“The crows assert that a single crow could destroy the heavens. This is certainly true, but it proves nothing against the heavens, because heaven means precisely: the impossibility of crows.” — F. Kafka
Southern Patagonia is not characterized by significant urban settlements or human achievements. I don’t mean to say that there is a lack of either one of those things. On the contrary, the fact that there are settlements here is proof of great human achievement. But none of those hubs could claim to steer the character of this blank landscape. It is this blankness that characterizes it. On this blankness, everything jumps out as an abnormality. Every animal, plant, rock, building or human that manages to stand against the endless wind and cold, attracts worthy attention. But in the end, it is the absence of all these things that make this place what it is. It is blank.
Our route is almost not a route. It goes all around the place. It is a hesitant line fearful of falling from the edge of the world. We were indeed not looking forward to finish the journey. But the roads were also very brief. Almost all attractions were giant cul-de-sac’s meaning that we had to go back out, the way we came in.
Following the path of Rio Baker, we arrived at Parque Patagonia aiming for Paso Roballos. A beautiful wildlife reserve initiated by the vision of Doug Tompkins. We were greeted by the Guanacos and their newborn babies.
Teaching a newborn requires a lot of pushing around.
This mother still seems to be healing from the recent birth.
We haven’t seen much more than Guanacos, but apparently, Parque Patagonia is full of wild animals. Foxes, armadillos, condors, hogs, big cats, woodpeckers, skunks, owls, flamingos and even pumas roam around the land. It would be a nice place to spend a few weeks, but having stayed stationary for almost a week during the holidays, we were a bit too itchy to move on to Argentina.
Having parted from Wolfgang, we kept moving south with the Austrian couple Hermann and Karin. Within the second day, we were in a completely different world. The sun was shining strongly, keeping us and the earth dry. I think everyone said at least once, “I wish Wolfgang could be here with us…” In the photo below, Hermann is serving fresh coffee on the roadside. A ritual that was repeated frequently with coffee and mate alternating…
Driving in Southern Patagonia is more like sailing a boat on the ocean. With cruise control enabled on our Tacoma, all I had to do was to fight the sidewinds through the steering wheel and watch the distant storms come and go. This went on for hours at a time. It is definitely an extreme driving experience that requires constant focus and patience.
The road conditions varied from this…
One of the most significant geographical features down here is the Fitz Roy mountain range. The town of El Chalten hosts a conglomeration of hikers, bikers, trekkers, climbers and alpinists looking for their personal limits on these mountains. Well, we just wanted to see the landscape and get a sense of what it’s all about.
As it usually is with traveling, the highlight of the El Chalten detour was neither the town nor the National Park. On our way out we saw these shepherds with the giant herd and turned around for the photograph.
There are people on this planet, who could stare at the picture above for hours, trying to imagine what kind of a trajectory they would follow if they were to summit Fitz Roy. Then again, there were others who spend all their lives trying to climb a rock. Below is Cerro Torre. Arguably the most difficult rock to climb on the face of earth. The attempts to summit this anomaly of geography have created a web of events which inspired Werner Herzog’s docudrama, Cerro Torre: Scream of the Stone. We have only photographed it to make this time lapse that will fit in your little smart device. Enjoy.
A little further south, near El Calafate, we steered westward once again to see another extremity of nature; the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier itself is about an hour drive from El Calafate city center. It’s part of the Argentinian Natural Park System and you can complete your entire visit without even getting dust on your shoes. There is nothing natural about the park apart from what you see on the viewing platform. But what you see, is truly amazing.
The glacier is constantly building up on the high altitudes and melting down at the point it touches water. This means that there is a constant movement causing impressive cracking sounds that reverberates in the entire valley. If you watch it long enough, you can get to see huge chunks of ice breaking off and falling into the otherwise still lake. It is an impressive phenomenon comparable to the eruption of a volcano.
Special days on the road are a hit or miss. You want to be in a place where you can relax and get into a bit of a celebratory mood. But you never know what lies ahead on the road. For new year’s eve, we did not want to stress too much and go with the flow of the road. As the sun was about the set, we found ourselves literally in the middle of nowhere. We just went off the road a little bit and had an entire valley to ourselves. With only a few guanacos at watch, we set up a table, cooked a nice meal watching the beautiful sunset and listened to the psychedelic beats from Hermann’s music library. The cold soon forced us into the truck but we continued celebrating with a few rounds of Pass the Pigs.
Some historians are suspicious about the accuracy of Marco Polo’s journey into China. Particularly because he does not mention anything about the Great Wall of China. I would be risking the same thing if I do not mention Torres Del Paine when I’m talking about Patagonia.
The photo above was all we ever saw of it. Unfortunately, this will remain as one of the national parks we will miss because of the “No Pets” policy. Apparently we could have gotten as far as Laguna Amarga to see the towers up close, and we did try that. However, the weather was so bad that we couldn’t even see the road ahead of us.
