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Macfarlanes in Argentina and Chile PDF Printable Version E-mail

The Macfarlane South American Odyssey 2009
(Our peregrination in search of adventure, wisdom and truth!)


Travellers and 15_John_with_the_Sprinter.jpgmotorhomers John and Judy Macfarlane live near Rockhampton in southern Queensland. In 2009 they spent two months exploring Argentina and Chile in a hired Mercedes Sprinter-based motorhome. Starting and finishing in Buenos Aires, their clockwise journey took them as far south as Cape Horn.

We are very grateful to this adventurous couple for sharing their experiences through this website. If readers do need any further information, we can pass on specific queries to John and Judy if you Contact Us.

57 images of the journey can be seen at: The Macfarlanes in South America.

This is their Travel Log:


 Map of the Macfarlane's Clockwise Journey through Argentina & Chile

20 – 22 September
Sydney, Australia – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our overnight stay at Sydney Stamford was great, especially the excellent view over the International Airport. We almost became addicted to aircraft spotting, identifying quite a few airlines.

Qantas flight path took us over the rugged coastline of New Zealand's south island, giving us a bird's-eye view of Stewart Island. More excitement as we looked down over Volcano Osorno, a majestic snow-capped volcano situated northeast of Puerto Varas in central Chile.

We exited Immigration and Customs fairly quickly at Buenos Aires International airport, were met and driven to Posada de las Aguilas (www.posadadelasaguilas.com.ar) (GPS 34°47'15.7”S – 58°31'28.9”W) a family operated guesthouse a few kilometres from the airport. At breakfast we were introduced to dulce (pronounced dool-the). The locals use this thick caramel spread extensively. Its high sugar content cannot possibly contribute to good dental health!

Federico from Andean Roads Motorhome Rentals (www.andeanroads.com) was a little late in collecting us for our day tour of Buenos Aries. He apologized profusely and surprised us, saying there would be no charge for the tour. Federico enthused a genuine love and extensive knowledge of his home city, taking us to some amazing places. Our first stop was the colourful Caminito area in the suburb of La Boca where corrugated-metal has been used in the construction of the brightly coloured houses. The trend to use a palette of colours began when the impoverished locals made use of leftover pots of paint. We enjoyed coffee in one of the many coffeehouses in San Telmo, a neighbourhood home to antique shops, 19th century buildings and traditional cafes. Next stop was Puerto Madero. This renovated docklands area is lined with pleasant pedestrian walkways, trendy restaurants and bars. It proudly displays modern architectural trends and is a real plus for the inner city lifestyle of Buenos Aires.

On to the extremely busy Plaza de Mayo where Federico miraculously located a park for his little red mini. Dominating the Plaza was the pink Presidential Palace, Casa Rosada. Evita Peron energized adoring crowds from a balcony in this building during her heyday in the 1940's. The old and the new sit really well side-by-side in this amazing city. Many of the buildings surrounding the plaza reflect the influence of European architecture. We descended to one of the city's subway stations housing a railway line built in the early 20th century. The line with quaint wooden carriages continues to operate.

We asked Frederico to take us to Cementerio de la Recoleta. It is situated in the ritzy neighbourhood of Recoleta.  We walked along many rows of ornate edifices, past hundreds of lofty statues and marble facades. Heavy wooden coffins were housed one above the other behind rusting wrought-iron gates. Locating Evita Peron's resting place, with its many floral tributes, took a bit of detective work. We entered the church, Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Pilar, and were immediately overwhelmed by its opulence. Next we visited the Centro Cultural Recoleta. A modern photographic exhibition was on display in this beautifully restored building.  Final stop for the day was the elegant suburb of Palermo with its green parks, embassies and many boutique-style living apartments.

We also visited the adjacent Palermo Viejo where up-market restaurants jostle side by side with trendy boutiques. How good to see the old buildings being revamped, rather than demolished. Each had its own character but blended with the overall feel of this exciting city.  We left the inner city in the early evening via Avenue de Julio with nine lanes of traffic in each direction. So glad Federico was driving! Buenos Aires is a very stylish city. We loved it. I suggested to Jo we stay in town for a few tango lessons. There was no reply. I think he was dozing off in the front seat!  

September 23
Buenos Aires – Sierra de la Ventana

Cristan from Andean Roads Motorhome Rentals (www.andeanroads.com) and his brother Sebastian arrived at Posada de las Aguilas right on time with our Mercedes Motorhome, our transport and home for the next two months. We highly recommend Andean Roads, a very efficient and friendly family business. After buying a few provisions from the local mini-market, including a large supply of bottled water, we headed south on Ruta 3.

Monica, our GPS senorita, was positioned on the dashboard and ready to assist. It was exciting to be commencing our 2009 Odyssey. We drove south via San Miguelo del Monte to the regional city of Azul, passing many trucks and transports. The road surface was good. The driving habits of the locals were not as bad as we had expected. We shopped for groceries, fruit and vegetables at Carrefour in Azul, before heading south towards Parque Prov. Ernesto Tornquist.

