8 – 17 December

We checked in to Los Cerros Hotel which is located in the centre of El Chalten on a small hill overlooking the village, surrounded by mountains.  The huge windows of the bedrooms have great views, the hotel is beautifully decorated, very peaceful with no TVs or telephones, great, helpful multi-lingual staff and excellent food – a fantastic place to rest up after a few hard days of gravel roads.


Los Cerros                                          Up on a hill above town............           The evening view from our bedroom window!!!

El Chalten is on satellite internet – which believe me is as bad, if not worse, than dial-up.  I spent hours both at the hotel and at the internet café trying to upload pictures and finally gave up after four hours of sitting in front of the computer, when the service went down for about the sixth time – hence the lack of pictures on the first update.  Sorry you had to wait guys. 

The 8th is the day for putting up Christmas decorations in Argentina and as the staff decorated the hotel, we still felt a million miles away from Christmas.  The staff at the hotel were very, very, interested in our journey and on our final day at Los Cerros they surprised us with a very thoughtful Christmas gift. A book called “Spark the Dream”, written by an Argentinian couple who had driven from Argentina to Alaska in a 1928 Graham-Paige car – they took so long that they had a baby on the way!!!  We will treasure it always and are looking forward to reading their adventures – saving it for the boat journey home!  Thanks to you all at Los Cerros – it was a pleasure to stay will you and meet you all!!

At breakfast we both agreed that breakfast will never be the same again without the fantastic views from the dining room.  We have been so lucky here with the weather – no wind and sunshine and blue skies every day.  As we left some of our friends from the hotel came out to say goodbye.  Sorry to leave this restful place, we headed back to Ruta 40 for El Calafate and the Perito Merino Glacier.


Like the Alpacas......................           Everything has to be perfectly loaded....    Saying goodbye to our friends at Los Cerros....

As usual, in Patagonia, we were treated to spectacular scenery along the way, along the shores of Lago Argentino and crossed the Rio Santa Cruz which runs right across to the Atlantic Coast – which means we will certainly cross it again.

El Calafate is certainly a more “touristy” place – lots of souvenir shops, restaurants and bars – a bit like being in a ski resort in the Summer.  The streets are decorated for Christmas, sparkling in the sunshine and as we sat outside that evening, having a couple of drinks and listening to live music we felt far far away from the cold December weather in England – just heard from Linda that it took her an hour to drive 12 miles on sheet ice – think we prefer the gravel.


Around every corner there is another beautiful horizon.....................                And Wind....................


He's not missing the snow & ice.......     Christmas decorations in the sun.....      Artesan market in Calafate......

We decided not to take a guided tour to the glacier but drove there ourselves.  We were glad we had done so when, at breakfast, we were surrounded by a large group all wearing their name tags and badges- can’t imagine anything worse. 

The drive was on tarmac so we had a softer ride and certainly softer scenery  - mostly steppe.  The town of El Calafate, whose sole tourism attraction is the Perito Merino Glacier, is ever expanding with hotels, apartments and cabanas extending out towards the glacier but inside of the National Park los Glaciares there is only one hotel, which is the sister hotel of Los Cerros in El Chalten.  Every room has a view of the glacier but we had decided we would prefer to stay in town.

We caught glimpses of the glacier as the winding road up there twisted and turned along the shore.  However, it was nothing to compare to the fantastic views we had from the main view point – a series of walkways and platforms which allows visitors to see the glacier in safety, close up from many different angles.  This is one of the most accessible ice fields in the world – hence loads of visitors – something else we have not been used to for a while!  Still advancing, the sight and sounds made by this massive, colourful glacier as it calves and drops huge chunks of ice into the water was worth having to share it with lots of other people!


A glimpse in the distance..............                                                 Up close...............................


Great way to see it....................................................                No boat for us today..................

The weather here is strange – we keep looking out of the window and seeing the strong winds blowing, expecting to have to wrap up warm when we go out but the wind is very warm, despite its strength.  Our hotel in El Calafate is called Kosten Aike which when translated into the original Telheuche language apparently meands Windy Place.

Here we met a lovely couple from Wales, who have done lots of travelling around the world and are back in South America for their fourth trip.  Great fun – travelling independently in a hire car it was good to meet them and talk about the places we have all visited.  They say they will raise a glass to us at Christmas – as I am sure many of you will (well I hope so anyway).

JC is off having the Toyota serviced for the last but one time before we leave.  We can hardly believe that we have been travelling for almost 8 months and in 8 weeks time we will be boarding our ship to return to the UK. Still though lots to see and do before then.  Thanks George for reminding us about the Dakar rally – we should be in Buenos Aires when it ends and are checking out the route to see where we could catch up with them maybe.  Leaving today to drive back into Chile and to Torres del Paines National Park for a few days.  

