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Tigre

April 10, 2013

We didn’t want to drive right into the centre of Buenos Aires with The Beast and fortunately found out that there was a campsite in the suburb of Tigre. Tigre is to the North of the city and is surrounded by a delta which provides a maze of rivers. It is where the Portenos (BA residents) go at the weekend to get out of the city.

Tigre boat club

Driving to the campsite we turned down the road our GPS was telling us it was on. The road turned to dirt and we could see a river at the end. We were pretty sceptical that a campsite existed. However we got to the end and after shouting through a locked gate the retired couple, Beatriz & Angel, came out and opened up for us.

Tigre Building2

The small campsite is right on the river and has its own dock where river taxis and launches can dock making it very convenient for travel. In fact Beatriz explained that there was a commuter boat once a day (excluding weekends) that went straight to BA from the dock at the campsite.

Boat approaching L'HIrondelle Dock

Boat approaching L’HIrondelle Dock

L’Hirondelle, the campsite, has a lovely setting but is a little rundown. It would be absolutely beautiful with some work as the location is superb. Beatriz however is a wonderful hostess and couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly.

Lancha at Tigre

Lancha at Tigre

On the way back from Buenos Aires we couldn’t take the boat as we returned at the weekend, however there is a straight train connection to Tigre and then a local Lancha on the river goes to the campsite dock upon request.  The last boat was at 6.30pm and we were getting a little nervous when by 6.50pm it either hadn’t arrived or we were waiting in the wrong place and it had been and gone.  It was starting to get dark and we were worried about seeing the right pier at night.  As we were debating whether or not to jump in a taxi and take the conventional route back to the campsite, the Lancha finally turned up at 7pm and at the mention of L’Hirondelle we got a knowing nod from the boat driver and started to relax and enjoy the ride

Tigre itself is a very pretty suburb and well worth exploring in it’s own right, not just using as a launching pad for Buenos Aires.

A Spot of Welding

April 8, 2013
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From the Lake District we wanted to make it across Argentina in just three days to get to Buenos Aires where we had booked a hotel from which to explore the city. This was a distance of around 1200km of a pretty boring drive through the pampas.

However at lunchtime on our second day of driving we noticed that one of the light pods on the back of the truck was fatigued and had come half way to breaking off.

This had happened to the light pod on the left side while we were in Mexico and we attributed the timing of this side to the bouncing around on the rough road in Lanin NP. So we needed to find a welder to fix it up.

We stopped off at the small town of Bragado looking for a Soldadura (Welding workshop) but had no luck so stopped off at a YPF petrol station in town to ask a local.  After repeating “Necesito un soldador” at least 10 times and getting nowhere we finally walked the guy over to the truck and showed him the problem,  “Ahh Soldador” – Yes bloody Soldador, that’s what we’ve  been saying!! Incredibly it turned out that the guys father owned a metal workshop down the road and we were all set.

Taking the light Off

 

The guy called his dad who arrived 10 minutes later to have a look. He said that he could do it and then promptly headed to the café next door for a cup of coffee with his mate. Another 10 minutes later he appeared in a car with his friend and told us to follow him.  It’s at times like this when you are following strangers down back streets and dirt roads that your mind starts to wander about all the bad things that could possibly happen… thankfully though they weren’t psychopaths and we pulled up at his garage which was set up as a machine shop with some pretty heavy duty metal work gear and of course a huge Parilla – we would expect nothing less of an Argentinian workshop! He soon had the light pod off the back of the truck and on the bench.

Doing the welding

While he was working a number of men from the neighbourhood stopped by to drink Mate and offer advice/help. The whole thing turned into a local event.

Selection of Guys who were helping out

Selection of Guys who were helping out

After around an hour he had finished up. He’d actually tried to finish up earlier but one of his friends had told him to reinforce it and make it stronger because our truck was 4×4, so he did some more work.

Dirty but as good as new

After mounting the whole thing back on the truck we were very pleased with the work, he even painted it. At this point even more people had arrived to see the gringos and the blue truck so we said our goodbyes and headed off to find somewhere to spend the night.

Northern Lake District

April 8, 2013

Insurance paid, beer drunk, we left El Bolson and drove the short distance to Bariloche. This is the most touristy town in the lake district – possibly Argentina. We arrived here a few days into March to find that the summer season was well and truly over. This meant that all the campsites close to town had packed up for the winter (although the sun was still out) and the closest we could find was Camping Petunia which was a good 15km from town.

View from Bariloche Campsite

Fortunately Camping Petunia was really nice with its own beach , a lovely view of the lake and an easy bus ride away from town with the bus stop right outside the campsite.

We hadn’t been out for dinner for ages so we were determined to head into town do some sightseeing and finish off with a good steak!

Bariloche Building

The centre of the town has some interesting buildings and a big cathedral but it doesn’t take long to see all the sights.  There are hundreds of chocolate shops here so of course our ‘sight-seeing’ led us into one or two of these to sample their wares.  One of the tourist features are the big St. Bernard dogs which were beautiful but we didn’t stop to have our picture taken with them.

Bariloche Cathedral

Sightseeing taken care of we rested our weary legs and refreshed our parched mouths in ‘The Vikings’, a very nice bar just down the road from the restaurant we planned to visit for dinner, on advice from our motorbiking friends Ben & Eveline (BenandEvelineconqueso.wordpress.com).

Los Vikingos Pub

The restaurant is called  Alto y Fuego and is also No.1 on Tripadvisor.  Well, they weren’t wrong, dinner was fantastic, great value and in a modern convivial setting with good service. The steaks we had were perfectly cooked, juicy and incredibly tender – highly recommended!

Alto y Fuego Steak

Perfectly Cooked

Overdosing on steak wasn’t enough and we left Alto y Fuego and headed to one of Bariloche’s many ice cream shops for a pudding.

Great Bariloche Ice Cream

Needless to say the next day we had tiny hangovers so decided to spend the day on the beach and hanging out in the sun.

Lago Falkner

Not ones to hang around too long we were soon on our way again to San Martin de Los Andes. The route between the two towns is known as the seven lakes route and threads its way (surprisingly) through 7 lakes in a National Park called Nahuel-Haupi.

Campsite view in Nahuel-Huapi NP

Campsite view in Nahuel-Huapi NP

This route is in the process of being paved but for now the second half is a little rough. It is a very scenic drive and just over halfway we found a beautiful lakeside location for a night of free camping.

San Martin de Los Andes Beach

San Martin de Los Andes Beach

San Martin de Los Andes is a lot like a scaled down version of Bariloche. It sits right on a lake with a lovely beach and has an alpine feel to it, albeit on a much smaller scale. Its also got a campsite right at the edge of town. This was definitely our favourite Lake District town, much quieter and more relaxed than bustling Bariloche.

Volcan Lanin

Volcan Lanin

Moving on from San Martin we headed up the road to the stunning Lanin National Park. The road into the park is unpaved and not the greatest but as you drive in up the shore of Lago Huechulafquen (no idea how to pronounce it!) the views just get better and better. For us the grey overcast morning gradually improved into perfectly blue skies with views of the massive snow-capped Volcan Lanin.

Lanin Volcano

As we drove into the park we came across a local Mapuche Indian guy whose clapped out old car had a flat tyre. We stopped to help and tried to inflate the tyre with our compressor hose but it was completely gone.  He brought out his spare, but this was also flat!  It held air though so he just needed to change the wheel and he’d be on his way, thing is you kind of need a jack for this – we lent him ours.  Of course you also need to be able to undo the nuts… we lent him our wrench.  Eventually he was back on the road and we were left clearing up all our tools for 10 minutes at the side of the road!  We were gifted a bag of Pinones though in thanks (though we still haven’t worked out how to cook them!).

Gaucho Rescue in Lanin NP

After stopping for lunch next to a little lakeside church we carried on into the park and found a lakeside campsite at the start of a lovely waterfall walk.

Church in Lanin NP

We spent the afternoon walking to a 25m waterfall (Cascada el Saltillo) in some lovely woods with sporadic views of Volcan Lanin.

Cascada el Saltillo

Lanin NP was definitely our favourite bit of the Argentinian Lake District – but of course having good weather helps !

Gaucho Roadblock

On leaving the park we had an unscheduled stop as we came to a tree completely blocking the road. It had just been felled by a team of Mapuche Indians. We thought we’d be in for a bit of wait but it only took these guys about 10 minutes to cut us a path through !

