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Let’s Get Away from the Cold! ARG


March 11, 2019

We arrived at Tigger after our memorable trip to Antarctica just after 8:00 am and all was well. We got it ready to drive again and made our way to the travel agency to drop off our borrowed gear; they don’t open until nine so we had to wait a bit.  By 9:00 we were on the road again – heading north to escape the cold!  The roads were good and we made it to Rio Grande in good time, fill up the tank again and continue to the border crossing.

The landscape was still pampas and there were sheep ranches.

On this Monday we hope to make two border crossings as in order to begin travelling in mainland Argentina, we have to cross the half of Tierra Del Fuego that belongs to Chile because that is where the ferry runs from.

We cross into Chile pretty quickly, and head for the ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan – we have a one sailing wait but it’s not long.

The next border crossing was even faster as both countries occupy the same building and we manage to get an eight month vehicle permit but the Immigration lady will only give us 90 day visas; she tells us to go to Immigration in Rio Gallegos to extend it.

It’s now late in the afternoon and we’ve driven over 500 km / 300 mi so it’s time to call it a day.  There’s a wild camping spot next to a crater lake called Laguna Azul and we settle in there.

There is only one other vehicle and it’s from Venezuela – first Venezuelan overlanders we’ve ever met.  We have a brief chat and they decide to do the hike around the crater with their dog.  Doug is not feeling so good (there were a few colds going around the ship on our expedition) so we call it a day.  It’s darn windy and still cold but we hope it’s the last cold night for a while….

Tuesday morning we make it into Rio Gallegos and Doug is feeling worse.  This is considered one of the windiest cities in the world but there was hardly a breeze today.  Fran does the grocery shopping and we find the immigration office; no go on the extension; need to wait until we have about five days left and were told all the major cities have offices to do this in.  We’ll see….

We carry on northward hoping to visit Parque Nacional Leon Monte

but the road in has a sign saying temporarily closed and upon travelling up the highway a bit further and arriving at the Ranger Station, we learn it’s closed until at least Sunday…. Too bad – there are supposed to be several hundred Magellan penguins here and some cool caves.

The Ruta 3 that runs north south up the east side of Argentina is mostly flat, grassy and at times is near the coast.  There are a lot of guanacos and rheas near the side of the road and they help break up the monotony of the drive.

As we don’t want to hang around a minimum of five days, we move on to a small town called Piedra Buena for gas and a quick look around.  It’s a cute town on a river with character.

We have received a few recommends to do a coastal road near Puerto San Julian so we continue in that direction.  Upon arriving at the outskirts of town, we stop for gas at the YPF and decide that since iOverlander check ins show fast Wi-Fi, we’ll stay the night as it’s again late in the afternoon.  Today we’ve done over 400 km and feel the warmth of high teens C temperatures (66F) with sunshine.  Doug is not doing well so we relax.

The night is definitely not as cold and next day we decided to stay another day so Doug can continue recuperating and we can use the internet trying to catch up on photos, blogging, banking and all the stuff that can happen when you’re more than ten days off the grid.

It’s cloudy but begins to clear midday.  Doug is feeling a bit better and Fran is hoping she doesn’t catch it.  Mid-afternoon we drove into the village and dropped of our laundry to be picked up tomorrow afternoon.

We had quite a thunder and lightning storm this evening for about an hour; we can’t remember when we last experienced one!

Thursday we awoke to another cloudy morning and Doug is feeling somewhat better; Fran still hanging in avoiding catching whatever he has.  Doug decides he wants to go into town with Tigger and see about fixing the skid plate beneath the propane valve; it appears to have been hit sometime and it’s very difficult to open and close the valve.  Fran hangs back in the café of the gas station using the internet.  We plan to pick up the laundry around 5 and head to the coast road for the night.

We spent the day catching up and Doug rested some.  At four we decided to see if perhaps the laundry was done early but to our dismay, they told us “no, tomorrow morning”!  When Fran said we wanted to leave today so he said come back at 7:30 – it still needed to dry and one of their machines was down.

