We arrived triumphantly in Ushuaia and the "official" start of the trip. Past the grand entrance a wrong turn showed us that even the international cruise boat capital of southern South America has its flaws. The roads were bad, there was rubbish and signs of poverty just beyond the glossy tourist shops and stand out label clad cruise ship tourists. We later learnt that the city had expanded so fast that housing and land had become extremely expensive causing the rise of a shanty town scar on the hill side. Our mission while in Ushuaia was to build a food shelf in the back of the Dodge. Sick of soy sauce and melted butter spills we had conceived a solution. Rather than to build our bed up and lose the ability to have back seats and thus other passengers we planned to build a small shelf above the bed complete with fold down breakfast bar! The girl at the campground at the base of an old small skifield marked some building stores on the map and we were off. Two full days later, working past dark with limited tools we finished it and what a difference it has made. We can now fit all of our things onto the front passenger seat when we are sleeping in the back, with nothing needing to go on the drivers seat. This means we can make a quick get away if necessary.
After arriving in Punta Arenas we headed straight to the recommended cemetery and marvelled at the maze of grand victorian styled tombs with space for the whole family. Some had been recently filled and others still had a few spaces... We then planned to look for a thicker mattress for the car as our 50mm one was no longer cutting it. We got directed to the tax free zone with plenty of big shops but none with a foam mattress. After a food court dinner at our favourite Chilean fast food joint Doggis we drove back to the ferry terminal for the night and saw the Germans again who had had the same idea.
Happy again by morning we looked around town then headed to the renowned Erratic Rock hostel for the 3pm Torres Del Paine info talk. We got heaps of great information but were starting to feel unsure about the trek, there were at least forty people at the talk so it left us wondering how many would be on the trail and how much of a wilderness experience we would be in for. Our thoughts were soon distracted when we learnt that the legendary rock climber Steve Schneider who we had seen in 'Race For The Nose' was outside in the flesh selling some climbing gear. Steve and his wife had been climbing in TDP and his wife had just become the first female to climb all three towers of the Torres. We talked to him in awe and brought a few quick draws at the same time meeting Californian Justin Hall who gave us some sweet inside scoops on TDP. Excited we headed to the park and after a road side rescue of a rolled Mitsubishi Pajero we packed our gear and hit the sack.
We awoke early and wandered around with our full packs frustrated that such a hugely popular trek could be so badly sign posted. After asking three different people we felt assured the gravel road we were on was indeed one the of starts to this world renowned trek. We had heard so much about this famous park but it wasn't at all what we expected. After an $18,000 chilean peso entrance fee each you still had to pay for most campsites, so we were expecting NZ great walk standards. Instead we were met with washed out bridges, single planks of wood over muddy bogs, signs that say to stick to the track and take your rubbish with you, yet even workers on the track haven't adhered to this and old work sites with bits of wood and rubbish remained. The more remote campgrounds on the back of the circuit had ill equipped and cramped cooking refugios missing basics like more than one bench for the 50 or so people trying to cook inside. The toilets were bad and the rotting showers at Campamento Los Perros had part of the wall missing between them. At the big refugios on the W we were blown away by the shear number of people on the track. There were day trippers, kids in jeans and sneakers and newbie trampers with absolutely huge packs and more stuff in their hands. After three days and almost 60km on the circuit track we joined the more popular W route where we found ourselves frequently stepping around the constant flow of people on the narrow track. We don't mean to go on and obviously we were there in the peak season but certainly if they can build a huge fully catered hotel they could widen the track to accommodate the large number of people using it in some areas. Also the distance and altitude signs were great but were frustratingly few and irregular. We did both the circuit and W over 120km in four nights and five days waking early on the last morning for the sunrise at the Torres but it was cloudy and raining. Disappointed and exhausted we made it back to the car complete with more than a few blisters. In hindsight we would have waited for the weather headed straight up to the amazing Torres for one night and left for more remote tramping further north at Fitzroy. If your new to tramping you will love the breath taking scenery and the people and shops along the way will be fun but it was just not our cup of tea, rant over.
