ARGENTINA 2017 & 2018
Buenos Aires to Laguna Azul
Having left our truck in various parts of the world over the last 9 years it is always good to see the truck in one piece upon your return. After some great info from Cris (owner Andean Motorhomes) we left for the long journey to Ushuaia. But as Cris pointed out it does not have to be that boring as per the many reviews we had seen from overlanders following the N3 south. Before we left Buenos Aires a quick dose of Tango. Everywhere you go in Buenos Aires there are people performing Tango on the street. Living on the beach in Australia we decided to give Mar Del Plata a miss. First stop Azul, here we could fill up our truck mounted LPG tank. Further south we found a great camp spot on I-overlander at Lake Salida. At Viedma we left the N3 and followed route 1 a perfect dirt road following the Camino de la costa a succession of beaches over 150 km in length. First stop was El Condor home to the world’s largest colony of Parrots. Great camp spot on the promenade and with temperatures of 29 degrees in March we did not complain. Next memorial de Malvinas, and Patagonia’s oldest lighthouse (1887) and another night on the beach in Bahia Rosas. Once we hit the N3 again it was south to the remote Patagonia Peninsula Valdez. Depending on the time of year, the peninsula attracts a great number of penguins, sea lions, seals and orcas. Whales can be found in the waters located between the Valdes Peninsula and the Patagonian mainland between May and December. We were told we have a small chance to see an Orca at Punta North? We decided to camp just before the park entrance saving us 495 pesos’ and had a brilliant camp spot looking over the inlet. (MUST GO LOCATION) From all accounts we did not miss anything by not entering the park.
Whales can be found in the waters located between the Valdes Peninsula and the Patagonian mainland between May and December. Once we arrived in Puerto Madrijn with 29 degrees and blue sky we decided to stay another day at Playa Parana after we visited Reserva Faunistica home to a permanent sea-lion colony. Our first taste of the wind came in Rawson camping on the beach, when at around 7PM the wind came up and in a matter of minutes from a steady force 3 or 4 to a force 8 or 9.
Nearly Impossible to open the door it was time to look for some protection which we found 200 meters down behind the public toilet. Pffff. Cabos Dos Bahias was our next spot, a provincial wild life reserve close to the town of Camarones. Perfect bush camping and close to the nest and caves of thousands of Magellanic penguins.
Our plan was to visit Bahia Bustamante a private sheep farm in Patagonia covering about 210,000 acres right on the waters of the eastern coast. But the weather was against us and we decided to travel south towards Puerto Julian and the Monte Leon National park. Hoping to catch up with the Elephant seals. Another great overnight stop was Monte Leon National Park, previously an enormous sheep ranch, includes twenty-five miles of ocean frontage on the southern Atlantic coast. It harbours vast colonies of birds—including Magellanic penguins—and marine mammals along the coast.
Southern right whales cruise by on their annual migrations. (not during our stay) Unfortunately camping is no longer allowed in the park (signs clearly stated camping) it was unclear to us what the reason was but we were told to move? Locals told us we have now arrived in the real Patagonia the legendary land of wildness, fierce winds, and hardy gauchos, all part of its iconic name. “The word ‘Patagonia’, like Mandalay or Timbuctoo, has lodged itself in our imagination, to the point that we had to visit this part of the world during our around the world adventure. The dry steppe of Argentine Patagonia is a characterized by minimal rainfall (less than 150 millimetres annually), cold, dry winds, and sandy soil.
The Andes Mountains block moisture from flowing west, creating this arid area. The last larger city before the border with Chile was Rio Gallegos one of the windiest places on Earth, with winds reaching 100 km h on a regular basis. The city also has a major Argentine air base it was here from were the Falklands war was fought. Naval and air strikes where launched from here and Rio Grande. Río Gallegos is the centre of sheep trade for the Patagonia region and exports frozen mutton, sheepskins, and leather coats.
The weather had become cold and wet snow was falling, just 60 km to go and we found a magic campsite next to Lagoon Azul. This lagoon was formed on a volcano crater and the water is green not blue as the books told us. Time to cross to Tierra del Fuego
Falkland Islands War 1982
While in Rio Gallegos you can visit the Falkland war museum. We did not as we already spoken to locals re the war and why Argentina lost this war. The answers where clear. According to Argentines if Chile would not have helped England the English would have lost the war with many casualties? Argentina never expected England to go to war but was expecting a diplomatic solution. Terms for the Argentinian surrender proved to be much harsher than originally expected by the Junta, but Argentina accepted them on 14th of June 1982. Argentinean troops withdrew from the islands, leaving them in British hands. The Falklands conflict remains the largest air-naval combat operation between modern forces since the end of the Second World War. Amazing with their naval and air-force bases less than 500 km from the Falklands Islands they could not win. Argentina continues to debate the sovereignty of the Falklands to this day. In 2013, a referendum was held on the Falkland Islands, after which the majority stated that they wish to stay under the British crown.
Tierra Del Fuego (Argentina)
After South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East, so far border crossings and roads have been perfectly easy and straight forward in South America. The border from Argentina into Chile was no different. We have now arrived in Tierra del Fuego, a natural wonderland that occupies the southernmost region of South America (Argentina and Chile). This windswept archipelago is a mix of flat plains, peatbogs and when getting closer to Ushuaia forest and snow-capped mountains. After shopping in Rio Grande our first stop was Lake Fangano, also known as Lake Kami. The lake is shared with Chile and the word is that Chile is building a road which would allow access from Tolhuin to Porvenir. Having travelled to the most Southern and Northern points in Africa, Australia and Europe we could not resist to visit the most southern point in mainland South America accessible by road (Just past Rio Moat), or as some call it: the end of the world. We camped 110km north east of the island of Cape Horn, the most southern part of South America. The wild rugged land is filled with inlets and panoramic views. A few days earlier via Facebook we got in contact with fellow Aussies Ian and Pen Hunt, who were also enroute to Ushuaia and what better spot to catch up than at the end of the world.
Lots of stories and info where exchanged. From here we backtracked to the N3 and it was time to explore the world’s most southern ski area and Ushuaia. Ushuaia is located at the Beagle Channel and is known as the world’s Southernmost city. It has a stunning location below the Majestic Martial mountains and is surrounded by lots of nature.
However, the city itself did not appeal to us. Ushuaia is also the starting point for Antarctica Cruises but it being too late in the season it was not possible for us to join one of those cruises. While in Ushuaia it was time to rotate the tyres, visit the tourist information centre and getting ready for the next stop in Tierra Del Fuego National Park.
Despite the general believe that the end of the road is in Tierra Del Fuego National Park it is not! However, it is the end of the N3. South America’s southernmost navigable road is at Rio Moat and around 110KM off the N3. You have to turn left onto the RJC road around 40KM before Ushuaia. It is not signposted. This road continues after around 15km as the RP 33 as described above but as it is not a tourist attraction it has no sign. The next best thing is the sign at the National park Tierra Del Fuego marking the end of the N3 and the 17.848km to Alaska. Alaska here we come! (or as per the song goes we go “North to Alaska”).
Hopefully we will reach Alaska in 6 years from now. It is a must to take pictures of the sign: end of the N3, hence we did of the truck and sign. The Eastern Part of Tierra Del Fuego is dry with cold dark winters and cool windy summers. Snow can fall even in the summer in most areas as well.
Before we left Ushuaia, we saw the finish of 2 Belgian runners who ran all the way from Alaska to Ushuaia, 590 marathons since July 2016 for charity! More info on www.viapanam.today *1. Their achievement is AMAZING and we have lots of respect for them.
We backtracked to just before Rio Grande where we stayed overnight and the following day we followed the RP 8 track to Pass Bella Vista and the small border into Chile.
