March 16th, 2013
Fin del Viaje
We had an uneventful flight from BA to Newark. It felt really good to be heading home after such a long trip. United, being United, informed us that they ran out of chicken and salmon and only had pasta and beef. Great. Two things Susanne can’t eat. The flight attendant said they always run out of the chicken and fish because they don’t stock very much and nobody wants the beef. Hello? Ya think that maybe you might change up the mix then? After seeing the crabby gringo look on my face, she came back and offered Susanne one of the flight attendant meals (fish). Whew. But still, really?
I watched “Life of Pi” on the plane and really enjoyed the movie; it seemed like a nice and appropriate to wrap up to a good trip that included a lot of time to think and contemplate. Ambien did its trick and I got about 6 hours of sleep.
We finally made it home around 3:00 pm with some snow falling. It always feels weird to jump back from one season to another. We were very happy to see our dogs. They were happy to see us too, but didn’t seem too put out that we were gone for a month (sigh). That’s the great thing about dogs, all is forgiven after about 4 ball throws.
It felt really good to be home and as always, Colorado stands out as one of the greatest places on earth. I loved Patagonia and the adventure, but it really felt good to be back in our house. There was the usual “stuff that had gone wrong,” but overall the world had pretty much not missed us and life is back to normal quickly.
Tomorrow, unpacking and laundry and then there are all those emails. Ugh. Welcome home.
I took the dogs out for a walk around the creek loop. I guess that was the official beginning and end to my trip — a walk around the creek loop with the dogs.
General thoughts on Argentina trip
I have done some amazing travel adventures in my life, including a year-long trip when I was 19, rambling through the jungles of Borneo and being shot at in the Philippines. However, it had really been a long time since I had truly done a travel adventure. This was definitely that. I love them, but don’t have the stamina that I used to for this type of travel. I don’t think we’ll do another one for a few years. They are exciting and fun, but also a lot of work. At times they can be distinctly “unfun.” We had all of those elements. The nice thing is that we have enough coin in the bank to be able to take a time out; it was really nice to chill in the hotel for 3 days in Villa La Angostura.
There are definitely some things that I would change. The drive out from and into BA was boring and long. In hindsight, I should have paid to get Casimiro taken to Neuquen or Bariloche. That would have saved about 30 hours of long and boring driving. The Carretera Austral is tough in a car; I would probably try and do some sort of ferry thing to cover the mileage in that area.
Patagonia is a really tough place to visit without a whole lot of time. You can capture a lot of the highlights if you do one of the 2-week trips that hits Torres Del Paine and El Chalten, but to truly get a sense for the place, it really takes some driving and time and willingness to put up with some uncomfortable moments.
The key highlights for me were:
- The two days at Lago Roca near Glacier Moreno – best camp spot ever, anywhere!
- The camping spot at Cabo Dos Bahias
- The Caballo/Hike in Torres Del Paine
- The incredible day hiking to Fitz Roy
- The 3 days in Villa La Angustora
- The drive over Paso Roballos (rough drive, but cool)
- The good cheap wine
- Being lazy every morning
- Having a cute translator
- So much bad weather
- Not seeing the Cuernos
- No getting to hike in either Los Alerces National Park or El Bolson
- Long boring drive to and from BA
- Being defeated by the Carretera Austral
Travel books: My general feeling about most of the travel books you can buy to help prep for a trip like this that they suck. And not just a little. In general, there is a hole in the travel book market for people that want a travel adventure, but have some money to stay and eat at some nicer places. Most of the books are geared for either the backpacker (I have no money) crowd or the “I want everything organized for me and don’t want to risk being uncomfortable” crowd. There is very little that covers the Yuppie/DINK adventurer crowd.
One thing we discovered is this whole system of cabanas throughout the country (more in Chile, but also in Argentina). They range from super-swanky to basic cabin (small building with a bed in it). Not one of the four travel books we wasted money on made a single mention of the cabanas. I believe this is a great way to see the country in comfort without going broke or staying in some really crappy hotel (which there are many).
Another big glaring thing that is missing in most of these books is the focus on day hikes. Most hardly mention them. Yet, this is an area that is fantastic for day hiking and there are hundreds and hundreds of trails that never get mentioned. Or just barely. We had a Lonely Planet book on “Trekking in Patagonia” that both Susanne and I looked at many times during the trip in hopes of finding one useful thing in it. Every time we would end up putting the book down in disgust and comment “this book sucks.” Maybe if we did some of the multi-day treks it would have been useful, but even those descriptions seemed to be pathetic.
