitén was buried in ash in 2008 when Volcan Chaitén erupted, essentially killing the poor town.  Perspective really is everything.  Doing a little homework beforehand might help, but we really do like discovering as we go.

The unfortunate thing about Pumalin park, is that it essentially cuts Chili (being very narrow) in two. With the Pacific archipelago on the west, and the Argenitina border on the east, there is no way to drive north/south through the park. To go north, we needed to take a series of ferries to continue our journey, or make a 500 mile detour east back in to Argentina. The town of Chaitén was the jumping off point for the first ferry, and we were very much looking forward to having a nice breakfast in a warm restaurant. When we arrived, however, we found the town in horrible shape. The houses and buildings were ramshackle and/or boarded up, and the only restaurant open was freezing cold and the employees unwelcoming.
This van (above) says “Chaitén is Not Dead.” We disagreed. It was Sunday when we arrived, and we were dismayed to find that the ferries were all booked until Wednesday. At this point, we just wanted out of there. We made the decision to drive 100 miles back south and then east on the bad washboard roads to what we had heard was a cute town called Fulaleufú.
Note: We did find out in Fulaleufú that Chaitén was buried in ash in 2008 when Volcan Chaitén erupted, essentially killing the poor town. Perspective really is everything. Doing a little homework beforehand might help, but we really do like discovering as we go.

Fulaleufú was a wonderful stopover.  We stayed at this great lodge, a welcome respite from cold, wet camping.

Fulaleufú was a wonderful stopover. We stayed at this great lodge, a welcome respite from cold, wet camping.

Ned spent most of our two days in Fulaeufú working on Charlotte, trying to shore up an increasing bad coolant leak – another curse stemming from our alternator bracket issues. I worked on photo editing and relaxed in the warm luxury of our beautiful room.

Ned spent most of our two days in Fulaeufú working on Charlotte, trying to shore up an increasing bad coolant leak – another curse stemming from our alternator bracket issues. I worked on photo editing and relaxed in the warm luxury of our beautiful room.

On the way back to the coast from Fulaleufú, Ned and Charlotte rescued another vehicle which had slid off the road and into a ditch. It was only the third time we’ve used the winch, once to pull ourselves (Bolivia) and twice to help others (Mexico and here).

On the way back to the coast from Fulaleufú, Ned and Charlotte rescued another vehicle which had slid off the road and into a ditch. It was only the third time we’ve used the winch, once to pull ourselves (Bolivia) and twice to help others (Mexico and here).

Finally it was ferry time.  It took us three boats and 12 hours to travel 30 miles, but we finally were able to continue north.

Finally it was ferry time. It took us three boats and 12 hours to travel 30 miles, but we finally were able to continue north.

Another broken alternator bolt, another clever Ned fix (note the green wire).  It seems baling wire and duct tape are holding Charlotte together these days.

Another broken alternator bolt, another clever Ned fix (note the green wire). It seems baling wire and duct tape are holding Charlotte together these days.

Our final camp, just south of Santiago was quiet, but it was a little anticlimactic.  We were suddenly aware that the trip was coming to an end and were feeling a little sad.  It was fun, though, looking back and coming up with some intereting statistics.  Since returning to the trip in December, we have spent 75 nights on the road; 55 camping in Charlotte (46 bush camps and 9 in campgrounds or driveways) and 22 nights in hotels.

Our final camp, just south of Santiago was quiet, but it was a little anticlimactic. We were suddenly aware that the trip was coming to an end and were feeling a little sad. It was fun, though, looking back and coming up with some intereting statistics. Since returning to the trip in December, we have spent 75 nights on the road; 55 camping in Charlotte (46 bush camps and 9 in campgrounds or driveways) and 22 nights in hotels.

Over the last 14 months of the journey we have come up with a very technical method for determining which way the wind is blowing. This is necessary so we can park Charlotte to block the wind for cooking.

Over the last 14 months of the journey we have come up with a very technical method for determining which way the wind is blowing. This is necessary so we can park Charlotte to block the wind for cooking.

And speaking of paper products, this has been an ongoing topic of deep discussion as, in country after third world country, we’ve found next to useless paper towels and toilet paper.  We were delighted to find in Chile a brand comically subtitled “Evolution.” They are almost as good as the dozens of brands we are offered in the U.S. and are capable of absorbing at least some liquid before disintegrating.

And speaking of paper products, this has been an ongoing topic of deep discussion as, in country after third world country, we’ve found next to useless paper towels and toilet paper. We were delighted to find in Chile a brand comically subtitled “Evolution.” They are almost as good as the dozens of brands we are offered in the U.S. and are capable of absorbing at least some liquid before disintegrating.

Back in Santiago, I just had to show Ned the MallSport (the one where I got an army knife and dumbbells back in December).  We ate lunch in the warm sunshine, watching surfers try their skill on this man-made wave.  Very cool.

Back in Santiago, I just had to show Ned the MallSport (the one where I got an army knife and dumbbells back in December). We ate lunch in the warm sunshine, watching surfers try their skill on this man-made wave. Very cool.

Ned tested his balance on this awesome hanging jungle gym…

Ned tested his balance on this awesome hanging jungle gym…

…and did very well!

…and did very well!

MallSport is also the first place I have seen a kid’s only bathroom.

MallSport is also the first place I have seen a kid’s only bathroom.

How fun would this be if you were a kid?

How fun would this be if you were a kid?

It has been summer vacation and all the schools have been on holiday since we arrived back in December, so we have not been able to give away any more of the world maps we bought in Ecuador.  Sebastian and Luz’s kids, Seba and Amelia turned out to be enthusiastic recipients.

It has been summer vacation and all the schools have been on holiday since we arrived back in December, so we have not been able to give away any more of the world maps we bought in Ecuador. Sebastian and Luz’s kids, Seba and Amelia turned out to be enthusiastic recipients.

In the meantime, Sebastian, a true gift to us, had busily been setting up Charlotte’s shipping. He was able to line up passage for her the same week we rolled back into Santiago. Despite it being a very hectic time in Sebastian’s normal work life, his hours of preparation made everything go smoothly when we all arrived at the port in Valparaiso.  Ned was able to load her and tie her down himself, so we felt more secure about her month-long boat ride up the Pacific to Long Beach. We had to air her tires down to almost flat to get her into the container, then drain all the gas and disconnect her battery.

