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(>Pictures at the bottom!)
The first border crossing on our journey south gave us all – the whole group – a bit of a “stomach ache”, and it was with some uncertainty that we headed for the border post. After leaving Argentina, we entered Chile with a procedure that has long been a thing of the past on the European mainland. But, the Chileans were also kind to us and with the help of our tour guides, it was no witchcraft in retrospect. From then on, we changed the border between Argentina and Chile more and more often and with the composure we had acquired, we headed for the respective border posts. Sometimes it was really easy, at other crossings the guardians of the respective nations looked very closely and it took a good 3 hours – without batting an eyelid – until all papers and checks were done.
Back on our way south: The weather was a bit stormy by now and the polar region let its forces run free. Even our little camper was shaken back and forth on the wide open spaces and we were tested for storm resistance all the way to the Strait of Magellan. At the Strait of Magellan, the ferry service was temporarily suspended, the wind was so strong that it was not possible to safely moor and load the vehicles. We were already bracing ourselves for a windy night at the ferry terminal. In any case, this would have been one of the worst options for us!
Fortunately, the crossing to Tierra del Fuego, actually the largest island separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, worked out, so that we found a parking space in the next town that offered us some protection from the wind. Since it is almost forbidden to bring food with you when entering Chile, we still went in search of a place to shop. But there wasn’t much left in this town, which had a lively community in the heyday of oil drilling. The bank was closed long ago, the former supermarket had empty shelves and the meat slicer had a few mice gnawing on the last bits of meat. We definitely couldn’t satisfy our hunger here! A small corner shop was our last resort and we didn’t have to crawl under the covers with a growling stomach.
At the “Bahía Inútil”, a part of the Strait of Magellan, lies one of the few accessible colonies of king penguins. According to Chilean law, you are no longer allowed to visit such colonies without a guide. So we went out to the windy coast with a guide who told us many stories around and about the penguins, where we could watch the penguins at a distance.
Another change to Argentina and wide pampas through “nothing”; steppe and lots of wind! What once drew people to this inhospitable region? But before Ushuaia, the landscape changed and the wasteland became a mountainous landscape with deciduous forests and snow-covered mountains. Many small towns also lined the road and the end point of the road leading to the southernmost point of this earth must have a corresponding attraction for many people. We too were striving towards this goal!
Ushuaia is the southernmost city that can be reached by vehicle and a busy tourist traffic rolled through the streets of the city. The cruise ships still bring many people to the end of the world and everyone wants to snap a picture at the end of street “3” and post a card at the southernmost post office. It’s actually crazy what goes on at the end of the world!
Until the ferry crossing of the Strait of Magellan, we had to take the same route again; after the snow-covered peaks and deciduous forests, again the endless wind-swept pampas, where there was no reason to linger any longer. Up to Punta Arenas (Chile), it was quite bearable behind the windscreen, while outside the wind blew across the vastness of Patagonia.
In Punta Arenas we had another stop and were allowed to follow our knowledgeable guide through the city. Before the European settlers divided the land among themselves and founded settlements, the first humans resisted this environment for several thousand years and for many researchers today it is a mystery how they managed to do so – in contrast to today’s mankind. The arrival of the European conquerors, however, heralded their end; what the introduced diseases could not do, the newcomers did with their weapons. The Spanish conquerors knew no mercy!
We continued towards the Andes and with every kilometre to the northwest there were new things to discover. Actually a wonderful landscape after all those flat kilometres on the east side of the continent. But Patagonia would not be Patagonia: The wind swept wildly across the landscape and presented us with the same problems again and again when we camped in the evening. In Puerto Natales, we had to leave the shared camp at the harbour and after a short search we found a sheltered spot in the garden of a hostel. While we enjoyed a quiet night and the comfort of the hostel, the rest of our groups were well shaken by the wind on the fjord.
The next highlight followed in the national park “Torres del Paines”, where besides a lot of wind and wet-cold weather, the first icebergs were blown towards us over the “Lago Grey”. Due to the weather, I (Tom) skipped the hikes the next day. The following day brought us lots of sun and thanks to the decreasing wind it was pleasantly warm. So some of the group decided to camp outside the national park. Three pumas surprised us at the free campsite in the evening, which did not please the rangers, who followed the pumas with many photographers, and we had to leave the “wild camp” the same evening. The fact that three free-ranging pumas approached a larger group of people (us) and tolerated many following at a distance with their cameras was a surreal experience for us.
Back in Argentina, we stopped for the night at a large sheep station in the vast pampas. Before we were allowed to sit down at the table and were served fine lamb, there was a driving and shearing show, peppered with a lot of information about local sheep farming and about the history of this “estancia”. It is actually crazy how 100 years ago people could be induced to settle in a lonely steppe landscape in order to build up a new existence. The land was free, but nature was all the harsher, although “Esparanza” sounded very promising as the nearest town.
“El Calafate” was the next stop on our trip and a melting pot of all travellers in Southern Patagonia. The offers for all newcomers are very diverse and we also booked a trip on the catamaran out onto the “Lago Argentino” with its countless side arms to the calving glaciers.
Although this boat trip is totally comical, the journey was an impressive experience into this vast, lonely mountain world, where there is really nothing far and wide. Unfortunately, the clouds hung very low in the surrounding mountain peaks, otherwise this excursion would have been an almost unbeatable highlight.
Instead, Fitz Roy – which is probably known to every mountain enthusiast – gave us a wonderful reception from afar – all the summit pillars were free of clouds. My heart (Tom) was beating faster and faster and I could hardly wait to stand at the foot of these wonderful granite towers.
The following day, I (Tom) climbed the local mountain of “El Chaltén” at 5 a.m., unfortunately in vain, to spy the summit needles in the first sunlight; the mountain was shrouded in thick clouds. The guided hike to the “Lago de los Tres” and the “Laguna Sucia” was a great experience, but the entire Fitz Roy with all its granite towers never completely revealed itself the whole day. Too bad. Despite the many clouds, the beer after the tour from the youngest brewery in the Andes tasted excellent.
Chantal and I bumped our way to the “Lago del Desierto” at the end of the civilised world. Up to this point, one roams through a wide valley with sheep farming and extensive forests. From the lake onwards, there are only forests, rock, snow and ice. The onward journey over the “Paso dos Lagunas” would have been a super shortcut, but it was hardly possible with our four-wheeled vehicle and we didn’t want to enter Chile illegally; the border guards don’t take any jokes!
On the way back from “El Chaltén” into the Argentinean pampas, the “Fitz Roy” showed itself mischievously in the rear view mirror and kept us dreaming of the mountains for a long time. Yes, the Andes really are stunningly beautiful.
>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator