So where were we……?
After the seven hours of snow in Ushuaia the night before, we started the journey north on an extremely icy road. They do not have the facilities to grit the road and so early in the season had not started clearing the road with snow ploughs. We still do not have snow chains and were advised by the police 'suerte' - good luck! It was a beautiful day and a long drive right across Tierra del Fuego saw us into Porviner to catch a ferry off the Island. We just made the ferry 15 min before it was about to leave.
After passing through the large city of Punta Arenas we continued north west to Puerto Natales and booked into a pleasant hostel (to be honest it was the yellow Series 3 Landrover parked out the front that swayed us!) Puerto Natales is the stepping stone into the Torres del Paine National Park and first thing the next morning we headed out on the 150 km dirt road journey into the park. As it was a beautiful day we entered the park with the most magnificent view of the Torres del Paine range, 3 granite Torres that rise over 1 km straight up out of the surrounding rocks.
We made the decision to hike up to the base camp with camping gear and spend the night on the mountain. The trek up was relatively difficult for two unfit travellers who sit on their buts in the Landy all day! The camp site was about an hour trek from the morning view point which is a famous sun rise spot.
Up before dawn, we scrambled up over moraine to eventually arrive at the view point. The weather surrounding the Torres is notoriously changeable and we had a strong wind with cloud which masked the actual sunrise although we were blessed with the odd ray of sun over the rocks.
After a tricky trek back down we jumped into Lodzi and drove all over the park passing numerous lakes of different colours, spectacular passes and view points with the condors soaring around at eye level. We spent a chilly wet night camped beside Lake Pehue, a light milky blue lake which created an amazing contrast to the dark surrounding rocks. The drive out the park in the pouring rain left Lodzi with a new spatter paint job of all the natural colours ranging from dark grey mud to light alluvial mud and every shade in between.
We were booked on the Navimag ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, a small cargo/passenger ship which has realised the potential of transporting backpackers on this now famous route and have created an awesome party atmosphere on the boat. The ferry takes you on a 1500 km, 4 day journey through some of the most stunning raw scenery of the Chilean Fjords.
The boat has three cargo levels and takes approx 90 lorries. Our accompanying cargo included numerous truck loads of cows and sheep (which our new Tasmanian friend Stu was pleased with!!!!) The foot passengers all board the night before departure as the boat leaves the port at about 6am in the morning. The loading therefore takes all night. As James was worried about Lodzi getting left behind, he kept hassling the load master (who out of annoyance authorised the early loading of Lodzi). Lodzi was loaded on at about midnight as the first vehicle on top deck, right at the front under cover, which meant we had access to the vehicle the entire journey.
The cabins sleep 4 on bunks and each have a separate bathroom, they were extremely comfortable and warm. Our roomies were Stu the Tasmanian bushman and Beckie an English girl travelling on her own. The boat can take up to 250 passengers but this late in the season we totalled about 50 so plenty of room for everyone.
The scenery we passed was breathtaking. Our route meandered through 1000's of islands on the Chilean Pacific coast. Fjords littered with waterfalls cascading down into the sea. The snow capped mountains rising vertically out of the sea to tower over our ship were intimidating. No matter how many pictures we took you could still not appreciate the feeling of being there. The phrase, 'a picture says a thousand words' does not apply as a thousand pictures can not do justice to actually being there.
Another perk of the boat was they allow you on the Captains bridge most of the time so you have a drivers seat view any time you want. Navigating through these narrow channels, you get the wind gusting over 100kph which you can literally watch coming down the channel to hit the boat head on or side on with such a force you felt you were under attack.
At the end of the second day we received the news that at one part of the journey where we head out to sea, the infamous Gulfo de Penas, there was a terrible storm and the Captain decided to not risk it. We therefore anchored down in a sheltered fjord for the night in the hope the weather would clear a little. We awoke the following day at 7am with a slight rocking and hit the rough water about 2 hours later. Every one on the ship took their sea sickness tablets and not too many people risked breakfast. The rocking motion increased to the extreme of rolling up to 45°. Picture sitting at a table eating food and your tray suddenly ends up at the other end of the table, or watching a movie with tables and chairs rolling from one end of the room to the other.