By the time we stopped for the night, it was just on dusk. We presumed we were at our destination in Parque Prov. Ernesto Tornquist. A car pulled alongside. The driver was frantically waving his hands. We were not allowed to camp here. The campground for the national park was several kilometers west.  We returned to Sierra de la Ventana, a small town we had driven through earlier in the afternoon. We literally stumbled upon the only campground that was open. (GPS 38°07'52.2”S - 61°47'38.3W). We don't speak Spanish; the old male caretaker didn't speak English, but a deal was done. We paid only 15 pesos (AUD$5.00) settled in and enjoyed hot showers. There was a knock on the door. The caretaker had contacted the park owner in Buenos Aires who was phoning to check everything was okay. Her English was perfect. She wished us a pleasant stay.

September 24
Sierra de la Ventata – Las Grutas

We had no luck in locating an ATM in the village of Sierra de la Ventana, so continued south on Ruta 3. Quarantine officials stopped us on the southern outskirts of Bahia Blanca. We were requested to hand over the fresh meat we had purchased only yesterday. This was a tad annoying! Prior to leaving Australia we made several unsuccessful on-line searches to access quarantine information for Argentina and Chile. In country, the only information came by way of pictorial billboards placed about 250 metres prior to the actual checkpoints.

Further south, we were stopped again. This time we were able to keep our tomatoes and carrots but asked to surrender our oranges and apples. Thankfully our delicious bananas were safe. We used a series of gestures to request permission to eat the 'forbidden fruit.' Permission was granted. We enjoyed a very fruity morning tea. The skins, cores and pips had to be retained and given to the quarantine officer. It is remarkable we didn't suffer from a Vitamin C over-dose.

We located a campground (GPS 40°47'58.2”S – 65°04'09.4”W) in the coastal holiday village of Las Gruntas on Golfe San Marias. We were out-of-season campers in a tired-looking campground. The hot showers were most welcome.

September 25
Las Grutas – Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes - Punta Norte

We left unimpressionable Las Gruntas just as the service-station attendant arrived for work. Because of the vast distances between towns in Argentina, we refueled at every opportunity. Las Gruntas is most likely a-buzz at the height of summer. However, apart from swimming in the Atlantic, one wonders what else would impress a visitor. As we drove south there were more checks for meat and vegetables. Thankfully our bananas again avoided confiscation. We had a fuel stop north of Puerto Madryn before heading east to Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes.

Having read much about Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes, we were keen to enjoy this UNESCO listed heritage area. We travelled on a dusty, bumpy detour for much of the drive to the small town of Puerto Piramide. Tourism, especially whale-watching tours, is the main activity in the area. We booked on an afternoon boat trip to Golfo Nuevo. The three-hour tour was spent in pursuit of southern right whales. It was a great opportunity to view these huge creatures in close proximity. Most of the whales were sporting large barnacles. Little calves followed close by their mums and soon had the knack of rolling over and thwacking their tails onto the water with great gusto.

After leaving the tour, we drove 60 kilometres on a fairly good gravel road to the north of the peninsula, passing by numerous estancia (extensive grazing estates) before reaching Punta Norte, home to sea lions and elephant seals. On the way we spotted several rhea (large flightless birds similar to an ostrich). The scenery was stark, but so beautiful in its own special way. We located an excellent spot to free camp, close by the Atlantic Ocean. The night was dark and very quiet, except for the gentle lapping of the ocean.

September 26
Peninsula Valdes - Uzcudun

We awoke pre-dawn (unusual for the Macs) to view the fire-red sunrise creeping over the Atlantic.  It was an awesome experience. The presence of a colony of elephant seals and their calves surprised us. They welcomed us with incredible groans, moans and loud grunting sounds. It was one of those take-your-breath-away moments. Glaciated black and grey pebbles scattered along the beach were smooth and well worn. The drive back along the coast to Caleta Valdes exposed some remarkable scenery.

We called at the Information Centre before leaving the peninsula. The various displays of fauna and flora were well designed and extremely interesting. We learned much about the wildlife and history of the area.

Continuing south on Ruta 3, we followed Lonely Planet advice, turned west at Trelew and travelled 16 kilometres to Gaiman for 'a taste of Wales in Patagonia'. The Welsh influence was in evidence but we decided not to indulge in tea and pastries. A visit to one of the rather tired looking teahouses is one of the reasons for going to Gaiman. We made a quick exit back to Ruta 3.

Mid afternoon we became concerned. We had no luck in locating a suitable overnight stopping place. We continued on. Thankfully a service station appeared on the horizon. I used sign language to gain permission to park our motorhome overnight (GPS 44°16'17.9”S – 66°09'36.8”W). Ordering our evening meal in the service-station restaurant turned into a funny experience. The menu offered pasta, with either carne or pollo, and Italiano sauce. We decided carne was Spanish for meat but asked for assistance from the restaurant owner to translate pollo. He started dancing a most amusing version of the Chicken Dance, his hands curled up under his armpits as he jigged up and down. We could hardly control ourselves. We got the message, placed our order and enjoyed our very tasty chicken pasta dish.

