The Tyre Saga

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For those of you who have been following our blogs you will know that a few weeks ago in Argentina we ruined one of our tyres and as a result needed to find some new tyres. Simple you might think. One problem though was that trucks in South America all have 22.5 inch wheels and we have 20 inch wheels. After visiting a number of tyre shops in Argentina without success we soon realised that it might not be so easy to buy replacement tyres.

We had previously struggled to buy new tyres in Santiago and ended up with a different make. Since this was the one that had ruptured early in its life we wanted to get a good make.

After not getting anywhere I got in touch with my brother in law, Brett, to see if he could find anyone at Michelin head office that could help. Michelin were very helpful and through their distributor in South America scoured the continent to see if they had any tyres of the right size. Unfortunately the result was that there was no such tyres currently in South America. As we had tried to find some other brands of the right size with a similar blank result we were at a bit of a loss.

We could order the tyres from Michelin but they would take 60 to 90 days to deliver so this would not work. One option was to buy the tyres in the UK and ship them to Chile. Brett was up for this and was more than happy to sort out buying the tyres and arranging the shipping of them to Chile. I was a little concerned that getting them into Chile might be a problem but we did not seem to have any choice. Air freighting them also doubled the cost of the tyres as the 3 tyres we needed would weigh about 230kgs.

Since we were about to go to Antarctica we decided to go ahead and ship them ourselves. Brett did a great job getting this all organised while we were in Antarctica and Michelin head office sorted out a delivery address and someone to help us in Punta Arenas.

When we returned from Antarctica everything was in progress and after a few false starts (they kept delivering the wrong tyres in the UK!) the tyres were on there way to Chile.

Since we had had time to kill we had gone to Torres del Paine but now we needed to head back to Punta Arenas to sort out the tyres. First we stopped off in the pleasant little town of Puerto Natales where we again stocked up and drank coffee after coffee while using the Internet.

Then we headed to Punta Arenas. There was a nice free campsite outside of town which was deserted (we were going to get to know this campsite well). We went to see Victor, who was going to help with the tyres, but first they had to arrive in Chile. Fortunately the next day they arrived in Chile, but in Santiago where we were told they would need to clear customs. There was also some mix up with paperwork so we would need to wait.

So what does one do while waiting in Punta Arenas.

We had a walk around town but that did not take long.
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While in Punta Arenas we camped by the sea front. Just to show not all our campsites are beautiful for this one we were parked up next to a burger van.
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Then we did some shopping. We also had a lovely meal out but by Friday we were struggling with things to do so we did some cooking. We managed a great Sunday roast even with Yorkshire Puddings.
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Then the bombshell, late on Friday the delivery company said that although they now had all the right paperwork they could not clear the tyres through customs as they were above a certain value and we would need to arrange for a customs agent to do this. Great timing. Last thing on a Friday. They had had the tyres for two days and they must have known this before. Now there was no chance of moving this forward until after the weekend. If you are starting to feel a sense of frustration you are right but we thought we should focus on the positives and head out down the Magallenes Strait for the weekend to enjoy the scenery.

On the way south we passed a monument to the geological centre of Chile. This seemed strange, we were further south than the Southernmost city and the monument said we were at the centre of Chile. The reason is that Chile lays claim to a slice of Antarctica that goes all the way to the South Pole and the monument is at the half way point between the South Pole and the Northern border. Bizarre and I think stretching the point!
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We had a nice weekend camped up by the Strait. Even though it is summer here though it is not exactly warm. We walked along the beach, did some fishing (no success though) and some more cooking.
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Heading back into Punta Arenas on Monday morning we were lucky enough to see several schools of dolphins close to the shore.
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Although we managed to engage a customs agent it was still going to take a number of days so we needed to find some more things to do. We visited a small museum that had built a replica of the first ship to circumnavigate the globe and that discovered the Magallenes Strait. That evening we headed back to our now familiar campsite.
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Another day passed, and after been given the wrong information by the delivery company, the customs agent finally had all the documents. For us it was a jobs day. Time to shop for food for the week ahead and to get our washing done. Then back to, yes, our usual campsite. This is starting to get repetitive.