Fortunately we were not affected and of course made it to every delicious meal but there were some green looking people on the boat and some people did not even emerge the entire day. Of the 50 pax we had about 20 for breakfast, 10 for lunch and then 8 for dinner. Very amusing!
The boat sort of takes on a party atmosphere including numerous activities from bingo nights, disco nights to videos, presentations on the region and learning Chilean slang. Our hostess Zilda provided hours of entertainment and had a wicked sense of humour. There were many colourful guests on the ship which added to the entertainment. Much to our amusement in the cabin next to ours we had a Kiwi girl and a German guy on their own who were newly acquainted and used the journey to 'get to know each other' , and the cabin walls are extremely thin!
After disembarking at the end of the trip and all the good byes the wet weather in Puerto Montt saw us booking into a hostel in Puerto Varas. The following day we set out to Chiloe, a large island off the west coast of Chile. We spent two days driving around the island which was very quaint and likened to coastal Devon.
We returned to Puerto Varas and were blessed with a day of sunshine to go up to the ski centre on Volcan Osorno with stunning views.
We then spent the next 3 days meandering our way through the Chilean Lake District amongst very affluent dairy farms, towering dormant volcanoes and very wet countryside. The rain in Chile was pretty relentless but we found a beautiful campsite with thermal pools where we camped and warmed up for two days wallowing in the pools. Our next destination was Pucon, a tourist town on a beautiful lake and at the foot of the active Volcan Villarica. Our map showed a short cut through the national park that was only accessible to 4x4 vehicles. We set out early in the morning, after yet another night of rain and entered the park where a large stream of water coming down hill towards us was the road! The soil had washed away revealing a path over tree roots interspersed with large pools. After 200 metres, almost submerging Lodzi above the level of the tyres, navigating some awful terrain and having a torrential river thundering past about 15 metres from the road we turned back and took the alternative tarred road. C'est la vie.
We then spent 3 days in Pucon joining the wait for the weather to clear to do a guided tour to the ridge of the volcano with crampons and ice picks. We drove up to the ski area and where there was a complete white out and with no sign of the weather clearing we gave up and continued north. We criss-crossed Chile from border to Pacific coast and then up to the outskirts of Santiago where we visited Chile's most famous winery Concha y Torro. We had an impressive tour through the winery culminating in wine tasting in the cellars. By the end of the tour Kerry was rather tipsy and then had amusing difficulty navigating us into the centre of Santiago to our hostel.
The weather fortunately cleared up for the next couple of days which we spent touring round Santiago. This is a beautiful city nestled in a valley and overshadowed by the huge snow capped Andes. The city is very green, clean and friendly. We both agreed that Santiago is probably the one major city of all we have visited where we would consider living.
Our journey headed east towards Mendoza, Argentina. Before we could reach Argentina we had to climb over the Andes through the 3800m altitude pass into the Aconcagua Valley, which is often closed due to ice and snow this time of year.
The journey involves 29 hair pin bends in a row to climb to the pass. After passing one bad accident and the Chilean border we were held up in a traffic jam for over 2 hours in the freezing cold while the authorities tried to clear up another accident. By this stage it was dark and Kerry was nervous about continuing with no snow chains. We had stopped on a wet road which was now all iced up and finally the authorities decided to close the pass and we returned 60 km to camp in a garage for the night.
Early the next morning we attempted the pass again and managed to get a further 150m from the previous place to be held up for an hour before finally passing into Argentina. It was a clear day and the scenery was spectacular although Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Southern hemisphere of 6292m above sea level was shrouded in clouds. We stopped in Puente Del Inca where they have a large natural bridge over a river that is covered in okra coloured sulphur residue from the surrounding sulphur hot springs.
We continued the 120 km journey to Mendoza through some of the most beautiful stone and sand valleys of contrasting colours. Once out of the mountains, Mendoza is an oasis on a dry flat area of the country side and surrounded by thousands of acres vineyards and olive tree farms. We are definitely looking forward to spending some time in Argentina's most famous wine region.
Lodzi needs to go in to get the central diff lock sorted out. This has not worked since the gear box was worked on in Brazil and we think a pin or rod may not have been put back in place. This is necessary work before we reach the Altiplano and attempt to cross the Atcama Desert.
Off to the vineyards, take care and love to all.