1 – 7 December

Well what a week we have had this week – it has to have been the drive of our lives and I hope the journal and the photographs do it justice – I’ll leave that to you all to decide!!!

Our new auxillary battery is not holding charge either!  We are now convinced that the guy who changed the bulbs in the headlights has pulled a wire somewhere but we can’t find it.  Therefore we have no facility to charge our cameras, phones, laptop etc and more importantly we have no fridge – so JCs main job everyday is to find someone who sells cold beers and if he is lucky – ice which we use in the cold box.  Bet the rally crowd would really have a laugh at us now, after all of the time we sang the praises of our fridge in the past!

The first travelers we met this week were two Swedish bikers who have done the same trip and are now on their way back to Buenos Aires to ship the bikes home.  Then later, at the same hotel, two guys walked up to me in the lobby and one said ” Hi, you must be Denise – I am a friend of Neil and Olivia Donnan” – Neil and Olivia were on the rally Panama to Alaska with us – here we go again – small world.  Ricardo and Jim had been with the old cars we had seen last week and had stayed on after that rally to do a recce for a Classic Jaguar Rally next year in Patagonia.  They had seen our vehicle in the car park with a rally sticker on it and our names of course and as we chatted we found that we had many friends in common, including Gerri and Corry from Holland.  But what was even more surprising was that back in the 70s Jim had done a trip to Nigeria with three trucks, as an advisor, for Ken Wake of Wake Brothers Transport in Hull.  Experienced in driving in the Sahara, Ken had asked Jim for help and advice.  It seemed that Ken didn’t take much of Jim’s advice.  JC says that all of you old hauliers in Hull will remember that he didn’t usually take advice from anybody!!  We had a great evening chatting about all of our travels over the years and about our mutual friends.

The following morning we drove into the Nation Park Los Alerces.  Fantastic place with crystal clear lakes and snow topped mountains.  Here the Alerce or Patagonian Cyprese tree is protected.  There are some in the park that are over 4000 years old.  The road through the park, however, was gravel – the first of plenty of it this week.  We had our second puncture of the trip and JC had to unpack the highlift jack for the first time in over two years. 


The entrance to the park......                Our Swedish biker friend............         JC and the beautiful trees......             A tiny church inside of the park...


Around the lake.........................................................................................  The b............ gravel.............           It's all Waynes fault!!!!!!!!!!

Once that was sorted we headed for Camping Bahia Rosales right on the side of Lago Futuaufquen.

After a quiet night in the park we took and steady drive back into Trevelin to get the puncture mended and then back to Esquel, planning to return to Ruta 40 and head South.  As JC waited to wash off the vehicle (some things never change), he met Jeremy Wood, a New Zealander living in Patagonia, very knowledgeable about the area and recently involved in making a film for the BBC.  Jeremy gave us loads of tips and suggested that rather than taking Ruta 40 we cross the border again into Chile at Futaleufu and take the Ruta 7 for a prettier ride promising us, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, national parks and volcanoes.  He also recommended Patagonia Lodge run by Tom Murphy near Trevelin for our accommodation that night.  Having met so many Brits in the past few days, we wrongly expected Tom to be Irish!!  He is from Ohio and made us very welcome in his beautiful home which he runs as a fishing lodge.  He too recommended the same route as Jeremy and gave us lots more information about things to see and places to stay en route as well as showing us photographs of the volcano Chaiten which erupted earlier this year and is in the same area.  Sitting in his garden watching the sunset over the mountains and planning the next stage of our trip, we thought “it doesn’t get much better than this”.


Patagonia Lodge..............                                                      It doesn't get much better than this.......

We left Tom’s place at just after 9am.  We heard today from CMC that our local paper have published another article on our trip, most of which we have written!  The annoying thing is that we sent them lots of great photos and they have used the same one that they always do, taken in our local village and it’s terrible. Seems like we wasted our time sifting through thousands of photos to get the best shots for the folks back home!!

The road to the border was gravel – so we took it easy not wanting anymore punctures.  We crossed the Rio Grande and then shortly afterwards came to the small Argentine border where the paperwork took just ten minutes.  On the Chilean side it was just as small and the friendly officers all came out to have a look at the Toyota – and pulled our legs about “Alaska to Argentina 2008” once again.  We need to find a Chilean sticker somewhere!!


Over the river..........................          Out of Argentina.............      and back into Chile...................

