Tag Archives: Patagonia

In and out of Chile from Argentina in Patagonia.

Cold on cold.

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.

Gypsy finding diversion on the rainy days

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.

Mural outside our favorite library

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.

Camp outside Torres de Paine, Chile

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.

Lago Amarga, Chile: the water was so salty the beach was lined with salt crystals, and a strange spongy coral growing in it.

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.

Mammals of Patagonia’s past, the only one still surviving is the Guanaco 🦙

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.

The wind protection behind the gas station in El Calafate

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….

Freeing a baby guanaco from a fence near Lago Argentina

We came across a baby guanaco that was stuck in a fence near Lago Argentino. There were half a dozen other guanacos nearby, including the Mom and a rather alert looking male. Vivian watched these two to make sure they didn’t try to attack me while I tried to figure out how to approach and un-wedge the baby guanaco from the fence.

Approaching the guanaco at first made her struggle ferociously, making me back off several times. Already completely exhausted, it didn’t take long before I was able to reach out and touch one leg, and then the other.
Touching the feet of the guanaco was so interesting. The bottom of the feet had soft,leathery pads and a smooth texture, completely taking me by surprise. I don’t remember any sharp toes, but was also trying not to get kicked!

The guanaco’s legs were caught behind two wires, locking the legs just below their rearward folding knee and just above the ankle. The animal itself was high-centered right on her hip flexors, front feet just touching the ground. For each rear leg I had to move the upper wire above the knee so I could flex each leg enough to then move each ankle above the lower wire.

Once the legs were free, I was able to carefully boost the animal by both legs over Uall of the wires. The baby had been there for so long that her legs were very asleep, and they were not working at all like she wanted them to. She immediately took a huge bound, but got just enough movement to turn her body around 180 degrees and launch her crashing straight into the fence from the opposite direction (not once, but twice).

After she realized her legs were not working, she was able to wobble across the road and hobble over a lower ridge and out of sight.

Extending above the smaller ridge was a larger ridge, rolling up into the sky. As our attention drifted away from the baby guanaco, we realized that scattered across the larger ridge were several dozen adult and baby guanacos, all bounding with nervous excitement and watching us and the rescued guanaco. It seemed to me that once the others saw that the baby guanaco bounding along more normally, they all turned as one and bounded up the ridge and out of site, within a matter of less than the span of a few breaths. Such wonderful creatures!

Windy Camping in Patagonia

Cold mornings are a good time to write while still tucked in bed. This morning I write from the canyon camp next to the visitor’s center of Cuevo de Las Manos, Argentina in Patagonia. It’s chilly but more, it’s windy. Today, not dangerously windy. It will be possible to hike down into the Canyon and visit the cave and wall paintings.

The visitor’s center to Cuevo de Las Manos visible from our camp.

Two nights ago, we camped at Lago Pasados where we encountered our first dangerously strong winds. We had been warned by Darren and Kathryn, a couple we visited with in Los Antiguos, also traveling in a pop-top. They recommended Ruta 41 over Ruta 40 to travel between Los Antiguos and Lago Pasados because while it’s a rougher road, the scenery is superior. But they said there was a night they had to sleep with their tent top down and even lower the jack-legs to keep from rocking from the wind.

Ruta 41 in yellow, our windy camp was next to the lake on the west side.

Ruta 41 is not a National highway like Ruta 40, it’s a maintained gravel road between Los Antiguos and Lago Pasados then after Lago Pasados, it’s a 4×4 track. It hugs the Argentinan/Chilean border. It is also the solution to the notoriously flat and scenery-less terrain of Ruta 40 in this section. We were amazed by the views from Ruta 41 from our windows and I even had the opportunity to take a bike ride along the Ruta.

A fork in the road while biking.
Our red truck on Ruta 41

In Los Antiguos where we started Ruta 41, we picked up Olek, a hitch-hiker we had met in Rio Mayo many miles previously. He was headed in our general direction on Ruta 41 so he hopped a ride with us. Olek, a Russian, has been traveling for 1.5 years, hitch-hiking through Africa and South America. Even with all of his previous travel, the windy camp of Lago Pasados was a challenge for all of us.

Shattered glass from the windy night camp next to Lago Posados. We were so happy we collapsed the pop-ups when the wind started getting bad or we could have lost them…
Olek and Mike fixing Olek’s wrecked tent. Video of the tent snapping on link below:


With wet weather predictions and shaken by the big winds in camp last night at Lago Pasados, we decided to head towards Ruta 40 instead of taking the 4×4 track from Lago Pasados to Parque National Perrito Moreno. Especially after German travelers in a monsterous modified fire truck said the terrain was very rough with ledges and very large rocks to navigate through areas of erosion if we went forward on Ruta 41. They said they did it, but only because the weather was perfect. Now, that was changing.

So, here we are in Cuevo de Las Manos in less wind and weather about to see the caves with painted handprints from 10,000 years ago. We continue to pick our route by recommendations along the way by fellow travellers and ioverlander.