The Pantanal, Paraty and Piranhas!

The first thing we want to do on this post is a quick update on our previous post with a great photo taken by Andy of the underwater scene at Rio da Prata in Bonito. It shows just how clear the waters were and how many fish we saw.

Like swimming in an aquarium

Next we made our way to The Pantanal, this is a vast wetland area, twenty times the size of the Everglades in Florida. It sits in Southern Brasil close to the border with Bolivia, and it is hot, very hot!  While we were there it was 30 degrees by 6am and the mercury steadily rose past 40 degrees during the day. The Pantanal appears to be in the infancy of tourism, farms are opening up their doors, extending the accommodation and offering tours of the area. There is absolutely nothing else on offer outside of the lodge where you stay, the farms are at least 10 miles apart. One of the main reasons people come to the Pantanal is to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive jaguar.

Anyone seen a jaguar around here?

This was our hope and we had a guide, Rodrigo, for 3 days who was going to help. We knew the jaguar were difficult to spot but when Rodrigo said he had been in the Pantanal for 10 years and had seen a jaguar only 26 times our level of expectation dropped. We’re not going to spend time building up how difficult these big cats are to spot and then at the end say how lucky we were to see one drinking by a river. We simply didn’t see one, not a glimpse not even a bush that looked like one. We walked through the trees by day and at night, we went down the river on a boat, we even went looking on horseback. No jaguar sighting for us!

Searching for Jaguar on the river

In some ways we were a little disappointed until we sat down and thought about it. We saw so many other things in the Pantanal including capybara, the world’s largest rodent weighing in at 60 kg’s, thats a big rat!  We saw iguana, dozens of caiman (part of the crocodile family) and an unbelievable array of birds in sizes from kingfishers to giant storks and every colour imaginable. Perhaps our favourite was the toucan, when these birds fly they look so front heavy a crash landing looks inevitable.

Toucan curry is apparently great but the bill is always massive!

The other thing we found extraordinary was the night sky.  We were so far from any towns or villages that there was virtually zero light pollution which made star-gazing exceptional. We have seen pictures of the milky way but to see it stretched out in front of you is a real sight. The whole thing was made even better by a light show on the ground put on courtesy of an army of fireflies. Forget the jaguar, the Pantanal is still great.

Chris and Nikki look on in disgust as Steve suggests Toucan curry for dinner!

On one afternoon we went piranha fishing, yes, piranha fishing… apparently they’re not as dangerous as their reputation portrays. We were given a long bamboo rod with some line and a hook, it was just a case of hang some meat on the hook, throw the line in and hope for the best. If things had continued according to plan this could have been a relatively relaxing couple of hours, however, it didn’t. The first thing to happen was two caimans, both well over two metres long, emerged from the water onto the river bank! …. one of them right between us. “Don’t worry, if you don’t touch them they won’t harm you” was Rodrigo’s advice! We continued fishing.

I will catch a piranha

Then the sky started to get dark and a few drops of rain fell. We continued fishing. Then the sky got black, the heavens opened and rain came down in sheets, rain so hard it was hurting our arms, we continued fishing. Then an almighty crack of thunder and flash of lightning. Sarah said “I’ve had enough” Steve continued fishing. The rain came down so heavy it was laughable, then Steve felt a tug on his line, he yanked it up and there was a piranha hanging on the end. “You got one” said Tristan who was fishing close by. Slowly Steve pulled his rod to the shore with the rain still hammering down and the lightning still flashing, then with the piranha almost landed, it squirmmed and wriggled and came off the hook. The one that got away! The group did catch 10 piranhas, with Sophie accounting for 5 of them! and they were barbecued that evening for dinner. Piranha fishing with caimen in a biblical storm… sign me up!

The Pantanal is remote, difficult to get to and the heat and bugs can make it hard work. Everyone was bitten by mosquitoes (some more than others). Steve managed to get away with just 5 bites and Sarah not many more. However on one evening walk Chloe, a young girl from the UK, was bitten so many times they were uncountable.  There must have been close to a hundred on every part of her body. “I’ve been bitten so many times I need a blood transfusion” was her comment. It didn’t stop her though…. the next morning after an uncomfortable night with very little sleep she was back on a boat sailing down the river looking for that bloody jaguar!!

“Have you seen any jaguars around here mate?”

