09.08.2014 - 10.09.2014
We arrived in at the boarder exactly at 9am. Another easy crossing in terms of paper work but it is worth noting there are strict restrictions on products you can bring move across these boarders. Now I don't want to big time it, but in a blatant disregard for the rules we formed a smuggling ring and are now international apple and pears smugglers. Seems we are cut from the same cloth as Pablo Escobar!
Dashing through the snow sounds very Christmassy and has a certain romance about it. That is until you have to do it driving a new car for the very first time, on the wrong side of the car and road. This was the challenge Ellie had to face as she took her turn behind the wheel. Although fitted out with studs and equipped with 4 wheel drive it is no help when the surface of the road turns into a white out. Jacko took the front seat and coached Ellie through, but there was no stopping the inevitable skid across the road. At low speed and with thankfully nothing coming the other way she dealt with it brilliantly, and we came to a gentle stop on the hard shoulder. However it was a reminder that no matter how careful we were on a road trip and there would be dangers. This was always one of my biggest fears for my own little passenger. Even a relatively minor car crash can cause a miscarriage. All this worry and Terry hadn't even got behind the wheel yet!
For those that don't know Terry came to driving a bit later than the rest of us, however he doesn't let that stop him having the confidence of a seasoned driver. Maybe he sucks some of this confidence from his passengers, who often seem to be somewhat lacking. Even if not completely true, he had to endure endless banter over his heavy right foot, and magnetism to the cars in front, which at least kept the rest of us happy.
Or destination for the morning was El Calafate. Yet another town reaping success from yet another natural wonder. This time the epic Pertio Moreno Glacier. This flows down to a lake and you can watch great chucks of it crash into the melt pond. From the descriptions it is very like the images you see to remind you we are causing global warming, scary but kinda cool.
As we searched the car for a bit more information on this town, we began to notice we had left rather a lot of kit back at the other hostel. 2 pairs of girls walking boots and the very useful, brand new guide book on the whole of South America. There is nothing like leaving perfectly good kit at the very beginning of the trip to drag down my moral. I like travelling without a guide book, during previous trips I rarely used them, preferring the advice of other travellers, locals and a bit of mystery, but when you drive the maps of each town are really rather helpful.
On top of this it was another gray foggy day. To see the impressive glacier you park in a viewings area across from its end. After seeking some local advice and even a bit of spying on a webcam it became obvious that it would be 500 pesos (£50 each) wasted. The visibility was just too bad. Over an amazing lunch (remembered well, as it was the last food we saw for over 24hrs) we decided to push on.
It was Terry's turn behind the wheel. He had the dubious pleasure of huge empty stretches of gravel road. Despite the banter he drove beautifully although sometimes it did feel rather quick skimming over the shifting surface, often at well over 100km an hour. The sound of hundreds of stones being flung up and thwacking the bottom of the car is a peculiar one. He can't have been going too fast though, as we were overtaken a couple of times by some bigger cars. He also got us off the gravel by dusk, around 17:30 this far South.
We had decided to drive through the night to make up lost time waiting for the boarders. So there was no rest for the wicked. The incredibly long straight tarmac roads were pleasant change and we could start to really get some kilometres under our belt. Around midnight we hit what seemed to be a another rough patch with much shaking and banging. Turns out, this time our mechanical knowledge was more than enough to diagnose a flat tyre. Poor Elie who had been driving thought she had been cursed, although we did agree later that the 100km/hr dash through gravel was probably to blame, something Terry strenuously denies to this day. Now as annoying as all this was, all boys relish the opportunity to show how manly they are by changing tyres. In the dark and with a bitter wind blowing they got the job done in 12 minutes. All very impressive but the reality of a new 80km speed limit from the space saver was a blow, as was our curtailed travel plans.
We limped into a dusty town at 2am, expecting difficulties finding accommodation at such an ungodly hour. Quite the opposite, it was Saturday night. The town was buzzing. Cars were cruising the streets. Buildings pulsed with lights and music. We were pointed in the direction of the loudest hotel of all. The windows on the car rattled as we approached. Dapper couples of all ages were on the dance floor shimmying and shaking their hips, in a way we in the west find very hard to do. It was in stark contrast to the 5 white crumpled ghosts who checked in.
The next day the boys headed out early to get things sorted. They might have well not have bothered. An early Sunday morning was never going to be productive. The whole town was suffering from the effects of both a collective hangover, and Catholicism, it was a ghost town. To add to our woes we now had two flats. Of the few people who were about no one spoke a word of English and we only have the slightest grasp of Spanish. Through various hand motions the situation was explained in the local tourist office, and the cleaning lady was dispatched with Andy and Terry to find someone to help. This came in the form of a decrepit old man whose garage had a stale air. After a diabetes inducing sugary brunch at a bakery Ellie and I joined the tyre party at the garage. The source of the smell was discovered at the back with years of cat shit piling up in huge mounds. Mauled cats with eyes missing and deformities of all sorts seemed to be this old boys' friends, and it was a surprisingly sad scene.
However with new inner tubes (on inner tubeless tyres) we once again made for the boarder with Chile. Our destination was Coyhaique the start of the scenic Carretera Austral” (Southern Highway). This beautiful road would take us to the Chilean lake district and then onto San Antino where we could finally pick our Furry Taxi.