27 September
Uzcudun – Puerto San Julian

After a restful night, we were up bright and early to travel south along the Atlantic Ocean via Comodoro Rivadavia. This particular area has boomed over the past few years, following Argentina's first major petroleum strike. Giant-sized oil wells were everywhere. Argentina is self sufficient in petroleum, with over one-third coming from this particular area. We passed by the remote township of FitzRoy. It looked like an ideal set for a western movie. Goodness knows what brought people to such an isolated place. The isolation reminded us of the times we have driven across remote, inland Australia. We headed towards the coast and located an excellent overnight stop at the Camping Municipal in Puerto San Julian (GPS 49°18'22.8”S – 67°43'12.3”W).  The pride of the locals was evident in this clean and friendly coastal town. The weather had turned rather chilly so the heater in the bathroom was appreciated. It was lovely to see daffodils and blue-belles coming into flower. The campground facilities enabled us to do some much-needed laundry.

28 September
Puerto San Julian – El Calafate

We continued south along the Atlantic Coast on Ruta 3, through Parque National Monte Leon, before turning west onto Ruta 9 towards El Calafate. The road surface changed from pavimentada to consolidada. It turned out to be a reasonable gravel road, but dusty in parts. This was the most incredible day's drive. The area was extremely remote, no towns, no houses, and so incredibly different from the coastal road. There were quite a few guanacos (lama). We passed only two other cars during the day.

Our first view of the mighty Andes Mountains was another take-your-breath-away beautiful moment. The massive blocks of snow-covered mountains appeared on the far horizon, rising high into the sky. The images stored in our minds, finally became reality.  We drove for many kilometres along a high plateau. The road suddenly descended to an extremely wide valley.  Below was the Rio Santa Cruz, twisting and turning on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. By mid-afternoon we arrived at the pleasant tourist town of El Calafate.

We took Lonely Planet's advice and headed west in the late afternoon to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to view the dynamic tourist attraction Perito Moreno Glacier. The crowds had left. There were very few tourists. We virtually had this spectacular place to ourselves. The size of the glacier is beyond belief. Its 60 metre jagged peaks sheer off and crash down with splashes and sounds like thunderous rifle cracks. We spent several hours walking along a series of boardwalks and platforms that provided excellent views over the glacier.

The sun started to set. The colour in the glacial ice mountains became bluer and bluer. It was as if we could see shapes in the massive blocks of ice. Our imaginations went wild. We learned later that seeing a blue colour in the ice is an optical illusion. I'm not at all convinced by this theory. I know I saw the colour blue! How fortunate to have the opportunity to view one of the most amazing glaciers on Planet Earth. And at such close range.

We had hoped to camp overnight in the park but signs indicated day camping only was allowed. We located a campground, El Ovejero, (GPS 50°20'12.0”S – 72°15'30.7”W) by a bubbling stream in the centre of El Calafate village. The owner charged like a scrub bull (by South American standards). The amenities block was very modern, very clean and very warm, so it was a good find, despite the price.

September 29
El Calafate – Lago Roca (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)

There was one other group of campers at El Ovejero, three elderly German men with their two incredible vehicles. One of the vehicles was a 1975 Citroen, painted the brightest of yellows. I photographed the vintage car and its owner. One of his many journeys had been from Hamburg to Shanghai via St. Petersburg. It is beyond belief how such a small vehicle could successfully complete such a journey.

The mild spring weather was perfect as we enjoyed a walk around El Calafate. We admired the interesting architecture in the town. The majority of the houses have great views over Lago Argentino. Following a successful shopping trip, buying a new saucepan for the motorhome, we enjoyed some delicious pastries for morning tea.

We headed west from El Calafate on a gravel road for about 50 kilometres before arriving at beautiful Lago Roca.  En route, we spotted several condors enjoying the wind draughts flowing down from the mountainous sheer rock wall above.

We set up camp under a canopy of trees with an incredible view over the lake (GPS 50°31'43.4”S – 72°47'31.4”W). A traditionally dressed gaucho trotted past. He was leading two other horses towards the lake. I was pleased I had time to get my camera into action. Next minute, a Park Ranger appeared from nowhere. I thought he was indicating we did not have permission to camp in this delightful place. I finally deduced he was asking me to complete a 'permission to camp' form. No problem. He produced the form. I filled in the blank spaces, guessing most of the responses. He gave me our pink copy. He took his blue copy. All okay, nothing to pay. We spent the rest of the day reading, appreciating the spectacular view and, in the late afternoon sunlight, enjoying a bottle of excellent Argentinean wine.

September 30
Lago Roca  - Puerto Natales (Chile)

It took a while to drag ourselves away from our lake-view campsite. We headed south via El Cerrito and Estancia Tapi Aike on Ruta 40 to the Argentina-Chile border. We were about to explore Patagonia. The terrain was extremely mountainous, and quite desolate. Missionaries and fortune seekers from Scotland, England and Croatia were first attracted to this area, with many establishing estancias. The boom time that followed created reverberating effects. Great wealth for a few, but gained at significant cost to the indigenous populations.

It is the landscape itself that now attracts visitors to Patagonia's isolation. Not a lot of attraction for us today. It was not long before the renowned Patagonian wind found us. It danced and whipped around the motorhome like a fierce demon. It became extremely gusty, as it is known to do. As we came closer to the border town of Rio Turbio, the wind gusted even more violently. Clouds of dust with small pebbles pitted the windscreen, making the driving extremely difficult.

Rio Turbio is an industrial town. One of the most depressing I have ever seen. Much of the housing comprises shacks put together with a variety of available materials. The local people look so wind-blown. Their bodies slant sideways as they trudge up the hills. We entered Chile after completing a variety of forms, one for each person, one for the vehicle and one relating to swine flu.

After visiting the Tourist Information centre in Puerto Natales, we located 'Josmar 2' campground. (www.josmar.cl).  It was situated at Esmeralda 517 (GPS 51°43'43.3”S – 72°30'14.1”W) in the centre of this once dull fishing port on Seno Ultima Esperanza. The small garden at 'Josmar 2' had ample room for our motorhome. We enjoyed the hot showers and soft grass before spending the afternoon wandering around the city centre. Puerto Natales serves as an entry point for the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine (www.torresdelpaine.com). We plan on visiting this World Heritage Area after we return from our cruise to Ushuaia.

October 1-2
Puerto Natales – Punta Arenas

We had an enjoyable drive south, passing several lakes before reaching Punta Arenas. Locating Hostal Maipu Street (www.maipustreet.com) was fairly easy. (GPS 53°09'30.7”S – 70°53'33.9”W). We arrived a day earlier than our pre-arranged booking. This was no problem for Patricia, the delightful owner. Our room with ensuite was extremely comfortable, complete with CNN television. The motorhome was comfortable too. We had arranged to park it safely in an adjacent garage while we cruised to Cape Horn.

The weather was brisk as we explored the city centre. We were impressed with the old buildings including Palacio Mauricio Braun, the luxurious seat of power of the 19th century Baun-Menendez family. They were sheep farmers, turned land magnates. The Lonely Planet Guide suggests the original settlers came from a mixture of backgrounds. An excerpt reads: 'If these streets could only talk: this wind-wracked former penitentiary has hosted tattered sailors, miners, seal hunters, starving pioneers and wealthy dandies of the wool boom'.

We kissed the foot of the brass Ona statue in Plaza Munoz Gamero, the main square in the city centre. Legend suggests if you kiss the foot, you will return to this interesting city. We hope the legend proves to be true. Jo had fun at Zona Franca, a massive duty free shopping complex on the outskirts of the town. He bought an inverter to replace the one I dislodged from its socket in the motorhome, causing a mini explosion (from both the inverter and Jo!)

We visited the Punta Arenas Museo Naval-y-Maritimo to watch an historic, black and white film. It was brilliant, featuring the voyage of an 8,000 tonne square-rigged sailing ship from Europe to Cape Horn. Made in 1929, by the narrator of the film, it certainly gave a graphic depiction of why sailing round the Horn in those days was so hazardous. We hope our M/V Mare Australis voyage next week is a tad safer.

Near the central plaza we came across a group of students in national dress participating in a street march. Young women in blue and white checked skirts, the young men looking very smart in their black, wide-brim felt hats. They were playing guitars and other musical instruments. We were not sure what the special occasion was but they had fun as they held up the lunchtime traffic.

The weather turned cold in the afternoon when we headed south of the city for a short drive. Sleet covered the outside of the motorhome. Thankfully it was cosy and warm inside. We decided to have our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in Punta Arenas. We chose La Marmita (located at Sampaio 678 off Ignacio Carrera Pinto). It was excellent, a really delightful dining experience. The ambience in the restaurant was impressive with walls painted a variety of fresh primary colours and bric-a-brac of every description on display.

October 3
Punta Arenas – Magellan Strait (On board M/V Mare Australis)

We packed for our five-days/four-night cruise on M/V Mare Australis (www.australis.com) to Patagonia, Tierra Del Fuego and Cape Horn. We completed check-in details at the Cruceros Australis office before having lunch just around the corner.  With a few hours to spend before boarding time, we visited Cementerio Municipal. It is described as 'South America's most fascinating cemetery – a mix of humble immigrant graves and extravagant tombs of the town's first families.'  It was not our scene at all, too many ornate monuments and a total over-supply of plastic flowers. The walk back to town was leisurely and enjoyable. We had to pinch ourselves as we boarded our luxurious expedition cruise ship and settled into Cabin 313 on the top deck.

Welcome drinks were held in the Yamana Lounge followed by a traditional Chilean folkloric show. The guitarist and the dancers were highly energized. Dinner followed in the spacious Patagonia Dining Room. We met two other couples at our table, Lyn and Rex (from Australia) and Christoph and Kitty (from Brazil ).  We enjoyed great company, delicious food and excellent wine.

 October 4
Admiralty Fjord, Ainsworth Bay, Marinelli Glacier, Tucker Island and Gabriel Channel.