Why do things always go wrong on a Saturday, when there is no one about to sort things out?  Leaving Calafate, we stopped at the last ATM in town to get some cash.  As usual we queued for about 20 minutes and the person in front of us jokingly said “Hope there’s money left in there for you!”.  Worse than that, my card got stuck in the slot!  JC stood guard whilst I went back to the Toyota to get some tweezers from the car.  By this time the queue outside had built up again and we were joined in the small cabin by a German couple, an American guy and the lady who was cleaning the place.  Despite all efforts the card eventually fell inside of the machine and this time the German couple stood guard whilst we went off to phone the emergency number for help.  In the meantime the police had arrived wondering what was going in.  As is usual all over the world, I got a call centre – only Spanish speaking and again, as usual, hung on whilst they played me what they believe to be soothing music!!! In the end, unable to get through and sick of the music I called my own bank and put a stop on the card.  We could have waited until Monday and got the machine unlocked and the card back but to be honest I wondered if it was just an elaborate scam and someone could have got their hands on my money!  So better safe than sorry – just means that JC will have to use his card more often. 

Out of Calafate, the road climbed giving great views back down the valley and then onto a large flat plateau like Central Spain but much much windier and then we were back onto our old friend the gravelly Ruta 40.  Through miles and miles of steppe – this is definitely sheep country and you can see how cold it gets by their very thick coats. 


The view back down the valley......       The Rhea family out for a run..........     Miles and miles of steppe..............       Great for these woolly backs......

Across the border again – we are jumping in and out of Argentina and Chile to make sure we see all of the highlights – today it only took us 30 minutes and we dropped down into Cerro Castillo across a vast open pass.  As we approached the National Park we could see the famous Torres with just their tips covered in cloud.  We paid our entry fee and by the time we paid our camping fee that night – we were out of cash completely after our fiasco with the ATM machine!!

To get to our camp site for the night we had to cross a very narrow bridge with a sign that read “PASSENGERS TO CROSS ON FOOT – MAXIMUM WEIGHT 1,500 KGS” – we are 3,600kgs and even if I got out we would never be 1,500.  So we asked the Park Warden for advice and he gave us the thumbs up.  Heading back to the bridge and winding our mirrors in we had to wait as a herd of cattle and a gaucho made their way across.  Breathing in- we made it with just a couple of inches to spare and although she swayed a little the bridge held out – it was built by an English Engineer – good stuff as usual!!


The pass into Cerro Castillo.....................................................                     Our first sight of the Torres


We waited for the cattle...............       breathed in..................................      and trusted a good driver and British engineering.....

In the park with no barking dogs and no traffic, just a few horses snuffling around in the dark we slept until 0930 am the next morning – unbelievable.  Then, retrieving some dollars from our stash – hidden so well in the Toyota you almost have to take the gear box out to get at it – we went off in search of somewhere we could exchange money – didn’t take too long at the nearest hotel and we were solvent again.  To celebrate, we stopped by a lake at the foot of the Torres and finally ate the kippers and Heinz baked beans donated by Dave in Calgary.  We are eating into our food supplies now but still have the rice that Paul bought in Guatemala when we thought that the rally would be spending the night at the side of the road, after a land slide!

We spent the day doing a bit of walking but mostly driving through the park.  South America is really amazing, just when you thought you have seen it all – up comes more beauty.  Its very different here from the smooth lines of most of Patagonia with the rugged, twisting towers stretching high into the clouds and glaciers seeming to hang off every ledge.  Despite the dark clouds and wind the temperature was still around 22C.


and just when you thought you had seen it all...........................................................................................................

We stopped to climb up to a waterfall which was rushing down into Lake Pehoe – lots of negative ions to keep us awake and recharge our batteries after our walk.  There were other travelers in Toyotas and mobile homes, here where the roads are a little bit wider, - all of whom were Germans.  Then to cap it all a “Rolling Hotel”  pulled into our campsite full of Germans that night. A six wheeler rigid with a coach body and a two axle draw bar trailer with bunks to sleep in.  Surprisingly, most of the passengers were our age or older and they all mucked in together putting out benches, tables, getting water and generally preparing for dinner.  Hope they don’t sing songs around the campfire all night.  What’s happened to the Brits’ sense of adventure – apart from John and Lesley and Dave and Kelly we haven’t seen any other British long distance travelers. 


Well worth the walk up here................................................................................................                               Older brother????????????????


We were beginning to feel outnumbered........................................................especially when the German Rolling Hotel pulled in.................

