24 Patagonia

ARGENTINA Feb./Mar. 2006

Now: 2006-03-20

We are next to the very large Moreno Glacier. It is like a silent frozen sea with waves and crevices of beautiful turquoise. Then we hear creaking, distant rumbling and cracking sounds, then close by an almighty thunderous roar as a large piece of the packed ice explodes off the glacier and splashes into the milky green waters of Lake Argentina. The glacier advances 2m a day and this causes the breaking off from the 5km wide ice front.

Perito Moreno Glacier


These ice fields are near the town of El Calafate. The “calafate” is also the name of an edible wild berry. It is made into fruit juice, mixed into cocktails and was used in cave paintings. (Wonder whether nurseries have it back home – berberis buxifolia.)

Earlier: 2006-02-15 Buenos Aires

The only way to get a seat on a plane from SA was to take a one week package tour with Malaysian Air. Apart from the accommodation being included we were also treated to a superb tango show. We then pounded the pavements of BA seeing the sights. Buenos Aires was hot and humid. By day we survived on “Pritti Limon” cold drink and in the evenings enjoyed the Brahma chopp draft with the inevitable excellent Argentinean steak and “flan”, their version of crème caramel.

With our limited Spanish we could not find out by telephone so it was with trepidation that we walked all the way to the port and were greatly relieved when we heard from the shipping agent that our vehicle had arrived safely. (Unlike 25 years ago when we had shipped to South America and our motorhome had been destroyed during a storm at sea. In 1980 our daughters, Liesl (6) and Ingrid (4) were with us).

The shipping line suggested a clearing agent but Jan managed to get the paperwork done without one and after two days we drove out of the port and were delighted that customs had stamped the vehicle in for 8 months. (This meant that if in future we needed somewhere to leave the vehicle while we went on ‘home leave’, it could be done by getting 8 months in Argentina).

Before heading south, we took the 4 hour ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay. In Montevideo we looked up where we stayed and ate, when we had to spend a month there in 1980 to sort our insurance claim. On the way back the Unipower (on board welding system) controller played up and Jan had to bypass it in order to get full charge current to the battery bank. For the return passage we were put on standby at 4 in the morning, as the ferry was overbooked due to a blockade of the bridges further North by environmentalists protesting against a new paper factory. We just made it.

Southward Ho!

Back in BA, we plunged into the rush hour traffic and headed south; nearly 50km of dense traffic and concrete urban sprawl, before the open plains started. We never stopped appreciating the emptiness. We also had our first experience of the Pampas winds....

A heavy rainstorm hit us at dusk and we both got wet when the very strong wind blew rain like a fire hose through the door joints into the cab.

At a supermarket in Bahia Blanca we did our first big shopping and found prices much cheaper than back home. There we met a young couple who had driven from Argentina to Alaska in a 1928 Graham Paige car.

The Valdes Peninsula, a 300km side trip, has a fascinating Magellanic penguin colony as well as some Elephant seals and Sea lions at look outs. However, it was not the time for Whales and birds. For the first time there and often thereafter we saw ostrich-teenager like Rheas and also Guanacos (a smaller type Llama). We often saw foxes and would call out: “Zorro!” their Spanish name.

Trelew is a town founded by the Welsh. At the local museum we were amazed at the number of intact dinosaur skeletons which had been found in southern Argentina. In the glass domed entrance hall they have, actually growing, examples of ancient plants: like ginka, cycads, palms and magnolia.

Steering against the constant side wind over the huge flat plains of the Patagonian Steppe we continued on Ruta 3. Even when there were patches of bushy scrubland the poor sheep seemed to have little to eat. There were wild horses too.

Ruta 3 at km post 1553 (South of Buenos Aires)

View North

View East

View South

View West

In Commodoro Rivadavia, with some help from the tourist info office, we found our Afrikaans speaking Argentinean friends again. His mother, as a child, had come with other Afrikaners by ship in 1902. They own a bakery where they produce a huge 12kg, 30x30x60cm loaf of bread. It is sliced and distributed for sandwich making in catering. Jan helped to repair the large dough mixer. Leoné sipped the traditional mate (herbal tea) with wife and family.

Tierra del Fuego

Southernmost point on earth by wheels

After 12 days’ driving we reach the island of Tierra del Fuego. (Fireland) We were moving faster than we would have preferred, but had to get there before the winter really set in. Suddenly we have forests and lakes and snow-clad mountains.

Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. At a restaurant with a view over the Beagle channel we enjoy the local king crab. (Puerto Williams, on the Chilean island Navarino, is the southernmost town.)

In Tierra de Fuego National Park, Dipli is photographed next to the sign which says Buenos Aires 3 063km, Alaska 17 848km…. (For us it was 58 000km!)

Then we drive 130km to “Prefectura naval Moat”, the one man naval observation post at the end of a side road. At S54° 58,550’ it is the furthest South on earth reachable by wheeled vehicle.

Looking over the Beagle channel

Moat Naval post is the Southermost point on earth reachable by wheeled vehicle.

Estancia Harberton, established in 1886, is the oldest farm in the area. It is one of the many sheep farms of Patagonia and has an area of 20 000 hectares.

Southern Chile

Darwin: “Looking due Southward. The distant channels between the mountains appeared from the gloominess to lead beyond the confines of this world…”

After we take the short ferry back over the Straights of Magellan, we remain in Chile and head for Punta Arenas.

Quest for the furthest South on the South American continent:

Jan wants to drive Dipli to the southernmost end of the continent of South America. (The point mentioned above having been on an island). Then the gravel road ends at a river and becomes a track on the opposite bank. Leoné’s protests do not stop him.

More streams to forge and some beach driving.

The wild fuchsia shrubs disguise the branch that cracks the mirror. The loose gas bottle falls over, catches its valve handle on something, opens and nearly poisons us. A rather thick tree, which had fallen over from the forest, had to be sawn off as it was overhanging the beach with not enough clearance for Dipli to pass under. Eventually the track also terminates where rocks on the shore adjoining dense forest make further progress impossible.

We are still 28km short of Cape Froward, but this would have to do. Dipli is covered in mud, as if it has been sprayed on.

The next day we find a grassy spot in the forest, out of the wind, to replace a front spring main blade (which had been damaged before, but had now broken off).

It is mid March (Temperatures 1 – 12°C). We are 3000km South of Cape Town’s latitude and it is time to head North.

We visit Parque National Torres del Paine. It is a hiker’s paradise with marked trails and huts. The beautiful mountain scenery is of the snow clad rock “towers” with 1000m vertical cliffs, green glacier-milk rivers and turquoise lakes. Lace flowers grow wild.

A few hundred km further north brings us back to El Calafate, Argentina.

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