Gaucho Roadblock 20 minutes later

Southern Argentina Camping Sites

April 7, 2013

Western Patagonia

Bajo Caracoles (S47 26.675 W70 55.578, 611m)

Very small settlement in middle of nowhere with petrol station and police station with not much else. It was very windy and we managed to find shelter behind a small screen of trees but there isn’t much shelter around. Toilets in Petrol station. Free.

Camping El Relincho, El Chalten (S49 19.561 W72 53.406, 409m)

Very busy campsite which must have had over 100 people staying. Hot Showers and toilets. Cooking/recreation building with gas stoves. Water available. Power.  AR$100 per night.

Parque Nacional Glacier Ranger Station, El Chalten (S49 20.210 W72 52.815, 360m)

Pit toilet across the road and toilets in ranger station during opening hours.  There were a number of campers parked here overnight.  Free.

Camping Nirigao, El Calafate (S50 20.026 W72 15.527, 213m)

Nice campsite. WIFI. Indoor recreation room. Grills. Electricity. Water. Hot Showers and toilets.  10 minute walk from town. (In heavy rains we have heard that it can flood). AR$100 per night.

Roadside Pullout, Lago Argentina (S50 19.279 W72 34.838, 199m)

Pullout by the side of Lago Argentina. Very quiet overnight. No Facilities. Free.

Religious Shrine, RN3 Guer Aike (S51 37.727 W69 37.215, 31m)

There are grills and picnic tables sheltered by brick walls from the wind. We cooked here however the walls weren’t high enough to shelter the truck so we parked in the shelter of a large white building overnight which held a couple of shrines. The wind still managed to rock us though! Free.

Tierra Del Fuego

Camping Hain, Tolhuin (S54 31.546 W67 13.964, 33m)

Nice campground right on the lake with loads of old junk made into art. Windbreaks available for tent campers. Nice beach. Power and water.  Shower and toilets need a little TLC. Very friendly owner, Roberto. AR$40 per person.

Camping Andino, Ushuaia (S54 48.757 W68 21.016, 107m)

Hot Showers and toilets, Some sites have grills. WIFI. Bar and central rec building. Electricity at sites. AR$90 per night.

Rio Pipo Campsite, Tierra del Fuego National Park (S54 49.199 W68 28.183, 96m)

Nice campground.  We camped right next to the river with great views. Portacabin toilets.  Make sure to cook using the grills provided, the Ranger made is move our BBQ half way through cooking! Free.

East Coast Argentina

YPF, Rio Gallegos (S51 37.361 W69 15.667, 17m)

WIFI. Toilets. Large sheltered parking area around the back. Free.

Municipal Camping, Puerto San Julian (S49 18.354 W67 43.233, 2m)

Nice campsite next to the sea with high hedges for wind breaks.  Grills, electricity.  Hot showers (heated shower room!) and toilets.  Expensive at AR$150 for 2 people plus motorhome.

Rada Tilly, Commodoro Rivadavia (S45 55.055 W67 33.086, 3m)

Hot showers and toilets (8am-8.30pm). WIFI. Grills. Shelter from wind. Cost AR$96 (2 people + Motorhome).

Municipal Camping, Camarones (S44 48.150 W65 42.290, 5m)

Hot Showers, toilets, water, small shop with frozen meat and fish on site. Covered cooking area with grills. Water. Electricity. Not many of the sites are that flat but there are flat areas. AR$25 per person and AR$25 per vehicle.

Volunteer Bomberos Camping, Gaiman (S43 17.445 W65 29.259, 11m)

Small campground next to firestation and river. 5 minutes walk from centre of town. Picnic tables and electricity. Hot showers and toilets in need of TLC. AR$50 per night.

Beach Car Park, Puerto Piramides (S42 34.585 W64 16.609, 1m)

Car Park just above beach. Designated as a motorhome camping area. No Facilities. There are free municipal toilets (open 8.30am – 6.30pm) across from the Tourist information office, a 10 minute walk from the camping, on the other side of the beach.  Free.