In the meantime, Sebastian, a true gift to us, had busily been setting up Charlotte’s shipping. He was able to line up passage for her the same week we rolled back into Santiago. Despite it being a very hectic time in Sebastian’s normal work life, his hours of preparation made everything go smoothly when we all arrived at the port in Valparaiso. Ned was able to load her and tie her down himself, so we felt more secure about her month-long boat ride up the Pacific to Long Beach. We had to air her tires down to almost flat to get her into the container, then drain all the gas and disconnect her battery.

After fourteen months and 29,400 miles, our South American odyssey came to an abrupt end. A million thanks will never show our appreciation for the selfless Sebastian who, along with his wonderful family and friends, made our time in Chile extra special. The day after loading Charlotte, February 19th, 2015 we said goodbye to South America and flew 30 hours home to face reality… Stay tuned next time as we reveal a mini-trauma that occurred in the shipping process and cover the retrieval of our beloved Charlotte from her watery vacation. As this goes to press, her ship is supposedly docked in Long Beach waiting to be unloaded…  Our plan is to fly to L.A. and drive her home to Minden on her own power (questionable at this point). If she rolls into our own driveway she will have covered just 100 miles shy of 30,000 miles since rolling out of it back in December 2013. What a THRILLCRAFT!

After fourteen months and 29,400 miles, our South American odyssey came to an abrupt end.
A million thanks will never show our appreciation for the selfless Sebastian who, along with his wonderful family and friends, made our time in Chile extra special.
The day after loading Charlotte, February 19th, 2015 we said goodbye to South America and flew 30 hours home to face reality…
Stay tuned next time as we reveal a mini-trauma that occurred in the shipping process and cover the retrieval of our beloved Charlotte from her watery vacation. As this goes to press, her ship is supposedly docked in Long Beach waiting to be unloaded… Our plan is to fly to L.A. and drive her home to Minden on her own power (questionable at this point). If she rolls into our own driveway she will have covered just 100 miles shy of 30,000 miles since rolling out of it back in December 2013. What a THRILLCRAFT!

“Turn Around Charlotte, There Ain’t No More Road!”

It feels like a month has passed since our last blog from Viña del Mar, but it’s only been a couple of whirlwind weeks, packed full of adventures and stories.  We’ve driven nearly 3,000 miles, crisscrossing back and forth from Chile to Argentina several times, enjoying fantastic food, great people and scenery that still astounds us.  Enjoy this new blog post as we drive to the End of the World and have some fun along the way! Ned and I left Viña del Mar, Chile (North of Valparaiso, near Santiago) on January 10th, hitting the I-5 (PanAm) to make some time getting south.   We found Chile’s central agricultural region similar to California’s San Fernando Valley and oddly named the same.  Chile’s San Fernando Valley boasts the same I-5 running north/south, is nestled between the coastal range and the Andes and has McDonald’s and Shell gas stations dotted along the highway.  It even has lots of fruit stands and highway exits with names like Tracy and Santa Cruz.  It was eerie, and we had a hard time believing we hadn’t dreamed the whole trip, ending up back in Fresno.

But then we turned east to cross the Andes into Argentina.  Definitely not in central California!  I almost want to call this post, the blue water blog.  This lake was just the first of many of the most incredibly blue bodies of water I’d ever seen.  From azure to turquoise, these last two weeks have been a blue lover’s paradise.

But then we turned east to cross the Andes into Argentina. Definitely not in central California! I almost want to call this post, the blue water blog. This lake was just the first of many of the most incredibly blue bodies of water I’d ever seen. From azure to turquoise, these last two weeks have been a blue lover’s paradise.

Having exported ourselves from the Chilean side of the border on the Paso del Guanaco, we were in the 20 mile No Man’s Land stretch between Chile and Argentina when we heard a horrible pop followed by metal on metal grinding.  Ned got out to take a look, and from somewhere under Charlotte, I heard a stunned, "Holy Shit!"  Not a good thing to hear from the driver/mechanic/car whisperer.   The left front radius rod had snapped in two.  It was a freak (“never seen that before”) injury to poor Charlotte, and Ned said we weren’t going anywhere until we got the broken part to a welder.  A welder?  You mean like the one we have on board that we can’t use due the alternator fiasco?  Yup.        Ned managed to get Charlotte off of the road onto the shoulder with much noise and histrionics from the broken suspension.  At that point I took inventory of the situation.  We were on a nearly deserted dirt road, 50 miles from the nearest town of Malargué.  It was hot and violently windy.  Hundreds of huge, biting flies were attacking us with the speed and accuracy of professional snipers. And we hadn’t imported ourselves into Argentina yet.  We were in No Man’s land and had no legal papers.  Hitchhiking to Malargué would involve getting in and then back out of Argentina.        Then there was a decision to make.  Would I stay to watch over Charlotte while Ned hitchhiked the 50 miles to town?  Or do we both go, leaving Charlotte unprotected?  A horrible choice either way.  With no cell signal, no way to communicate and only the vicious flies for company, I knew my wait would be torture.  It could be hours or days before Ned got back, and it was too hot to stay inside Charlotte.

Having exported ourselves from the Chilean side of the border on the Paso del Guanaco, we were in the 20 mile No Man’s Land stretch between Chile and Argentina when we heard a horrible pop followed by metal on metal grinding. Ned got out to take a look, and from somewhere under Charlotte, I heard a stunned, “Holy Shit!” Not a good thing to hear from the driver/mechanic/car whisperer. The left front radius rod had snapped in two. It was a freak (“never seen that before”) injury to poor Charlotte, and Ned said we weren’t going anywhere until we got the broken part to a welder. A welder? You mean like the one we have on board that we can’t use due the alternator fiasco? Yup.
Ned managed to get Charlotte off of the road onto the shoulder with much noise and histrionics from the broken suspension. At that point I took inventory of the situation. We were on a nearly deserted dirt road, 50 miles from the nearest town of Malargué. It was hot and violently windy. Hundreds of huge, biting flies were attacking us with the speed and accuracy of professional snipers. And we hadn’t imported ourselves into Argentina yet. We were in No Man’s land and had no legal papers. Hitchhiking to Malargué would involve getting in and then back out of Argentina.
Then there was a decision to make. Would I stay to watch over Charlotte while Ned hitchhiked the 50 miles to town? Or do we both go, leaving Charlotte unprotected? A horrible choice either way. With no cell signal, no way to communicate and only the vicious flies for company, I knew my wait would be torture. It could be hours or days before Ned got back, and it was too hot to stay inside Charlotte.

While I was pondering our predicament, Ned was busy removing the broken part.  I had just grabbed my backpack (having made my decision to go) when, to our utter disbelief a truck pulling a small trailer came trundling down the dirt road...In a stunning display of providence, on the trailer was an arc welder!      Ned flagged the truck down, and two very nice construction workers got out.  We showed them the broken part, and with absolutely no fuss or fanfare, they proceeded to do a professional job of welding the piece.  The whole thing was surrealistic.  There.  Fixed.  Like it never even happened.  All of my worrying for naught.  The world never stops amazing me.

While I was pondering our predicament, Ned was busy removing the broken part. I had just grabbed my backpack (having made my decision to go) when, to our utter disbelief a truck pulling a small trailer came trundling down the dirt road…In a stunning display of providence, on the trailer was an arc welder!
Ned flagged the truck down, and two very nice construction workers got out. We showed them the broken part, and with absolutely no fuss or fanfare, they proceeded to do a professional job of welding the piece. The whole thing was surrealistic. There. Fixed. Like it never even happened. All of my worrying for naught. The world never stops amazing me.

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With all three of us legally imported into Argentina, we got back on the iconic Ruta 40 and continued south.  We drove through beautiful arid country, stopping by a river to barbeque steaks and veggies, eventually finding a camping spot in a dry wash, hidden from the road.

With all three of us legally imported into Argentina, we got back on the iconic Ruta 40 and continued south. We drove through beautiful arid country, stopping by a river to barbeque steaks and veggies, eventually finding a camping spot in a dry wash, hidden from the road.

The next day, after breakfast and exercises in our peaceful wash, we continued following the zigzagging Ruta 40, making 400 miles.  By dark we found ourselves in a ranching area, still arid and open, but completely enclosed by fences.  We had nowhere to camp for the night.  We drove and drove, but found no hidey holes, no dirt track, nothing.  We were just outside the resort town of San Martin de Los Andes when we spotted a sign for camping.  We rarely succumb to campgrounds, but it was 10:30 and we were exhausted.  We pulled in, parked in a corner, and fell fast asleep.

The next day, after breakfast and exercises in our peaceful wash, we continued following the zigzagging Ruta 40, making 400 miles. By dark we found ourselves in a ranching area, still arid and open, but completely enclosed by fences. We had nowhere to camp for the night. We drove and drove, but found no hidey holes, no dirt track, nothing. We were just outside the resort town of San Martin de Los Andes when we spotted a sign for camping. We rarely succumb to campgrounds, but it was 10:30 and we were exhausted. We pulled in, parked in a corner, and fell fast asleep.

We awoke in a cool, quiet forest, surrounded by dense oak and pine. The campground was whisper quiet, immaculately clean, civilized and very…comfortable!   It was as if we had suddenly been airdropped overnight and woke up on a different planet.   Gone were the mud huts, the dust, the native people, the garbage, the harshness of life.  I couldn’t decide if it felt fabulous or flat-line.  There was nothing very foreign or exotic, but it was pretty nice.       We had breakfast in the touristy, but charming, San Martin de Los Andes, and continued on following the gorgeous Ruta de Siete Lagos (Road of Seven Lakes).        Clear turquoise water pooled in sparkling streams and tranquil alpine lakes, while stark, snow speckled crags stood sentinel.   But gone were the soaring heights of the more northern Andes.  Snow at elevations of 4,000 to 6,000ft in the height of summer was a sure sign that we were getting to southern latitudes.

We awoke in a cool, quiet forest, surrounded by dense oak and pine. The campground was whisper quiet, immaculately clean, civilized and very…comfortable! It was as if we had suddenly been airdropped overnight and woke up on a different planet. Gone were the mud huts, the dust, the native people, the garbage, the harshness of life. I couldn’t decide if it felt fabulous or flat-line. There was nothing very foreign or exotic, but it was pretty nice.
We had breakfast in the touristy, but charming, San Martin de Los Andes, and continued on following the gorgeous Ruta de Siete Lagos (Road of Seven Lakes).
Clear turquoise water pooled in sparkling streams and tranquil alpine lakes, while stark, snow speckled crags stood sentinel. But gone were the soaring heights of the more northern Andes. Snow at elevations of 4,000 to 6,000ft in the height of summer was a sure sign that we were getting to southern latitudes.

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We landed in the bustling city of Bariloche with high expectations, but, having sped through two lovely resort towns along the Ruta de Siete Lagos to get there, were disappointed.  Gone was the alpine setting, gone was the charm.  It just wasn’t our kind of town.  We stayed one night and had a nice dinner where this accordion player, who was very charming, entertained us.

We landed in the bustling city of Bariloche with high expectations, but, having sped through two lovely resort towns along the Ruta de Siete Lagos to get there, were disappointed. Gone was the alpine setting, gone was the charm. It just wasn’t our kind of town. We stayed one night and had a nice dinner where this accordion player, who was very charming, entertained us.

By sheer accident (needing gas) we stumbled upon the very cute town of El Bolsón, where a lively festival was in full swing.  Street musicians were playing, and the atmosphere was relaxed and uplifting with a decidedly bohemian feel.

By sheer accident (needing gas) we stumbled upon the very cute town of El Bolsón, where a lively festival was in full swing. Street musicians were playing, and the atmosphere was relaxed and uplifting with a decidedly bohemian feel.

Unlike many “Artisan” fairs, where it seems most of the wares are mass produced, the artists here displayed beautiful, hand crafted art.  This man was carving lovely designs on gourds for drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay).  Mate, short for Yerba Mate, is an herb which is packed in a mate vessel (of choice), covered with hot water and drunk through a straw-like contraption (called a bombilla).  Argentineans love their mates and are often seen ambling down the road, sipping on their mates with hot water thermoses (for refills) slung over a shoulder.

Unlike many “Artisan” fairs, where it seems most of the wares are mass produced, the artists here displayed beautiful, hand crafted art. This man was carving lovely designs on gourds for drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay). Mate, short for Yerba Mate, is an herb which is packed in a mate vessel (of choice), covered with hot water and drunk through a straw-like contraption (called a bombilla). Argentineans love their mates and are often seen ambling down the road, sipping on their mates with hot water thermoses (for refills) slung over a shoulder.