*1 2 Belgian ultra runners ran 25000 kilometers for a good cause, or the equivalent of 590 marathons, one each day for the last 2 years. An amazing story of hope, persistence and a lot of stupidity. (these are their own words)
FAR SOUTH WEST ARGENTINA 2018
Hi all, After leaving Torres Del Payne National Park we left Chile at Cerra Castillo; 5 minutes to exit from Chile and 10 minutes to enter Argentina, this was at Paso Rio Don Guillermo. Next stop Calafate, where it was time to replace a car battery, do the washing and fill up our water tanks. Hence time for a camping and the one recommended was El Ninguao. (great choice) El Calafate is situated on the southern border of lake Argentino. The name of the city is the name from a little bush with yellow flowers and dark blue berries that is very common in Patagonia. The city itself is very touristy being an important hub for the Glaciares National Park including the Perito Moreno Glacier. Like in Chile foreign tourists pay twice or 3 times as much as the locals. I have commented already on this during our Africa trips so no further comment except to say I have paid enough foreign aid for the rest of my life. Main reason for visiting El Calafate is the Perito Moreno Glacier. It is one of the few glaciers in the world still growing.
The glacier is around 30Km long and 80 meters high. The glacier stretches all the way to Chile. Other interesting facts we learned. 1. After Antarctica and Greenland the Andes region (Chile and Argentina) have the largest area of Ice in the world. (12500 sq. km in total) 2. This area covers 48 major glaciers and more than 100 smaller glaciers. 3. The Viedma Glacier is the largest glacier in Argentina with 975sq kilometre. 4. The total ice dept of the Perito Moreno glacier is measured at 170meters. Lots of viewing platforms allowing you to get very close to the glacier. If you take the time you will see huge chunks of the Glacier fall off crashing into the water below. Perito Moreno is one of the major tourist attractions in southern Patagonia. Our next stop was El Chalten, a small colourful village in the Northern Part of Glaciares National Park. It is located at the base of Cerre Fitz Roy and Cerre Torre, both very popular among climbers.
The area around El Chalten is rugged and impressive. The 2 major mountains are the Fitzroy at 3405 meters high and the Torre at 3102 meters. The whole area has an amazing landscape. Once we left El Chalten we backtracked 90km to the RN 40 to continue further north, sofar the route 40 described by so many as remote has been grossly overrated. Yes, it is correct that some parts have no cell phone coverage, fuel stations are further apart but nothing a normal vehicle could not cover, yes it has gravel at some stretches and road works but most of the road we did was all paved except a part between Tres Lagos and Gobarnador.
By now our Southern Patagonia part of the trip has nearly come to an end as we are heading for the Chilean fjords. From El Chalten we drove North parallel to the Andes, on the famous route 40 via little backwaters like Tres Lagos, Gobernador Gregores, Bajo Caracoles, Perito Moreno (don’t confuse this with the National Parc Perito Moreno) Route 40 has become some type of national symbol/achievement in Argentina, not sure why as the road is perfect and all but 100km paved. That is the bit we travelled from Don Guillermo border crossing (near Torres Del Payne National Park) till Los Antiguos where we crossed back into Chile. Also confusing is the name of this area is it Patagonia or the province Santa Cruz? Or both?
SOUTHERN PATAGONIA WEATHER
Despite the many negatives we heard re the weather and travelling late in the season we have been lucky, or should we say we picked the right season? (don’t get me wrong it was cold, and we had some big winds at night but overall the weather was kind to us. And according to the local’s March and April are great months to travel without many tourists, as all seem to want to arrive in January/February when the weather is unpredictable and the winds at it strongest) Let’s hope South West Chile will give us the same weather while we are visiting the western Fjords.
PART 1 ARGENTINA 2017
Having arrived in Buenos Aires awaiting the arrival of our truck/motorhome Our 3 year South America adventure has started. Time flies and after 7 years of travel Covering Africa/South East Asia/Russia Middle East and Stan Countries we left Egypt in Nov 2016 and are now ready for a 3 year South America adventure.
