Our first couple of weeks in Chile and Argentina would mainly be long travelling days and sticking to the most direct route. The travellers we had been meeting recently were all heading north, bucking the trend and heading south into winter as we were was getting some rather surprised reactions from others! Surely what we had already experienced in Boliva (-8c) at night had prepared us for the winter in the south? Would it get even colder? Would the roads be passable? Well, we were determined to give it a go and had around 4,000 kms to cover before we reached Patagonia. Hopefully we would backtrack later and see more of Northern Chile and Argentina after our trip to the south.
We made some plans and did the washing in San Pedro de Atacama (both equally as important) it’s a nice comfortable little town, definitely the tourist hub for visitors to the Atacama desert.
With the exception of the North and South poles the Atacama is the driest place on earth and the meteorite showers in this region are some of the best in the world. Apart from chores the only thing we did was visit the Meteorite Museo, really interesting and informative.
Our first wild camping in Chile was just behind the Manu del Desierto, one of the ‘must do’ photo stops for overlanders.
We had the added bonus of sharing the evening with Andrea and Thomas. Great company and we hope to meet up with them again on the Argentian coast or failing that back in Europe! Dave G, if you are reading this, what a coincidence!
Nice afternoon tea and camping spots.
The circus is coming to Puerto Montt, they even still have a Human Cannonball!
Puerto Montt is the start of the Lake District region of Chile, basically the land south of this point is not continuous but connected by ferry journeys of various lengths over expanses of water. We spent a day taking 3 different ferries which allowed us to rejoin the road 200km further south and get to see some of the scenery from the water. It is possible to get 2,000km further south and see more of the fjords but it is mucho pesos and can often be delayed this time of year due to bad weather.
The ferry was modern, clean and very spacious, out of season it was not even 20% full.
Another great wild camping spot, we drank our morning tea and watched a dolphin swimming around the bay behind us.
Finding a campsite open this time of year is a pretty rare thing and one with a hot shower is a real bonus. We found one in the small town of Chaiten, the nearby Volcan Chaiten had erupted in 2008 for the first time in 9,000 years. Fortunately there was enough time between the start of the eruption and the ash reaching the town for all the residents to be evacuated. It is quite a sad little town, there were around 7,000 residents before the eruption but most settled elsewhere so now only about 1,500 people live there. There are many properties in the part of town closest to the volcano and the river (which had also flooded due to the ash deposits), that have never been restored. The pics above show buildings still buried. The soil all around the area now is basically volcano ash so not at all fertile.
We plugged on with the travelling as the sky turned white and then everything turned white!
At the end of this day we spent an evening on a campsite with an Argentian couple who suggested we may want to get some snow chains for southern Argentina. We took their advice which unfortunately meant retracing our steps by 70km back to the only largish town in the region.
We did however get to see the mountains that had been obscured by snowy clouds the day before, very nice.
The snowy pass has been at around 700m altitude but we dropped down to close to sea level again so no need for the chains at the moment, however, we are prepared!
At the tiny border crossing of Paso Roballos we entered Argentina, there is 40km of dirt to get here and another 40km or so once in Argentina so not as popular as the borders served by paved roads It’s so exposed and windy that the guards made no attempt to search the van and we were on our way nice and quick.
This wind plays havoc with your hair!
And then this happened.☹️ John was able to do a temporary repair with some stuff that looked like liquorice to me and we were on our way to El Chalten in the Los Glaciaros NP.
Guanaco on guard.
We spent a night at the trail head of Cerro Fitz Roy which is one of the most famous peaks in Los Glaciaros. After 24 hours of constant rain, grey skies and chilly winds we gave up. The pic above was the best view we had.
We stayed within the National Park but headed south towards the Perito Merino glacier. Luck was on our side and the weather improved hugely, still very cold but the wind dropped and the skies cleared.
And stunning views of the glacier, along with the creaking and cracking sounds as the ice shifted and the occasional bit fell off.
Does this little bird not know how fussy John is about anyone touching his equipment?
The best shot we got of a Condor.
Neither of us felt it wise to get into the icy water to give you an idea of scale, so you will have to take our word for it that the the height of the glacier above the water is approximately 70 metres!
Sunrise over Lago Argentino.
Patagonia was proving to be as stunning as we had hoped.