April 13 - 20th, 2006 - Welcome back to Patagonia
Welcome to this, the fifth phase of the Around-the-World driving expedition of the World of Wonders Project. Kim & Don welcome you to join us as we continue our exploration of South America driving northward along the Andes crossing back and forth between Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.
Well, it turned out to be a real adventure just getting back to Chile and our expedition vehicle. Let me just do a quick run down of the journey here.
We left our base in Prescott, leaving plenty of time to meet our flight in Phoenix. However it turned out that American Airlines had something different in mind for us. First, AA decided to push our flight back an hour and half from our original departure time. OK, we thought. There would still be enough time to meet our AA connecting flight in Dallas. Surprise - when we got to the airport, our flight was 45 minutes late, than another hour and a half late. Well, there went any safety margin for us. We spoke with one airline representative who told us it was our own fault for missing the connection as we should've checked with AA before leaving and changed our non-changeable flight (!).
Then Kim was able to find an earlier flight that would give us 30 minutes to connect. As things always go smoothly, our new flight was 20 minutes late. Oh boy! During the flight our friendly flight attendants asked all the people sitting in front of us to allow us to exit the plane first to try and get our connection. OK! Arriving in Dallas, we did our best to meet our connection, running across the airport only to arrive just after the plane departed!
So, we were delayed 24 hours with none of our luggage, only our carry-on bags. Lucky for us, we had our toiletry bags. The "silver lining" in this delay was the people that we met. Four others also got left behind by the airline and we got to enjoy their company.
24 hours later than we had planned, we arrived in Santiago, Chile. After our last connecting flight south, we arrived back at Camping Alborada in Coyahique and our expedition vehicle, which had a light coating of yellow leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees and blanketed both our vehicle and the ground around it.
Good news was waiting for us. No, we didn't get our refrigerator yet, there was a problem getting it here, so we will pick it up in Puerto Montt in about ten days. Luckily we have our cooler bag from California Innovations. But the good news was that all of our luggage and supplies made it with us - with nothing confiscated by the good folks at the Transportation Safety Administration (unlike each time before).
Within a couple of hours, we had the RV cover removed and stored, batteries reconnected and made a run into town to stock up on groceries. The next day we did some minor repairs and upgrades so that we would be ready to get on the road and explore north along the Andes.
April in the Southern Hemisphere is middle of the Fall season. Temperatures reach into the 50's during the day and fall into the 40's or lower at night. We are really happy that the expedition vehicle has a heater inside to keep us warm! Also, the days are shorter. It's quite the change from when we left here two months ago. At that time, we had days that were 17 or 18 hours long, now we're lucky if they're 11 hours long.
This morning we made a quick run to top off our groceries before making our first crossing of the Andes into Argentina. The mountain pass this far south isn't very high, not like the 4,500 mt (14,625 ft) passes that we will cross further north. This pass was only about 800 mt (2,600 ft) high. Yet the scenery was great. The fall temperatures have changed the leaves on the deciduous trees into stunning yellows, oranges and red. These are interspersed with the bright green of the evergreen pine trees. We passed rivers and small lakes on our way to the border.
Border crossings seem to be getting easier the longer we are on the road. We park, go into the immigration building, get our passports stamped, surrender our vehicle permit and wave (a temporary) goodbye to Chile. A few miles down the road, we stop at the Argentina Immigration building and basically do the same. The only difference is that it takes about five minutes for the customs agent to copy our truck information onto a new vehicle permit - and away we go! So simple.
But what a change in scenery. As soon as we cross over the Andes, we are back into Patagonia steppe. Low grasses and shrubbery, and sheep! The only trees we spot have been planted around the farm houses or estancias to act as wind breaks. But yet we spot lots of chopped wood stacked around the houses to be burned for heat. Maybe this is where all the trees have gone - literally up in smoke.
Driving along the ripio roads, (this is what gravel roads are called down here,) we traveled about 100 slow miles until we reach our destination at the tiny town of Rio Mayo where we are able to find a great wild camp spot right next to the Rio (river) Mayo. We did get to see one large Rhea (remember - these are the large South American flightless birds similar to ostriches).
April 18, 2006
This late sunrise is really hard getting used to. Just as we were adjusting to the time in Chile, we crossed over to Argentina and discovered that they change their clocks due to the time of year, and now its an hour later. So today we thought we'd get up and out early, but NO. I think it was about 8am that we got out of bed! Granted, the sky was overcast and drizzly, but even so, we may have to sleep with the blinds open so we can see when the sun rises.
Today we headed north, following along Route 40, which has taken on some sort of mythical sense as this "must-drive experience". Well, we have driven quite a bit of it, during the last expedition we drove north past the glaciers and awe-inspiring mountains in both Chile and Argentina. Now we are driving once again through the Andean steppe. Not to take away from flat vistas, but mile after mile of spotty grasses and scrub does get to you after a while. Living in Arizona, we love the desert and long views and the steppe has that, but after a day or two or three we are ready for something different.
After driving most of the day through this scenery and, once again, relentless wind, we hoped to make camp at one of the many estancias that we passed. Stopping at one close to the road, we received our first rejection! We're sure that this is rare as the hospitality we have received from the Argentineans has been warm and generous. So we got back in our Fuso and drove another hour or so to the town of Esquel where we found a campground and from where we can start exploring the Lake District. We're looking forward to spending a few days exploring the lakes, rivers and even volcanoes found along this stretch of the Andes. We may be a bit late in the season, but we'll also be looking into kayaking or rafting some of the many rivers here.
April 19 -20
Today was one of those work days, internet, grocery shop, fuel, water etc. So after finishing, we treated ourselves to an early dinner in town. We found a Parrilla (Grill) that was actually open - this was lucky as nearly every type of business closes during the afternoon siesta, including restaurants. This was a good find as the mixed grill of sausage, pork and lamb was excellent.
After dinner/late lunch we drove about thirty miles into the Parque Nacional Los Alerces. This park is named after the alerce or Patagonia Cypress tree that can be found here. They are commonly compared to the Giant Sequoias found in California. We did find one tree (they seem to be hard to find even here in their named park). It was pretty, allegedly 300 years old and not nearly half the size of the sequoias. Maybe we'll be lucky and find larger trees in other parks.
We camped on the shore of Lago Futalaufquen (Fu), and were the only campers in the park that we saw. Maybe it's the fact that we are into late fall already, but it looks like few people are traveling this time of year. Too bad for them as the mountains are all capped in snow and the trees covering their slopes are changing color from green to yellows, oranges and reds - just beautiful.
This expedition may be a bit cooler temperature-wise than the previous expedition, but it will be very colorful. At the end of the day we crossed into the Province of Rio Negro, leaving the region of Patagonia behind. It has been wonderful, now we are looking forward to exploring the Lake Districts of both Argentina and Chile as we work our way northwards.