After the Pantanal we had another of those spectacularly long drives. 1700 kilometres, over 3 days in 40 degree heat. “Come on Didingo… you can do it”. Unfortunately, unlike Argentina and Chile, bush camping in Brasil is not that easy. We have to rely on service stations which also double up as truck parks for the never ending line of logging lorries. Deforestation is massive in Brasil, you can hear about it in the media but when you see it first hand it really becomes real. We don’t know much about the policy here but it seems a lot of cutting down and not much replanting.

We have camped in better places!

Some of the service stations are bad and some are worse than that. On one evening we pulled in after travelling for 11 hours. It had been an incredibly hot day, probably the hottest so far. We put up our tent and Sarah pointed out a few bugs nearby, then a few more, then a few more, the place was swarming. Also around here the insects are not the smallest, at one point we had a praying mantis, a rhino beetle and an 8 inch locust all marching towards the tent!! That is until Chris came by, picked them up and moved them along!!! “I was just about to do that myself” shouted Steve from the other side of the service station (whilst Sarah was wetting herself with laughter at her macho husband….not!!!!!).

Also on one of the long drive days it was Steve’s birthday. Not the best way to spend the day but after dinner at the bush camp Nikki produced a couple of pineapple and banana upside down cakes and two candles. Everyone sang ‘happy birthday’ and Steve blew out the candles and made a wish that no monster sized insects would invade the tent that night. Nikki had also managed to get a card which everyone had signed … she is a brilliant tour leader. Sophie then attacked Steve’s beard which is starting to get a little out of control. She used Dylan’s orthodontic plastic bands to good effect. Well some people liked it!

“Happy Birthday to you”
Sophie attacks Steve’s beard!
The result. Who knows it might stay!!

The end of the long drive and our final stop before Rio has been in a small coastal town called Paraty. This is a lovely little place, it has an old town with cobbled streets and a great atmosphere. It is very popular amongst Brazilians and foreign tourist alike and justifiably so. Cozy restaurants, nice bars and loads of interesting shops. It is also extremely scenic and has a definite feel of some of the places we have visited in Southeast Asia, with islands full of thick green vegetation scattered throughout the large bay and beaches backed by thick jungle.

The bay in Paraty.

In Paraty the whole group went out on a boat trip together which stopped at several beaches and we were able to snorkel and swim at the stops, yet again there was an abundance of fish to see. As part of the trip free Caprihanas were on offer, these are the traditional Brazilian cocktail and as you can imagine quite a few people took advantage of them being free!! The results were predictable with Tristan forcing his brace involuntarily through his bottom lip in an attempt at a dive that Tom Daly would have been proud of and Dylan voluntarily eating his lunch of rice beans and chicken in 5 handfuls for a bet! That boy has financed his trip on stupid bets!! Good for him! Luckily we made it back to shore before the coastguard had to be called…. Just!

We spent our second day in Paraty sitting on the beach enjoying the sun and wandering around the old town eating ice cream and drinking coffee (we had eventually found a place that sells half decent coffee). To say they grow the stuff here, they are not that brilliant at serving up a good brew…in our opinion of course.

Enjoying the beach.

So tonight it’s time to pack up. Tomorrow is our last day on the truck and we arrive in Rio de Janeiro. We have a few things planned for our time there which we have arranged with other members of the group.  If it all comes off it should be a good few days…….Oh did we mention its Carnival !!!!!!

Rio here we come!

Iguazu Falls and Bonito

Our next stop on this fantastic trip was at The Iguazu Falls. These are a series of waterfalls located on the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. We spent two days there and accessed the falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides. Each is equally as stunning as the other but 80% of the falls are on the Argentinean side so this gives more varied views, also the Argentinean side has a series of walkways at different levels which pass through the surrounding jungle. There are approximately 15km of walkways in total and we did most of them. You can also take a boat ride into the spray of the falls or even a helicopter ride over them.

Getting soaked at “The Devil’s Throat”

The Iguazu Falls are not the highest in the world, that title belongs to the Angel Falls in Venezuela, but they are the widest of the world’s major falls, at 82 metres they are still pretty high though. They comprise of 275 separate falls cascading together over a 2 mile stretch. At their peak, they pour 3 million litres a second over the top into the river below. They are immensely impressive from whatever angle you view them, either standing at “The Devil’s Throat” getting covered in spray, or watching them from the bottom as the water comes thundering over from the river above. But for us there was one point on the Argentina side where you walk out of the jungle and a view to beat all views just opens up in front of you. We were very lucky to have quite a sunny day, which lit the area perfectly, that coupled with the noise made for a truly unbelievable experience. Out of everything we have seen so far it was Steve’s number one moment. Sarah maintains her number one moment is Steve laying on the ground with his trousers and boxer shorts round his ankles, clinging onto some toilet paper as he was blown over while squatting at a very windy bush camp in Patagonia! – the full description and the immediate consequences will never make this blog !!!

