November 2023

After visiting the volcano Osorno, we drove further South. Our plan was to drive the Carretera Austral all the way to national park Patagonia. However, you can’t drive all the way. Due to the many fjords (Patagonia Chile reminded us of Norway) at some point you will have to take a ferry. If you want to go South, there is only one road, so you don’t have an option. At Hornopiren you have to take a ferry to Caleta Conzalo. We have had other roads that were interrupted by rivers, for example in Bolivia. Here the ferries just go off and on and you wait until it’s your turn. Two days before we would have arrived at Hornopiren, we decided to check online if the ferry follows a time table or not. It does, it goes exactly once a day and we read that with a car you often have to book a week in advance on the website of the ferry company…. It turned out they wouldn’t have room for our van until 8 days later! This was quite unexpected especially if you consider that this is literally the only way to drive South. So we decided to take a detour through Argentina. We drove up North a bit, to the closest border and drove in to Argentine near Villa la Angostura, just north of Bariloche.

It is a town in the 7 lake area, a beautiful area between San Martin de los Andes and Bariloche. Two prosperous towns in a country that is otherwise suffering from a very poor economy, with the worlds fourth highest inflation rate. In Argentina their own currency now has so little value that everybody prefers the dollar or the euro. There are actually two conversion rates, the official, international one (which you get when getting cash at an ATM) and the “blue dollar” rate, which you get at Western Union (WU). The value of the Argentina peso (ARS) changes very rapidly. At November 10th according to the international rate 1 euro was 375 ARS, but at WU we got 916 ARS for 1 euro! So even though WU charges a fee, this was well worth it of course. At the 13th of December the new president was elected and he de-valued the money even more (will this help the economy?) so now (17th december) the international rate for 1 euro is 863 ARS and the blue dollar (euro) rate is 1 euro to 1093 ARS (we think that WU hasn’t yet caught up yet with the rapid de-valuation). Although this benefits us, it’s not good news for the people of Argentina. Prices of food etc. have gone up while the wages haven’t as much. This rapid inflation also means that the currency hasn’t kept up. The biggest bill is 2000 ARS, EUR 2,36. So when we got cash at WU this meant a large stack of bills. If you ever wanted to literally bathe in money, now is the time to come to Argentina; you could easily fill a bath tub with ARS! Fortunately a lot of places accept credit cards so we don’t have to carry around a big wad of cash the whole time. The exchange rate for credit card use is almost the same as the Blue dollar rate.

With the money sorted we were free to enjoy this beautiful area. Literally free, as we soon found out, Argentina offers lots of things for free. Free camp grounds at beautiful locations, with grill places, free WIFI hotspots and a lot of national parks are free as well. Rangers give out all sorts of information, again for free. There are also free shelters for those who go hiking or travel by bike. So far we have found Argentina incredible accommodating and welcoming. People are friendly too and this includes police and custom officers. It is also quite a safe country. And the roads vary from good to reasonable and so far we haven’t had to pay any road toll, although this will change when we get to the bigger cities. We stayed in the 7 lake area almost a week, enjoying the scenery and the mostly nice weather.

At the 14th of November we drove back in to Chile at Fualeufu, planning to visit the national parks Pumalin and Quelat. I wrote “planning” because we did neither. The weather took a turn for the worst. Even though it is springtime, it was cold and it rained a lot, up to 60 mm a day.

We managed to do one short hike to Ventisquero Yelcho, a hanging glacier and that was it. Some people say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Well those people probably don’t live in a small van where it takes days to dry completely wet clothes and they probably also have more than one pair of hiking boots. Since the weather forecast remained bad for the next two weeks we didn’t hang around but drove further South. The low hanging grey clouds also meant we couldn’t see as much of the area as we had wanted.

We reached the area of Rio Tranquilo where we visited the Marble caves on one of the few days it didn’t rain and we even had some sun. The Marble caves are situated in the General Carrerra Lake where the waters have eroded away the stone over a period of 6.200 years. the blue water reflects on the white / grey stone giving it a beautiful colour. The General Carrerra Lake is the biggest lake in Chile and it is shared with Argentina. The lake is filled with the melting water from glaciers, which is why the water has a blue color.

Rio Tranquilo is a nice touristy town with lots of foreigners. Here we met a Dutch couple and we went for drinks together. By coincidence we would meet them again later. We hung around town for a few days.

We then drove on to Rio Baker. A beautiful deep turquoise river where we camped for two days. Being at those beautiful campsites however also means missing Binkie more, he would have loved the area and he should have been there…. We also visited the confluence of Rio Baker and Rio Neff.

After that our last stop in Chile was national park Patagonia. This national park is situated in the Patagonia area, so the name might be a bit confusing. But the Patagonia area is much larger than just the national park. Here we went on a hike and met the Dutch couple again. It was nice to be able to speak Dutch again and we did the second half of the hike together. One of the reasons we wanted to visit this park was the wild life, especially condors. But we didn’t spot any.

There’s a road through the park from where you can cross in to Argentina again. But since this border is so remote you have to fill out a “salvaconducto”in advance. This is basically proof that your conduct of behaviour in Chile was good and you are not wanted by the police or have any outstanding fines, apparently they can’t check this at this border. The government website states that you can do this 10 to 5 days in advance. We don’t always have internet access and thinking “better early than late” we filled it in ten days in advance. This turned out to be the wrong choice. We got the form the next day. “Great” we thought. But when we printed the form two days before we would arrive at the border crossing, we noticed that it said at the bottom of the paper that it was only valid for 5 business days! This was really confusing as we received the form on the 19th, stating that it was valid for crossing the 28th, but the last business day would be the 24th??? After much consideration we decided to fill in the online form again, hoping we wouldn’t upset the system, making our first form no longer valid (it has a QR code) and hoping we would receive it very fast again. Fortunately we received a new form within 20 minutes. I guess it is a fully automated system that only requires human involvement, and more time, if the system finds a fine or something. So on the 28th of November we drove out of Chile and in to Argentina again. The Argentina border post is about 10km away from the Chilean one and was the best border crossing so far! This small remote building doesn’t yet have any computers, there is hardly any electricity. It was manned by a friendly young officer who did everything by hand. Using carbon paper, ledgers, stamps and everything! There was even an old fashioned cord phone on the wall! It was like being in a museum, it was really funny and cute.

And now that we were in Argentina, outside of the national park, we saw lots of Andean condors! We spend one night in this remote place. And for the first time we got to deal with the infamous Patagonian winds. Every traveller talks about these winds, but so far on the Chilean side of Patagonia it wasn’t bad. Now it was: the van was shaking so badly that we kept the roof down and I seriously wondered if we would be blown over at some point, Fortunately this wasn’t the case, but we didn’t get much sleep either.

We ended November with a short stay at Grobenador Gregores, a small town, situated in a wide river bed, giving some extra protection against the wind. Being the only town in a radius of 200km -and with the only supermarket as well- it was a nice stop to relax after all the strong winds we encountered. Here Kilian went for a short bike ride but outside of town the wind was so strong he was literally blown of the road, he was fine though.

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