We ducked off of the 40 to drive down the RP 71 through the Parque Nacional Los Alerces (named for an alpine tree), but it was getting dark.  Just before the park entrance we spotted a small opening in the fence, and followed a dirt track into paradise; a lush meadow surrounded by beautiful trees and craggy mountains.  There was also a wonderful, old split rail corral, but it looked like no one had used it for years.  The night was star-filled and fabulously peaceful.  We read later that Butch Cassidy and Sundance had a ranch very near this area, hmmm…?

We ducked off of the 40 to drive down the RP 71 through the Parque Nacional Los Alerces (named for an alpine tree), but it was getting dark. Just before the park entrance we spotted a small opening in the fence, and followed a dirt track into paradise; a lush meadow surrounded by beautiful trees and craggy mountains. There was also a wonderful, old split rail corral, but it looked like no one had used it for years. The night was star-filled and fabulously peaceful. We read later that Butch Cassidy and Sundance had a ranch very near this area, hmmm…?

Morning in paradise.   Ned, having bought a gourd in El Bolsón, is now our resident mate expert, but still generously makes me my morning coffee.  We spent the whole morning in our tranquil cow pasture, relaxing with our hot beverages of choice, eating breakfast and working out, even romping through the meadow like youngsters.

Morning in paradise.
Ned, having bought a gourd in El Bolsón, is now our resident mate expert, but still generously makes me my morning coffee. We spent the whole morning in our tranquil cow pasture, relaxing with our hot beverages of choice, eating breakfast and working out, even romping through the meadow like youngsters.

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Ah, but we do still love the wide open desert.  Another lovely camp down a lonely dirt track off of the 40.  Dipping from arid to alpine provided refreshing contrasts.

Ah, but we do still love the wide open desert. Another lovely camp down a lonely dirt track off of the 40. Dipping from arid to alpine provided refreshing contrasts.

Another festival, another sharp contrast.  In Rio Mayo, we spotted a sign saying “30th Annual Festival Nacional de la Esquila.”  We had no idea what an esquila was, but there were lots of people milling around with a totally different feel than El Bolsón.  No hippies here.  We were now in Argentine Patagonia, sheep country, so we weren’t surprised to find lamb roasting on open fire pits.  We had heard that “cordero asado” was the traditional food in this area, but we had no way of knowing…

Another festival, another sharp contrast. In Rio Mayo, we spotted a sign saying “30th Annual Festival Nacional de la Esquila.” We had no idea what an esquila was, but there were lots of people milling around with a totally different feel than El Bolsón. No hippies here. We were now in Argentine Patagonia, sheep country, so we weren’t surprised to find lamb roasting on open fire pits. We had heard that “cordero asado” was the traditional food in this area, but we had no way of knowing…

…just how wonderful it was!   We jumped in line for our cordero and sat with the locals to enjoy the tender, crispy, succulent treat.  The funny dudes painted on the wall behind Ned were comic renditions of different gaucho personalities.

…just how wonderful it was! We jumped in line for our cordero and sat with the locals to enjoy the tender, crispy, succulent treat. The funny dudes painted on the wall behind Ned were comic renditions of different gaucho personalities.

The locals thought we were amusing but were very welcoming.

The locals thought we were amusing but were very welcoming.

Carnivores to the bone.

Carnivores to the bone.

Walking off our lamb feast, we found, not handmade crafts, but tons of cheap Chinese clothing and plastic crap, items useful in rural and ranching homes.  It was a dose of reality.   Then we found the contest and figured out what esquila was…shearing!  It was a sheep shearing contest and it was brutal.  And exciting.  And real.  I know for some of you who are vegetarians and/or animal lovers, watching us munch on lamb bones is a bit tough, but this will be worse.  We spared you some of the most graphic shots, but these are still pretty harsh.

Walking off our lamb feast, we found, not handmade crafts, but tons of cheap Chinese clothing and plastic crap, items useful in rural and ranching homes. It was a dose of reality.
Then we found the contest and figured out what esquila was…shearing! It was a sheep shearing contest and it was brutal. And exciting. And real. I know for some of you who are vegetarians and/or animal lovers, watching us munch on lamb bones is a bit tough, but this will be worse. We spared you some of the most graphic shots, but these are still pretty harsh.

The sheep were dragged onto the stage, hog-tied by painful looking twine…

The sheep were dragged onto the stage, hog-tied by painful looking twine…

…and roughly sheared within an inch of their lives.

…and roughly sheared within an inch of their lives.

It was a contest, and speed was the name of the game.

It was a contest, and speed was the name of the game.

And the sheep definitely looked worse for the wear.

And the sheep definitely looked worse for the wear.

A Patagonian gaucho.

A Patagonian gaucho.

Another favorite sign…yes, wind has been our constant companion here in Southern Argentina.       At this point we were feeling a bit of urgency. We were around 700 miles from Ushuaia, a town on the island of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost point we could drive to.  But we were somewhat on tender hooks. Poor Charlotte was suffering with coolant leaks and subsequent overheating, a gear oil leak, an exhaust leak, a clacking CV joint, a brake squeaking and tires that kept plaguing us with flats. We were feeling the need to beeline south to Ushuaia.

Another favorite sign…yes, wind has been our constant companion here in Southern Argentina.
At this point we were feeling a bit of urgency. We were around 700 miles from Ushuaia, a town on the island of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost point we could drive to. But we were somewhat on tender hooks. Poor Charlotte was suffering with coolant leaks and subsequent overheating, a gear oil leak, an exhaust leak, a clacking CV joint, a brake squeaking and tires that kept plaguing us with flats. We were feeling the need to beeline south to Ushuaia.

But there were just so many wonderful diversions along the way.  We spotted a sign saying Cuevas de Los Manos (Caves of the Hands) and just had to go look, following a nasty washboard road 30 miles to this canyon.

But there were just so many wonderful diversions along the way. We spotted a sign saying Cuevas de Los Manos (Caves of the Hands) and just had to go look, following a nasty washboard road 30 miles to this canyon.

The Cuevas de Los Manos are actually a big deal.  It is a huge archeological site, and we paid to have a tour.  There were 20 people in our group, but the energetic guide spoke rapid-fire Argentinean Spanish (which is nearly undecipherable).  Juan (or John as he asked us to call him) was not an official guide, but was a youngster proud of his English and working here for the summer.   He tagged along to translate, but ended up giving us and two Germans our own private tour.        When asked if he liked his job, he replied, like any 21 year old would, that the 15 day stints without Wi-Fi or a cell signal were torture.  John did a fantastic job and had a dry, witty sense of humor.  His English was heavily accented but very good.        At one point when the German couple was lagging behind, taking photos, John turned to us, and with absolutely no trace of an accent said, “Oh for the love of Christ,” and tramped off to round up his wayward tourists.        John is hoping to get accepted to a university to become a biologist.  I think he’ll do just fine.

