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We (Alex and I) left Santiago Wednesday 19 in the morning, and flew to Punta Arenas, in Chilean Patagonia. Rainy and windy (really windy) day, we are pretty much freezing!!
The car we rented was waiting for us on the car park, and we got our Nissan Xtrail!
We started with shopping in the city and went around for information about national parks and roads and maps to prepare our trip. We didn’t get much from the tourist information point, but at least with the lonely planet guide book and an approximate map we managed to plan a bit.
On the map, I could see that there was a group of islands called Islas Agnes! But we couldn’t go there, unless a private boat I guess… And there is also, further south, a small island called Isla Thomas (for my older brother! – TomTom, I knew you wanted to go there just for that).
So, we started driving along the Magellan straight learning how to manage the strong winds. We drove a few hours, to a very small village next to the ferry to fireland: Punta Delgada. When there is a point and a name on a map, we learned that it doesn’t really mean that there is something, not even a fuel station!
Anyway, from this we went on a dirt road (really soft and wet and dirty) for 40 km, to find the National Park Pali Aike. It was already late when we got there, but that is one of the really nice things in Patagonia: the night is short! A bit like a Finnish summer : the dark came around 23:00 and the day was getting up around 4:30 in the morning… so at least we were never stressed to find a place to sleep before the night, we were usually tired before it got dark!
In the national park, we saw a lot of animals: rabbits (ok, nothing special…), guanacos, ñandu, foxes…
The guanacos, as the vicuñas, have a funny habit: actually really interesting and clean! When they need to go to the toilet, they have one dedicated spot, where they all go and do what they need!
After speaking about toilets and stuff like I usually do, we had a nice first night in the car, long enough for Alex to sleep in and even stretched his legs. It was above a small lake, really nice view, but really windy and exposed; the car was moving every time the wind got stronger…
And it was raining all night a little bit, just to tell us “welcome to Patagonia!” But in the morning, the sun was shining on the car around 7:00, already pretty high in the sky, it was really nice! On the way back we went to the other side of the park, and went walking in a crater of an old volcano. The dirt road was pretty muddy on some spots, we were really happy to have a 4 wheel drive, otherwise with a van not sure we could have make it!!
And we went down to get in the ferry, to cross the Magellan straight and discover Tierra del fuego (Fireland)!
On the road and on the ferry, we got rain mixed with snow, hail (quite a lot)… it was really cold and windy! In less than 5 hours we had all kind of weather! And the hardest thing is to try to convince yourself that it is SUMMER! Yea, otherwise it is cold…
We drove one hour to Cerro Sombrero after the 30 minutes ferry crossing and had to wait half an hour that the only fuel station opened after the lunch break (we are glad that they didn’t have the “siesta” (nap) break, which is pretty common in the countryside in South America) before heading to Rio Grande, on the east coast (Atlantic ocean coast!)
We went through really nice roads, with most of the time sun (and still a lot of wind but I might try to stop writing it, because the wind never stops there!). There are only dirt roads in Chilean Fireland, so the speed is pretty limited and it takes more time to go from one place to another. The landscape was looking pretty dry globally, even if it is basically raining everyday… Mostly grass, yellow and some reddish bushes… which are the typical pictures of Fireland that we can see in the books! It was pretty funny to pass other cars or buses or trucks, as we had to drive on the left side of the road or in the middle to avoid holes and bumps… and them a well!
But we made it to San Sebastián, which is the crossing to the Argentinean Fireland… which makes everything so long here, the crossing of the borders! It took us one hour and a half to get out of Chile (meaning queuing to get a stamp in our passports in 30 seconds… 🙂 ) After this stamp, we got back in the car, and drove 10 km basically nowhere… because we had the stamps “out of Chile” and no stamp to say “in Argentina”! A bit of a weird funny feeling… and we eventually made it to the Argentinean border to get our stamps “In Argentina” and which, surprisingly was way faster than the Chilean side.