We moved on to find a campspot near Laguna Sophia. This proved to be a very interesting experience because it involved finding our way through a crowd of weekend bbq warriors perched on either side of the road around the lake. We were just about to give up any expectations of a peaceful campground and turn around. But we had to move on because the road was too narrow and we could only move forward on this progressively rough path. By the time we started climbing up on this “road” the weekender population started to decrease. Finally, beyond the end of the off-road navigable point, we reached complete isolation and were rewarded by an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding area. We liked it so much that we decided to hike around a little bit and stay for two days, during which we were completely alone.
Little did we know that right behind the hill we were parked at, laid the den of an archaic monster called the Milodon! A giant sloth that managed to survive during the period of first human inhabitation of the area! The milodon must have roamed these hills thousands of years ago. The hunt for this animal’s petrified skin launched a series of events I will not go into the details of in this post. But the Milodon’s Cave is where Bruce Chatwin’s famous book In Patagonia kicks off. Patagonia is indeed a place where history and geography blend into each other.
We were told that these were not Penguins, but we had the camera out, so…
A little north of Punta Arenas, we were told that there was a two thousand strong colony of Magellanic Penguins. Taking this as an opportunity not to be missed, we went to see them. When it comes to penguins, even one is enough. But I have to say that we were only able to see a handful. Possibly a side effect of the Chilean (over-)fishing industry, this colony is sadly in constant decline.
Taking refuge from the cold relentless wind in the fur of the land.
The wind does not allow much growth, but there is a whole micro forest covering the ground.
On our way to cross over to the island of Tierra Del Fuego, we saw this unfortunate vessel. The winds and currents make these waters quite dangerous to navigate in. Luckily, the ferry crossing to the island is short.
Flavia (Portugal), Brian (USA), and Bidou (France).
We had the choice to head straight towards Argentina’s Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, or take the western fork and head towards the Chilean end of the road. We wanted to do both. Particularly because there is yet another colony of Arctic King Penguins on the Chilean side. Nobody knows why these creatures left Antarctica and ended up so far north on the pacific coast. But we were thrilled to get an opportunity to see them. Just as we were camped that evening, these cyclists showed up. These guys and gals are the real heroes of the road. It is really a great challenge to cycle here. Congratulations to Flavia, Brian and Bidou for making it this far. They deserve more than a hot cup of coffee, but that’s all we could give them.
Camping in the back of the truck without deploying the tent for more than a few days becomes tiring. We thought that it would be impossible to find a place hidden from the wind in this landscape. But to our surprise, there was a very old forest on the side of a hill that looked promising. We started driving between the trees praying for a tall enough clearing in between that we could use the tent and rest a little bit. Sure enough, we were able to squeeze between a few trees and make camp. It was an unbelievably satisfying feeling to see our bed again. We took our time here for two days until we ran out of provisions. The air was so still, that we could hear each others whispers and the sound of flies a few meters away. It was a great opportunity to think about how to proceed after reaching the end of the road.
Tara doesn’t know much about snow. She’s still surprised with the patches we find on high mountain passes.
This is the end of the road in Chile. It ends abruptly with a PROHIBIDO EL PASO signage, as if the rest of the world is under construction and not ready for display. The reality is that Chile is building a connection into Argentina’s Ushuaia. There’s literally less than a dozen kms left for the completion. It will probably be opened next year. But for now, we had to do a 400 kms detour to go to a place we could almost hear.
But not before commemorating this special moment with the special WORLD’S BEST STICK. Tara’s favorite! She deserves it for being the world’s best dog coming to the world’s very end with us.
We met Rick and Latisha again after having met them initially in Ecuador. It was a very pleasant surprise to see a familiar face this far down south. We travelled for a week, enjoying every moment if it.
Once in Ushuaia, we also met Barbara and Urs, the couple we did the Bolivian Laguna Route with. After so much time on the road, we feel like a big family scattered around the continent.
At one point, very early in the beginning of this journey, “Ushuaia” meant a lot to us. It was a mythical name far off on the distant horizon. Along the way, we were able to forget about this distant, artificial ending we had made up for ourselves. Arriving here was a reminder. A reminder of what we had dreamt of in the past. Who we were two years ago and what we expected this journey to be. We had no idea.
We would like to share with you one last photograph from Patagonia. Possibly the most beautiful one.
RhondaApril 14, 2016
What a great post and congrats on that last photo. It’s so wonderful to have this whole world of Internet over landers with help from the Internet. Good luck on exciting future adventures.
MarkMay 11, 2016
Congratulations on your very special journey and surprise at the end of it!
What a wonderful travelogue , words , images and thoughts to go with it!
It’s left me very inspired!
Trouble is, I’ll probably never get round to it, I’m a professional cloud watcher and procrastinator!
I came to Mexico for 6 weeks nearly 26 years ago! Belize is on the horizon though!