Amazing Iguazu

We could go on for a long time about how impressed we were with Iguazu Falls, but they say a picture paints a thousand words, so here are a few thousand.

We are now in a Brazil a new country for us. Different climate, different scenery, different currency and a different language. We were just about scrapping through with Spanish and now its Portuguese??? and we have no idea on this one!

After Iguazu Falls we headed North West. We soon left the thick jungle environment around the falls and were in green rolling hills with plenty of farms and herds of cows. If you looked quickly you could have been back in the UK, not what we expected at all. The only thing that looked very different was the soil …. dark red soil everywhere. Glen said it reminded him very much of areas of the outback in Australia. Whenever we got out of the truck we were quickly reminded we were definitely not in the UK, with the 35 degree heat and 100% humidity.

Once again we were at a bush camp. It was almost dusk and Chris spotted a place, off the road and down by a river with a few tracks in the area. We found a spot, set up camp and started to cook dinner. Dylan decided to pitch his tent a little away from the group on the other side of one of the tracks. By the time he had finished it was getting dark at which point we heard the roar of an engine. In the distance two lights appeared and got closer and closer. It was too late ….. when Dylan realised he had pitched his tent in the middle of a stock car rally circuit!!! The car flew past covering his tent in thick red dust. After the second lap Dylan quickly dragged his tent across the track and joined the rest of the group by the river!

There’s always one!

The next day we moved on and arrived at a place called Bonito. We were stopping here for a couple of days because there is apparently some good snorkelling?? It seemed a long way to come for snorkelling and we are about 1000 miles from Rio de Janeiro …. pretty much in the middle of nowhere. “Lets see how good this snorkelling is” we thought. We were given a wetsuit, mask and a snorkel each as well as some neoprene boots. Eight of us jumped onto an open truck and set off along a red dirt road into a rainforest. After about 20 minutes we got out and started walking for another 30 minutes. It was in the high 30’s, incredibly humid and we were wearing wetsuits! We had been told the walk was 2.2 kilometres long so Steve decided to unzip his wetsuit and let it hang by his waist, “ I can’t see why we have to walk in these wetsuits” was his comment. Then a bug the size of small bird landed on the woman in front. Suddenly Steve’s wetsuit was back on and zipped to the neck!! We arrived at the point in the riverbank where we were to enter and start snorkelling so we all got in and set off.

Ready for the river.

We spent the next 2 hours floating with the current down the Rio De Prata in the most incredibly clear water, past hundreds of colourful fish. It was a surreal experience like neither of us have experienced before. Occasionally we looked up out of the water just to take in exactly where we were. Floating down a crystal clear river with hundreds of fish, in a rainforest in the middle of Brazil with monkeys and macaws screeching in the background….. Amazing. When we think where we were a couple of months ago (sitting behind a desk at work) ….. Quite a change! Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera (maybe something to invest in for the future) so we don’t have any photos to post. A couple of people in the group had a “gopro” so hopefully we might be able to post something later.

When we had finished in the river we made our way back to the eco centre where the trip had been organised and tucked into an amazing buffet of chicken, steak, egg and cheese souffle, rice noodles and vegetables. After Sarah had gone back for seconds Steve said he had never seen her eat so much, but even she couldn’t manage dessert like some did! We were also joined by a pair of Macaws in a nearby tree who happily posed for photographs. It was one of Sarah’s favourite days of the trip.

Brazil has started off pretty good!

Beautiful Buenos Aires

Steak, wine, tango, Evita and much more! We are coming to the end of our 6 day stay in the city of Buenos Aires and it has been fantastic. We decided before the trip started that we would have some time away from the group and explore B.A. by ourselves. It’s been a month since we were just on our own and thought this would be a good place to rent a small studio and in some ways restore a bit of normality.

At the end of it we feel we have seen B.A. and at least know the city a little and WHAT a city it is. Amazing. We would love to write down everything that we did, everything we saw and everywhere we went but that would take too long and probably send a lot of people to sleep, so we will try and summarize.