Looking out the window this morning we saw mountain ranges covered in snow and the clearest ocean waters. It took ages to climb into our warm weather clothing for disembarkation at Ainsworth Bay. We each donned two pairs of sox, thermal uppers, thermal lowers, icebreaker shirts, scarves, beanies, gloves and gortex jackets. We also added non-slip knee-high gumboots, on loan from the ship. Dressed like Michelin men, we joined a small group of English speakers and travelled by zodiac to shore. 

Whizzing across the icy waters was a novel experience. Nothing could prepare us for such a buzz. We enjoyed a two-hour walk with nature, passing different species of grasses, lichen, ferns, peat mounds, beech trees, and waterfalls. We also saw a small colony of elephant seals and numerous bird species. At the end of the walk, the ship's crew set up a small table serving whiskey with pure Antarctic ice. Piping hot chocolate was also available.

In preparation for disembarkation at Tucker Island, we attended a lecture on the Magellanic penguin. Again we used zodiacs for the excursion, seeing many species of birds. The zodiacs allowed us to get close to the pristine penguins that come to this area to breed.  We watched with amazement as two male cormorants carried on a fight over mating rights high above on the rock face. Finally the loser abandoned his position.

October 5
Ballenero and O'Brien Channels – Beagle Channel, Pia Fjord and Glacier – Avenue of Glaciers

Snow fell during the night! It had been a rough ride as we entered O'Brien Channel around 4.00 am. It made us reflect on the pioneer sailors who chartered these waters. They must have been constantly cold and wet. In contrast, we were warm and dry, sleeping in comfort under crisp white sheets and light-as-a-feather doonas.

We joined a small group for the mid-morning “Patagonia, from Ice to Flowers” lecture. The geographic depiction of this part of the world from Google Earth was brilliant. The next lecture “Glaciology” after morning-tea was a good preparation for our disembarkation at Pia Glacier later in the day.

We dressed in our thermals and wet-weather gear for our excursion to Pia Glacier, taking much less time than previous efforts. M/V Mare Australis anchored. We went by zodiac a few hundred metres to shore. The view was special, our attention solely focused on the massive glacier.  We sat and breathed in the splendour of this gigantic natural phenomenon.

Late afternoon we settled into the Sky Lounge, portside, near the viewing windows. The ship was about to sail past the Avenue of the Glaciers in Canal Beagle, south of the Darwin Ice Field. Staff served food and wine from the five nations after which the glaciers are named. Olives and nuts for Glacier Espana, variety of cheeses for Glacier Romanche, tasty German sausages for Glacier Roncagi, pizza slices for Glacier Italia, and cheese covered potato balls for Glacier Holanda. It was a novel way to enjoy the sights of the beautiful Avenue of the Glaciers.

October 6
Murray Channel, Nassau Bay, Wollaston Island, Cape Horn, Wulaia.

We awoke hoping weather conditions would be suitable for our early morning disembarkation at Cabo de Hornos (Location 55.56 degrees south, 67.19 degrees west). No foul weather last night, so the trip was on. On reaching the shore, we climbed a 160-step staircase, stopping several times to look down over the cruise ship anchored well off shore. It was incredible to realize we were at the 'bottom of the earth' where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet.

As we reached the top of the cliff climb, we noticed the immense strength of the wind. Walking along the boardwalk to the Cape Horn Memorial was nigh on impossible at times. The wind literally pushed our bodies from one side of the boardwalk to the other. This experience brought home the stark reality of the deaths here of over 10,000 sailors. The impressive Albatross Memorial at the end of the boardwalk is dedicated to these sailors.

I am the albatross who
awaits you at the end of the world.
I am the forgotten soul of the dead seamen
who sailed across Cape Horn from all the
seas of the world.
But, they have not died in the fury of the waves,
today they fly on my wings, towards eternity, in
the last crevice of the antarctic wind.
  Sara Vila's poetic tribute to the seamen of Cape Horn.

We spent several hours enjoying this unique environment. On our way back to the ship we saw a sea otter making its way through the top of the waves. The return trip was rough, fantastic and relatively dry. This was one of the most amazing experiences. It was priceless.

Back on board, we sailed northwards along Canal Franklin to Isla Navarino. We disembarked at Wulaia Bay, a place rich in legends and history. It is the spot where British Captain FitzRoy, along with the naturalist Charles Darwin, had their first encounters with the Yamana aborigines in the XIX century.

October 7 and 8
Ushuaia  (Southern most city in the World)

We returned to the Argentine mainland and disembarked at Ushuaia. This port city is nestled beside the Canal de Beagle and the world-class backdrop of the Fuegan Andes peaks. We enjoyed two nights in this vibrant city with its colourful houses, up-market shops and restaurants. Our accommodation at Hostal Malvinas (www.hostalmalvinas.net) was vintage but clean and comfortable, within walking distance of the city centre.

The following morning we boarded a bus for a 20 kilometre drive to Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego. We spent all day in the park enjoying long walks through forests and along the shores of lakes. In the south of the park we crossed the terminus of National Ruta 3, the road we had driven for part of the way from Buenos Aires.

October 9
Ushuaia – Punta Arenas

It was an easy downhill walk to the bus station at 4.30 am on a brisk spring morning. The sun was still sleeping. Thankfully a bus was waiting and a modern bus to boot. It was a much higher standard than we anticipated. Jo was relieved Tolkar Tourism (www.tolkarturismo.com.ar) had been successful in making our on-line booking. We were allocated the two front seats, providing adequate leg room for our long day's journey back to Punta Arenas. We travelled northeast, then north along the Atlantic coast. Breakfast was served during a short stopover at Rio Grande. There was nothing grande about this 'Rio'. Nothing grand about breakfast either. It consisted of two croissants, an apple, some extremely thick black coffee and a colourful all-day sucker. Given our trip today was twelve hours duration, the all-day sucker was most appropriate!

We caught up on some sleep as the bus lurched along the highway. Next came an agonizing border crossing at San Sebastian. There were queues of cars, buses and trucks, queues by the mile. I was most thankful for our son David's advice to have a good novel to read at border crossings in South America. Finally, we were called to take our bags off the bus and put them through a security scanner. Not sure why as there was no one on scanner duty! When the bags and passengers were back on the bus, we crossed into Chile. (The all-day sucker was still going strong.) We crossed the wide Strait of Magellan by car-ferry and, several hours later, arrived back at Hostal Maipu Street in Punta Arenas.

October 10
Punta Arenas – Punta Natalas

We enjoyed another delicious breakfast in Patricia's dining room. Before leaving Punta Arenas, Patricia's husband, Ivan was extremely helpful in assisting us locate an auto-electrician where we had the motorhome checked and purchased a new 240-volt battery charger. We were having lunch in the motorhome on the outskirts of Punta Arenas. A young man knocked on the window. He was holding up a baby's bottle in his hand. Presuming he needed water, we offered him some. But the young man wanted boiled aqua, not ordinary aqua. We received just a slight nod of his head in thanks for filling his baby's bottle with boiled water. Interaction with the locals always makes our day. We headed northwards to Punta Natalas and by late afternoon we were back at Josmar 2 campground for a return visit.

October 11
Puerto Natalas – Nacional Parque Torres del Paine

It was a clear morning as we headed from Puerto Natalas north towards Nacional Parque Torres del Paine.  A group of trail-bike riders spread across the road in front of us. They stopped at every bend in the road to take photographs before finally pulling over and allowing us to pass.

We saw several distinctive black-neck swans. They were so regal. I was reminded of a comment made by an Australian fashion designer. She revealed her inspiration for the use of colour came from the natural environment. The swans would fit well into her 'black and white' catwalk range

The drive north towards Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-nee) was great. We followed a gravel road via Lago del Toro. Our initial view of the 3000 metre granite spires was pretty exciting. Having seen photographs, it was easy to recognize these incredible peaks, sometimes referred to as the globetrotter's Kubla Khan. We noticed the wind velocity had increased somewhat. We had read about the unpredictable weather in Patagonia but we were not quite ready to experience (or comprehend) its extreme force or relentlessness! It was unnerving to watch other tourists trying to get out of their cars. The car doors had a mind of their own. They swung wide with immense force, almost detaching from their hinges.

We walked to Lago Grey, across a springy suspension bridge, through a tall forest and finally, across masses of black glacial sand. The unrelenting wind blew us sideways. We thought about returning to the warmth and silence of the motorhome but did not want to miss the opportunity to get close to the icebergs in the far distance. We were rewarded for our perseverance.  The icebergs towered metres and metres above us. Considering the majority of their size is under the water, we felt about the size of an ant!

The wind gusts became extremely strong. Our motorhome was showered with hundreds of small pebbles. The noise was incredible for several minutes. Our plans to trek the Valle Frances did not eventuate, the connecting boat across Lago Pehoe was nowhere in sight. More than likely it had been taken off the run because of the harsh weather conditions. We drove past Lago Nordenskjold. Some of the view was hidden by cloud. We were pleased to have had such good views earlier in the day, prior to the quick change in weather. 

As we drove towards Refugio and Camping Las Torres, we came to a dramatic halt. In front of us was an extremely old, narrow wooden bridge. There was silence in the car. We were both thinking 'how the heck are we going to get the motorhome across this?' The official government sign indicated the bridge was not only ancient, but its maximum capacity was only 1500 kg. Our vehicle weighed over 2000 kg. The sign also advised 'passengers to alight and walk across the bridge, for their own safety.' Strangely, we could not find any instructions for ensuring the safety of the driver!

I walked in front of the motorhome, hoping to provide some guidance for Jo.  We retracted both side mirrors. That gave a few extra centimetres of clearance. The wind was so strong I thought I would become airborne.  Jo's concentration and driving skills were impeccable.  He had a clearance of only three centimetres on either side, but managed to coax the motorhome across without incurring a dent or a scratch. Our no-claim insurance policy remained in tact!

The road turned into continuous potholes. We spent the night camped at Refugio and Camping Las Torres. (GPS 50°57'58.2”S – 72°52'12.6”W). An elderly gentleman came across the field to collect our camp fees. Communication was limited to smiles and nodding heads. Next, a group of French hikers came by to check out the delicious smell emanating from our stew cooking inside the motorhome. I think they thought we Aussies must be crazy to be camping out in such weather. We drank local wine and ate the delicious hot stew before snuggling into bed for a good night's sleep.