A country situated in South America covering most of the southern portion of the continent. It’s the world’s eighth largest country.
The 70’s was a period of military dictatorship during which thousands of alleged dissidents disappeared, or were murdered. After this period they went through the disastrous Falklands Islands War of 1982, when Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands and claimed it as its own but was defeated by British forces in a short bloody campaign. This led to the fall of the military dictatorship and democratic rule was re-introduced.
Due to Argentina’s production of livestock and cereals, it was once ranked among the world’s wealthiest nations. Much of this agricultural activity is set in the Pampas rich grasslands that were once the domain of nomadic Native Americans, followed by rough-riding gauchos.
Argentina is a largely urban country. Buenos Aires, the national capital, has sprawled across the eastern Pampas with its ring of modern, bustling suburbs. It is among South America’s most cosmopolitan and crowded cities.
Our ship is a few days delayed but we are enjoying the city. Buenos Aires also known as the Paris of the South did not disappoint, the night life is superb, day time markets are lively and interesting, steaks are huge and 500g is considered small. Old worlds blend with new in Buenos Aires, our favourite suburbs so far are Palermo, San Telmo and La Boca. We love the cobblestoned streets lined with adorable cafés and boutiques. The Argentine capital’s French buildings and Spanish nightlife also tell the story of a city with one foot in Latin America and the other in Europe.
Must do sightseeing in Buenos Aires:
The Recoleta Cemetery: This is the cemetery of the rich and famous in Buenos Aires, almost a city unto itself, with rows upon rows of impressive tombs and statues. At this cemetery, you will find the graves of Eva Peron and of many other famous people, including numerous presidents. There are 4591 vaults in this cemetery, all above the ground. Ninety-four of these vaults are National Historical Monuments and are under state protection.
The plaza de Mayo during our visit was heavily fenced. Many buildings representing city landmarks and seats of government are located around Plaza de Mayo. One of the reasons for our visit to the Plaza de Mayo was to see the Madres de La Plaza or Mothers of May Square. These are women whose children have ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. The mothers demanded to know where their children were and began to march around the May Pyramid in the middle of the square wearing white handkerchiefs with their children’s names embroidered on them. The weekly marches started in 1977 and continue every Thursday afternoon. Not many Mothers who started this movement have survived and many of those who are alive face constant health issues because of their age. With their white headscarves, the group has, over the years, become known around the world. We were told more than 30,000 people were kidnapped and murdered during this time by extremist right-wing groups or the military government that seized power in a coup in 1976.
La Boca, quite possibly the biggest mainstream tourist hotspot in Buenos Aires. The colorful Caminito street in the otherwise run down barrio of La Boca has a reputation of being commercial, touristy, tacky, tango rubbish by locals and travel guides alike. Caminito is often translated: little walkway and it is little! At less than 100 meters long it is never going to win any awards. But Buenos Aires claims them already in other areas: The Avenida 9 de Julio for world’s widest street and Avenida Rivadavia for the world’s longest. However, Caminito in my book won the award for the greatest concentration of Japanese tourists per square meter.
TANGO, we loved the many dancers around Buenos Aires in the form of street performers, tango dancers and musicians, tango music coming from bars and restaurants and squares, most memorable at the San Telmo markets. Our visit was during the soccer superclassical at the Stadium La Bombonera where on the day the clash of enemies Boca Juniors and River Plate took place. 85000 people inside the stadium and I think 100000 outside the stadium, River Plata won 3-1.
San Telmo: We preferred this suburb above all others. It has history, beauty, ugliness, life, decay, great food, tango, great restaurants, bars, and live music. It’s not as smart as Palermo, or as plush as Recoleta, but for us it was the best.