Argentinian Lake District

ACA Motel Car Park, Los Altares (S43 53.038 W68 24.678, 248m)

Large dirt parking lot at back of petrol station. Toilets and small shop in petrol station.  Free.

Camping Nahuel-Pan, Esquel (S42 54.533 W71 17.307, 597m)

Nice small campground on grass.  Hot water, showers, toilets, power, picnic tables and grills. WIFI.  AR$40 per person + AR$40 for vehicle.

Las Rocas, Alerce National Park (S42 53.111 W71 36.138, 512m)

Small camping area on the lakeshore with trees for protection from the wind. No Facilities. Free.

Puerto Canero , Alerce National Park (S42 36.419 W71 38.713, 519m)

Down a narrow track which opens up at the bottom.  Small camping area on the lakeshore with some shelter from the wind. Toilets block closed when we were there but toilets were available at the ranger station 5 minutes walk away. Free.

Camping de la Cerveceria, El Bolson (S41 56.608 W71 32.169, 308m)

Excellent campground in the grounds of a restaurant/brewery. About 20minutes walk from town. Hot showers. Toilets. WIFI. Picnic tables and grills. Pay slightly more for camping and get a “free” beer per person per night. AR$105 per night (includes additional AR$15 for electricity).

Camping Petunia, Bariloche (S41 05.760 W71 26. 799, 838m)

Very nice large organised campsite on lake with short path down to the beach. WIFI. Hot Showers and toilets. Water and electricity. Picnic tables and Grills.  20 minute bus ride into town. AR$105 per night.

Lago Villarino, Nahuel-Huapi National Park (S40 26.761 W71 32.650, 916m)

Camping by lake/river between two lakes. Very pretty with some shelter from wind though this was easier for smaller vehicles. No Facilities. Free.

ACA Camping, San Martin de Los Andes (S40 09.170 W71 19.937, 621m)

Large campsite with good Wifi (actually decent speed), hot showers, toilets , grills and picnic tables. Try to set up camp on the side by the river away from the busy road as it is much quieter.   Short walk into town. AR$90 per night.

Piedra Mala Camping, Lago Huechulafquen (S39 43.400 W71 31.533, 895m)

Beautiful Campsite on the lakeshore with views of Lanin Volcano.  Hot showers and toiletsPicnic tables and grills.  Nice walk from here to Cascada El Saltillo (4km there and back), take the walking trail rather than the road.  Apparently AR$35 per person although we paid nothing as we tried to pay but couldn’t find anyone !

Southern Lake District

April 2, 2013

On our way South we had driven through Chile and skipped the Argentinian Lake District. The weather at the time was terrible around the lakes so this was probably no bad thing but now it meant that we had to drive clear across the country to get to Esquel which is the gateway to the Southern end of the Argentinian Lake District.

Lake in Alerces National PArk

Esquel is a lovely town that is much less touristy that the towns further North in the Lake District. From Esquel we visited the small Welsh town of Trevelin for another Welsh Tea.

Nain Maggie Cakes

Trevelin is a much nicer town than Gaiman but unfortunately the Welsh afternoon tea that we had at Nain Maggie was very disappointing. The decor of the tea room was very bland as well.

Nain Maggie Sign

 

We also visited Nant Y Fall which is a series of three waterfalls only a few km’s away from Trevelin.

waterfall 2

waterfall

However in this area the highlight is National Park Alerces which is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for the massive and ancient Alerce trees. Unfortunately in order to visit the ancient stand of Alerces you have to pay (on top of the park entrance fee) an extortionate sum for a boat tour which consequently we didn’t do. There is however a hike to a younger Alerces tree at only 300 years old which we went to see but to be honest a young Alerces tree isn’t that exciting and nothing like the Giant Redwoods of California.

Los Alerces View

The park is very pretty though and has free campsites right on the lakeshore so we still enjoyed our time here despite some disappointing weather.

alerces path2

From Alerces national park we made our way North to the small, slightly hippy town of El Bolson. We had some business here as we needed to pay for the insurance that we had previously arranged with an expat German called Klaus who runs insurance for a whole fleet of overlanders.