The Cuevas de Los Manos are actually a big deal. It is a huge archeological site, and we paid to have a tour. There were 20 people in our group, but the energetic guide spoke rapid-fire Argentinean Spanish (which is nearly undecipherable). Juan (or John as he asked us to call him) was not an official guide, but was a youngster proud of his English and working here for the summer. He tagged along to translate, but ended up giving us and two Germans our own private tour.
When asked if he liked his job, he replied, like any 21 year old would, that the 15 day stints without Wi-Fi or a cell signal were torture. John did a fantastic job and had a dry, witty sense of humor. His English was heavily accented but very good.
At one point when the German couple was lagging behind, taking photos, John turned to us, and with absolutely no trace of an accent said, “Oh for the love of Christ,” and tramped off to round up his wayward tourists.
John is hoping to get accepted to a university to become a biologist. I think he’ll do just fine.

There were thousands of hands “stenciled” on the long wall, preserved by an overhanging cliff.  The astonishing thing is that they were done 9,300 years ago in a two color process.  One color (paint made from local minerals, flora and spit) was put down as a base.  The second was sprayed by mouth through a straw over the artist’s own hand.

There were thousands of hands “stenciled” on the long wall, preserved by an overhanging cliff. The astonishing thing is that they were done 9,300 years ago in a two color process. One color (paint made from local minerals, flora and spit) was put down as a base. The second was sprayed by mouth through a straw over the artist’s own hand.

These ancient people relied heavily on the guanaco.  Archeologists believe this was painted during a time of thinning herds and depicts pregnant guanacos with the fertility symbol of the full moon.

These ancient people relied heavily on the guanaco. Archeologists believe this was painted during a time of thinning herds and depicts pregnant guanacos with the fertility symbol of the full moon.

Hunting guanaco (local alpacas).

Hunting guanaco (local alpacas).

Onward, toward the town of El Chaltén, the “Trekking Capital of the World” and the jumping off point for mountaineering in the area around the famed spires of Fitz Roy.

Onward, toward the town of El Chaltén, the “Trekking Capital of the World” and the jumping off point for mountaineering in the area around the famed spires of Fitz Roy.

Driving into El Chaltén, we got our first glimpse of the stunning Fitz Roy.  Chaltén is a relatively new town, built only in the 80’s to support the booming interest in trekking.  We stayed two nights in the town campground (which was filthy), but enjoyed some really great meals…

Driving into El Chaltén, we got our first glimpse of the stunning Fitz Roy. Chaltén is a relatively new town, built only in the 80’s to support the booming interest in trekking. We stayed two nights in the town campground (which was filthy), but enjoyed some really great meals…

…and a fantastic 14 mile hike to the base of Fitz Roy.

…and a fantastic 14 mile hike to the base of Fitz Roy.

Ned’s cousin Charlie had told us, “Fitz Roy is loved to death.”  That’s an understatement.  We found ourselves on the trail with dozens of hip 20-something Bobby Backpackers.  We thought we were pretty cool too, until we saw this photo of Ma and Pa Kettle.

Ned’s cousin Charlie had told us, “Fitz Roy is loved to death.” That’s an understatement. We found ourselves on the trail with dozens of hip 20-something Bobby Backpackers. We thought we were pretty cool too, until we saw this photo of Ma and Pa Kettle.

Well worth the 14 mile effort.

Well worth the 14 mile effort.

Our next stop in Argentine Patagonia was El Calafate, the gateway to the area’s most spectacular glaciers.  Here we happily found wonderful hardware and auto parts stores, both with incredibly helpful guys at the counters.  Ned was able to get critical supplies needed to work on some of Charlotte’s ailments.  We spent only one night, anxious to get out to the park to see the glaciers.        Our first cordero asado had been at the shearing festival where we paid 100 pesos (about 12 bucks).  Our second was in El Chaltén where we paid 150, but it was equally as delicious.  Now addicted, we had some here in the higher end tourist area of Calafate.  The presentation was certainly nicer, but we paid 230 pesos and it was dry and tasteless by comparison.  Lesson learned.

Our next stop in Argentine Patagonia was El Calafate, the gateway to the area’s most spectacular glaciers. Here we happily found wonderful hardware and auto parts stores, both with incredibly helpful guys at the counters. Ned was able to get critical supplies needed to work on some of Charlotte’s ailments. We spent only one night, anxious to get out to the park to see the glaciers.
Our first cordero asado had been at the shearing festival where we paid 100 pesos (about 12 bucks). Our second was in El Chaltén where we paid 150, but it was equally as delicious. Now addicted, we had some here in the higher end tourist area of Calafate. The presentation was certainly nicer, but we paid 230 pesos and it was dry and tasteless by comparison. Lesson learned.

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Approaching the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, we got our first look at the mammoth Perito Moreno Glacier.

Approaching the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, we got our first look at the mammoth Perito Moreno Glacier.

An hour long boat ride gave us an impressive, up close view from the lake.  It was cold and rainy, but beautiful.

An hour long boat ride gave us an impressive, up close view from the lake. It was cold and rainy, but beautiful.

Perito Moreno (named for an early explorer) marches at its glacial pace to the edge of Lago Argentino, covering 97 square miles in ice.   It is 19 miles long, and averages an incredible 240 feet above the surface of the lake.

Perito Moreno (named for an early explorer) marches at its glacial pace to the edge of Lago Argentino, covering 97 square miles in ice. It is 19 miles long, and averages an incredible 240 feet above the surface of the lake.

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Looming 25 floors above us, the ice creaked and groaned ominously.  From time to time, massive chunks “calved,” falling into the lake, producing a mighty splash and booming thunder.

Looming 25 floors above us, the ice creaked and groaned ominously. From time to time, massive chunks “calved,” falling into the lake, producing a mighty splash and booming thunder.

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Once off the boat we took the hike to the northern side of the glacier to see it from a different perspective.

Once off the boat we took the hike to the northern side of the glacier to see it from a different perspective.

Wow.

Wow.

