Published: April 21st 2008April 21st 2008
Go with the glow
We passed from the Argentinian lake district to the Chilean lake district with only a brief interuption by vigilant Chilean customs officials who found our fresh produce and confiscated eggs, apples and half a cucumber. I think we were lucky with the weather on the Argentine side as by the time we reached the Chilean side it was like a true lake district grey, bleak and chucking it down. The tent was given its sternest test yet and despite waking up surrounded by puddles we were amazingly still dry (ish). We managed a couple of short hikes before pushing on further south into Patagonia. Patagonia is a poorly defined area covering the lower section of South America and shared between Argentina and Chile. The region is famous for its dramatic landscapes and popular for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. As we progressed further south the west coast of Chile fragments into numerous islands much the same as north west Scotland does as you venture north. As we pushed on further we were mystified by the absence of other campers. The guidebooks talk of hoards of campers and sure enough there were plenty of campgrounds along the way. However with each
Houses on stilts
stop we were met by perplexed campground owners who unlocked toilet blocks for us and pointed to their empty sites indicating take your pick before scurrying back into their heated lodges. A short ferry hop took us to the island of Chiloe, where days were spent exploring small fishing ports and hiking through countryside along hedgerows of blackberries. You would think you were in England until a humming bird or flock of parrots appears and reminds you where you are. Back to the campsite and as the sun lowers so does the temperature. Dark by 6.30 the aim of the game is to keep vertical at least until 9pm. To retire earlier may result in pressure sores as it doesn´t get light until 7.30am. Our most recent prefered methods of keeping warm are running on the spot, shadow boxing and practicing my dance moves at double speed, all essential to stop slipping into hypocondria. At the campsite in Castro as I lay in my sleeping bag, teeth clenched fully clothed and probing the area with my finger where my scrotum usually is it suddenly came to me like a bolt out of the blue. The reason there are no other
Rush hour on the seafront
campers is because it is bloody freezing and about as much fun as toothache. From this point on we have resigned ourselves to having to splash out on lodgings. Remoteness seems to correlate well with travelling southwards. We have to plan quite carefully things like fuel stops, access to financial services and laundry facilities. We have recently been caught out and had to pool our remaining clean clothes (purely for practical reasons you understand). We left the island of Chiloe by ferry to the mainland port of Chaiten. This was a five hour night crossing and thankfully was quite flat. We had splashed out earlier on a rare restaurant meal and I had visions of seeing it again disappearing over the ships side. Indeed as the home straight beckons we are becoming a little more indulgent. June even bought us both presents the other day, she got a heavy hand knitted turquoise woolen jumper that actually makes her look a lot less like Karen Carpenter and I got a new wirewool pan scrub. I have to go now as I can´t wait any longer to rip June´s panties off, the bloody elastic is digging in something rotten.
We woke up
to a glorious day. The Patagonian scenery was certainly at its best. Blue mirror like water, snow capped peaks and the autumn colours of the leaves striking a sharp contrast. But it came at a price, bitter winds whistling around nether regions which prompted Nik into doing something totally against his religion and that was putting his hand in his pocket to buy clothes. In this case a second pair of long trousers. We could only find a suitable pair two sizes too big, which makes him look like a little boy who has just graduated from shortpants to his first pair of long trousers. As a consequence they have been christened his big boy trousers (BBT's). Hopefully that will put an end to him rummaging around in my drawers for a while. We were back on the road and at the start of the Carratera Austral. This section being unpaved, so it was a bumpy off road rally day but the jaw dropping scenery made up for it. Our destination was the tiny town of Puyuhuapi which nestled at the tip of a fjord surrounded by mountains. We bumped into another couple of travellers (Jim & Tamsin) heading north
Tommy the wonder truck
on bikes. They were from the UK, which meant we could spend a whole evening having deep and meaningful conversations without running out of words within the first ten minutes. Well that was until we got the box of wine out. Our main reason to stop there was to hike to the nearby hanging glacier, which as it was out of season we had to ourselves. As we sat watching it hugh chunks of ice fell into the lake below which was followed by ear-shattering explosions as the sound travelled. Back on our rollercoaster to the Chilean capital of Patagonia, Coyhaique. A dull and dreary day but you have to take the highs with the lows. Dined out on a traditional Parrillada dish (mixed grill) which arrived atop steaming charcoal and resembled a mountain of meat. Most things we could recognize but the squishy circular morsels with tubes running through the centre made me think that Lorraine Bobbit was the assistant chef. I let Nik have a few pieces for my entertainment before sharing my hypothosis with him. Our next dilemma was whether or not to get the ferry across the second biggest lake in South America (Largo General Carrera)
or drive the 400k on unpaved roads all the way around to the border town of Chile Chico. In the end the decision was made for us. The ferry was broken so it was back on the boneshaker. Which we are glad we did, stunning spectacular and remote but it took its toll on Tommy he got his first flat tyre and Nik, now mechanic extrordinaire managed to change it all by himself without me telling him what to do. They let us back in Argentina, no bounty hunters waiting at the border for Nik. Funnily enough it was warmer so we could save a bit of dosh and camp for the next 3 nights. The scenery was completly different, very flat, barren and not a tree in sight apart from the golden poplars planted around the estancias (farms) along the way. Nothing much to break up the landscape apart from the odd gaucho, who resembled Clint Eastwood wearing a beret, rounding up his stock and giving us a friendly wave. Spotted loads of guanacos (wild lamas), rheas (South Americas answer to the ostrich) and our first armadillo that looked a bit like a naked hedgehog with a bit of
speed. Making our way across to El Calafate and glacier country.
There are more photos below