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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.