The park campground was accessible only by a 20 mile washboard road.  Not really excited about another campground, we followed a faint track in the grass to this abandoned ranch.  We parked next to the fence, over a rise and completely out of sight of the road.  It was one of the best camps ever.

The park campground was accessible only by a 20 mile washboard road. Not really excited about another campground, we followed a faint track in the grass to this abandoned ranch. We parked next to the fence, over a rise and completely out of sight of the road. It was one of the best camps ever.

Ned serenaded me while I made dinner.

Ned serenaded me while I made dinner.

And then we went off to explore the old ranch.

And then we went off to explore the old ranch.

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Believe it or not, these were taken around 9pm.  This far south, it’s been getting dark at 11pm.

Believe it or not, these were taken around 9pm. This far south, it’s been getting dark at 11pm.

A local passerby was startled by our presence.

A local passerby was startled by our presence.

Crossing back into Chile to the town of Puerto Natales, we finally found new shoes for Charlotte.  Unfortunately we had to wait until morning to have them installed, so we stayed at this funky campground for the night.

Crossing back into Chile to the town of Puerto Natales, we finally found new shoes for Charlotte. Unfortunately we had to wait until morning to have them installed, so we stayed at this funky campground for the night.

Never trusting anyone to do the job right, Ned supervised while the guys installed Charlotte’s new tires.  The Car Whisperer had also put a new gasket in the leaking exhaust and stop-leak gunk in the radiator.  Both fixes, while temporary, appeared to be holding, so tires were the next big relief.

Never trusting anyone to do the job right, Ned supervised while the guys installed Charlotte’s new tires. The Car Whisperer had also put a new gasket in the leaking exhaust and stop-leak gunk in the radiator. Both fixes, while temporary, appeared to be holding, so tires were the next big relief.

Cool sculpture in Puerto Natales.

Cool sculpture in Puerto Natales.

The Estancias (Ranches) in Patagonia are gorgeous.  Tidy and well kept, each ranch sported uniform colors on the roofs of their buildings.  Some roofs were bright red or yellow, some a mellow green like this one.

The Estancias (Ranches) in Patagonia are gorgeous. Tidy and well kept, each ranch sported uniform colors on the roofs of their buildings. Some roofs were bright red or yellow, some a mellow green like this one.

It’s all about the sheep down here.

It’s all about the sheep down here.

Oh no, how did we get here?  Am I that bad a navigator?!

Oh no, how did we get here? Am I that bad a navigator?!

From Puerto Natales we took the Ruta 9 south, then the 255 east where we came to this big water way.  Looking on our map app, I could see that it was the first place where the waters of the Atlantic meet the waters of the Pacific.  It seemed pertinent.  And then it hit me.  This was the Straights of Magellan!  I don’t know why, but this got me very excited.   A place we learned about in grade school!  Explorers!  New world!  And we were getting so close to Ushuaia.

From Puerto Natales we took the Ruta 9 south, then the 255 east where we came to this big water way. Looking on our map app, I could see that it was the first place where the waters of the Atlantic meet the waters of the Pacific. It seemed pertinent. And then it hit me. This was the Straights of Magellan! I don’t know why, but this got me very excited. A place we learned about in grade school! Explorers! New world! And we were getting so close to Ushuaia.

Along the beautiful blue waters of the Straights, we came upon this historic Estancia and decided to look around.  We were in for some big surprises.

Along the beautiful blue waters of the Straights, we came upon this historic Estancia and decided to look around. We were in for some big surprises.

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Around the back of the biggest building we found some work going on.  Gauchos were herding and separating sheep.

Around the back of the biggest building we found some work going on. Gauchos were herding and separating sheep.

There were fleecy ones…

There were fleecy ones…

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…and fleeced ones.

…and fleeced ones.

Reality sucks.

Reality sucks.

Exploring inside the building, we discovered hundreds of huge bales of wool.  We thought we were trespassing and crept around stealthily…

Exploring inside the building, we discovered hundreds of huge bales of wool. We thought we were trespassing and crept around stealthily…

…only to walk right into this scene.  Instead of being angry, these gauchos welcomed us, and invited us to get closer to the action.

…only to walk right into this scene. Instead of being angry, these gauchos welcomed us, and invited us to get closer to the action.

By another stroke of good fortune, we had arrived at this Estancia’s shearing time.  But this was no contest, this was the real deal.  The guys worked so fast that all of the photos of hands are blurry.  I felt guilty being in their way, as they had obvious deadlines to meet, but they could not have been kinder.

By another stroke of good fortune, we had arrived at this Estancia’s shearing time. But this was no contest, this was the real deal. The guys worked so fast that all of the photos of hands are blurry. I felt guilty being in their way, as they had obvious deadlines to meet, but they could not have been kinder.

The sheep were also treated much more gently.  They were not tied and quietly submitted to the shearing.  The whole time we were there, we saw no bloody cuts, but the work still got done fast.

The sheep were also treated much more gently. They were not tied and quietly submitted to the shearing. The whole time we were there, we saw no bloody cuts, but the work still got done fast.

The gaucho behind me thought it would be fun (or funny) to see if I would hold a fleece (yes, this is an entire sheep’s coat).  I knew the fleece was filthy and greasy with lanolin, but I couldn’t resist.  It was really dirty, but sooo soft!

The gaucho behind me thought it would be fun (or funny) to see if I would hold a fleece (yes, this is an entire sheep’s coat). I knew the fleece was filthy and greasy with lanolin, but I couldn’t resist. It was really dirty, but sooo soft!

More manual labor.  These guys were hand (and foot) packing the wool into bales.

More manual labor. These guys were hand (and foot) packing the wool into bales.

Another visual treat on the Estancia…two shipwrecks! Both ships were in use in the Straights in the late 1800’s, wrecked in the early 1900’s.

Another visual treat on the Estancia…two shipwrecks!
Both ships were in use in the Straights in the late 1800’s, wrecked in the early 1900’s.

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Getting closer!  We were on the Ruta Fin del Mundo…the Road to the End of the World!  This was also the first sign pointing to the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Getting closer! We were on the Ruta Fin del Mundo…the Road to the End of the World! This was also the first sign pointing to the island of Tierra del Fuego.

We arrived at the Puerta Delgada and boarded the ferry to the island.  It was an efficient 20 minute crossing of the Straights of Magellan.

We arrived at the Puerta Delgada and boarded the ferry to the island. It was an efficient 20 minute crossing of the Straights of Magellan.