The following day saw some progress. The customs agent had everything processed and through customs. We paid the import VAT and customs duty which now made these tyres really expensive. The cost was now more than double what they had originally cost in the UK. Now the tyres were back in the control of the delivery company and the frustration began again. They could not tell us if the tyres would be delivered by plane (a three and a quarter hour flight) or by road (a four to five day drive). We had exhausted things to do now in Punta Arenas so whiled away the afternoon in a cafe on the Internet. We are also watching lots of movies and the girls are doing some extra schooling.

As we went to bed frustrated at our usual campsite, the tracking system still had not updated. We were really hoping they would come by plane so we could get away by the weekend. An interesting aside was that the customs agent said the delivery company we were using were much better than another well known delivery company. It beggers belief.

The next day was yet more frustration. The delivery company could not tell us whether the tyres had left Santiago or not. They thought they had but did not know whether on a plane or by truck. It was apparent the customer service people, a misnomer by the way, had no way of accessing where the good were.

You could tell our days were getting repetitive when Lucy explained to some fellow travellers in the Internet cafe that we do the same things each day. First we go to the Duty Free Zone where Daddy goes to see Victor and we do school. Then we park on the seafront to go scooting and come to the cafe, then we go back to the campsite.

I decided a new approach was called for and trawled the net to find the delivery company depot in Punta Arenas. Having found it I drove out there. The manager there was very helpful. He could find the tyres in his system and ascertained that they had tried to put them on a plane the night before but they were too heavy. Supposedly the limit was 150kg and our package was 230kg. I suggested they split the package into 3 separate tyres which he thought was a good idea and would go and check. However we were too late he said the tyres had already been put on a truck and were on there way to Punta Arenas by road. He expected the truck to arrive on Sunday and we agreed I would go back first thing Monday morning. At least we got some information and an idea of when they would arrive.

The left us with 3 days to kill. Having thoroughly exhausted Punta Arenas we decide we would head out for the next 3 days, so now just needed to find somewhere to visit.

Torres del Paine

Still on our “Antarctica high”, we took the only road east at the bottom of Terra de Fuego to Estancia Halberton. Founded by an ex-Anglican missionary in the 1840’s, it was the first non-indigenous settlement on the island. His descendants still live in the old farm house and most of the land is preserved as a parkland. It was very remote, especially in winter, and very beautiful. We had a tour around the old farm buildings and an impromptu anatomy lesson with the whale skeletons in the museum. That night on the Estancia’s land we camped up overlooking the Beagle Channel, the trucks southernmost camping spot.