With the wind whipping up that night JC secured the tent with a strap before we went up to bed – we are not sure if Eezi – Awn have tested their equipment in Patagonian wind speeds!  The rain came down in buckets and the wind changed direction every few minutes.  The tent creaked and groaned but we were snug, warm and dry inside.  The storm continued through the night and the next morning there was a light dusting of fresh snow on the very top of the Torres. 

All of our cold and wet weather outer wear is stowed in a net over the back seat of the Toyota but when we went to get our waterproof trousers out – they were not there!  There is so much stuffed into the net and as we hadn’t needed them until now, we hadn’t noticed they were missing.  We have racked our brains and tried to think where they could have gone – along with JC’s waistcoat and can only assume that someone at one of the border checks has managed to slip them away whilst we were distracted with customs inspections etc.  Just goes to prove that you really do have to have eyes in the back of your head.   Its not a big deal – we can live without them or replace them here in the land where out door shops abound but its not a good feeling to think that someone has “nicked em”.

Once we had everything stowed we left for Lake Grey and followed the trail to the glacier lookout before taking a boat trip to the face of the Grey Glacier.  The wind was whipping across the lake and the small tug like vessel anchored off shore whilst we walked onto a floating jetty and took a zodiac boat to meet it.  The jetty was bouncing around on the choppy water and JC compared it to riding on a bail sledge – sure all of you old farmers will know how that feels!                   

I've walked all this way now where is the boat?????????????????????????              The "bail sledge", zodiac and "tug".....

The first part of the trip was like a roller coaster ride as the small ship bounced its way over the lake in the strong winds.  Pieces of glacier that had calved off glistened bright blue on the water and then we got into the inner canal at the face of the glacier.  The water was still despite the strong winds, the sun shone and the fantastic azure towers and fissures of the glazier sparkled and stretched before us like a snowqueen’s palace in a fairy tale.  Despite the cold there were walkers camped on the shore alongside the glacier – don’t think I would fancy that.  The crew handed out whiskies and pisco sours chilled with glacial ice.  Strangely thought, they missed JC out completely.  How could they possibly not notice this large, jovial Yorkshireman in his bright red anorak!!! 


No fridge required  .........................     at this campsite.....................               Enjoying the trip..............


Wonderful colours of blue.......................................................................................


Ever changing in the light.........             Finally, one of us together..........           How can they have missed him when handing out drinks?????

Feeling the cold we went inside of the boat for our journey back to the shore.  At the end of the trail back to the car park there was a narrow suspension bridge over the river – maximum 6 people.  The wind was howling down the river and the bridge was swinging left and right – scarey stuff for someone like me who has a balance problem on solid ground but we made it across and back to our campsite at Lake Pehoe where we had an excellent supper in the small restaurant chatting to other happy travelers, especially a young German couple in a Landcruiser whose paths we had crossed many times but never met. 

The Patagonian winds, once more lived up to their name – the roof tent felt like it was going to fly away.  It was like sleeping on a sailing boat in stormy seas with the vehicle swaying in the wind, the sheets flapping and the frame creaking and groaning like the rigging – we didn’t get a lot of sleep.  Now we know why all of these German Landcruisers have got extendable roofs instead of roof tents.

We packed the tent away quickly between showers and headed out to leave Torres Del Paines.  Three nights stay here has given us a great chance to appreciate the very stark beauty of this wonderful place.

 Today, it was our turn to be of help to someone else.  In the distance coming towards us we could see two vehicles.  As they rounded a bend coming down the hill, the second car lost control on the gravel and careered off the road, ending  up on its side in a ditch.  We quickly flashed and waved the first vehicle down – they had been unaware of what had gone on behind them and turned out to be related to the people in the crashed car.  We all hurried to the aid of the passengers, fortunately none of them were seriously hurt and were able to climb out once JC and the others managed to get the doors open – a little shakey but otherwise good.  The car, however, was still in the ditch, we winched it out but the engine had ceased up so it wasn’t going anywhere.  After making sure that no one needed any further help from us we drove off as they were calling for help to recover the vehicle.  We left feeling happy that we had been there and able to help but even happier that no one had been injured.  We must have been there about an hour and a half and in that time only one other vehicle had come past.  Its quite a sobering thought that an accident could happen and it could be hours before anyone else turned up on these long lonely roads.


With the little car back the right way up.....  we were on our way to Puerto Natales.

This afternoon we made it into Puerto Natales where we will have a break from the wind and stay in a hotel for a couple of days doing our usual catch up. We have found a small place which is spotlessly clean - a bit like "Mrs Scrubbitts" in Bridlington - CMC will know what we mean!

Thanks for all of your messages.  Whilst you are all counting down to Christmas – we are counting down to our final goal of Ushuaia – only one week to go!