Tierra del Fuego?  Land of Fire?  Really?  It looked more like Nebraska.  But it was still very exciting to be here.

Tierra del Fuego? Land of Fire? Really? It looked more like Nebraska. But it was still very exciting to be here.

After nearly 100 miles of torturous washboard roads, we drove back into Argentina for our final push to Ushuaia.  But it was getting late when we made the border crossing, so we had some dinner at this fine hostel in San Sebastian, a dusty, border outpost.  The gal at the counter said they had Chicken Suprema or Bisteca Milonesa.  “What’s the difference?” we asked.  “One’s chicken, the other’s beef.”  Ok, we’ll have the chicken.   We waited an hour and half, finally eating our mystery chicken and fries at 11:00pm (have I mentioned that these people eat late??!!).  We were so tired, we drove around to a road construction site a couple of hundred yards from the hostel. We bedded down, thinking that tomorrow was Sunday and no one would show up at the site.

After nearly 100 miles of torturous washboard roads, we drove back into Argentina for our final push to Ushuaia. But it was getting late when we made the border crossing, so we had some dinner at this fine hostel in San Sebastian, a dusty, border outpost. The gal at the counter said they had Chicken Suprema or Bisteca Milonesa. “What’s the difference?” we asked. “One’s chicken, the other’s beef.” Ok, we’ll have the chicken. We waited an hour and half, finally eating our mystery chicken and fries at 11:00pm (have I mentioned that these people eat late??!!). We were so tired, we drove around to a road construction site a couple of hundred yards from the hostel. We bedded down, thinking that tomorrow was Sunday and no one would show up at the site.

Wrong!   We woke to the sound of tractors firing up. Oh crap!  We scrambled to get dressed and out of there as the grader worked back and forth right in front of us.  But the guys were cool, smiling and waving as we drove away.   Ned grinned and said, "You want to drive to Ushuaia today?"   How cool is that?   That's exactly what he said the day we left home 13 months ago. 13 months ago we were 27,000 miles away.  Now we only had 170 miles to go to get to Ushuaia!

Wrong! We woke to the sound of tractors firing up. Oh crap! We scrambled to get dressed and out of there as the grader worked back and forth right in front of us. But the guys were cool, smiling and waving as we drove away. Ned grinned and said, “You want to drive to Ushuaia today?” How cool is that? That’s exactly what he said the day we left home 13 months ago. 13 months ago we were 27,000 miles away. Now we only had 170 miles to go to get to Ushuaia!

Looking more like the Land of Fire.

Looking more like the Land of Fire.

Ushuaia!!  We made it!  All three of us still kicking after 27,000 amazing miles.

Ushuaia!! We made it! All three of us still kicking after 27,000 amazing miles.

Ok, getting to Ushuaia was cool, but, checking the map, we found it was not the farthest point we could drive.  We needed to go another 20 miles into the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, where the Ruta 3 would finally end at the southernmost point.  We weren’t done yet, and neither of us was ready for a city.

Ok, getting to Ushuaia was cool, but, checking the map, we found it was not the farthest point we could drive. We needed to go another 20 miles into the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, where the Ruta 3 would finally end at the southernmost point. We weren’t done yet, and neither of us was ready for a city.

“Turn around Charlotte, there ain’t no more road!!”  Driving through the park we finally arrived at the Fin del Mundo…

“Turn around Charlotte, there ain’t no more road!!” Driving through the park we finally arrived at the Fin del Mundo…

…the End of the World!   A happy moment for Ned, Kat, and Charlotte (and Vaca Muerta too, who has been our good luck charm since Baja Mexico).

…the End of the World!
A happy moment for Ned, Kat, and Charlotte (and Vaca Muerta too, who has been our good luck charm since Baja Mexico).

“Here ends the Ruta 3” Note the reference to Alaska…that’s our Charlottamiles goal for this June!

“Here ends the Ruta 3”
Note the reference to Alaska…that’s our Charlottamiles goal for this June!

Holy Sh*t!  We are the blue dot at the bottom tip of the continent.

Holy Sh*t! We are the blue dot at the bottom tip of the continent.

Straights of Magellan, Cape Horn. Wow.

Straights of Magellan, Cape Horn. Wow.

Note the low elevation and the southern latitude.

Note the low elevation and the southern latitude.

Exploring the park, we found it gorgeous, but very cold and drizzly, even now, the warmest time of a southern hemisphere summer.

Exploring the park, we found it gorgeous, but very cold and drizzly, even now, the warmest time of a southern hemisphere summer.

Beautiful horses seemed to have the run of the park.

Beautiful horses seemed to have the run of the park.

Ushuaia was infamous for its brutal prison in the early 1900’s and this historic train that runs through the park was the prison train.  Now it carries happy tourists through the lovely park.        As I was trying to get this great photo of horses grazing peacefully with the train going by, the horse behind ruined my shot by nagging and pushing the other one into action.  I swear it was a dare because he finally got the other one going and I watched in amazement as they raced over the tracks right in front of the train.

Ushuaia was infamous for its brutal prison in the early 1900’s and this historic train that runs through the park was the prison train. Now it carries happy tourists through the lovely park.
As I was trying to get this great photo of horses grazing peacefully with the train going by, the horse behind ruined my shot by nagging and pushing the other one into action. I swear it was a dare because he finally got the other one going and I watched in amazement as they raced over the tracks right in front of the train.

Our entrance fee included two free nights in this incredible, primitive campground.  Our only neighbors were very quiet (and four legged).

Our entrance fee included two free nights in this incredible, primitive campground. Our only neighbors were very quiet (and four legged).

They did want to know what was for dinner, though…and they would have liked it!  Not being well provisioned with fresh food, I scrounged up a vegetarian dish: Sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil Add: 1/2 beer Some water Diced potato  Quinoa Can of lentils Diced tomato Hot curry powder Tandoori spice Dash of cumin Basil Salt and pepper Splash Balsamic vinegar Not bad for a veggie meal!

They did want to know what was for dinner, though…and they would have liked it! Not being well provisioned with fresh food, I scrounged up a vegetarian dish:
Sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil
Add:
1/2 beer
Some water
Diced potato
Quinoa
Can of lentils
Diced tomato
Hot curry powder
Tandoori spice
Dash of cumin
Basil
Salt and pepper
Splash Balsamic vinegar
Not bad for a veggie meal!