Steve admires The Congressional Building

The first thing that hits you is the architecture and road network. Huge tree lined avenues and by huge we mean HUGE. Avenue 9 Julio is at one point 24 lanes wide, the widest street in the world. To cross it takes 4 sections of pedestrian crossings, Steve counted 186 paces from one side to the other…. he does have little legs though! The avenues are lined with beautiful buildings and after a while you get used to them and you have to stop and look around to remind yourself where you are. There are dozens and dozens of cafes with tables on the pavements and waiters dressed in black trousers and aprons with a white shirt and dickie bow. You could easily think you were in Paris as the buildings are so Parisienne in style too. That is until you get the bill and find it is much much cheaper than the French capital!

The main arteries are connected by a labyrinth of side streets. Luckily the city is mainly on a grid system so if you do get lost you know you will eventually hit a main thoroughfare and you can re-orientate yourself. On the side streets are corner cafes and bars and we found ourselves taking a rest more often than normal to have a coffee or a beer sitting on the pavement watching the world go by. We have to say the beer started to be drunk more than the coffee as the mercury rose, hitting 38 degrees on one day.

Another great street corner in B.A.

We visited Recoleta cemetery. This is unlike any cemetery we have ever seen. It’s almost like a small village, the tombs line the “streets” one after the other …. most of them very well maintained some of them not so well. The tombs have doors on them which although locked you can still look through the glass in some and see the caskets in there… a little bit creepy. The main ‘attraction’ at the cemetery is the tomb of Eva Peron or Evita as some will know her. After being in B.A. for a few days now, it is clear Evita is of huge significance in the recent history of B.A. and Argentina. Even though she died almost 70 years ago she is clearly still loved by many of the people and her tomb has to be cleared each evening of the flowers and notes that are left there each day.

Sarah looks on at Evitas tomb.

OK, on a lighter note let’s talk steak. It’s a big thing here, big being the operative word! We have had a couple of steaks during our time in Argentina and they have been very, very good so we thought we would try one in B.A. We had heard of a parilla (grill) with a good reputation not far from where we were staying….. like a lot of restaurants here it didn’t open until 8pm. The Argentines are late night/early hours people. It seems common to eat dinner at 10pm, then go for drinks around midnight while waiting for the clubs to open at 2am and then head home after 6am. We have been in touch with other people on the trip and it seems some of the younger ones have adopted to this way of life quite easily!  Are we sounding old?? Anyway back to the steak. We arrived at the restaurant at 8.05pm and it was already quite full we were given a table and sat down with the menu. By 8.30pm the place was full and people were constantly being turned away. It was a really authentic place, quite small on a street corner out of the way and full of atmosphere. We ordered two ‘beef de chorizos’ (sirloin steak). We also ordered some sides but the waiter thought it might all be too much so we went with his advice. Out came the food, a huge plate of grilled vegetables, a pile of fries and two massive slabs of meat, perfectly cooked, the best we have ever tasted. Sarah managed 250 grams and Steve dug in for 350 grams. We finished the night off with a couple of glasses of Malbec. Perfect.

No Sarah. It’s not all for you!

Back on the tourist trail we visited The Congressional building in the centre of the city. A really impressive building, one of the most visually impactive we have seen. We should state here that neither of us are architecture specialists. In fact we probably wouldn’t know the difference between baroque and gothic (are gothic the scarily looking ones?). But you really can’t help being impressed with the buildings around the city no matter what your knowledge. The Congressional building is at one end of the Avenue de Mayo, a straight mile down to Plaza de Mayo … probably the main tourist street in the city. The plaza is surrounded by more outstanding buildings. The cathedral (once the home of the current Pope), the Bank of Argentina (once the home of some cash!) and Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace). Although this building is only 3 stories high it dominates the plaza with its pink stonework and prime position. It was from here that Eva Peron addressed the nation and Madonna famously sang “Don’t cry for me Argentina” for the movie “Evita”.

Casa Rosada.