The volcanic dust from the Chaiten eruption is still all over the countryside and in the air, even the river water colour changed from crystal blue to sludgy grey.  The spectacular scenery, took our minds off the gravel – well mine at least JC had to concentrate on the road, all of the way. There has obviously been a large area of forest fire here in the past with lots of fallen trees.

We had planned to take the road to Chaiten to see the volcano but the road surface got worse and worse – we suspect it had been allowed to get so bad to stop people like us just going up to see what it was like up there.  The inhabitants of the village were evacuated in May this year and it will be some time before they are allowed back in.  One chap we met said that the police had blocked off the road further up anyway. 


The volcanic dust changes colour of river..    A wave from a farmer..........         Dead trees on the mountainside......     They put them to good use......

From Junta, after finding beers and ice, we continued South on Ruta 7 and ran into roadworks after roadworks.  They are widening this road, which in places is just like a farm track, this meant, blasting, piles of sand and gravel, bulldozer, diggers and graders all the way so our progress became even slower.  Guess they must be getting it all ready for Rick and the next Global Rally in 2011!!  As we picked our way through the dust and rubble, in the distance coming towards us we spotted a couple of cyclists – we thought we were having a hard time of it!!  Kelly and Dave from Poole in Dorset just started their ride North in November and are going all the way to Prudhoe Bay (where else).  They estimate that it will take them two years and have sold everything they have and rented out their flat.  What a challenge – great couple – we will always remember them when we moan about the road conditions and will follow their journey on www.cylingnomads.com with interest.  Good Luck Guys!!!!!


Mile after mile of road works - which way to go????.........................................................................                      Good Luck Kelly and Dave........

Finding somewhere to stop was the usual fun – at Puyuhapi the “ campsites” were in the resident’s back gardens – not enough room for our truck.  At the tourist info office we found a site about 15 kms south and although it was later than we usually stop, the sun was still high in the sky and we continued on the gravel.  We found the site but when I went to find out about paying, there were a group of men staying in one house, whilst they were building a new house, who only spoke Spanish.  I thought one was taking the mick out of us being English when he said, in Spanish, “ The Queen is not at home”  but then I realized he was simply telling me that the lady who runs the place was not there!!! They didn’t know what it would cost but they didn’t seem to mind if we camped, the bathrooms were clean, the lakeside setting was great and the men didn’t look like escaped convicts so we started to set up  camp.  As we were getting settled, three young Israeli guys turned up and went through the same pantomime with the builders, so we all decided to take our chance – if someone came before we left to collect the money we would pay but if not we would all have a free night’s camping!  The boys invited us to share their dinner, but we already finished eating by the time they had got themselves sorted but a nice thought.  We all left together the next morning and no one turned up to collect our fees.  We even didn’t clean the windscreen properly so that we could get away early – is that mean or what!!


Some for our faming friends.........................................................................................


She waits whilst the tent goes up........................................

Both Kelly and Dave and our Israeli friends had said that the views ahead of us were amazing and we thought we had seen the best on the stretch we had already done.  We set off again on the gravel along the shore of a beautiful fjord which took our minds of the constant road works and gravel.  En route today we met some French people in Toyotas heading North – wonder where they are going??? Apart from the cyclists these vehicles were just about the only ones we met which were not road workers.

Later that day the road finally changed for the better and once on the concrete, JC threw a wobbler – he was so pleased he got out and kissed the road – the Toyota looked pleased too – didn’t last long though only about 20 kms, then back to gravel and eventually the velvet ribbon appeared again as we dropped down amongst lush Alpine meadows with thousands of lupins, some which were so high the cattle grazing amongst them were almost out of sight.


Waterfalls..................        rivers....................                              & finally tarmac!!!!!!!


Spot the cows amongst the fields full of lupins........................................             Another waterfall...

We skirted Coyahaique and camped in another beautiful National Park.  The sign outside this one said 800 pesos for Chileans and 1000 pesos for foreigners!  Bit cheeky eh.  There was no one about again but the warden turned up around an hour later to collect the money.  JC is his usual fashion embarrassed everybody, when the warden didn’t have a receipt book and he commented “Don’t worry have a beer on me!!”  Great night sleep, didn’t wake up until 0830 the next day – not like us at all!  In the tranquility of the National Parks we seem to be sleeping longer and longer!

Our friendly warden had recommended that we follow the road to Chile Chico, and the border back into Argentina, rather than taking a two hour ferry.  Its 300 kms of gravel but he said if we had the time, we must do it as the scenery is wonderful.

To help us on the way we stopped at the next village for supplies, whilst we waited for fresh bread from the oven two men on horseback came in to do their shopping!  No parking problems, no credit cards here! Not having breakfast we stopped at the Chilean version of a “greasy spoon” and were sat in the sunshine enjoying it when three bikers and their support team turned up – they too are heading for Ushuai and hope to be there by 17th December – just ahead of us. 


The park warden.................               No parking problems here!                    Great place for breakfast....

Road conditions were changeable – some parts where they were regrading it was like driving on velvet then we would be back in thick gravel – not nice.  Glad I’m not on any type of bike in that stuff.  The scenery once again was breathtaking – the warden was absolutely right.  I think this part of Chilean Patagonia has had the most beautiful and diverse scenery that we have seen.  Today there have been high mountain ranges topped with snow and glaciers, wide rivers and a dead forest – strange looking thing now covered by the river water.  Around Lake Tranquilo we saw the bluest water we have ever seen with bright yellow lupins along the shore – around every corner it has been a “picture perfect moment”.  We are grateful to Jeremy, Tom and our warden friend for sending us this way.


Coxy having fun in the gravel..........                  How wonderful is all of this??????????


and there´s more.........................................................

The gravel went on and on and on and at some parts the road was very narrow with steep drops down to the lake and rocky hairpin bends.  JC said we wouldn’t be able to drive this road in the UK – there would be too many cones and barriers to get through. 



The road - as Gerri would say - A nice Sunday drive...........................

We made it to Chile Chico in one very very long day and found a great camping place again in the grounds of a small guesthouse, where we paid and camped beneath the plum and apple trees just starting to fruit – in December???

One of the other guests had obviously seen us along the road.  A German family in a hired 4 x 4.  The driver, certainly looked a bit stressed out from the road. 

If you ever get the chance to drive Ruta 7 in Chile, put your false teeth in your pocket, tighten up your sports bra and jock strap, cover your hair to keep out the dust, do it in a Toyota, charge up your cameras and prepare to see some of the most wonderful scenery in the world.

We crossed back into Argentina – no big delays for us but our German friends were held up because of a problem with the paperwork for their hire car and the bikers we met yesterday morning were also waiting in the queue behind them.  As usual, the people were friendly at both borders, particularly Carlos or “Charlie” who welcomed “ Juan Frederico Cox” to Argentina!

More gravel on Ruta 40, it’s living up to its reputation, bone shaking, teeth chattering rough ride, but the three of us seem to be just accepting this now.  Gravel leads to the best places in these countries.  Mostly desert today – didn’t see hardly any other vehicles and when we did we all waved madly at each other as Ruta 40 driver’s do.  Along the way, we saw Vicuna – wild Alpaca and Rhea – an ostrich like bird. You have to keep any eye on them, not knowing which way they are going to run when they see the vehicle.  At one point today we covered 170kms in a completely straight line, no turns, no curves, no roundabouts just desert!


Straight on for 170 kms....                   Vicuna - taking a risk..................       You can just see the Rhea.....

At 7.30pm after 430kms of gravel we came upon Estancia La Siberia – a small farm with rooms, camping and food.  The wind was blowing across like it does in Siberia but at least here it was warm.  However, we thought we would have a job putting the tent up, particularly as the farm was on a hill top so took the easier option and booked for a room.  A simple place but clean very warm, good food and loads of hot water – an essential after four days of camping and dusty roads.  Their guestbook read like the league of nations with weary travelers from all over the world having made good use of this oasis in the desert.


Thicker and thicker gravel...............     Estancia La Siberia..............................................

Finally the next day, we were off gravel and onto tarmac – wonderful.  As we turned off Ruta 40 onto Ruta 23 the majestic Andes came into view again and we were very lucky to have a splendid view of the Fitzroy Range and the famous towering granite spires of Mount Fitzroy against a clear blue sky.  Apparently visitors and mountaineers alike come here and sometimes wait for days to see the mountain let alone climb it so we count ourselves as very very lucky indeed – must be our reward for all of the gravel.



How lucky are we?????????????????????????

We are spending a few days here at El Chaiten at the foot of the mountain just chilling out, and catching up on the website and washing!!!

A few roadside photos just to add to the scenery gallery:


                                                                Just for the boys at Coxy´s and Dornack!!!!!


It was good to read our message board last week with messages from all over the world.  Faye in Mexico and Miami, Carole in Dubai, Lisa in Virginia, Roger in Yorkshire and the Carberry Gang in Suffolk its great to know that so many people are still following our journey.

Will keep you updated as and when we can.  Take care – don’t get stressed out with your Christmas Shopping – we aren’t.