The next day we did a wonderful 5 mile hike to a lookout over the Beagle Channel which lies south of the island of Tierra del Fuego.   The forest had a mysterious, quiet feel, aided by the fact that we saw no one else the whole hike.

The next day we did a wonderful 5 mile hike to a lookout over the Beagle Channel which lies south of the island of Tierra del Fuego. The forest had a mysterious, quiet feel, aided by the fact that we saw no one else the whole hike.

It felt wonderful being here at the End of the World.  The three of us have driven 27,000 fantastic miles together, and it’s not over yet.  We still have to drive 3,000 miles back to Santiago, Chile, the closest port where we can feasibly ship Charlotte home to the west coast. We focused on southern Argentina on the way down. On the way back north we plan to cover southern Chile.  Still to come…exploring Chilean Patagonia and the famous Carretera Austral!

It felt wonderful being here at the End of the World. The three of us have driven 27,000 fantastic miles together, and it’s not over yet. We still have to drive 3,000 miles back to Santiago, Chile, the closest port where we can feasibly ship Charlotte home to the west coast. We focused on southern Argentina on the way down. On the way back north we plan to cover southern Chile. Still to come…exploring Chilean Patagonia and the famous Carretera Austral!

Back in the Saddle in Northern Argentina – Red Rocks, Red Wine and 20,000 miles!

Greetings from South America again, finally!

Ned and I have only been reunited with Charlotte and back on the road for two weeks, but so much has happened (including hitting 20,000 miles since embarking a year ago) that it feels like a month.  Our adventures continue to inspire and humble us as we make more wonderful friends and stumble upon some of the earth’s most astonishing scenery.

We have taken almost 700 photos during these two weeks, and have had to cull them down to about 250 “keepers.”  Of those, we had to choose which ones to share on the blog and have had a tough time, since I typically set a 75 photo limit.  We ended up posting 110 of our favorites, so this is a longer than usual blog.  Please just enjoy the photos or follow along as we retell our stories.

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th..  After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems.  Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.   Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th.. After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems. Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.
Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!).   The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!). The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September.  It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items.  First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack.  Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines.  She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.   Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road.  Now where in Santiago would I find those things?  The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store.  I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores!  Was I a happy camper or what??   I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago! In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed.  She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off.   So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat.  He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September. It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items. First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack. Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines. She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.
Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road. Now where in Santiago would I find those things? The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store. I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores! Was I a happy camper or what??
I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago!
In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed. She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off. So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat. He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot.  He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo.  Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot. He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo. Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

Street graffiti.  Puppy love???  Not sure, but…

Street graffiti. Puppy love??? Not sure, but…

The tallest building in South America.  You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

The tallest building in South America. You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

Ned will share this one, of course:  Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars.  As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town.  These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles.  Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country!  Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren.  These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini.  We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

Ned will share this one, of course:
Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars. As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town. These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles. Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country! Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren. These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini. We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.   Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold.  Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country.  This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September).  The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert.  After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.
Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold. Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country. This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September). The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert. After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world.  We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year.  I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!   Note:  Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world. We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year. I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!
Note: Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts.  We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts. We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity!  If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity! If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

This was by far the best border crossing ever.  It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

This was by far the best border crossing ever. It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs.  The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be.  By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs. The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be. By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft.  No immediate plans to climb it.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft. No immediate plans to climb it.

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat.  Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite.  The local dogs were hoping otherwise.  Absolutely delicious!

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat. Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite. The local dogs were hoping otherwise. Absolutely delicious!

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen!  He was pretty happy with the stickers. Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen! He was pretty happy with the stickers.
Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines.  The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints.  On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines. The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints. On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog.  Still no paper, soap or seats.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog. Still no paper, soap or seats.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city.  Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side.  We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there. We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.   In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been encrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city. Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side. We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there.
We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.
In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been incrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

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Not a job for the feint hearted!

Not a job for the feint hearted!

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves.  We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate. Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water.  We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco. Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves. We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate.
Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water. We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco.
Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!! This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!!
This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina.  Pinch me!

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina. Pinch me!

Beautiful local flora.

Beautiful local flora.

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Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display.  We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display. We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

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Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah.  And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah. And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

The friar…

The friar…

And the witch!

And the witch!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.   The night skies have been spectacular, but odd.  I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky.  Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.
The night skies have been spectacular, but odd. I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky. Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt.  The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal.  So why are we are heading north?   Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt. The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal. So why are we are heading north?
Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

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The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40.  Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Feathers)…

The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40. Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Arrows)…

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As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples.  This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples. This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

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In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles.  Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles. Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

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While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi.  It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás.  We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates.  We asked many locals, but few had heard of them.  The Challenge was on! After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river).  It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river.  The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation.  Nice. Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi. It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás. We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates. We asked many locals, but few had heard of them. The Challenge was on!
After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river). It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river. The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation. Nice.
Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!).  At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!). At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured).  We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured). We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon.  We must be on the right track!  Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator - again!  And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash.  The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery.  But it sure was beautiful.  And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon. We must be on the right track! Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator – again! And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash. The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery. But it sure was beautiful. And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue.  Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue. Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo.  But it was beginning to be irrelevant.  What we were seeing was stunning enough!

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo. But it was beginning to be irrelevant. What we were seeing was stunning enough!

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See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably.  We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?).  He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably. We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?). He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful.  I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful. I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

And these are wafers, no?

And these are wafers, no?

But these??!!

But these??!!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

The walls narrowed…

The walls narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and, victory!  We found the caves!

…and, victory! We found the caves!

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This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

We had to crawl through this one…

We had to crawl through this one…

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

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Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

There!

There!

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway.  By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway. By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days.  We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain.  The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns.  The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days. We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain. The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns. The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine.  Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine. Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city.  It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city. It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine!  By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped.  We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine! By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped. We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence.  Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm.  I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time.  And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed.  In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen).  But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee.  I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more.  Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.”  I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar.  It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted. Argentineans also take siesta time seriously.  After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night.  Then the towns and cities come alive. Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition:  “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence. Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm. I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time. And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed. In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen). But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee. I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more. Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.” I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar. It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted.
Argentineans also take siesta time seriously. After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Then the towns and cities come alive.
Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition: “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

…and a fun ride.  Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport.  I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined.  (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!) We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely.  There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests. Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet.  We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!

…and a fun ride. Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport. I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined. (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!)
We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely. There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests.
Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet. We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!