San Telmo barrio was another stop on our trip. This is the old part of the city, and although it still maintains a Parisien feel the streets and buildings are much more narrow and most streets are cobbled. The area has a market every Sunday with hundreds of stalls. In contrast to many markets we have visited the vast majority of the stalls are very individual and unique. You would need to spend several Sundays here to thoroughly explore everything. We just wandered through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere eventually ended up at the main square where the market originated. By now we were pretty hot and thirsty and so we popped into a bar on the edge of the square for a beer and a burger. The place was old tatty and in need of some TLC, the burger was a bit suspect but the beer was cold and refreshing. However the best thing about the bar was a couple were dancing The Tango. It was brilliant to sit there and watch them, they were really quite good and Steve knows a bit about tango having watched several series of Strictly Come Dancing!! Yes it was a tourist area and the dancing as a bit of a tourist thing but it was still a nice touch and we both enjoyed it.

Tango in a San Telmo bar

Our next stop was La Boca barrio. In a lot of travel guides La Boca is listed as a dangerous neighbourhood, working class and poor. It is the home of Boca Juniors football club, who possibly have the most notorious fans in South America. La Boca has a couple of potential sights of interest one is ‘Caminito’ a street down by the docks and the other is ‘Bombonera’ the Boca Juniors football stadium. Every city has its area which gains a “don’t go there” reputation, sometimes this is justified and sometimes not. As long as you are sensible and aware, the majority of the time you will be fine. We wandered into Boca sensible and aware… least for the first 5 minutes, then Steve decided to wander off the main street looking for the football stadium. Immediately the atmosphere changed, we both felt quite vulnerable as we threaded our way through run down back streets with groups of rough looking youths sat in doorways giving us strange looks. After a glimpse of the stadium we increased our pace and made our way back out onto the main street. Here we found a Police Officer and asked him directions to “Caminito” which he happily gave us and off the main road we went again! After a minute or so a woman came running up to us and told us to stop and go back. She said this was a dangerous part of the neighbourhood and if we continued there would be a good chance we would get robbed. Steve said we would be fine………….only joking. He actually said “Lets get the s#!t out of here now” and we walked with the woman back to the main street where she promptly had ‘a right go’ at the Police Officer. It was in Spanish but we got the general idea of what was being said!!

Sarah doing what Sarah does? In Caminito.

We gave Caminito a miss that day but returned later on one of the super public buses that fly around the city. It took us straight through La Boca to the docks and dropped us off right at Caminito. It was a colourful street, a bit on the touristy side, but in a very original way and after all … we are tourists. Steve bought a Boca Juniors t-shirt – he said it might help him on the way out of the neighbourhood. He bought Sarah a lovely white and red football shirt with River Plate written on it and muttered something about rivals and violence???

This was our experience in La Boca and I’m sure numerous people have wandered through with no negative issues or interactions at all, like we have done in many areas in many cities. It was perhaps just one of those days.

Whilst in B.A. we took a whole day to wander through the park areas of the city around the northern part of Palermo Barrio. This turned out to be a very unexpected bonus. After stopping for coffee and croissants (….yet again!) we crossed a road and through a fence saw some people riding horses.  We continued on and saw that we were at The Polo Club of Argentina. Now Sarah is a big fan of all things horses and has been to The Polo Gold Cup at Cowdray Park in the UK a few times. So you can imagine her excitement when we not only found we were at The Polo Club but there was a tournament just starting. You can imagine Steve’s excitement when he found out it was free to get in!! We sat in the stands and walked around the pitch watching the polo on a beautiful Sunday morning for an hour or so before moving on.

I’m sorry Sarah but they won’t let you play.

We moved on through the parks and eventually found ourselves at the Buenos Aires Tennis Club. It was extremely busy and something was obviously going on. We worked out it was the ATP World Tour Buenos Aires. It was the first day and the initial rounds of the competition. Believe it or not they were letting people in for free…..We love B.A!! We sat in the stands and watched for an hour or so. It was the first time either of us had watched professional tennis. What a great experience. On the way out David Ferrer the former world number 3 tennis player was walking past after finishing his press conference. Sarah dove in for a selfie. The result of this is below !!!!

Sarah takes a selfie with David Ferrer….well part of him!

After the tennis we turned back towards our studio and meandered through the parks, out of the blue we came across a large building which was extremely grand in appearance, stone pillars, iron gates etc. On investigation we found it to be the Hippodrome Argentina Palermo, the major horse racing venue in the country, and as luck would have it there was a meeting in progress and yes you guessed it, it was free to get in!! We ventured inside and the place was magnificent, Buckingham Palace and Royal Ascot merged into one. Time was pressing on but we decided to stay for one race and have a bet. Our Spanish was nowhere near good enough to work out which were the good horses so we went for number 3 (It looked good walking around). The race set off with 9 runners and number 3 went straight to the front and stayed there as they came around the final bend, the other horses were queuing up to pass as they came thundering into the final furlong but number 3 would not give up and in a desperate lunge for the line it held on to win. Steve went off to collect the winnings and returned with a handful of pesos “How much have we won” asked Sarah. “I haven’t worked it out yet, but it’s at least a pound” replied Steve.

