Flying into Seattle in the midst of an uncharacteristically sunny and warm day was a gift. I was smiling from ear to ear on the train ride into the city. There was another reason to be happy. Vida was waiting for me to pick up in the Port of Tacoma.
The following day, I headed to the port to hand over a key for our canopy. The customs officials were antsy to have a look around. The wonderful ladies at the port’s customer service office called the customs official to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.
They actually don’t need your key anymore. They broke the lock. You’re shipping agent was supposed to explain to you that nothing could be locked.
Wonderful. Thanks shipping agent that we didn’t want to use in the first place. Ugh. The good news was that the truck had cleared and was ready to pick up. All I needed was an escort to take me 20 meters beyond the port gate. I paid $60 for this very useful service. My escort did share what she observed the day before: 8 customs officials circling the truck. Ha – safety triangles and vests are not so interesting.
Arriving at the truck, I immediately saw there was no reason for concern. The customs officials picked the lock. I was both shocked and completely impressed. So Vida is back on land, cruising around Seattle.
The rain did start two days after I arrived and it took me about an hour to start cursing the city. As if to appease me, a beautiful and perfect double rainbow appeared over the city. Alright Seattle, you’re right, I do love you.
Frankly, one of the only attractions to visit on the long road to Buenos Aires is the Magellanic Penguin colony with a staggering 250,000 breeding pairs.
We stopped in Mar Chiquita just north of Mar Del Plata and spent a couple of days curled up in a hotel while George got some play time in the waves.
Mar Chiquita waves
The packed Mar Del Plata beach
In Buenos Aires we scored a sweet little apartment and thank goodness. There was an overwhelming amount of stuff to unload from the truck and a very important game to watch.
Watching Canada take gold!
There were mixed feelings (trepidation, relief) as we drove up to the Port of Zarate. It would be a nice change to forget about parking and truck security, but putting Vida on the ship was also marking an end to our trip.
The handoff process was disarmingly easy. We kept waiting for the ball to drop. It never did. The port officials gave us a lift back to the front gate and called us a cab. Fingers crossed that the truck would make it back to the US in one piece.
All cleaned out
Final pic with Vida before the boat
Buenos Aires is such a vivid city. After so much remoteness on our trip, we needed a reintroduction to city living and the BA was a tonic for any anxiety we may have had. We explored the city over the course of a couple of weeks, absorbing the culture, food and street performers.
San Telmo Market
The bakery downstairs was dangerous for us
I imagined tango to be something like salsa. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tango is passionate, intimate and quite slow at times which made it completely engrossing to watch. It felt more like a manifested connection between the dancers rather than a dance.
Tango club in San Telmo
Tango dancers in Plaza Dorrego
Cruising the city
As we strolled and biked the city streets, George and I daydreamed of an extended return trip to the city to fully immerse ourselves.
Peru Beach: kiteboarding spot in BA
Rows of tombs in the Recoleta Cemetery
The colorful La Boca neigborhood
La Bombonera stadium
San Telmo Market
Again, our timing could not have been better. We handed off Vida just in time to enjoy the city-wide carnival festivities. The city had decided to decentralize the entertainment. Many neighborhoods set up stages, and groups of musicians and dancers make their way from stage to stage. Although it was hard for George and I to understand, we’re told that many of the lyrics contain subtle and some not so subtle political rhetoric.
Staying true to Latin American carnival tradition, spectators cover each other with spray foam. For the most part, we left unscathed except for the small boys that opened fire on us to their parents delight.
Here they come
One of the neighborhood groups making their way to the San Telmo stage
Joining hordes of local fans, we snuck in a trip to Monumental de Nunez stadium to watch local heroes River Plate take on San Lorenzo (another neighborhood in BA). We were told by our guide to cheer for the River Plate for safety’s sake. Fine by us. The Argentines are a passionate bunch. There was barely a moment when the stadium was not exploding in song led by a section of diehard fans and a band in the nose bleeds.
Surrounded by 67,000 Argentines in the largest stadium in Argentina was a good way to wrap up our tour of the Americas.
Before hitting the road for the final push to Ushuaia, George thought we needed a big breakfast to help us push through. He prepared Mekitsi which is similar to funnel cake. Guilt-free fried dough is oh so satisfying in the morning.
G-man getting his cook on. Check out that counter space.
I had one mission on the way down to Ushuaia and that was to see some penguins. The first colony we visited (Pingüinera de Seno Otway) was a 5000 strong Magellanic Penguin population situated north of Punta Arenas along a fjord (-52.980576, -71.230403).
We made our way to Punta Arenas for a few nights to reconnect with the outside world and catch the ferry to Porvenir. Having some time to kill, we sought out the mercado a few times to chow down on delicious fresh fish and crab empanadas. Punta Arenas might be remote and have limited offerings in terms of entertainment, but the seafood fare around town is to die for.
View from the boardwalk in Punta Arenas
George in a very big chair eating a very big piece of cake
Feasting at the market in Punta Arenas
Ferry to Porvenir
I think this guy is ready to get to Ushuaia too
We had heard from another traveller that there was a King Penguin population near by on Estancia San Clemente. The farm sits on Bahia Inútil (Useless Bay) and is 15km south of the crossroads with the turn-off for Onaisín along the coastal road. Typically, King Penguins are found further south, but the Kings have made this stretch of beach home a few times before in the 60s and 70s.
We arrived at the farm late in the day in hopes that the site manager would let us camp out for the night. There was already a couple of bicyclists there with a tent when we arrived, so are prospects looked good. We pulled in behind a large canvas wall in hopes that it would provide some protection for the howling wind and made a b-line for the penguins. We were blessed with clear skies and soft afternoon light for a visit. That night the temperature dropped and it started to down pour. Combining that with the unrelenting wind and I was finished. It was time to get to Ushuaia and finish this thing.
G and I pulled into a hotel for our first night in Ushuaia. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I was at the end of my rope with roughing it. We curled up with a roof over our heads and made some pasta on our camp burner.
The next day we headed to Camping La Pista del Andino to meet up with the gang. Much food and drinks followed (we were at the end of the road).
View from the highway into Ushuaia
Camping La Pista del Andino
View from the campground
Boardwalk in Ushuaia
Looking over the Beagle Channel
We made it!
We couldn’t leave Ushuaia without visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park. We hiked a trail that took us alongside Ensenada Bay, the Beagle Channel, and Lapataia Bay and camped at at a free and very beautiful campground on the Lapataia River. The next morning we were in for a surprise. A fox bit chunks out of both our flip flops. In all the months we’ve been traveling and leaving our flip flops outside, this has never happened. The occasional dog will grab one and drop it someone, but that’s it. Those flip flops made it all the way to the end of the road only to be ravaged by one of the local foxes. Ugh. It didn’t matter though because it was time to pop some champagne at the end of the road.
Tierra Del Fuego National Park
Hike along the channel
End of the world post office
View of Lapataia River in the campground
End of the road
Yeah we did.
George had his mind set on one more activity before leaving Ushuaia. If you recall, many months and miles ago we took a prop plane to Tuktoyaktuk in northern Canada and had a swim in the Arctic ocean. In Ushuaia at the end of the road, the Beagle Channel was the closest thing we were going to get to the Southern Ocean. I was not as excited about the prospect of stripping down in the biting wind, but George is a stubborn fellow. Finally, I willed myself to put on a bathing suit, and we made our way down to a secluded beach. George ran circles around me to warm up while I shot him death stares, but we went in the water and it was ice cold and numbingly painful. Mission accomplished.
There were mixed reports on the southern most drivable border crossing (Paso Roballos) from the Carretera Austral in Chile into Argentina. We decided to test our luck and go for it. The stars must have aligned for us. Not only was the road in pretty decent shape, but we encountered only a handful of cars and got to ogle the scenery.
Argentina’s Ruta 40 and miles of pavement was definitely a welcome sight though. The constant rattling of the last several weeks melted away as we cruised down the blacktop. It was a long drive to El Chaltén, our entry point to Los Glaciares National Park and Mount Fitz Roy.
Not our most glamourous camp spot
A very memorable fill up with some very pricey gas
The drive into El Chaltén with Mt. Fitz Roy standing at attention
We met up with Andamos de Vagos and Patagonia or Bust in El Chaltén and prepared to tackle the Fitz. The first day of hiking on the Laguna Capri trail and then up to the Laguna de los Tres mirador one some of the most beautiful hiking I’ve ever done. I had heard a lot of complaints about how full the trails are in Fitz Roy, but they were really no fuller than a summer weekend in Washington State. Our luck with the weather held out. We had been prepping ourselves for the storied patagonia wind, but our group remained safely on the mountain.