Just after the border, the road went above the ocean… wait, the Atlantic Ocean! Was pretty different than the Pacific view… the sun was still with us… and the road was paved! A few kilometers before Rio Grande, we suddenly got grey clouds, rain, hail, and snow! There was actually snow on the road on some parts…
In Rio Grande, which is not a nice town, we found a supermarket, we gave up for the fuel when we saw the queues at the 2 stations (maybe we could have waited 2 hours) and decided it would be enough to Ushuaia. And we just left. There was nothing to see, nothing to do, not even a free wifi anywhere…
So we drove a bit to the South, and as we were hungry and not sure if the weather would stay without rain for a long time, we decided to stop for cooking and eating our dinner on the side of the road. This was a pretty good idea in the end! We couldn’t really stop where we wanted to, because everywhere in Patagonia / Fireland there are fences all along the roads, and private properties… No way to get in the countryside here! I was a bit disappointed, and was a bit scared that we might have to sleep just on the side of the road… but we found a road further south, which was another road to reach Ushuaia, but a dirt road, in a pretty bad shape. We just entered this road and decided it would be better to stop on the side of this one than on the side of the main paved one. After 10 km, we had a look if we could go off the road. But there was a ditch! And it was already 22:00… we were alone and not sure about the fact that the car could make it without getting bogged… and while we were hesitating, a car came and the guy asked us if everything was fine. We said yes and explained the hesitation, and he told us that there was a “camping” area a bit further and the ditch would be not that deep. He asked us to not make fire… and we laughed a bit because it was raining and everything so wet around that we didn’t really know what to burn! So we made it to this area, still not 100% sure about the non-bogging of the car but we tried, and made it! We parked the car behind a tree and had our second night in the car! Was way less wind, but it rained all night…
In the morning, still raining… but we didn’t have a tent to pack or anything wet, the car was pretty water and wind proof so it was totally fine! We had a Christmas sweet bread with jam for breakfast inside the car and left this place, to try to find a bit of a dryer weather further south.
And we did! A few kilometers later, we stopped on the side of the road and set up the stove to boil water and have tea for the day in the thermos. It was a bit of a challenge to lit up the stove with the wind, but when choosing the right side of the car to be out of the wind it was alright. But we were freezing outside… maybe the wind came straight from Antarctica and wanted to transform us in Penguins!
Anyway, we survived to this and kept driving south. The landscape changed a bit, getting a bit more hills, even snowy mounts in the clouds, green grass and fields, forests, rivers, lakes…
In Tolhuin, we tried to get fuel again but they said the truck would come and fill up the station 4 hours later… as we didn’t want to wait, we kept going to Ushuaia. Amazing landscapes, beautiful mountains and lakes, still a lot of wind, a bit of rain, a bit of snow… and a lot of snow at some point in the last valley we went through. It was 10cm of snow everywhere, we were glad that the road was cleared (even if after Finland I am not scared to drive on snow, we didn’t have spikes tires! We arrived to Ushuaia, a city for tourists. But it looked actually like a city, not like the other points on the map!
We went to the information point, we bought food, went in a café with internet, shopping for warm socks and a waterproof small backpack, shopping for food and left the city to go to the Fireland national park, at Lapataia bay. The weather was alright (meaning no rain) so we could enjoy the park and we found a nice place to camp for free (kind of, because we had to pay quite a bit to enter in the park… :-/) next to a river. We celebrated the end of the world drinking the bottle of wine we had and went to bed pretty early.
In the afternoon, we went to the north part of the park, and walked a few hours to the border to Chile. It was forbidden to cross the “line” and to go back to Chile this way… Of course, Alex jumped from one side of the sign to the other a few times…
And we went back, to find another free campsite in the park. It rained again a bit all the night, but in the morning it was pretty fine. We could walk up to a lookout and see a bit of the valleys, the mountains and the Beagle Channel.
Afterwards, we went out of the park, and up the hill above Ushuaia, to the Glacier Martial. There was a chairlift to go to the beginning of the tracks, but when we saw the price we decided to walk a bit more. Some people told us it was a one hour climb, so we were brave and started walking. And after 30 minutes, we were there… we were right to not pay the chairlift! There was snow everywhere, and basically the hike to the glacier was in 40 cm of snow, sometimes deeper… we arrived on the top and couldn’t see the glacier… but we had a really nice view! And we had a lot of fun going downhill sledging with plastic bags half of the way! We were soaked when we got back to the car, but it was a really nice day! And we had some sun when we were in the snow and forgot about sun screen lotion… Of course I got pretty strong red marks on my face!