Las Rocas view

El Bolson has a market around the main square which the Lonely Planet really talks up – it’s really not that exciting though with lots of carved wooden clocks, jewellery, a few Mate gourds and some jams and preserves. The cool thing about El Bolson is that the local brewery runs a campground so it didn’t take us too long to decide where to stay!  Along with your camping fee come tokens for beer, finally a campsite that gets us !

El Bolson Brewery

Southern Chile Camping Spots

April 2, 2013

Chiloe

Playa Gaviotas, Ancud (S41 51.889 W73 45.707, 7m)

Nice campground with beach access, although a little run down. Individual sites with big hedges for wind protection.  Each site has a covered picnic table and covered tent area (with sand floor). Electricity in each of the sites. There are rundown sinks with water at each end of the camping area. There is a to the beach, 3-4 minutes walk away. There is a large Fogon with tables, table football, covered grilling area and large fireplace. It rains a lot in Ancud !  CH$8,000 per night.

Terpel, Castro, Chiloe (S42 27.021 W73 46.457, 54m)

Petrol Station in Chiloe. Parking area. Toilets and WIFI. Free

Licadad Camping , Castro, Chiloe (S42 30.800 W73 47.600, 47m)

Narrow lane down but large area at bottom. Toilets and cold showers.  CH$8,000 per night.

Mirador, South of Castro, Chiloe (S42 28.910 W73 46.151, 75m)

Large area for mirador. Nice view but not a peaceful place to stay due to late night activity – cars coming and going late into the night.  No facilities. Free.

Carretera Austral

Under South Side of Suspension Bridge, Carretera Austral North (S43 10.568 W72 26.396, 66m)

Small Beach just under the bridge. For tent campers there is a good grass area and can even put your tent under the bridge for shelter. Good Fishing. Good views. No Facilities. Free.

Caro del Indio, Road to Futalefu (S43 22.314 W72 04.584, 134m)

Pay campsite. There are small fogons at this place with running water. Wood fired showers. Rustic toilets.  Pretty difficult to find a flat spot although we did manage.  Access to the river for fishing although to a fairly small stretch. CH$3000 per person.

By Bridge, La Junta (S43 57.737 W72 23.770, 54m)

There is small picnic area on the Southern side of this bridge down at water level. No facilities. Free. Be careful as one end is a very low suspension cable for the bridge and even a tall car might struggle to get underneath.  We parked at the top.

Quelat Campground, Ventisquero Colgante (S44 28.239 W72 32.889, 77m)

This has to be one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve seen in Chile. Each site has shelter with picnic table, grill and water tap. There are temperamental hot showers and clean toilets. The campground has two sections and the section nearest the bathrooms is better. CH$3,000 per person.

Pullout by Sea, Puerto Cisnes (S44 44.712 W72 41.708, 3m)

This is a couple of hundred meters along from a recreation area which is free. This was very busy as it was a holiday but would usually be a better choice. The spot we chose was a pull-out off the road right on the sea. Great views.  No Facilities. Free.

Lago Las Torres Camping (S44 47.918, W72 12.141, 274m)

In fine weather this is a beautiful campsite on a beautiful lake. There are a number of small cabanas for camping/cooking here. Picnic tables and grills. Fairly grim toilets and showers across the highway. We didn’t have hot water although there is supposed to be. The owners run fishing trips on the lake. CH$6,000.

Roadside Pullout, El Salto on Rio Pollux (S45 41.093 W72 03.396, 366m)

Small Pullout by the side of the road. We didn’t want to stay in Coyhaique so we drove a few Km’s past and found this. There is virtually no traffic overnight. It is right next to a pretty waterfall and a small 20 minute hike will get you to the bottom of it. No Facilities. Free.

Laguna Chaguay, Cerro Castillo (S45 59.182 W71 52.857, 1007m)

5 campsites. All are large with shelters, firepits, bins, water and picnic tables. Central toilet block with hot showers (wood fired). Water pressure was low when we were there. This campsite has the trailhead for a nice walk into the hills.  We paid CH$2,000 per person. Others paid CH$5,000 for a site.

Lakeside Parking, Puerto Rio Tranquillo (S46 37.428 W72 40.373, 192m)

Parking area in front of the lake. We asked the police if this was ok to park here overnight and they told us yes. No Facilities. Free.  Very windy.