Camping out at the Laguna Capri trailhead
The team posing in front of Mt. Fitz Roy
Mt. Fitz Roy
Laguna de los Tres & Mt. Fitz Roy
View from the top of the Los Tres hike
We spent the first night at Poincenot Campground and then hiked to Agostini Campground on the second day to check out Laguna Torre and Glacier Grande. After checking out the mirador, most of us headed back to camp to settle in for the night. I knew George and Aron were up to no good when they took some time coming back to camp. You can see from the photos the shenanigans that ensued. There are times when I want to be alone surrounded by my own thoughts on a trail, but there is something to be said for trekking with groups. Glacier ice shots is not something you easily forget.
The details at Poincenot Campground
Laguna Torre & Cerro Torre
Can you see where this is going? – Agostini Campground
George prefers the lunge technique
The weather held out for most of our third and final day until we had El Chaltén in our sites. The walk through town back to Vida almost broke me. I was silently curing George for walking too fast and thus eliminating any possibility of him shielding me from the unrelenting wind. There was nothing to be done but lean and and keep going.
Hiking down into El Chaltén
We indulged ourselves at the local pub before hightailing it out of town heading toward El Calafate and a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier (also in Los Glaciares National Park). Safely tucked away into the campground in Calafate, we couldn’t resist another opportunity for a group cookout. This time, empanadas were on the menu.
Campfire cooking in El Calafate
The sausage just wasn’t enough meat
The Perito Moreno Glacier – where to begin? In the morning before the crowds descend on the kilometers of walkways flanking the glacier, there is a peaceful serenity about the place. We sat and watched for hours tuning into the sounds of the glacier advancing.
Moreno is a 97 sq mile behemoth that moves at a pace of up to 7 feet each day resulting in large chunks of ice dramatically breaking off throughout the day.
We took a shortcut back into Chile and Torres del Paine via a small rout off of Ruta 40 that joins up with highway 205 on the Chilean side. At the border we got the ubiquitous kick in the butt. The border officials again confiscated everything fresh we had which meant we had limited supplies and limited pesos with no town or bank machine in site – just and overpriced souvenir shop. What a racket.
From the border, we drove into Torres Del Paine park and were immediately taken by the wildlife and vistas.
Lago Sarmiento de Gamboa
We camped out in the parking lot of Hotel Las Torres. Forgetting one of our beloved titanium mugs on the wheel, George pancaked it moving the truck back and fourth to rotate the tires. He claimed (and secretly hoped) he could bang the mug back into shape. I suspect that I’m going to be reunited with this mug back in the States.
This titanium mug made it all the way south before George pancaked it with the truck
In the morning, we made the climb up to Mirador Las Torres. At the top, we were again tested with the Patagonia wind which kept our stay short.
Mirador Las Torres
Torres del Paine (Paine Towers)
The other hike I was dying to do was Valle del Francés (French Valley). George and I opted to take the ferry across Lago Pehoé to spare our knees a long hike with heavy packs. We caught the late afternoon ferry to Refugio Pehoé and then made the short hike into Campamento Italiano.
We rand into the park mascot getting on the Lago Pehoé ferry
Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns)
The bridge into Campamento Italiano
Didn’t I tell you they will fit just fine … he said …
Early the next morning we made our way up through the Valle del Francés to the Mirador Francés. The hike was b-u-ti-ful. Taking some time to look back down the valley, your are rewarded with views of Lago Pehoé an Lago Nordenskjold. Ahead and above you are peaks and faces captivating you with constant avalanches. The avalanches are so frequent in fact that they may interrupt your sleep at Campamento Italiano.
Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns)
Lago Pehoé an Lago Nordenskjold
Valle del Francés
We hiked back down to Rufugio Pehoé to catch the ferry back to our truck and make our way out of the park. Torres del Paine definitely lived up to its reputation.
Here is a small time-lapse that George made of Fitz Roy, Torres del Pine, and Perito Moreno. Enjoy.