Ushuaia to Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Feb 8, 2014
|Wednesday 5th February 2014
Ushuaia, Argentina to Ghost Town Bush Camp, near Punta Arenas, Chile (650km – 13 hours incl breaks)
It was snowing when we woke up to pack up our tent this morning, so as you can imagine, pretty cold! After we packed the tent up, we had breakfast and left Ushuaia. We had a really nice time there – not only picturesquely beautiful but a nice feeling about it . As we drove out of the town all the hills around the town were covered in new snow from overnight, and it continued snowing until we reached the part of the road that ran beside the ocean (Atlantic). At about 9am we stopped and had coffee at a servo. It was still bitterly cold and windy. We were all rugged up on the truck and it was still cold at lunchtime when we stopped at a town to do shopping for food for the truck (cooking etc.). We also bought some more warm socks. By afternoon it was sunny and warmer in the truck. After crossing the border from Argentina into Chile, we crossed the Straits of Magellan on the ferry. This time it was very rough. We continued on into mainland Chile – we were now finished in Tierra del Fuego. The countryside is very barren looking with almost no habitation except for the towns we stopped in earlier. Tonight we were heading for a bush camp in a ghost town right next to the Straits. It actually appeared when we got there to have been an old sheep station, so we pitched our tents on an open field with the wind blowing. It soon rained a little – no snow tonight though – and ate dinner and went to bed around 11pm.
Thursday 6th February 2014
Bush Camp Punta Arenas, Chile to Bush Camp, Atlantic Coast, Argentina (600km – 13 hours incl breaks)
When we woke up this morning it was windy and raining steadily – bit sick of the weather really. It made packing up the tents very uncomfortable. We had to wait for the truck to return the distance from Punta Arenas where he had gone last night to get parts for the truck. He arrived about 6:45am and we were able to have coffee and a light breakfast before leaving. We then headed north and crossed from Chile into Argentina and continued on the road north skirting the Atlantic Coast. We reached Rio Gallegos mid morning and did some shopping for dinner tonight and snacks for us. It was still cold and wet there. At about 2pm we stopped for lunch and then from about 7:15pm onwards looked for a place to camp. The driver and guide stopped at a small hotel by the side of the highway and asked if we could camp in their garden for the night. They agreed so we set up camp. As it was next to a truck stop it wasn’t very pleasant but was only for one night. We were on cooking duties tonight so were busy chopping and generally helping with the meal. Our fellow group members had decided to use the camp oven to cook frittata which looked beautiful when it went in the oven but just didn’t cook so had to be left in there overnight and eventually was reheated for dinner the next night by scraping it into a large saucepan – didn’t look so beautiful… We had to serve the group the pasta that had been done as a side dish but by then it was so late that everyone just ate and went to bed about midnight.
Friday 7th February 2014
Bush Camp to Puerto Madryn, Argentina (500km – 12 hours incl breaks)
Although we were meant to leave at 6am this morning, there was another problem with the truck and we didn’t actually leave the camp until about 7:15am. Finally set off – with no breakfast however, so we were pretty hungry. We ate some biscuits as we drove along and then had a cup of coffee at the first service station stop. Lynn didn’t feel 100% today with a sinus headache probably caused by the dust and wind. The countryside we passed through was very flat in the main, with low scrub, arid and fairly barren. There are very few people live in this area except in the large towns of Rio Gallegos and Comodoro Rivadavia, both of which are on the Atlantic coast and are oil towns. There is apparently quite an oil and gas boom in Patagonia and of course many people follow the work to this quite isolated area almost 2,000km from Buenos Aires. North of Comodoro Rivadavia the road is still very similar with almost featureless countryside and emptiness. We arrived in Trelew, an old Welsh town, in the late afternoon. There is a number of Welsh families who live in this area, following the settlement by Welsh families in the 1860’s. Apparently some still keep their welsh traditions (whatever they are!) and offer such things as high tea to tourists but most have been assimilated into the Argentinian way of life. At bout 7pm we reached Puerto Madryn, an Argentinian beach resort, not quite like Surfers…..We stopped in the town in an effort to get some money, but could only get 500 Argentine Pesos (about $A48), not enough for the next couple of days, particularly as we are going on an excursion tomorrow to the world famous Valdez Peninsula, so we had to borrow some more. The camp site is really nice – on the dunes near the beach and full of Argentinian families having a good time. It was a treat to have our first wash in three days after bush camps and dreadful weather. Today is fine and clear, temperatures about 24-25°C. Tonight is 20°C in the tent, much better than the 6-7-8C of the nights in the far south.
Saturday 8th February 2014
Puerto Madryn – day trip to Valdes Peninsula (300+km round trip)
Today we had a day trip planned to visit the Valdez Peninsula, a famous World Heritage Area that starts about 20km north of Puerto Madryn. We set off in a minibus at 8am with 3 others from the group and 7 other people who were staying in the town. First we drove to the visitors’ centre and had a look at the history of the area and also the animals and birds that we were expecting to see. We climbed a tower to see an overall view of the peninsula from south to north about 5 km across between two gulfs. The peninsula then widens out and is over 100km long by about 70-80 km wide with the Atlantic Ocean at its eastern shore. As we drove across the peninsula we saw guanacos, rhea, and a couple of Patagonian hares. The guanacos were often mixed in with flocks of sheep, taking advantage of their water troughs – the guanacos can jump the paddock fences. We drove first to see sea lions at their breeding grounds. There were many young sea lions and all the different harems were spread along the very long beach next to a beautiful stretch of water. The babies are easily recognisable because, not only are they small, they are black in colour. Between the harems and the ocean were several bachelors who live at a distance from the harems hoping to start their own harem by enticing females. If they get too close the big bulls chase them away. After visiting the sea lions, we came back and there a couple of armadillos in the car park, just running around. They are about 20cm long and about 12cm high – so very cute. We then drove south about 75km to the Magellanic Penguin colony and saw the penguins. There were many penguins sitting and standing down by the shore. We were high above them. There were also a number up near us in their burrows. As you can imagine, we took many photos. We then drove to a town on the way back. It was a beach and there were many Argentinians on the beach and in the water either on holiday or just because it was Saturday. In any case, it was interesting because it was so unexpected. We spent a pleasant hour there walking along near the cliffs looking at fossilised shells that were (supposedly) 11 million years old from one of the times there had been global warming in the past. That was the last stop so we then drove the approx. 100km back to the campsite, where we relaxed a bit after washing clothes. The day was fine and warm about 26°C, so it was really nice after all the cold wet weather we have had. Early start tomorrow so to bed around 10:15pm.
The whole time we have been driving through Argentina we have noticed many shrines by the roadside. Some are to commemorate accidents, as we have crosses on the roadside in Australia. However, many were groups of shrines, all painted red, with red flags too. Today we heard the story of Gaucho Gil - also known as Gauchito Gil. Apparently he was similar to Robin Hood, in other words he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. He was eventually caught and sentenced to death. He asked the Mayor to give him a decent burial or he would put a curse on the Mayor's son. The Mayor promised he would. Gaucho Gil was duly executed but the Mayor reneged on his promise and the body was just tossed in with other bodies. Immediately the Mayor's son became ill. The Mayor then retrieved Gaucho Gil's body and gave it a proper burial - the son then recovered. Since then Gaucho Gil has been revered by the people and they erect groups of shrines all over the countryside, all painted red and decorated with red flags. People today still stop when driving and ask Gaucho Gil to give them good luck. We stopped today at a group of about a dozen shrines. They contained statues of Gaucho Gil, little toys, flowers, cigarettes, bottles of water, and other ornaments. Whilst we were there, a man stopped and, kneeling in front of one shrine, he stroked Gaucho Gil's face and whispered to him. Very interesting.