We picked up our truck from Zarate. (many thanks Weber Agencies). It supposed to take 2 days for customs clearance, however Francesco organized all in 1 day. (I may add 13 hours all up and 3 trips between Zarate and Campana to different offices). Great company, great service. I should also mention Belgaco shipping and Steven Van Buynderen for following up and ensuring all went well from the European site.
BUENOS AIRES TO BORDER BRASIL (The Long Way Round)
Our first stop was Andean Motorhomes in Ricardo Rojas. Very friendly and helpful owners who are in the business of renting out motorhomes. We found a spot next to the workshop and got our truck ready for our next stage of our around the world trip. I may add his mechanic must be the world’s most expensive at 150USD per hour just for labour only. He did a good job though and when we had some further issues the following day 45km out of Zarate he came out to fix it (he forgot a few things……)
After we left Buenos Aires our first stop was Rosario.
Rosario is famous for being the birthplace of Che Guevara, Lionel Messi and the nation’s flag. The apartment where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was born in the central district of the city is now privately owned, so we could not visit his house. In Rosario, a law has passed preventing parents from naming their children after the famous Football star.
Overnight we stayed in Santo Tome just south of Santa Fe in a small park/reserve in a very nice neighbourhood. we visited Santa Fe which lies on the Parana River in the North East of Argentina. (The Parana River and the Uruguay river are besides the Amazon River the 2 most important rivers on the American continent). Its port, modernized for oceangoing vessels, is one of the most inland seaports in the world nearly 400 km from the Atlantic Ocean (Rio de la Plata). The port looks after the import/Export of Bolivia, Paraguay as well as Argentina.
As we travelled further North the landscape became more subtropical with marshes, tall savannas and woodland. Once we arrived in Corrientes we entered a region known as Argentine Mesopotamia, a low-lying subtropical province of plains, channels, lakes, and marshes ascending to slightly higher elevations in the east. A real feature is the expansive Iberá wetlands area (Esteros del Iberá) in the north-central part of the province. The Esteros del Iberia was not in our plan for this trip but due to a collapsed bridge we had to make a 400km detour and crossed this area. Covering 13000sq km, they are the most important wetlands in Argentina and are temporarily or permanently flooded, depending on the location. The Iberá Wetlands are just as rich as the better-known Pantanal in Brazil. About 300 bird species, 85 species of mammals, 45 species of amphibians and 35 species of reptiles are living here, which account for almost one third of the biodiversity of the country. Among the species are the swamp deer, the capybara, the biggest rodent of the world, adults measure 47 inches and weigh 110 pounds; the caiman, the black howler monkey (you can hear him 3 km away who lives in trees), the maned wolf, the pampa deer, the giant anteaters, the yellow anaconda or curiyú (the biggest snake in Argentina) and another snake the yarará, a very venomous and dangerous viper whose size can reach 67 inches. And last but not the least the piranha. This is also the land of the Gaucho’s; they look after the cattle in vast pastures, moving the herds between the ponds and the lagoons seeking for dried lands. We planned to meet up with Atte and Marijke (also world travelers). We spend a great night chatting with them before they drove to Uruguay. The last 2 weeks we spent driving between 3 great rivers: The Parana river, the second longest river after the Amazon River, the Uruguay River and the Upper Parana river. Our final stop in Argentina this trip were the Iguazu Falls. The Iguazu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. This system consists of 275 falls along 2.7 kilometers (1.67 miles) of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 82 meters in height, though the majority are about 64 meters.
The Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish) are a U-shaped, 82-meter-high, 150-meter-wide and 700-meter-long cataract, for us the most impressive of all. Iguazu currently has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world. The water falling over Iguazu in peak flow has a surface area of about 40 Hectares. It is taller than the Niagara Falls and twice as wide. It is considered the most beautiful waterfall in the world, and is mentioned as one of the seven wonders of nature. It is the sixth largest waterfall in the world by mean annual flow rate. (Niagara Falls in North America is fifth on the list). It marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. Two thirds of the falls are within Argentine territory. The other third is in Brazil which we will explore next week when we enter Brazil.