Our next stop was in Futaleufu, which involved another border crossing back into Chile. Sarah sat up front in the truck cabin with Chris for the day, to have both a change of scenery from the inside of the truck and to get a better view of the scenery outside the truck. Chris is a really interesting guy, he was born in Zimbabwe but has done a huge amount of travel all over the world as welll as living in several different countries. He worked at the London Stock Exchange before deciding life would be a lot better for him driving a truck around South America and Africa. He has a vast amount of knowledge on so many countries and we are getting loads of hints and tips for some of the places we plan to visit. Luckily he never gets tired of answering questions!
After another long day on the truck, through incredible scenery, we arrived at quite a remote campsite. We were given the option of paying £6 each for an upgrade into a cabin. This option didn’t take much consideration and we spent the night with 4 others in a very rustic wooden cabin. It had beds, sheets, blankets, a shower and best of all a log burner! Sarah and Walter (from The Netherlands) got the old burner going and the 6 of us all sat around the fire chatting until late. There was another cabin which was filled by more of our group. We have a lot of camping to do this year so when a cheap, more comfortable option presents itself we will definitely give it some thought.
The campsite also had a hot pool and sauna. They were very rustic and little used but once they were fired up they were incredible and the views were unbelievable. We were miles from anywhere sat in a hot pool surrounded by steep tree covered, snow capped mountains looking down at a wide glacial river flowing past below. We would never have found this place on our own.
The reason we came to this particular area was that the river is apparently ‘world renowned’ for white-water rafting. We have done this before a few times so decided to save our funds for another activity later in the trip. So while half of the group took to the icy river the rest of us ventured out for a walk. We ended up right down by the river where we stopped for a bite to eat before heading back to the campsite. It was a nice five mile walk with great international company. The rafters all had a brilliant time with only two of them exiting the raft into the river. One of them was Dylan, the young Aussie. People say “There’s always one” and it always seems to be Dylan!
We are travelling further and further South into Patagonia on the Carretera Austral, a mainly dirt road that winds like a snake up and down, in and out, as we head for the big sites of El Chalten and Torres del Paine. The scenery remains glacial lakes, rivers and waterfalls, hemmed in by steep granite cliffs which are covered in densely forested green trees. When the tree line stops it exposes the snow capped peaks still hanging on in the middle of summer. In the mornings the clouds float in the valleys and loom over the peaks. Then the weather breaks and the blue skies and brilliant sunshine emerge giving a different perspectve to our surroundings. We are stopping for just one night at a time as we try to cover as much distance as possible while still taking in the many sites.
Yesterday we stayed near Queulat National Park, so Chris drove the group into the park so that we could hike up a very steep, muddy path full of tree routes and boulders to a hanging glacier. The route was four and a half kilometres to the top. Steve decided to test out his injury and so he ran/speed walked up to the top with Jost a Slovenian mountain guide and climber. He had a great time scrambling up through the mud and trees. Sarah walked with the group and made it to the top. Not really her type of hike but she hung in and finished and is really getting stuck in. To be honest it wasn’t a hike for everyone, it was pretty tough going, but a good view of the glacier from the top and a steady walk down gave everyone a big appetite for the sausage and mash for dinner. Actually it was 0.83 of a sausage each as the budget wouldn’t stretch to a whole one!! Food is definitely limited, not just in quantity but also in the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. Hopefully we will hit some larger towns soon and we can stock up.
On one evening we were camped by the water, a fabulous spot close to where the glacial waters that run into the Pacific Ocean. Someone bet Dylan a few thousand Chilean pesos (£4) that he wouldn’t swim out naked to a lobster pot which was about 50 metres off the beach. He dipped his toe in the water and thought better of it. Then someone else threw in a few thousand pesos, then another few thousand were thrown in and before long the bet was at 40,000 pesos (not far short of £50). With a crowd gathered (and Dylans alcohol fund running low) it was too much to resist. Off came the boxers and in went the young Aussie. It gave us goose bumps just watching. He thrashed through the water, and probably swam twice as far as he needed, but he made it back looking like a lobster himself but with enough cash for a few “slabs” of beer! His dad Terry just shook his head in disbelief.
The next day we were treated to a bit of a lay-in (until 8 am) as it was a relatively short drive of 5 hours to our destination. We stopped enroute for lunch by the roadside and slowly moved South through the gorgeous scenery, stopping every so often for photos. As we got within an hour of our target campsite we drove through a small village of about a dozen buildings. At the end of the village we could see a plume of smoke. As we got closer it was clear we had encountered our first South American protest. A group of local miners had cut down some large pine trees and dragged them across the road to make very effective barricade at both sides of a strategic bridge spanning a river. They had also put thick steel wire across the road, scattered boulders across the bridge, brought in some huge tractor tyres and set them alight!!!!! We were going nowhere.
There was a small Police and Army presence but they were sat around drinking coffee and showing no interest in opening the bridge. We spoke to a few locals and it became clear they were local miners complaining about pay and conditions and they were now well into their second day of protest.
After looking at maps and speaking to locals we had 3 options. Drive a couple of hours back and take a mountain pass which would have added about a day onto our trip. The problem with this was that the road was narrow and it had several small bridges to cross which may not accommodate our truck. The next option was to go back to the next main road and take what was potentially a minimum three day detour. Our last option was to sit it out. We chose the ‘sit it out’ option!
We descend on the local minimart like a plague of locusts and bought two day’s supplies which amounted to 25 pork steaks, 50 chicken legs, about 100 potatoes, 50 eggs and a whole load of other bits and pieces. When we left the store the shelves were almost empty but the owner had a huge smile and a full till! We started to think they knew we were coming and the protest was planned!
We then had to find somewhere to stay and there were no campsites within 50 miles or so. We drove just 5 miles down the road, along a gravel track, and found the most amazing location by a glacial river with a backdrop of snow capped mountains. We then set about preparing food for two days (if the bridge was open the following day we would cross a border to Argentina and would be unable to take fresh food across) so it all had to be cooked off. Sarah went to work with a knife working her way through onions and garlic, while Steve browned off 50 chicken legs in a Dutch oven, over an open log fire on the river bank. After about an hour we were eating pork steaks, garlic potatoes and salad cooked by one group and a version of Coq au vin was bubbling away ready for the following day. It was an absolutely brilliant setting and with beers and glasses of wine in hand, we relaxed and enjoyed the heat of the evening sunshine.
The next morning we left our bush camp by 7am in the hope that the protest was over. We drove the short distance back to the village with no sign of smoke on the horizon. Everyone had fingers crossed as we approached the bridge. All we saw was debris and the remains of the barricades at the sides of the road. No protest and no road blocks. A cheer went up and off we continued on our journey South.