We parked right outside the laundry, read for a while and then made dinner.  At 7:32 Fran went out and he was outside his shop staring at our rig – he must have known we were inside and could have brought the finished laundry over as it was sitting on the counter!  Oh well we got it and made our way to the ocean side of town to the coastal road.

We had a camp spot in mind but the sun was beginning to set and the dirt road had some muddy sections that looked like they could cause issues so we found a closer spot that turned out to be quite lovely.

We spent a quiet night and Doug was feeling better but not 100% by morning.

The sun was shining and we continued down the road and found the “Loberia” – a rocky point where many sea lions were hanging out with birds.  It was super windy and we were glad we’d not ended up camping here.

At one point on this road a small herd of wild horses ran across the road in front of us.

Our next stop was over 300 km / 200 mi north – Puerto Deseado (Port Desire) where the ocean runs inland up a canon where there is an island of Magellanic penguins, lots of birds and more sea lions.  After a stop to refuel in a tiny town that really was only a YPF station, we arrived at the scenic road around 3 pm after driving through many kilometres of barren pampas.

The sun was still shining and the water was a teal colour with lots of sand bars, islands and cliffs.  It’s less than 10 km / 6 mi long and dirt with several viewpoints.

We saw cormorants, gulls, lots of penguins (far away)

and a small rock island where sea lions had managed to get to the top.

The other big draw in this town is a tour out to an island with rock hopper penguins, dolphins and sea elephants.  They are not inexpensive tours but we thought we’d check it out as we’ve never seen this type of penguin and this is about as far north as they venture.

Upon getting back into town, we looked for a post office only to learn it was closed till Monday so we decided to check out the one campground in town as it was shower time.  They only charge $8 a night for two and have power, water, hot showers and internet so we figured we could afford that – we’ve not paid for camping since back in Puerto Natales in Chile!  Doug is feeling much better went for a walk to check out the tour companies and one was offering the tour on Monday as the weekend looked too windy for the trip.  It’s supposed to be an hour’s boat ride, four hours or so of time at the island including lunch.  The cost is $80 a person so not cheap but we think we’ll do it.  Doug will message them in the morning and we’ll hang here at this campsite for the weekend.  Oh and so far, Fran still has not gotten sick so she’s pretty darn happy!

We awoke to a sunny, windy Saturday morning and spent the weekend getting things done, enjoying the 25C / 77F warmth, wearing flip flops and shorts/capris.

We took several walks around town and along the shore where there are hundreds of sea birds.

this is a dolphin gull taken from quite a distance
oyster catchers
an ibis
not sure if they are swans or ducks….
crested ducks

Sunday night we heard from the travel agency that Monday would be too windy for the boat trip.  We decided to give it one more day as the forecast for Tuesday looked calmer.

Monday we did awake to wind, clouds and it rained through the morning – and it felt damp cold though still warmer than Tierra del Fuego.  In the afternoon, called the agency and they now say “maybe” Wednesday IF they have enough people so we gave up.  We left Tuesday morning and put on some miles towards Punto Tombo – a huge Magellanic penguin park.

Enroute we stopped to watch about 100 sea lions far down the coast:

We made it about 80% of the way by 4:30 and decided to find a wild camp for the  night rather than push on as there’s not much around it and we still have nearly 150 km to go.

We found a “gravel pit” about a mile off the highway in a bit of a depression that was wind protected.  The Ruta 3 today did not offer a lot of wildlife as it had south of Puerto Deseado but the weather was good: mostly sunny and getting warm.

It’s March 20th, the first day of fall here and there was an amazing full moon:

When we left the next morning, we saw an armadillo cross the road right in front of us – they are pretty darn quick when they want to be!

We arrived at Punto Tombo provincial park around 9:30, paid our ticket fee, did the “required” walk the Visitor’s Centre and on the way back to the truck, a young man asked us if we knew we had a flat!  He also asked if he could purchase a litre of gasoline for his motorbike as he wasn’t sure he’d make it to the next gas station as this stop had not been on his planned route.

Punto Tombo only became a Magellanic penguin breeding colony around 1920 and since then the numbers have increased big time.

We got to Tigger and spent a good hour changing the tire – this was the other brand new tire we’d purchased in Santiago in late November; barely 5,000 miles on them – they’ve both gone flat and had to be replaced!  We were not impressed.