Camping Pudu, Puerto Rio Tranquillo (S46 38.040 W72 39.888, 217m)

Lovely campsite with great views of the lake.  Probably the best toilet and shower block of any campsite we’ve been to on this trip.  Amazing hot showers with good pressure. Wind breaks. Firepits. Picinic Tables. Sauna (CH$12000 for 4). Campsite CH$5000 per person.

Glacier Exploradores (S46 29.882 W73 09.281, 148m)

Car Park for the Glacier. Toilets outside the ticket office for the glacier. Free.

Rio Nef Overlook, South of Bertrand (S47 07.860 W72 43.744, 181m)

Large area high on cliff above river. Well off the road and great views. A  little slopey but not too hard to get flat. No facilities. Free.

Caleta Tortel (S47 47.747 W73 31.865, 53m)

Parking area for town. Toilets available (CH$100 but were left unlocked overnight).  The parking area was full overnight so would recommend not arriving too late. Free.

Camping by Bridge over Rio Negro (S47 58.848 W73 10.235, 2m)

Gravel area by bridge over Rio Negro. Would make good overnight camping. No Facilities. Free.

On Rio Mayer, Villa O’Higgins (S48 25.181 W72 32.991, 271m)

On wide flat river bank – views of snowcapped mountains. No facilities. Free.

Puerto Yungay Ferry (S47 56.129 W73 19.433, 24m)

Small Parking area on North side of ferry. Toilets at café.  Free.  For 20km after ferry going North there is really nowhere to camp.

On South side there are a number of places to camp near the ferry  perhaps the best is Rio Negro Bridge (S47 58.848 W73 10.235) which is about 5km from ferry terminal. You could also spend the night at Southern ferry (S47 58.077 W73 13.426) although there is less room – we saw cyclists making camp inside the waiting room where there is a toilet.

Beachside, Chile Chico (S46 32.334 W71 42.931, 217m)

At beach on lake. Quite busy during the day with locals enjoying the lake and swimming. Very quiet overnight and patrolled by police.  No Facilities. Free.

Chilean Tierra Del Fuego

Plaza, Cerro Sombrero (S52 46.582 W69 17.474, 41m)

Sheltered from fierce wind behind old cinema museum. Very quiet overnight. No Facilities. Free.

Lago Blanco (S54 03.990 W68 57.365, 121m)

Designated free camping area in light woodland on shores of lake. There are pit toilets here but they are scary.  Suits smaller vehicles or tent camping more than a bigger truck.   There is plenty of space for a bigger truck but it is difficult to get shelter from the wind. Free.

Bahia Azul (S52 29.678 W69 31.271, 2m)

At the TdF side of the ferry. Very quiet overnight and allowed us to get first ferry in the morning. There are toilets and a shower in the visitor centre. We parked behind a long high wall to get shelter from the wind. Free.

Far South Chile

Parque Chabanco, Punta Arenas (S52 59.227 W70 48.822, 2m)

Free Camping areas with fire pits and some corrugated iron shelters. By sea. Some trees for wind shelter. We parked right on sea front but below the area with trees.

Rio Serrano Camping, Torres del Paine (S51 13.682 W72 58.426, 13m)

Nice campsite with good views.  Grills, shelters with benches, lights and a table. Power.  Water available from outside taps at bathroom block.  Clean showers and toilets.  Pay Campsite. CH$10,000 for two with free wood included in price.

Hotel Las Torres, Torres del Paine (S50 58.388 W72 52.423, 122m)

Very nice hotel with a parking area out front (on grass) where you can camp (if self-contained) and leave your vehicle while off hiking. There are very nice toilets in the hotel . There is also a day use area next to the car park with picnic tables and a small shop.  Free.

Los Cuernos, Torres del Paine (S51 01.432 W72 59.172, 87m) – Tent and Refugio only

Private campsite on the W which you must walk to. Cooking hut (small with only 2 tables). Tent platforms. Bar & Refugio.   Toilets and showers (only 2 for at least 100 people).  Potable water. This felt very expensive and very crowded and the facilities were insufficient for the number of people using the campground (though this maybe because the next campsite, Camping Italia, was closed at the time we visited). There is a bar here and meals can be purchased. CH$8,000 per person.

