Pucón to Pichilemu

We drove all the way to Pucón that day. It’s a strange place full of German stuff – there’s a German bakery, Omas Café, Kuchen on sale everywhere…
I was very tempted to try and join a tour to climb volcano​ Villarrica, but the weather was bad and it was also rather expensive. Instead, we decided to follow another tip the Canadian couple had given us and go to one of the many thermal pools in the area. The one we were heading to allowed you to also camp there. It was a good 2 hour drive from Pucón up the mountain on narrow gravel roads. Early on, we were stopped by an elderly farmer on his way back from the a Sunday drink and shopping, so we gave him a lift. Unfortunately, I could hardly understand a word he was saying! But I did get that after we dropped him off, he still had to do a 1 hour walk to his actual house… A bit later we picked up another old man about 10km from his home (people really do walk far!) and dropped h off in front of his house. We got invited for tea if we passed by the house again ;).
It was a pretty grey and rainy day, and once we finally reached the termas, it was amazing to sit in the hot pools. We must have spent 4 or 5 hours just sat in the warm water while it rained occasionally.


When we finally got out, we just cooked some food and went to sleep (not that there was anything else to do! We were the only people staying overnight). Next morning, we jumped back in the pool to wake up (there are showers as well, but they’re cold – i don’t think anyone ever used them) and then started on a few hours of driving.

Our first stop was a vineyard in San Javier, where we got a very interesting and private tour and of course a wine tasting (but unfortunately it was my turn to drive…).

(This is what earthquakes do to wine tanks…)

We then headed for the coast in Constitución and from there on to near Pichilemu. We stayed near a semi-private beach and had an awesome view of the sea and sunset.


A few people working in the hostel nearby joined us for the sunset and later invited us to a little bonfire on the beach. We had a spare day before we wanted to reach Santiago, so decided to stay in the area for another day. One of the people at the hostel was planning to go to Santiago as well, so we arranged to give her a lift the day after.
We spent a relaxed day checking out the market in Pichilemu and trying to find a particular kind of meat for Oscar, as he was planning to cook dinner on the fire that night. Once we’d finally found it, we watched surfers for a bit and then headed to our spot. The sky was so clear in that area that we had a really good view of the milky way and we just sat by the fire until midnight.

Patagonia

The next morning, we set off for Torres del Paine National Park. It’s got two multiple day hiking treks, but since we have the car (and no tent), we decided to just drive around and do short hikes instead. Our first stop was Lago Grey, with view of Glacier Grey (and an iceberg floating in the lake!).

Two other hikers were very lucky that Wicked had given us a jump start cable because they had left the light on (you have to have your light on at all times in Chile and Argentina) and their battery was flat. Could just as easily happen to us, because the van doesn’t warn you when you’ve left the light on…
After Lago Grey, we did another short walk in an area with strong winds (they’re not kidding when they say that, felt in danger of being blown off my feet at times!).

A ticket to the park allows you to stay for up to three days and with a van like ours you an overnight in one of the parking lots (whereever there are bathrooms). Unfortunately, we stayed near a river with a lot of mosquitos! The next morning, we did part of the walk to Mirador del Torres. With hindsight I really wish we’d planned better and done the whole hike… But hey!


In the afternoon, we left the park and crossed into Argentina (there are no roads going North in Chile at that point). We stayed in El Calafate and enjoyed our first hot shower in days at the campsite… 🙂 We also took a drive to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for Perito Moreno glacier. We went in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, but unfortunately it was a bit rainy. Still very impressive to see (and hear!) a glacier up close though!


Our next stop in Argentina was El Chaltén, which is actually in the same national park (but this time we didn’t have to pay stupid amounts of money like we did for the glacier). We took a hike to Laguna Torre in beautiful sunshine.

As we left El Chaltén that evening, we took two French/Basque hitchhikers who have been making their way through Argentina and Chile, playing the guitar and slacklining in bigger cities to make some money. We said we’d drive until about 9pm and then just stop on the side of the road somewhere……….. And we should have stopped when we saw a sign announcing resurfacing of Ruta 40 for the next 72km! It wasn’t fun driving across gravel and mud while it was getting darker and darker (no street lights). But there wasn’t really any good place to stop either, so we kept going and got stuck in the mud at some point (good thing we had taken those hitchhikers to help push us out!). When we finally finished the 72km around 11pm, we just pulled over and slept (best thing about the van). The next morning, we said goodbye to the hitchhikers and continued on to see the Cueva de las Manos, which are 9000 year old handprints and paintings on the side of the rock in a beautiful secluded canyon. Once again, the road leading up to and away from it were rather challenging (steep inclines this time, plus also gravel).

We made it to the town of Perito Moreno in the evening and stayed in the municipal campsite, where we met a Canadian couple who’s been driving down from Canada! We were planning on crossing back into Chile to see Laguna San Rafael, but they told us the roads were really really bad (and it was quite far), so in the end we decided to keep driving in Argentina. They also suggested that we could try and get a boat from Colombia to Panama and then fly to the US from there – we were hoping to have enough money at the end to go to the San Blast islands and apparently these boats go via them as well, but for less money than a special cruise. Let’s see if that works!

Staying in Argentina meant that we would pass by Bariloche and the Lake District. But before heading there, we decided to spend the night in another national park close by (Parque Nacional de Alerces). Funnily enough, on our way there we picked up the same French hitchhikers again – which was handy, because they’d forgotten a jumper in the car (I was ready to claim it, but was also happy to be able to give it back). Plus, they gifted us a little Bluetooth speaker after having to listen to our tiny one for a while. Result!

The park itself was beautiful, full of trees and lakes. We camped near the lake and enjoyed a very starry night (also full of mosquitos though). We had breakfast near the lake, watching the sun come up…

Before driving on, we went for a little walk, hoping to see a puma (we didn’t).

On our way north, we passed by the cabin in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived after fleeing the US.

 

A rather aggressive police control later (including a sniffer dog!), we found a nice campsite in Colonia Suiza near Bariloche. The owner Ana put on the Chile vs Argentina game in the evening and we watched it together with her and some other guests, including an American couple in their late 40s/ early 50s who have “retired” to travel around the world for the rest of their lives. It’s always interesting to hear these stories and how people realise their dreams.
The next day, we did the Circuito Chico, which is a circular route around Lago Moreno. We started with a 30min hike up a rather steep hill for a view of the lakes. The rest of the day was very relaxed as we drove around and stopped occasionally, but we didn’t want to leave the car alone for too long as we had been warned that there are a lot of break ins in that area.


We got back early on and Oscar decided to try to slow cook some meat like we had eaten in the hostel in Florianopólis (it turned out well).


Next day we started driving up via the 7 lakes route. We gave a lift to a Spanish hitchhiker on her way to Chile as well. This particular border crossing is in a national park and so we had some nice views even after the lake district. Chile is very strict about what you can bring into the country and we were advised to declare stuff rather than them fining us if they found anything. We had to get rid of onions and other vegetables we had in the car, but they also pretty much took everything apart (including checking in our dirty clothes….). I don’t think the van design does us any favours in those cases!

Punta Arenas

We arrived around 7pm and had a bit of trouble finding our accommodation (the place looked like a normal house, so I decided it couldn’t be it). Our first meal in Chile was the biggest steak we’ve ever seen (for Oscar) and a mixed lasagna (for me), either of which would have fed about 3 people. Oscar almost cried at his inability to finish his steak :).
The next morning was the big day to pick up our Wicked Camper! I’d been looking forward to having a car and being able to drive and stop whenever we want to. We got dropped off by a taxi driver with plastic sheeting for a window. The first van we saw had “Femme Fatale” on the side and Oscar said “This better not be ours”. But of course it was :).


Alejandro, the person responsible for Wicked vans in Punta Arenas, took a lot of time to talk us through everything. We were planning on buying sleeping bags but there was a shelf of free stuff that other people had left, which happened to contain two sleeping bags, pillows and a woolly blanket (and since we have silk sleeping bag liners, we were happy to take them!). We were off! Straight to the supermarket where we spent the next 3 hours stocking up. Our first purchase was a Chilean SIM which, a week later, has only worked properly once. Oh well!

We decided to spend the first night south of Punta Arenas so we could test everything before actually setting off. We headed off towards Fuerte Bulnes and got lucky an hour into our drive along the Strait of Magellan – three dolphins playing in the water not too far off the coast. The drive took us through a number of small villages and past old fishing boats and we got a first taste of the gravel roads that you find in many places in Patagonia. Having reached the fort too late for entry, we continued on until the end of the road to reach the “southernmost lighthouse of the Americas”, San Isidro. Unfortunately, it was really late once we got there, so we decided to park up for the night rather than walk in the dark. We chose a nice location by the Strait close to a fisherman’s hut and tested the gas cooker and bed. Our new sleeping bags and blanket kept us quite warm and it was comfortable enough that we slept in until 10am!
We then went back to Fuerte Bulnes and explored the reconstructed fort there. Unfortunately, due to recent puma sightings, a lot of the walks were closed…

On our way past Punta Arenas, we picked up some more provisions and petrol (there are not a whole lot of petrol stations down here, so you’re recommended to fill up whenever you can) before continuing on to Puerto Natales. While looking for place to park up for the night, we drove past the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’, which had apparently arrived the day before.
We spent the night on a parking lot near the sea, next to a French family who had been stuck there for a week due to issues with their van. Hopefully that won’t happen to us!