A perfect tango setting.

On our last evening we ventured out to a tango show. There are many of these shows about the city which cater for around 600 people with all you can eat and drink packages. They didn’t really appeal to us so we really looked around and found one in the basement of a renowned cafe on Avenue de Mayo. It was dark, atmospheric and catered for only about 40 people as we sat at old wooden tables and ordered a bottle of local Malbec. The show consisted of 6 dancers who were outstanding and a singer who sang in Spanish (about what we have no idea) but it was captivating. The show was absolutely fantastic – a real highlight of our time in B.A. We strolled back to our studio and stopped for another steak dinner on the way which even bigger and better steak than the last one!! A great last evening in a great city…….Buenos Aires is beautiful!

Our last Tango in Buenos Aires.

Ushuaia and the long drive North.

After one more bush camp we finally arrived in Ushuaia. It is the world’s most southerly city and does a very good job of marketing itself as “El fin du monde” (The end of the world)! With the end of the world museum, end of the world T shirts, hats, restaurant, burger etc etc, you get the picture.

Is this really the end of the world?

When we first arrived neither of us were taken with the place, but by the time we left we had warmed to it and actually quite enjoyed it. It had some nice restaurants, bars and coffee shops, we even managed to watch France versus Wales in the 6 nations while drinking a glass of Malbec. Ushuaia is surrounded by the lower snow capped peaks of the Andes as they make a final effort to avoid the inevitable fall into the Southern Ocean. We needed to take a step back and remind ourselves that although this isn’t the dramatic scenery of Torres del Paine we have become used to, it is still pretty good.

Ushuaia is a busy port, and as well as being a stopping off point on the South America Cruise ship routing, it is also the starting point and finishing point for 9 day small ship Antarctic cruises. At upwards of £5000 a person, it attracts a specific clientele, we decided to give it a miss!! Ushuaia is also the closest Argentinean city (only a few hundred miles) to The Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas as they are called here. There are numerous memorials and pieces of graffiti around the area which remember the 1982 conflict and you get a feeling of just how strong they believe their claim to the islands are.

Ushuaia’s busy port.

After Ushuaia we were faced with the long drive north, what goes down must come up!?? It will be a drive of 2000 kilometres in 3 days, then a days stop over in a place called Puerto Madryn followed by another 1300 kilometres in 2 days, which would eventually see us arrive in Buenos Aires. 3300 kilometres in 5 days, in a 24 year old truck, with almost 2 million km on the clock and limited to 90kph. This should be fun!! In fact for various reasons 8 out of our group of 23 decided not to make the trip and flew to Buenos Aires instead. Some wanted to spend more time in BA and others didn’t fancy the drive. We thought quite hard about it but decided to stay on the truck. In the future, when we look at a map of the world, it will be good to be able to picture exactly what the South east of Argentina looks like, and right now at the beginning of our 5 year plan, time is on our side, whats 5 days?

Sarah watches the truck leave the ferry in Tierra del Fuego

In the end the journey was not as bad as we both expected and Steve actually quite enjoyed it, Sarah thinks it’s because he has a lot of experience of sitting around doing nothing! We left Ushuaia and travelled across Tierra del Fuego (land of fire) back into Chile for the last time. We boarded a ferry and crossed the Magellan Straits and were joined by a pair of Commerson’s dolphins who surfed in the wake of the ferry. These are strange black and white dolphins which look like mini killer whales.

Surfing the waves.

Once more into Argentina we stopped for another bush camp. It really is just a case of ploughing on until Chris the driver decides he has had enough for the day and then we look for a convenient place on the side of the road to pitch our tents and set up the cooking equipment for the evening meal. No showers, no toilets, no water … just at the side of the road.

The nearest toilets are 130km that way Johanna.

It’s quite funny to watch the group exit the truck and head off in different directions to find some privacy for a pee or something else!! and we have to say this part of Patagonia is flat and arid and very few plants above 6 inches tall. Jing has brought a small umbrella for just such occasions. It’s quite a sight as she pops up her little screen in her time of need. We love Jing!! This part of Argentina can get seriously windy (no, not from the toilet stops)! On occasions we have had to collect rocks and stick them inside the tents to stop them blowing away!