After almost two weeks of sleeping in the car and a few river washes in-between we arrived in Mendoza to our luxury B&B thanks to Wills parents as an engagement present. We showered and lazed the afternoon away by the pool and drunk local Rosé wine with the French owners who were interested in moving to NZ. That night keen to try some of the beef Argentina is famous for we headed out for a look around town and dinner at no earlier than 9:30pm. Most restaurants don't open until then and its not uncommon to see kids out past midnight when the town is buzzing. This is due to most people have a sleep during the middle of the day when frustratingly the whole town shuts down for at least three hours. After dinner we walked down town to where the annual Harvest Fest was just kicking off and for $12 each we got a wine glass and tickets for six tastings, good times were had in the party atmosphere.
We departed Mendoza following the scenic route which ended up being a ridiculously bad winding "road" defiantly not suitable for cars. We arrived at the border after closing and spent the night in a hotel car park where we woke at half past five for the 6am opening to be first in the queue. We had been told that this major border could take up to ten hours to cross, stuff that. We had been processed before ten and were in the huge line of slow trucks and cars making their way down the steep pass. It was here two more Dodge problems became apparent, firstly the radiator was leaking badly again and required frequent top ups. Secondly the front breaks were smelling and very hot which we found out latter to be due to one of our rear brakes not working. So we added these to the list of things to fix. Finally arriving back in Santiago we headed straight to the tyre shop to order our new tyres then it was off to the Dodge service centre to get the shocks looked at but of course they were busy and told us to bring it back "first thing the next morning". Still not sure where we were sleeping that night we headed to a big mall for some dinner and wifi. Thankfully Patricio and Veronique had kindly agreed to have us again for a few nights.
We were up early the next morning driving straight to the service centre where we left the car and went to check out our new tyres, but they had ordered the wrong ones... No problem he said I'll get the right ones in this afternoon. So we decided to head into town and wandered around trying to remember where the office was to get our RUT's from, finally we found it after directions from some museum ladies using google translate. We had also planned to cook a curry dinner for Patricio and Veronique and another friend Claire so we went to our favourite Jumbo for supplies. Not one to under do a curry we included naans and mango lassis and lots of it at that, luckily Patricio's brother and partner came too and we enjoyed a fun evening drinking the wine we had brought from Mendoza. Also that evening and a long way from his first thing in the morning we got a call about the Dodge to learn what we already knew that both front shocks were stuffed. He emailed through a quote and with the price adding up we txt back immediately to begin the work.
Annoyed we got up early in the morning and headed straight back to the service centre where we were told that the four new bushings we needed were going to cost more than our whole new set of tyres why why why. So back to the tyre shop we went and for a small tip they did our alignment as best they could and now the only thing left to get fixed was the radiator, easy right....
We drove to a recommended radiator repair guy where we think he told us he can only fix plastic ones. So he drew us a map to another place. Once there we convinced the guy we only had a small crack that he could solder up without taking the radiator out. However after chipping off the epoxy we saw how bad the "crack" had become. Now the attachment arm had almost been completely torn off no wonder it was leaking so bad. It was decided that the whole radiator had to come out so we all worked away taking it out and realising that it defiantly wasn’t taken out last time. Once we finally had it out we could all see this would be no easy solider fix as it was too close to the rubber seal. The guy suggested a totally new one so we squashed into his ute and drove to our regular parts shop where we jaw dropingly discovered a new one would be $900USD. We definitely could not afford that so back to the workshop we went and investigated a cheaper solution. The mechanic would remove the rubber seal and solder in big plates over the holes to make it stronger then put it back together with a new seal. So we left him to it and caught the metro to the mall where we caught up on some Internet time and went to the supermarket again for climbing food for our upcoming volcano trip. We made it back to the mechanic in time to help him replace the last few bolts in what looked like an ugly repair job but he assured us it would hold and I can report so far so good!
The next day we hit the road... actually it took us three hours just to navigate out of town but we were heading north again quite a bit poorer and hoping our car might cut us a break for a while..... Time has revealed we were not so lucky but that's for the next blog!
Rochelle & Will