And as we had time left, we went down to Ushuaia, bought a bit more food, geek a bit in a free wifi spot accessible from the car (warmer than outside…) and we went back on the road to start our way back to Punta Arenas. We stopped a little bit before Tolhuin, a little bit aside of the road, next to a river… luckily we bought some chorizos and there was heaps of dry wood around! We made a fire, cut some sticks and grilled the chorizos! We had a nice sunset behind the mountains and above the Fagnano lake.
We had to start Monday pretty early because it was only a driving day, to Porvenir, in the Chilean part of Fireland. Before we left our camp spot, we heard weird noises from the river, and we saw pretty quickly a beaver diving a few times, with his wide tail splashing around!
We had nice landscapes around again, but this time with less cloud. We had a chance to go up to a lookout above Tolhuin.
At the Argentinean border, we had a funny guy… don’t know if he was his first day working there or if it was just because it was Christmas Eve’s, but he opened my passport to stamp it “out of Argentina” and turned the pages very slowly, had a look at each stamp, looked at us, turn pages again, had a closer look, found something surprising, asked me something about the Ushuaia stamp I got for free in the information point like any other tourist, I didn’t understand him, he went away with my passport looking weird at us, and went to show a few pages to his colleagues… I have to say I was a bit worried, because it didn’t look that good… He came back 5 minutes later, and asked us where we got this stamps, if it was normal… he looked really surprised when we told him that the information center in Ushuaia has 4 different kind of stamps… and in the end he took my passport and stamped it, having a last look at the Ushuaia stamp…
We booked the ferry from Porvenir to Punta Arenas for Tuesday 25th midday, so we had to be quite closed to this “town”. Beautiful landscapes around the 150 km of dirt road that we had to drive, north of the “bahia inutil” (useless bay) – named after that Magellan made his way through it and found out that it was only a bay and there was not exit…-
There was nothing at all in Porvenir. A lookout, a square, and 2 ATM which didn’t work with our credit cards… no shops, everything closed on the 24th… We decided to go 50 km north to a national park which was on the map, thinking that we have enough fuel to go there and come back on Tuesday morning… The first road we took was the “shipwrecks road”… and ended 35 kilometers later, just with a fence in the middle of the road so we went back and tried another one… and after 60 kilometers, we decided to find a spot and just stop there, because we might not have enough fuel to go back the day after… So we stop on the side of a small road and had our Christmas Eve’s dinner: Pasta, tuna, tomato sauce… we ate and stayed inside the car because the wind was pretty strong again and it was too cold… We were glad that the car was big enough to sit at the back, with the flat seats.
We went to bed early, as there was not much to do around, except a few guanacos along the road… the sunset was really nice, above the Magellan straight!
We took our time in the morning and drove back to Porvenir and board in the ferry to Punta Arenas. After a few minutes, we arrived in the waves of the Magellan straight and my stomach didn’t like it at all. The waves were as high as it was completely covering the horizon and the lands around… Ok in a normal boat it could feel “normal”, but in a big ferry with trucks or buses inside, I didn’t really like it… But lucky me, I fell asleep 2 hours. When I got up the waves were alright… and I went out on the top deck to take a few pictures of the straight and have a look around… when I saw dolphins! Three dolphins, they didn’t stay long, but jumped a few times in front of the ferry! My first real dolphins!
It looked like the waves were pretty strong because when we got back to the car it was covered with salt… maybe that cleaned a bit of the mud 😀 !
In Punta Arenas, we found fuel and a small shop open with vegetables and chorizos (not easy to find the 25th of December here!) and went north of the city to get closer to the Magellan national park / Seno Otway, to visit a penguin colony the day after, before giving back the car.
We found a nice place in the border of the lake Seno Otway, to make a fire behind a small dune and grilled chorizos again! That was also a really nice view to admire the sunset colors…
On Wednesday morning, as planned, we went to the penguin colony… and we had a bit of fun looking at penguins waking up, walking in the bushes, walking to the beach, falling down, morning bathing, swimming, screaming… We had a nice time watching them!
And we drove back to Punta Arenas, gave the car back (the guy realized that we tried to change the color of car… ) and we to a bus terminal to go to Puerto Natales for the second part of the trip, that you will read in the next article 😉
Don’t forget, more pictures and videos here, or in the PHOTO link on the right 😉