We are a little behind so here’s a quick catch up!
So, we had finally reached the most southerly tip of the Americas and Ushuaia with mixed feelings; on one hand excited and relieved to have made it to our ultimate destination before winter really sets in and without any major traumas, on the other slightly sad as it marks the beginning of the end. However, before we set about thinking about the long drive north we still must do to get back up to Uruguay, there was the more important issue of celebrating. Having settled into a warm cosy hostel we caught up with Jose and Lyndsey, who we first met in Mexico, and celebrated Jose’s birthday and our arrival at 55 degrees south.
After a day of admin and planning, as we realised we had given absolutely no thought to what we were going to do having here, so we left the warmth of the hostel and drove out to the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego where after a short stroll along the Beagle Channel we set up camp and relived tales from the road around a large campfire. Having now exhausted the sights of Ushuaia started the long drive north. The next few days were largely similar – drive a straight, flat road, find a petrol station to refuel and sleep at, repeat! Thank God for their free showers, wifi and warm cafes. After 3+ days of this unchanging scenery even a 150km detour was a welcome break – firstly to see some very impressive petrified trees.
We decided against the 250km side trip on the off chance that if we paid for a $100 boat trip we might see some funky penguins… who should already have headed to sea for the next few months. At least the driving gave us time to come up with a plan, albeit a regularly changing one – depending on the weather. Having scoured the weather reports for a few days and confirming our boat timings, we finally decided not to return across to Chile, but stick with heading up the eastern side of Argentina and into Uruguay.
We had heard that the wildlife and scenery of the Valdes peninsula is worth seeing so we took another detour there. Having run in to Vuelta (Jose and Lindsay) again at the visitor centre and stocked up on water and supplies we set off as it was getting dark for a wild camp spot marked up on ioverlander. The road was closed off and marked no entry – being the goody two shoes that we all (apparently) are we deliberated a while before deciding to drive around the sign (surely that is what having Toyotas are for?) and headed, headlights off, along the track. Unfortunately, after about 6km drifting sand had completely blocked the road and after a brief discussion common sense prevailed and we decided against attempting to traverse the soft sand in the dark so returned to Puerto Piramides where the municipal campsite (although closed for the season) could still be used. For some reason this happens a lot in Argentine campsites – they close the facilities but still let you stay… doesn’t always lead to the most cleanly of sites! The following day was grey but we headed out in search of sealions, elephant seals, penguins and possibly orcas. The orcas here are famous for their ability to take seals of the beach by breaching themselves around high tide and in a couple of places it is possible to observe them close to – if lucky….. we sadly were not. After 3 hours of standing and staring at the seashore in the rain we set off back to the camp site, which is when things got interesting. The rain had turned the road into a slippery muddy quagmire where we had no grip. We were reduced to crawling along at 20km/hr or less and even then, the car had an alarming tendency to slip sideways and 3 times we ‘gracefully’ left the road sideways or backwards holding on until we came to a stop. Luckily the roadsides were wide and free of any significant obstacles so we escaped unscathed, but were very relieved to regain the paved road 60km later. The next day was much brighter so having dried the tent we drove a short way up the coast and set up camp beachside from where we could watch the passing penguins just off shore and look for any passing whales which frequent the area (though not whilst we were looking).
A week after leaving Ushuaia; many stops at petrol stations for fuel, wifi, and to sleep, and 1 flat tyre, quickly repaired, we finally parted company with Vuelta and Patagonia. The scenery was suddenly more agricultural, greener and we eventually hit the wetlands which would be a twitcher’s paradise. On the downside fuel was suddenly a stack more expensive, but we were glad to have put that leg behind us. As the plan is to spend the last week of our trip in BA, we by-passed it for now and drove north and crossed into Uruguay (17th country and 25th border crossing) at Fray Bentos – not just a pie but formerly a thriving town on the River Plate.
At its height the vast complex, originally started by a German engineer and then operated by an English company employed 25,000 people from 60 countries and processed 1000s of animals weekly making all manner of products including Oxo and the infamous pies in a tin. Nowadays the town is rather sleepy, but it is possible to visit and take a tour round the dilapidated site, which we did, before camping in the sunshine in park next door.
From Fray Benson we followed the coast south and east through Carmelo and Puerto Ingles towards Colonia, all charming little towns but not a great deal to capture your attention for any length of time. On the other hand, all the Uruguayans we have met are incredibly welcoming and friendly people and the sunsets have been the best of the year long trip. We stayed in Colonia, camping in the centre of town on the outskirts of the old quarter, for a few days before heading east via the world’s largest collection of pencils.
With the forthcoming shipping of the car we were on the look out for a timber merchant in order to build a secure box around our kit left in the boot, and we found one in Piriapolis. We met a young Swiss couple at one of our wild camp sites who were heading north and after a fun evening we passed on the pressure cooker we had been gifted on our first day in Mexico. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to hanging out at the beach which was how we had planned on spending our last few days with the car and there was not much else to do once we had completed said carpentry. So we took ourselves to the hand at Punta del Este and climbed Pan de Azucar.
However, we did receive the good news that our application to HMRC had been successful, so no tax on importing the car – hooray! 🙂
With the box constructed we moved onto Montevideo and again met up with Jose & Lyndsey. Montevideo is a small, bustling city except for the 2 days we were there – it being a weekend and a bank holiday. However, every Sunday various groups of carnival drummers gather across the city and walk through their various Barrios playing the most amazing, rhythmic and loud drumming accompanied by various dancers and observers, mostly whom seem to be smoking vast amounts of weed (which is legal). The whole experience was quite amazing (and deafening). The following day was still dull and chilly, so we took a walking tour of the town, did our car paperwork which took all of 20 mins and then went to the cinema for the first time in a year.
Feeling we had seen the sights of the city we moved on to an organic farm nearby, owned by an Italian Swiss couple and their family. We spent the next day clearing out and sorting everything in the car in readiness for shipping. As the car is open (RoRo) it should be empty – hence boxing everything in the boot. Someone only needs to be armed with a screwdriver to get in so keep your fingers crossed that everything makes it to the other side. I have to say, if I had known we were taking the car home my shopping purchases would not have fitted in just the boot space!! On Thursday we delivered it to the port freshly cleaned, tent dried and generally looking much smarter than it has for the past year. Bon voyage… next stop Blighty (well, Hamburg – then Blighty).