I don’t know which one is yours Glen!

Days on the truck can be quite hard. We get up at about 6.30am to dismantle the tent and pack away all the camping equipment. The cook group would have been up 30 minutes before to put the kettle on and get out the cereal and a bit of fruit if we’re lucky. Then it’s everything away and everyone on board and on the road by 7.30am. There are no reserved seats on the truck, anyone can sit anywhere, which is great because different seats are good for different things. The front area is good for socialising, playing games and quizzes.

You three actually look Better!

Dylan likes it up front as he can lay on the floor and sleep (why do teenagers sleep sooooo much)? The back of the truck has good views to the sides and in the middle it is great for reading, dozing and generally doing nothing. It’s also possible to sit up front in the cab with Chris which we have done a couple of occasions already.

Sarah takes a snooze.
Then plaits Inkuu’s hair.

We stop for a comfort break every 2 or 3 hours, mostly this has been on the side of the road but occasionally it is at a service station which is great, not only for the toilets but for the chance to get a hot cup of coffee. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not like we stop on the side of a busy road and families and trucks thunder by, sometimes we don’t see another vehicle for miles and it can be dozens of miles between buildings. Down in this part of Argentina it’s pretty desolate, after we crossed out of Tierra del Fuego the landscape didn’t change for probably a thousand kilometres or more. Dry, impossibly flat land as far as the eye can see in every direction, there seemed to be only two types of plant, small prickly grass like shrubs and small very prickly grass like shrubs. If there was a book on botany in this area I could probably read it between breaths.

A break from the long drive North.

After 3 days we eventually reached the town of Puerto Madryn. Settled by the Welsh a few hundred years ago and still retains its heritage. It’s a bit strange to see the Welsh flag flying all over town. Puerto Madryn is a decent sized seaside town, very popular with Argentinians, probably through lack of choice to be fair. We both liked it here, probably because it had bars and restaurants and toilets!! It does have a very long sandy beach and it’s possible to take trips to nearby Peninsula Valdes which is rich in wildlife. When I say nearby by, it was about a 2 to 3 hour drive away, consequently none of our group bothered with this. We all spent the day wandering the town and beach before heading back to the campsite. One thing that had changed on the drive north was the temperature. It had been 5 degrees centigrade when we left Ushuaia, it was now 35!! On the way back we stopped at a great little beach cafe for a coffee. Steve ordered some flashy cappuccino thing which came with a bit of chocolate flake in it. He dove straight in to eat the flake before it melted. “What the hell are you doing” Sarah said as Steve screwed up his face and tried to casually spit the flake back into his hand. “ It’s not a flake, it’s a piece of cinnamon stick” came the reply…Idiot!

Once back at the campsite  Nikki had cooked another fantastic barbeque, we all sat round, ate, drank wine and chatted until it was time to hit the sack before commencing the second part of the drive north.

The first day out of Puerto Madryn brought more of the same scenery. That is until mid afternoon when Steve saw a tree and realised it had been the first one seen on the road for about 3 days. Then another tree, then a cluster of trees, then some longer, greener grass, then some cattle!! We were moving from Patagonia into the Pampas region. Soon herds of cattle were all over the place, undulations in the landscape, miles of sunflowers and greenery filled the horizon. The distance between inhabited areas could be measured in 10’s of kilometres rather than 100’s of kilometers. Buenos Aires was getting closer.

Lunch for the group
But not for Glen!

One last bush camp. This time it was a little different. Chris and Nikki decided to stop at a service station for the night. We got some seriously strange looks when we pitched our tents right in the middle of the car park. Now this had pro’s and con’s, the advantages were that we had toilets on site and a decent 24 hour cafe. The disadvantages were 18 wheeler trucks thundering past the tent in the middle of the night. The following morning we gave the camp breakfast a miss and dived into the service station for coffee and warm croissants. Bliss.

On the final day Steve sat up front with Chris and pretended to be a trucker. The scene became much more urban and comfort breaks had to be taken at service stations as there was too much traffic on the roads!  The skyline of Buenos Aires came into view and the long drive north was over. Six days in BA. We can’t wait……”Sarah, I’ve still got bits of that damn cinnamon stick in my teeth”.