Yes, that is a Whale jawbone entrance gate, they get lots of skeletons washed up on the beach.
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We crossed back into Chile the following afternoon, and after a night camped next to the Terra de Fuego ferry, we headed west to Porto Natales. I can imagine Porto Natales being a sleepy fishing port 10 months of the year but for the January and February the population explodes with goretex clad hikers heading for Torres Del Paine National Park. We got a proper taste of the famed Patagonian wind while parking on the sea front and getting stocked up for a week in the park. Even parked up with our back facing the sea, the buffeting gusts shook the truck. It felt like we were back at sea on the Drake Passage.
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Of course being back in Chile we bought some of our favourite “lips” bread.
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Parque Nacional Torres del Paines, is famous for its three iconic towers, surrounding it though is an equally impressive part of the Andes and some gorgeous wild scenery and lakes. Herds of wild Guanaco (from the llama family) and rheas (South America’s flightless birds) roam the short, shrubby slopes. The lakes themselves would warrant a park, even without the peaks. The first night we parked beside Laguna Azul (Blue Lake) which was a stunning aquamarine, we stopped for lunch beside the alkaline Laguna Blanca (White Lake) and each lake we passed was a different jewel like colour.
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Although you can see the famous towers from lots of places in the park, the best view is overlooking the turquoise blue lake at the bottom of the towers. The lake is a 9.5km walk from the nearest road. We’d walked up through the Lenga woods and scree slopes 8 years ago with Steve carrying Alisha on his back and knew it was full of stunning views. Our question was could the girls both manage the 19km walk there and back? They were game and we knew that getting to the top wouldn’t be the problem, it was getting all the way back to the truck. The furthest they had walked before was 14km and that wasn’t up a mountain, we had altitude on our side though as this part of the Andes isn’t very high. Fortified with a big bowl of porridge we set off, as the most popular walk in the park it wasn’t a solitary tramp but the vistas were first class. The girls managed so well and hiked to the top with aplomb. The other hikers couldn’t believe that Lucy (6) had made it all the way to the top in time for lunch. The way back down was equally smooth until the last few kilometres. We’ve found both girls will usually hike for miles if they can talk about a topic of their choice, usually something about a pet they will own when (if???) we move back to England, or they are told a story. Alisha was a star and kept her sister entertained with stories when I ran out of new tales. At kilometre 16, there was a little flagging going on when Steve pulled out his secret weapon: a massive bar of chocolate. Thus fortified, we managed to make our way back to the truck, tired but happy, just 9 hours after we’d left it that morning. We couldn’t believe it when we weren’t able to have the early night we felt we deserved because the little monkeys were still playing around long after they’d gone to bed. If that didn’t tire them out properly, what would? imageimageimageimageimage
We awoke the next morning still in the car park of the hotel at the start of the trail, to an amazing azure blue sky. Completely clear sunny days aren’t very common here, it is more of the “four seasons in a day” sort of place: some rain, wind, burning sun and perhaps some snow before the days end. The day was glorious with such blue, blue skies and hardly any wind. We were almost tempted to go up to the towers again, just for the photos. We made the most of it though, pausing to gawp at the views as we drove through the park. Ready for another leg stretch we took a couple of hours to hike to mirador above another turquoise lake with the Cuernos del Paines mountain range behind. We could hear the glaciers high up, nestled between the peaks groaning and cracking. We saw several condors nearby circling, on the look out for dinner. imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage
That night, tipped off by some other overlanders we met, we parked up at the top of Lago Toros. The view was stupendous, it was hard to get the more mundane tasks, like cooking tea and getting the girls to bed, done because my eyes were constantly drawn to the windows. At the moment, because of the changeable weather, the day usually ends with us all huddled inside reading or whatever, while the girls fail to go to sleep. However for once the day stayed as it had started, clear and wind free, so I could sit outside and enjoy the perfectly reflected mountains in the lake in front till it was time to go to bed. imageimage
The morning brought the more normal grey clouds, drizzle and a lot of wind. Not put off we embarked on a very windy walk to view Glacier Grey behind Largo Grey was, well as you’d expect rather grey. Even the bright blue icebergs looked grey but it was fun battling the ridiculously strong winds along the way. Is it possible to turn a small child into a kite? Quite possibly.
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That evening the clouds blew away and the gorgeous evening sun came out, Steve and I took turns to brave the hurricane to walk back down to the lake and enjoy the fantastic views. That night, parked in the trailhead car park, the truck rocked and rolled all night in the gale force winds.
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For our last walk in the park we decided to take a 12km jaunt up an escarpment and then through some gently sloping hills. It was a good leg stretch but didn’t give us the jaw dropping views we’ve been so spoiled with this week. We left park after a great week really impressed with how far and how well both girls hiked.
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Antactica Reflections

Lucy

I love penguins, especially the gentoos, the chin straps and the adelies, the ones we saw in Antarctica. The chinstraps are my most favourite because I like their straps on the chin. I loved seeing them toboggan down the snowy hills. We saw a gentoo chick feeding from its mother, it managed to eat half but then a snowy sheathbills came in and stole the mother’s special sick up for the chick.

We saw loads of humpback whales. My friends had a humpback right right under their canoe, it was filter feeding underneath them.