There is a big need for a RV’ing book as well that has a focus on free camping. We seemed to be the anomaly that didn’t want to camp in the formal campgrounds (except in Chile and some of the parks where they were nice). For me, those were too crowded and close together. Seemed wrong to be parked 10’ from someone when you have a 1000 miles of empty space just out the back door.
Roads: I knew the roads were going to be rough, but I underestimated just how rough they truly are. They just beat the crap out of the car and the passengers. The Carretera Austral was too much for us to complete the original plan. Although I liked the Sprinter van, if I was to do it again, I would do it with a 4×4 truck with a camper.
The distances are huge too. Not that we didn’t know that, but it’s hard to imagine how long and grueling it can be to do a 350 km very rough dirt road. Everything required more time than we had planned. A month is not enough to do what we did. Maybe if we had cut out the BA to Patagonia chunks it would have helped.
In a few years when highway 40 is fully paved it will be a different world. Those “desvio” sections on 40 were just absolutely brutal. If they had been paved, the transit days would have been way easier.
I grew to hate the speed bumps. It was ridiculous. They would literally have them every 50 meters in a town. I would try to devise ways to avoid having to drive any place with speed bumps, which of course, was totally impossible. As previously mentioned, they put speed bumps on rough dirt roads.
Navigation: The signage is terrible and totally confusing and often completely wrong. You just wouldn’t think it would be hard to navigate in such an empty place, but we got lost so many times it was ridiculous. We’d just have to pull over and study the map for some weird town name that might be on the sign. A GPS might help, but I’m not sure.
RV’ing: This was our first real experience with RV’ing. Casimiro had some big pluses and minuses. It’s a great size that makes it pretty mobile to move around a variety of driving challenges from traffic in cities to dirt roads. However, the small wheel size and long wheel base make it very rough on the dirt roads. If I was doing this again, a truck would be a better choice.
We got their oldest unit that wasn’t that well configured. We had to set the bed up each day. Although the bed was very comfortable, it was a pain in the butt to have to set it up and take it down. Plus, you had to do some advanced Yoga every time you had to take a tinkle in the middle of the night – that got a bit old.
Having a shower and toilet were great. It would be even nicer if they were separated, but space is pretty tight.
The leaky roof sucked.
The frig didn’t work very well, which at times was a bummer.
We have seen some Sprinters set up with a nice canopy on the side that you can pull out when you are camped. Having that extra space to expand, would definitely have helped the cramped feeling after a month.
Driving: The rules of the road remained a complete mystery to me after a month of driving in Argentina. I finally just adopted the “I’m bigger than you” strategy and that generally seemed to be an acceptable rationale for anything I did. I only got flipped off twice; I probably flipped off someone 3 times. The intersections were the most confusing. Most had no control signs on them, but people seemed to just know who had the right away or they just didn’t care about getting into a t-bone collision.
Nobody followed the rules on the roundabouts. No clear yielding rules. Just force your way in. There was one time that we were on highway 40 and we came to a junction with another road. The resulting intersections was a triangle with each road feeding into the other (see diagram). There was no clear road that had the right of way and no signs. I happened to enter it when another car was coming; I was going from highway 40 to highway 40 so I assumed I had the right of way. I might have, but it resulted in an exchange of universal sign language as each of thought the other dude tried to kill us. Sigh. At least I was bigger.
It definitely isn’t the nuttiest place I have ever driven, but it wasn’t easy. The amount of passing required when you get around BA is mind-boggling. Truck pass after truck pass, after truck pass. It was very tiring with the Sprinter van, which required a pretty long runway to get by a set of two big trucks.
Food: The food was a bit rough at times. It is easy to forget, when you live in the US, just how spoiled we are and how many choices we have and how easily available they are. No doubt if you like beef, this is an easier country to eat in, but vegetables where not easy to either get or to transport.
- Fruit juice was terrible. Mostly Tang-like.
- Coffee was bad despite one of the travel books saying it was good. Sheesh, obviously who ever wrote that has never had good coffee.
- Tomatoes were good and pretty easy to get
- Lettuce was all but impossible to find
- No tortilla chips in Argentina, but all over the place in Chile
- Huevos made a good, easy meal
Our strategy of basically eating two meals a day with a snack was a good one. Having a “Linner” at a restaurant in a nice town worked great and saved us having to cook inside the van when the weather was bad.
So with that, I will conclude this travel blog. It has been fun to write and I hope those of you that read it, enjoyed it as well.
If anyone is ever thinking of going to Patagonia, give me a shout and we can give you some travel advice.
Fin del Viaje!