After changing the tire, and letting Georgie have his gas, we drove the one kilometre to the start of the walking trail through the park – you are not allowed to walk it (?).

We spent about two hours on the trails.  It is the end of breeding season and many of the penguins are molting but we saw thousands – there can be 200,000 breeding pairs here in December/January.  There are also a large number of guanaco in the park and apparently fox, skunks and armadillos.  Lucky for penguins: guanacos are vegetarian!

It was very strange to see penguins in a landscape without snow and ice; we’ve seen this type of penguin many times but the reason we came here was to see the numbers, and really, can you get enough penguins!?

hundreds in the distance in this direction
many more in this direction

The weather was perfect, warm, sunny and little wind.  The walk takes you past hundreds of nesting boroughs, hundreds of penguins and to views of thousands of them in the distance.

We met up with Georgie on the trail and chatted with him a while as we enjoyed theses adorable creatures.

this one was standing in a burrow

We drove back to the Ruta 3 and continued on our way north hoping for even warmer weather but we also had to sort out the tire.

We arrived in the rather large city of  Trelew and our first stop was the replica of the world’s largest dinosaur:

This dinosaur is believed to weigh 76 tons and had a total length of 42 m / 138′.  It lived about 101 million years ago and is fondly called the “Argentinosaurs” by the locals.  It was a herbivore and as you can see had a very long tail and a small head. 

This part of Argentina and continuing west was settled in the late 19th century by many Welsh settlers, some Boers who left South Africa after the Boer war.  You can see the Welsh influence in the names of some towns and cities.

Next we looked for a tire repair place and (as mentioned above) after being told the tire was “toast” we ended up at a Goodyear shop but they did not carry our tire size: 285’s.  The man in the office began calling around and after leaving a few messages, told us he’d call us later with the results.  We drove about 30 km / 20 mi to the coastal town of Rawson so we could spend a night at a beach on the ocean.  The sun was quite warm today and hit 25 C / 77 F and the sky was quite clear.

Upon arriving at a parking lot where other overlanders had camped out of high season, we parked grabbed our chairs and some Corona and enjoyed the surf.

The water is too cold for swimming and the beach while nicely sloped is not nice sand – kinda gravelly and the wind was pretty strong; after one beer we headed indoors; a bonus here was that there was password free WiFi!

Before dinner Doug heard from Ruben and Goodyear and he’d found us 315’s and he could get two of them; he suggested we could put them on the rear axle and keep 285’s on the front.  Doug wasn’t sure he wanted this or if it was advisable and if we wanted even bigger tires than we have.  We did not want to go without a spare though so we mulled on it overnight.

Thursday morning, after adjusting the spark plugs again (we’ve been experiencing some “chugging” at around 1500 RPM’s), buying some data for our local phone we returned to Goodyear.  The 315 tires were going to cost $600 US ea and the could not locate 285’s.  Doug then asked about whether they had any 265’s in stock that had the correct load capacity.  They had one.  So after some more thinking and discussion, we bought the one 265 and we’ll use it as our spare – next time need a tire, we’ll buy another 265 and use two on the front.  Eventually, we’ll have five 265’s we think as they seem to be easier to find.

All in all, it was pretty fortunate; we were out of there before 11:30 and made just over 500 km / 300 mi again today westward back to the Ruta 40 over 500 km / 300 mi north of the furthest north we’d been on this north/south route through the country back in January.  About 50 km / 30 mi into the trip we picked up a pair of Swiss backpackers and gave them a ride all the way with us – darn lucky for them as this road is not used by truckers and there was very little traffic – which was a good thing as there are lots of bad sections and it makes it easier to drive around the pot holes when there is no oncoming traffic!

The road we drove was the Ruta 25 and it was very different from the Ruta 3 – hardly any towns at all, very little wildlife; today we saw a grey fox, followed by a horse, 5 guanacos at once, then 4 more horses, a dead armadillo, 4 rhea and 9 more horses.  The scenery for the first half of the road was very similar to the Ruta 3 – grass and brush but then we hit a section that reminded us of the American southwest.