Paine Grande Mountain Lodge, Torres del Paine (S51 04.311 W73 05.681, 42m) – Tent and Refugio Only

National Park Campsite on the W which you must walk to. Large grass area for tents – best shelter against wind right up against hillside. Quincho for cooking with gas stove. Potable Water. Toilets & Showers. Big bar/restaurant which serves a buffet dinner for CH$10,500. Small shop.  Price CH$4,500 per person.

Valdes Peninsula

March 23, 2013

The Valdes Peninsula has the reputation as being one of the best places to see marine mammals in the world. It is also an amazing whale watching destination – in the second half of the year – but there were no whales around when we visited.

Valdes Peninsula Coast

Valdes Peninsula Coast

We arrived at the gate house to the peninsula to be told that, due to bad weather, all the roads were closed apart from the main paved road to Puerto Piramides, the only town in the reserve. This was a slight setback to our plans but we decided to spend the night in the town and see what the next day would bring.

valdes sunset

Unfortunately the next day the weather was not significantly improved and after inquiring at the tourist office we were told the roads would be closed for the whole day. The town was incredibly quiet the poor weather seemingly keeping everyone in doors. This didn’t bother a pair of comorants who spent the day walking from one end of the beach to the other.

Cormorant

Late afternoon, once the rain had subsided, we did manage to find one short road to a sea lion colony that had been re-opened which gave us something to do but mostly we spent the day relaxing and reading with crossed fingers that the roads would reopen the next day.

Sea lion and baby

The following day we woke up to bright sunshine and the great news that the roads were open. We immediately set out down the wet and sandy roads to visit the key wildlife viewing spots on the peninsula.

The road was drying out well and we made good time despite the odd slide or two in the wet sand. We had got the best wildlife viewing times for each of the sites from the very helpful lady at the tourist information office in Puerto Piramides, so our first destination was to the elephant seal colony at Caleta Valdes.

Magellanic Penguin

Just before we got there we stopped off at a small Magellanic Penguin colony.  This was pretty small and most of the penguins, which were fenced off, were some way away down a steep slope.

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals

The elephant seal colony could only be seen from an overlook on the cliffs above and there were only a small number of the seals in evidence so it was pretty disappointing for us.

After checking this out we drove towards the far North tip of the island at Punta Norte which is world famous for the high tide Orca attacks on the sea lions living there.

Armadillo

On arriving we were delighted to see a little armadillo running around the car park. However this was to be the highlight of our visit. There were a lot of sea lions here but the viewing areas were just too far away to get a decent look at them.

sea lion colony

We spent around an hour and a half with our fingers crossed that some Orca would turn up but we didn’t have any luck.

Sea lion and baby 2

We set off back to Puerto Piramides feeling disappointed with the Valdes Peninsula. There is wildlife but it is fenced off and distant from you with none of the feeling that you get in less busy and more remote locations, feeling glad that we’d had such a good experience at Bahia Los Cabos. Whale season might be a different story of course.

Dead Penguin

Gaiman

March 22, 2013

The 1800’s saw a fairly large migration of Welsh farmers to Patagonia and they mostly settled on the Eastern side of the country. This must have been a shock as the landscape here is pretty barren and looks very hard to farm.

Front Door of Ty Nain Teahouse

Front Door of Ty Nain Teahouse

At first glance the town of Gaiman didn’t look up to much but we dropped of the truck at the campground run by the volunteer firemen and went to explore the town.  Unlike many of the other Welsh settlements in the vicinity you get a real sense that the Welsh culture is still very much alive in Gaiman.

Ty Nain Tea house

Ty Nain Tea house

On our short exploration of the town we found several Welsh tea houses, including one very traditional tea house full of old memorabilia, much to Sarah’s delight.  This was called Ty Nain (Grandma’s House) and we had to ring the doorbell to be admitted. The old woman who greeted us was excited to discover that Sarah is Welsh and immediately started speaking in very rapid Welsh. This was a bit much for Sarah’s school learnt welsh which is now very rusty but she did manage to remember a few pleasantries.

Welsh Tea in Gaiman

Welsh Tea in Gaiman

We sat down for a full welsh tea which involved some weak tea served in what felt like an antique teapot and a massive plate of homemade cakes and bread and butter.   I wouldn’t know but have it on good authority that the cakes were authentically Welsh as in Sarah’s words, “it’s as if she had the same recipe book as my Nan”.

