We left the lovely National Park at Monte Leon knowing we had some long driving ahead of us. But first we had to do our weekly jobs so we stopped in the town of Rio Gallegos. Fortunately they could process our washing in a few hours so we could leave later that afternoon. With time on our hands we decided to visit the Museo Malvinas Argentinas which is a small museum setting out the war over the Falklands from the Argentinian side. The museum was mainly a collection of lots of models of planes, boats etc and although our Spanish is limited it did not seem overly biased. It did though focus more on the Argentine capture of the Falklands rather than their subsequent recapture by the British.
As we travel south there are more and more references to the “Malvinas Islands” and there are signs everywhere proclaiming that they are Argentinian. Fellow non British travellers have asked us if we have any problems because we are British. The answer so far has been absolutely not. The people are really friendly towards us and that has included police and border guards. They never mention the “Malvinas” and when they find out we are from England are just generally impressed and interested in our journey or want to talk football.
Leaving Rio Gallegos we camped for the night at Laguna Azul, a lake formed in the extinct crater of a small volcano. The advantage of this was it was very close to our first border crossing for the next day.
To travel to Argentine Tierra Del Fuego you first have to cross an area of Chile as well as the Magellan Straits. So this day was going to be quite a drive as we would need to cross two borders and get a ferry all in the one day as well as drive about 400km. The half that was in Argentina was on good roads but the half that was in Chile was mainly on gravel. The first border crossing went smoothly although it was pretty busy. Still it only took an hour and was well organised. Those Central American border crossings now seem like a distant memory.
We arrived at the ferry point to see the ferry just leaving. We had read the ferry was every 2 hours so thought we would be in for a bit of a wait but no there was another ferry pulling in just behind it. It was a quick and smooth 30 minute crossing and with that we were on Tierra del Fuego. Setting out across Chile it was pretty flat with short grass everywhere. In the sunlight the grass had a reddish hue making it very colourful.
Arriving at the next border post there was again a queue but it went pretty fast and we were through. Fortunately we picked up internet here as we were trying to sort out payment for our trip to Antartica which was proving difficult.
We passed Rio Grande and headed south in Tierra del Fuego eventually coming to the small village of Tolhuin and Lago Fagnano where we camped on the side of the lake. With the wind there were small waves crashing on the side of the lake so it felt like you were at the sea. Also you can tell we are now really far south as it was not getting dark until nearly midnight. It had been a long but successful day and we were in striking distance of Ushuaia.
The short drive to Ushuaia the next morning turned out to be unexpectedly spectacular. The sun was shining and the road climbed up to Paso Garibaldi past shimmering lakes. This is the end of the Andes and whilst not that high there was still snow on the mountain tops. We then descended into the valley. After 18 months and 69,000kms we had made it to “El Fin del Mundo”, the end of the world. Well not exactly, but to Ushuaia the Southern most city in the world.
After some celebratory photos we headed into town. We had no time to celebrate if we wanted to head even further south so made a bee line to the travel agency. We were relieved to find that our payments had gone through and everything was settled. We were told to go out and enjoy the weather as it was warm and sunny which was very unusual in Ushuaia and return the next day to pick up all our documents. We did have a nice walk along the sea front but we also needed to go shopping for some clothes for the kids. However this was easier than we thought. First the town was full of outdoor clothing shops and secondly we were told the likely temperature in Antartica would be between minus 5 and plus 5 degrees. Having lived through many Moscow and Prague winters this was positively balmy.
We were also hoping to meet up with one of my former partners from Moscow, Nick Brasington who was in Ushuaia for the day before boarding his cruise to Antartica. Unfortunately he was only there for a few hours and could not escape his tour bus so we did not get to see him. He did though see our truck through his binoculars from his ship!
Having done most of the shopping we celebrated the milestone in our journey with dinner out. The treat was Patagonian lamb slow roasted on the coals.
The next day we wrapped up our shopping but still had 4 days until our boat to Antartica left. Fortunately just next to Ushuaia is the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. We were still enjoying the unusual spectacular weather when we headed into the park. We went for a walk in the forests of Lenga trees with moss stuck to their branches. The rivers were full of beaver dams. The Beavers had been introduced from Canada early in the 20 th century and were now regarded as a nuisance. At the end of the trail we had stunning views down the Bahia Lapataia.
This was also the end of RN3 which we had been driving for the last couple of weeks. This road comes all the way down the Eastern side of Argentina from Buenos Aires.
The park has a number of free camping spots and we parked up at one by the side of a lovely small river. It was busy when we arrived but most people in the park were day trippers and as the sun started to drop behind the mountain the temperature started to drop and they all left leaving for a quiet and peaceful night.
The next morning the weather had changed to more normal Tierra del Fuego weather. The temperature had dropped to 10 degrees, the wind had got up and there were showers around. Undeterred we wrapped ourselves up in our coats and headed out for some lovely walks. Mind you unlike the day before it was not warm enough to sit outside the truck between walks. Instead we tucked ourselves up inside the truck and enjoyed a good movie. It was nice to have some time to relax after all the driving we had been doing recently. Later in the afternoon it did brighten up and we were able to cook a big leg of lamb on the fire.
It was nice and clear the next morning but still cool. We moved onto another campsite in the park and decided to do a long hike along the coastline. The trail wound round sheltered bays which were covered in mussels, limpets and other shellfish and then in and out of the Lenga forest. All along the way there were lovely views across the bay to the snowcapped mountains in Chile.
With a day to kill before our ship sailed we needed to find a campsite where we could leave the truck for 10 days as well as get some jobs done. We found a pleasant campsite just outside Ushuaia which suited the bill and spent the afternoon preparing for our trip.
Next stop Antartica!