October 12
Nacional Parque Torres del Paine – El Calafate

We awoke to a carpet of snow. It covered the mountains, the ground, the trees, the picnic tables and our motorhome. It was so beautiful. We thought we heard ice falling from the back of the motorhome.  We drew the curtain to see one of the rear windows shatter and splinter to the ground. The peppering of rocks yesterday had caused the initial damage, the icy weather overnight added to our predicament.

We were confronted with another of those 'what will we do now' moments. Girl Guide/Boy Scout survival skills kicked in.  We borrowed (on permanent loan) a large un-used plastic bin liner from the campground rubbish bin. With the plastic, a couple of cardboard boxes, and strong tape we had on board, Jo successfully fabricated a replacement window.

We retraced our tracks to the ancient bridge. There were fewer problems this time, most likely because of the number of practice sessions Jo had undertaken yesterday.  We crossed back into Argentina at Cerro Castillo. There were a few issues regarding the motorhome, due primarily to Jo's failure to present the appropriate paperwork at the Rio Turbio border crossing a couple of weeks earlier.

The weather began to deteriorate. Snow and slush covered the road, making driving conditions extremely difficult. We reduced our speed to a crawl and drove cautiously the several hundred kilometres to El Calafate, camping overnight again at El Ovejero Camping.

October 13
El Calafate – Tres Lago (Ruta 40)

We entered the northern section of Parque Nacional Los Glacieares before arriving at El Chalten, one of Patagonia's premier tourist magnets. It is a small but fast-growing village, set in a pretty river valley. We were keen to see the extraordinary snowcapped towers of the FitzRoy range. What a mountain range, what an incredibly stunning area. The cloud came and the cloud went. The sun came and the sun went. How frustrating for the amateur photographer. We sat for ages before Jo got his photo of Cerro Fitzroy (3,441 metres). The waiting time was a good opportunity to prepare lunch. As the weather changed, so too did the colour variation in the mountain peaks.

After leaving El Chalten we turned onto the infamous Ruta 40 and drove north towards Tres Lago. Constructed in 1935, Ruta 40 commences in Cabo Virgenes (Southern Argentina) and travels over 4,900 kilometres north to Quica (Northern Argentina near the Bolivian border). Tres Lago is a small village with no camping facilities. We returned to Ruta 40 and refueled at the service station. We were given permission to park outside for the night. (GPS 49°36'11.3”S - 71°28'44.1”W).

October 14
Tres Lago – Perito Moreno

Ruta 40 was a harsh environment, but beautiful in its starkness.  The topography was incredible, high mountains, milky green streams fed by melting snow from the Andes, terracotta-red cliffs and sprawling pampas.  We were directed to numerous diviso (diversions). A significant amount of road construction was being undertaken. Some of the bone-jarring sections on the Ruta 40 were truly horrendous. In contrast, the scenery was spectacular, particularly the volcanic cones along the snow-capped Andes in the distance.

We located Camping Municipal (GPS 46°35'44.6”S – 70°55'35.0”W) in the centre of Perito Moreno village. We chatted with an English couple from Northampton. This was one of the few times during our trip we had the opportunity to converse in English (apart from with each other!). For a cost of US$3,000, they had recently imported their renovated 1994 ex-ambulance Land Rover into Valparaiso from Perth, Western Australia. They shared travel information about the Carretera Austral, our destination for tomorrow and also Bariloche, for later in our trip. We gave them information about National Parks and GPS coordinates for campsites throughout Patagonia.

October 15
Perito Moreno, Argentina –  Lago General Carrera, Chile

Today has been the 'wow' factor 100%. Tonight's free camp has a view over the amazing 224,000-hectare Lago General Carrera with the magical Andes in the background. A trout fisherman's paradise is located right on our doorstep. Every turn in the road today unlocked more incredible scenery.  A few deep pot-holes in the rough, dusty road didn't deter our delight in experiencing lake views, snow-covered mountains, gauchos on horseback, scary bends, twisting narrow mountain roads, and border guards who lacked a sense of humour!

We thought we had the border-police under control as we crossed from Argentina back into Chile. We consumed our boiled eggs, apples and bananas prior to arriving at the border. A couple of guards checked our camper refrigerator and found a small block of cheese. We had not declared this culinary delight. Jo was hauled off for questioning. We avoided a fine. Strangely enough, one week previously, we were given permission to take the exact same brand of cheese into Chile, at the Rio Turbio checkpoint.

We replaced our confiscated cheese at Chile Chico, the most delightful lakeside village. Doesn't Chile Chico sound so South American? We kept saying it over and over. We also checked out a local artist's workshop.  Lovely to hear Jack Johnson playing in the background.  