A Massive plate of Welsh Cakes

A Massive plate of Welsh Cakes

Having gone to great lengths to time our visit to Gaiman with St. David’s Day (at Sarah’s insistence),  we discovered disappointingly that this is not a celebration for the Argentinian Welsh, at least not in Gaiman!

Gaiman Cemetary

Gaiman Cemetary

On our way out of town we stopped off at the local cemetary. This was fascinating with some of the most welsh names you could imagine on the graves stretching back into the 1800’s. There were even 2 William Williams’.

Welsh Gravestone

Welsh Gravestone

 

Up the East Coast (Argentina)

March 17, 2013

Once back in Chile we had some serious miles to do to get up The East Coast to the Valdez Peninsula which was our next major destination. Argentina is a lot like Canada in that you can’t get your head around how big it is until you drive the distances.

Molting Magellanic Penguin

The drive from Rio Gallegos, which is the city just North of Tierra del Fuego on the East coast of Argentina, to The Valdez Peninsula is 1,570km. This doesn’t even get you out of Patagonia !

Puerto San Julien Pirate Ship

Our first proper stop on the way up the coast was at Puerto San Julian where the sun came out and we spent a relaxing day BBQing up some empanadas, brownies and steak.  We also explored the town – a process that took about 20 minutes but were intrigued by the replica pirate ship and the jet that fought in the Falklands war.

Falklands Heroes

Back on the road again we spent a night in Commodoro Rivadavia before arriving at the tiny seaside village of Camarones.

Beach at Commodoro Rivadavia

Beach at Commodoro Rivadavia

This is the gateway to the Natural Reserve Cabo dos Bahias.  This out the way protected area is home to lots of wildlife not least a large Magellanic Penguin colony. Its not quite as big as Punta Tombo to the North but has the serious advantage of being seldom visited – and for us at least free.

Curious Penguin

We spent a really enjoyable couple of hours walking the boardwalk through the penguin colony with the curious penguins following our every move. The magellanic  penguins are different from the penguins we saw in Antarctica because they dig burrows.  In amongst the penguins we saw Guanaco (a smaller type of Llama) and Rhea (small flightless birds) but the highlight for us was our first proper look at an armadillo that was wandering around sniffing at the penguin holes.

Armadillo

The penguin chicks were quite developed and at the crecheing stage where both adults leave the chicks, in groups, while they go off to feed and catch food for the chicks.

Adult Magellanic Penguin

The reserve is surprisingly easy to get to with a paved road to Camarones and then a good dirt road all the way into the reserve. I think there might be an entrance fee but there was no one around to collect it so we got in for nothing. After leaving the reserve we got back on the road and headed to the Welsh town of Gaiman.

Molting penguin outside his hole

Border Crossing: Chile to Argentina at Cerro Castillo

March 12, 2013

This was to be our last crossing of the Chile and Argentina border for which we were grateful given the 4 pages of stamps now in our passports from these 2 countries.

Cerro Castillo is the nearest border crossing into Argentina to Torres del Paine and links up with Ruta 40 on the Argentine side.

Border Gate

Cerro Castillo is a slightly strange border as there is really no warning that this is a border. You arrive at a small hamlet with a couple of restaurants and a cross roads. If you head one way on the cross roads the road turns to gravel and you hit a barrier across the road.

Chile border building

There is a building next to the barrier and this is the location of both Migracion and Aduana. One window for each and 1 minute later we were on our way. After moving the barrier to one side ourselves of course.

Inside chile border building

The Argentinian border control is around 1km down the gravel road from here and we managed to pull up just as a bus was arriving from the other direction.

Argentina border building

The inside of the tiny border post was incredibly crowded. There is one window for Migracion and another for Aduana. We thought it was quite funny that the Aduana window looked onto a large room with a table tennis table in it – guess these guys need to keep entertained somehow !

Argentina Migracion

Once the guys from the bus had gone the place emptied right out. It was just a case of bad timing and the actual process was very easy and quick.  Once past the borders there are a few km of gravel until you hit a good paved surface.

argentina aduana