We learnt to hulu-hoop in Antarctica. On the last day we were hulu-hopping on the deck with lots and lots of albatrosses and giant patrols flying past really close. We thought they might fly through the hoops too.

We camped on the ice, we had to keep Antarctica really clean so we had to take our toilet back to the ship. So we had to wee in a bucket called “Mr Yum Yum”. We didn’t have a tent just a sleeping bag and outside bag.

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Alisha

We went to Antarctica. We spent two days on the Drake Passage before catching sight of Antarctica through the mist. Lucy spotted it first during dinner. The next day we went out to the front of the ship and took photos of Antarctica. That morning we went for our first excursion to Pleneau Island, where we saw many gentoo penguins. We made several more excursions and cruises on the zodiacs. We made 2 continental landings, on both continental landings we climbed up to see how high the penguins nested, it was a long way up! We got down by sliding and had a snow ball fight but it was far away from the penguins.

There were two other kids on the ship, Brianna and William, we played with them almost every day.

On the 1st February we slept on the ice, with no tent, just in a hole in the snow. I shared a hole with the other children, we had a great night.

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This is a video the girls made of their trip

Gilly

This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far, it would be belittling our truck travel to say it was “the” highlight but it is up there with best.

I loved the talks by the onboard experts and Scientists, it helped me understand more about what we were seeing. They covered everything from the fauna, history, politics, photography, climate change and even a comparison about the differences between Antarctica and the Arctic. Something I hadn’t fully understood, apart from being on opposite sides of the globe. As the experts were also onshore and drove the zodiacs for cruising around on the water it gave us the chance to ask them questions about what we were seeing as well.

When we got to the continent the views were just stupendous, we didn’t know quite where to look at times. This was especially true with the humpbacked whales, we’d already been treated to lots of whales on several of the landings, zodiac cruises and from the ship. In Wilimena Bay we had been told to expect more whales but even the guides were amazed at the actual numbers. There were pods surfacing wherever we looked, it took my breath away.

I was extremely proud of how the girls behaved. They really loved both Antarctica and the experience of being on the voyage. They were really engaged with the trip: asking intelligent questions, going up onto the bridge and even asking to sit without us at meals so they could “meet new people”. I couldn’t believe it when they asked to take the microphone during the last dinner and thanked all the staff personally by name and presented them all with awards. They had prepared this totally independently without any adult knowing what they were doing. They didn’t miss anyone out and there were several misty eyes, even John who has a couple of Polar medals and an OBE looked sweetly impressed. This was in front of over 100 adults, I was so amazed at both their confidence and thoughtfulness.

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Steve

We have been back from our epic trip to Antarctica for a few days now but are still basking in that warm glow of having had a really special time. The raw beauty of the stark wilderness and the wonderful wildlife will stay with us forever. The trip was made even more special by the One Ocean Expedition crew and staff on board. They had boundless energy and ran a great operation as well as sharing their knowledge and passion for the place. They were also fantastic with the kids.

I could not have been more proud of Alisha and Lucy. It was great that there was another family on board so they had other children to play with but they behaved fantastically, were genuinely interested and knowledgeable in what we were doing and I think brought a different dimension to everyone’s trip. The way they interacted with the other passengers and crew was very mature and gave everyone an insight to seeing Antarctica through a child’s eyes.

We only got to touch the beauty of Antarctica and each day after our landings we returned to the warmth, comfort and safety of the ship. Even when we camped out on the ice, a memorable night, the ship was not that far away. However two of the crew had been dropped off on the previous voyage and had spent 14 days kayaking around the Antarctic peninsular unsupported. During our time on the trip we welcomed them back on board at the end of what must have been an amazing experience. They shared with us their photos and experiences and we were in awe of what they had achieved. It must have been an amazing and at times slightly scary experience but a wonderful one and shows that there are special experiences out there if you go out and find them and put the effort into making them happen.

For us I felt such a privilege to have just touched the seventh continent. A trip of a lifetime? Perhaps, but there are others out there and who knows we may go back one day.

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