A Travellerspoint blog

The land of gravel not fire.


05/08/14 - 08/08/14
Km travelled: 1793
Ushuaia, Puerto Natales , Torres Del Paine,

After a quick 20 minute ferry crossing the famous Magellan Straights, synonymous with daring Victorian explorers we left mainland chile and arrived on Tierra del Fuego. This island is often refered to in Spanish folk lore to scare young children into behaving, was not as I expected. The translation means land of fire and I was expected towering volcanos and dramatic scenes. What we got was a barren flat land, with gravel mud roads, and really bugger all to look at, apart from the odd Lama. I have found out since, the fire refers to the hundreds of fires of the indigenous tribes which could be seen by the early explores. Photos from these tribes shows the some strange rituals involving body paint and some rather funky headwear. As with most colonial stories the fate of these tribes is a sad one and they have been completely wiped off the face of the earth, mostly to make room for sheep.

To get to Ushuaia we had to face our first boarder crossing from Chile to Argentina. If you have experienced boarder crossings you will know they can be stressful, slightly scary and they are invariable manned by sour faced (job-worths, BUROCRACTIC immigration types.) What we never expected was a group of happy guards heartily signing along to the latest hit on the radio and having friendly, smily dispositions, all in a lonely boarder hut. Three stamps and we were away.

The landscape did finally begin to change with the arrival of ghostly woods covered with moss and lichen. Suddenly mountains appeared and on the other side Ushuaia. Now to Andy and I this town looked gorgeous (compared with Punta A) with a real skiing town feel. Dramatic mountains overlooking the sea and quaint restaurants and shops. To Jacko, Terry and Ellie who had been waiting for days to get out of there, it was a bit of a dump.

We had thought the locals had been mad telling us it would take 10 hours to cover 600km. We estimated we could do it in 7 max. We were wrong, it took us all day to get to the guys, but it was universally agreed after picking up a stamp for the end of the world in the local tourist office we would head straight back the way we had just come.

It was a great feeling having us all together for the first time. A week into the trip and we could finally head in the correct direction - North. Spirits were high as we piled into the car. It became immediately apparent that it was going to be a squeeze. Jacko is a strapping 6'4 " and is often mistaken for a giant in a country of little people. Terry and Andy have broad shoulders due to the nature of being infantry captains (even a retired one maintains impressive width) so when a girl was in the front and two of the lads were in the back, it was to say the least uncomfortable. Oh well, only 9 long days and 5000km to go.

On the way back through Terra del Fuego we experienced a rumbling coming from the car. We pulled over and quickly exhausted all of our collective mechanical knowledge by kicking the tyres. The surprisingly did not point to the problem so with a heavy heart we headed back to Punta A to have it checked out. Its funny thing really, Terry was rather taken with Punta A, enjoying the colonial aspects, I suppose it is just being stuck in a place that makes you dislike it. Turns out the tough gravel is not the best for moving car bits but a quick pressure washers and a drag race through the town for Andy with the car rental man, (much scarier than even Terry's legendary driving, we were told) and we were back on our way.

Our destination was a damp town to the North called Puerto Natales. This town mainly exists to serve as a gateway to the magnificent Torres Del Paine. This is rumoured to be the best national park in the whole of the South America. Guide books wax lyrical of towering stacks next to azure blue lakes. We were all excited. Our plan was to spend the next morning exploring this walking Mecca, (from the comfort of our car I'm sad to report) then head to another Argentinean boarder.

Now with so much violent unrest in the world you can easily be forgiven for not knowing Argentina is facing another monetary crisis. A tale of defaulting on a countries debt is nothing compared to the true horror of the current unrest in the Iraq, Palestine, and Ukraine to name a few. However for this part of the world it is understandably big news and having an impact on even our little trip. This whole continent shows its discontent through strikes. Unfortunately for us a boarder strike was planned for the next day. With no roads headed north in Chile we were stuck for another night in Puerto Natales.

Luckily we had found a lovely and cute hostel. A resident dog named Mimie who matched the shag pile rug exactly, even made Ellie, who is very much a cat person with 3 waiting back home for her return, say she could imagine her and Terry having a pooch one day if it was like little Mimie.

After a lazy start, after all we were stuck there for another night, we head to Torres Del Paine which turned out to be truly beautiful. Even on a cold wet day and shrouded in shifting clouds it gave us tantalising glimpses of epic vistas. Conversation as to why the lakes were such a shocking blue revealed none of us had much knowledge about geography. Top of the list after discounting the depth, possible algae blooms and the blue stuff they put in swimming pools to expose the dreaded wee (ok I just made that one up) was the fact it was ice melt water. I fully expect our geography teacher friend Pippa to set me straight some time.
We had however made a slight error on our way up to this remote national park. We had in our excitement we had forgotten to check the fuel levels. With an 8hour round trip it really is something we should have thought of and the indicator skimming the red line did not give us cheer. We discovered our error at the very beginning of the park but bravely, or stupidly, decided to push on. I took over driving and was instructed to keep in high gears, coast down hills and not use the brakes! Finding someone to help us in one of the few closed down (for the winter) hotels was our only glimmer of hope for some siphoned fuel. Our luck was finally in and after some expert sucking by a local we had enough fuel to start braking again.
After all this excitement we were in much need of some refreshment. We unexpectedly came across the most beautiful hotel, which was open. Although a bit of an ugly ducking from the outside, inside the warm wood, huge sofas and cool interior design were an immersive pleasure. It had the feel of a Bond film set and we decided if we ever won the lottery we might buy it just to party in. At the very end of our day on the last section of the 90km round route through the national park we came across a road block. In true British fashion we completely ignored it, pulled it to one side and hoped for the best. Luckily the road was for the most part fine, the sways of dangerous subsiding roads I had imagined never appeared. We headed back for a home cooked dinner from Terry and an early night so we could be at the boarder when it reopened at 9am the next morning.

Posted by lskellis 09:07 Archived in Chile

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