Ushuaia

Our flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires was one of the shakiest both of us have ever been on, from take off to landing (people actually applauded with relief once the pilot sat the plane down). Coming out of the airport was a bit of a temperature shock, it was about 6 degrees and rainy. We shared a cab into town with two random French ladies, got into our paint smelling apartment and turned on the heating. Annoyingly, the only kitchen gadget in the apartment was a kettle – no fridge, no stove… The only useful thing in there was an extra bed in the kitchen, so that we could host Max (who we had met in the school in Buenos Aires) for the second night.
We had booked our stay in Ushuaia early on – before the lessons we learned about not just booking two nights! So we only had one full day to discover anything of the area and had to make a choice between the National Park and another hike recommended to us, to Laguna Esmeralda. We decided for the Laguna n d set off the next day in a shuttle bus with one other person, a book seller/ musicians from Buenos Aires. It had been raining quite a lot, so the path was very muddy on top of being very boggy in the first place. Fortunately, we’d bought new trainers that let the water go through rather than keep it in and they were put to good use when Oscar decided to take a path that meant we had to cross a small river!
Once we reached the lake, it was clear why it had been recommended to us. The colour really was emerald and it must be even more stunning in good weather.
On the way back, the sun decided to come out for a little, which made for a more pleasant return trip.

(Photos are still on the camera – will upload more later)

Max joined us in the apartment that evening and we shared a rapidly cooling take-away meal in our ‘kitchen’.

The next morning, we already got on the bus to Punta Arenas in Chile. While driving, we crossed the Straits of Magellan (where we had to disembark from the coach and stand on the ferry deck while crossing). Oscar was moaning about the cold, but I was really excited to be crossing this stretch of water that I remember reading about when I was a child.

Buenos Aires

We got to Buenos Aires on the 1st of March and by that point I think we were both ready to move on from Carnival! Plus we wanted to have a bit of time before our Spanish course to discover the city.

We took the bus to São Paulo and stayed over at our friend Erika’s house. We went for dinner with her father, brother and Luiz.

Her father took us to the bus station the next morning and made sure we were going in the right direction for the airport. Communication was not the easiest, but the whole family was super friendly.

We had booked an apartment in the Palermo area of Buenos Aires, as recommended​ by Fernando. It’s a very nice area full of bars and restaurants. We arrived after midnight, but this being Argentina, we had no problem getting dinner in the area. And we took care of an important thing the best day, which was to buy some Malbec after two months of mainly drinking beer!

We met up with Angel and Elisa the next night and they took us to a nice restaurant where Oscar could get the kind of steak he’d been talking about for weeks!

We also got introduced to a “Pinguino”, which is a penguin-shaped jug with house wine that you can order in restaurants.

We went on one of the free walking tours in the city again, which was really good.

On Saturday, we met with Angel and Elisa on Plaza Francia for some mate. We had tried before but found it very bitter, but they had brought sugar which makes it a lot easier for beginners! 🙂

It’s quite funny because when you drink together, one person is responsible for filling up the cup with water and handing it to everyone in turn. A bit like passing around a joint…

In the evening, we met with Fernando’s friend Santiago, who I had already met in London. We had a great dinner with him and his fiancee and then got taken to a speakeasy bar in the basement of a flower shop!

On Sunday, Elisa and Angel took us to the “Feria de Mataderos”, a weekly market with traditional crafts, food and music.  There are a lot more traditional dances in Argentina than we had ever heard of… And we got to see some dancers in traditional clothes.

Tamales and Loucro

Making empanadas

On Monday, we had to get up early for the first time in months to get to the Spanish School. They had organised a stay with a retired art professor in Recoleta for us, which was in a huge apartment on Avenida Santa Fé, a big road with shops.

The school (Expanish) is quite big and there were a lot of – mainly European – students. A lot of Swiss, actually!

There were quite a few events after classes, so we got to see a bit more of Buenos Aires in the afternoon. We also went to a Tango class which was fun.

Casa Rosada

In Puerto Madero

Puente de las Mujeres

Plaza de Mayo

We left Buenos Aires after just a bit more than a week, feeling that we really should have had more time. I really liked the city, it’s a place I feel I could easily live!