In an attempt to travel South to Ushuaia, Argentina, we prepared our campers and dog paperwork for the Argentina-Chile-Argentina passage in the city Rio Gallegos, Argentina. Wind and cold rain predictions made us change our minds about travel further South. It was likely that the ferry would be delayed for four days which would block the crossing to Ushuaia. That would mean waiting for 4 days in the wind in beautiful camps with little wind protection or gas station parking lots between semis for wind protection. We already did a night between the semis in Rio Gallegos. The thought of repeating made us all grumpy. Instead, we did the land crossing to Chile at Paso Dorotea, Argentina and made our way to Puerto Natalas, Chile near Torres de Paine.
In Puerto Natalas, we investigated the idea of taking the ferry from Puerto Natalas to Puerto Yungay (a distance of over 600 miles), but the ferry was booked for vehicles until March 23rd. They would however accept dog passengers (for free no less), which made me lose a bet with Niles for dinner dishes. None of this was mood lifting. Although, like in Butte, hot water on your hands is a perk of doing dishes in cold weather.
The total cost to put our vehicles and 4 passengers on came to $922, including (very basic) meals for the 41 hour trip. If there had been a waiting list (and the weather had been better) we would have dedicated more time in Chile to attempt the ferry. Instead, we headed to the border of Torres de Paine National Park.
And the wind and rain continued. We didn’t enter the park officially for three reasons. (1) It’s expensive, (2) the mountains were covered with clouds and (3) dogs weren’t allowed. We also just didn’t feel it was right to forge emotional support dog paperwork, as recommended by other dog-toting travellers, and even the staff at Chilean customs. While we did not enter, the scenery outside the park from our camp,driving the country roads, and taking in the majesty of the shrouded mountains gave us a good feel of the place.
Back in Puerto Natalas on an errand day, we found that the Chilean government funds a wonderful chain of public libraries, complete with fast WiFi, bathrooms, and quiet table spaces where Niles could catch up on some school. The restaurants also had great WiFi, but with lunch at $60, we made the library two days in a row between laundry, grocery, gas and propane errands in Puerto Natalas.
We camped our first two (and only two) nights in Chile on the edge of the mountain range of Torres de Piene, with views of the peaks emerging sporadically through the cold rain and wind. A raging waterfall at the edge of this camp crept into my dreams and woke me as it’s flow adjusted with the storm. The peaks around us are solid bare granite, black-gray with fresh snow. It’s definitely an early winter feel here at the 50th South latitude in late February.
The mountain snow comes from the storms we have been camped out in, the rain continued through the night and morning. The Chilean portion of Patagonia that we can see is ultra green, wet and cold. Despite the beauty, nothing about it is gentle to me. The land itself has been folded by tectonic plates colliding on the Pacific Ocean side of Chile, with rock layers bent at 90 degree turns; trees are short, gnarled, and twisted; and the locals look hardy and no-nonsense.
There are caves and references to the mammals now extinct, like the Miradòn (giant ground sloth) in site names. We see flamingos in the lakes, ostriches in the fields, herds of Guanacos with lots of young, and many large jackrabbits, which run from the dog, trucks, and as us as we hike along.
I want to make our time here in Chile brief. Being exposed to subarctic conditions while campong is on the edge of comfort for me. I’m super impressed by the bike tourists we’ve seen in the area, they look much less happy than the ones we saw up north in better conditions. I’m jealous of the tourists in town, freshly showered and warmly rested, looking into their hiking tours in Puerto Natalas.
This area is better for travelers looking into short exposure to the weather with guaranteed return to hot drinks and showers in the evening. Tourism outfits make it known up front that trips are subject to weather and are not responsible for your sniveling needs.
Viv and I laughed because we could both identify with the Monte Python scene in the Holy Grail, where the knights yell their battle strategy: “Run away!” Our family agreed, it’s time to head North to the warm and less windy areas.
As conditions have deteriorated, we have been relating our family to the Croods. Especially the scenes involving Grug directing his cave-man family through the new lands allowing them a step then holding up his hand, “Stop!” Looking around, “Ok, go. Stop!”.
Border crossings, budgeting in different currencies and economies, variation in distances of gas stations and availability of internet have been falling heavily in Mike’s lap. The part of travel that is halting, uncomfortable, involves risk and scarcity all increase when the wind and rain rage. I completely understand how mutinies happen.
All of us have had plenty of time to do self-reflection. Viv is on the applying to colleges more vigorously. Niles is completing more school assignments. Mike and I are starting to talk about our return to Butte and what we want that to be like. All of these things seemed so far away just two weeks ago.
The northward turn of the trip is a natural point to assess oneself. We are 6 months into this family voyage. We are studying Spanish, listening to Sapiens, Chronicles of Egg, the Silmerilian, and having long music listening sessions while watching miles of vast valleys, lakes and mountains pass by.
Now driving towards El Calafate, Argentina, we are still in wind but the sun is shining bright. We are headed towards showers! It’s been 2 weeks….