Just along the river from our free camp (GPS 46°50'38.7”S – 72°48'08.6”W), two young guys were trout fishing. They allowed us to photograph their catch of the day. A short time later a gaucho came down the road towards the river. He had trouble encouraging his horses to cross the newly constructed bridge. The sound of their hooves on the metal surface was spooking them out. The poor old gaucho was at his wit's end. We think we heard Spanish swearing, but we couldn't be sure! The next minute, it was Jo to the rescue. Jo knows nothing about handling horses but his latent talent was about to be exposed. The gaucho walked forward, making encouraging calls to the horses. Jo brought up the rear waving a whip, courtesy of the gaucho. Together they managed to coax these 'wild beasts' onto the bridge. After a considerable time, it was mission accomplished. The gaucho and his horses were safely on the other side. I must confess I thought Jo was moving well outside his area of expertise. I was wrong. He returned across the bridge with the biggest smile on his face I have ever seen!

October 16
Carrera River free camp – Coyhaique, Chile.

We both commented on the clarity of the early morning views over the lake before heading north via the aptly named Puerto Rio Tranquilo. We refueled in this tranquil village where time stood still and the locals walked ever so slowly. On to Puerto Murta. Again we were in awe of the incredible majesty of the Andes. We had numerous stops to admire the scenery. Each time our gaze was drawn towards the sky. The sky was the magnet, such unreal territory. It seemed like another country, perched high in the blue yonder.  

Engineers were surveying the road, determining the best route for a proposed upgrade. They certainly have difficult terrain to conquer. At times our motorhome made a few strange noises. Perhaps it was trying to indicate it would prefer to return to a bitumen surface.

Our adventure took us through several high altitude passes. Mid-afternoon, we arrived at Coyhaique, a town of 45,000 people. It is known as a ranch town and is the regional capital, attracting rural workers to the timber and salmon industries and anglers to the nearby fly-fishing lodges. We noticed quite a few hitchhikers on the outskirts of Coyhaique. We noticed too, the old men were ignored in preference to the young women. Some things don't change, the world over.

Home for the night was Camping La Alborada (GPS 45°33'07.1”S – 72°04'00.4”W) on the outskirts of Coyhaique. The elderly male owner showed amazement we have travelled so far from Australia. Our evening meal comprised all our remaining meat and fresh vegetables. We plan on returning to Argentina tomorrow and don't want to upset the border guards.

October 17
Coyhaique (Chile) – Gobernador Costa (Argentina)

This morning Jo visited the Chilean equivalent of Bunnings, his favourite hardware shop at home. We needed a replacement door-lock for one of the motorhome cupboards. Initially it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. His task was more successful when he took the broken lock with him.

We headed out of Coyhaique on the R-240 and came to a series of roadworks. We continued following  behind two 4WD's driven by dads with several children as passengers. I commented that perhaps we were following them to the local pony club grounds. Several kilometers on, the 4WD in front of us stopped abruptly. The driver had noticed our Argentina number-plates and was concerned we may be on the wrong road. We showed him our map, indicating we wanted the road to the border. We were on the wrong road. We thanked him for his assistance, turned around and retraced our tracks. No pony club for us today.

The R-240 was a gravel road for kilometre after kilometre. I'm glad I wasn't riding a pony.  We finally reached the remote border crossing. I'd suggest we were the only travellers through this crossing for several days. We cleared immigration and customs without so much as a look inside the motorhome. 

The majority of the countryside today was relatively flat with little vegetation, verging towards desert conditions. We experienced difficulty in locating a safe place to camp for the night so continued on to Gobernador Costa where we refueled. The young attendant knew a few words of English.  He directed us to a campsite, (GPS 44°02'54.4”S – 70°35'12.0”W), a delightfully grassed area by a flowing waterway. There were quite a few ducks on the waterway having fun diving for their evening meal. This area covers a daylight-saving time zone. The evening light was just brilliant.

October 18
Gobernador Costa – El Bolson

We left Gobernador Costa along the now familiar Ruta 40, taking a diversion from Esquel through Trevelin to Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Enjoyed a lunch stop on Lake Futaldaufquen but decided we would return to the bitumen road instead of bumping along another gravel road to Cholila to check out Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's hideout.

Further north on Ruta 40. After a few dry gulches, we located Camping La Farola, (GPS 41°57'01.6”S – 71°32'18.6”W)  a great campsite surrounded by an orchard of cherry and apple trees, just north of El Bolson.  A massive St. Bernard dog met us. Jo befriended him until his owner Carlos arrived. Carlos was the most delightful man. After having his photograph taken, Carlos made reference to his missing front teeth. I indicated I had captured his toothless smile on camera. Thankfully, Carlos found this amusing.

Lonely Planet describes El Bolson as peaceful, plain and unpretentious, surrounded by dramatically jagged mountain peaks that hosts activities for nature-lovers. It is also known for the alternate lifestyle of its residents (read hippies) who have made their town a non-nuclear zone and an ecological municipality.

October 19
El Bolson – San Carlos de Bariloche

We drove past numerous farms as we headed north from El Bolson. The mountain valleys are obviously very fertile. Lakes came into view as we neared the popular tourist destination of Bariloche. We were disappointed with our first impressions of the Lake District's largest town. There was so much rubbish by the roadside. We also noticed shanty houses, row by row in very poor condition.

We parked the motorhome by the lake and were greeted by another gust of Patagonian wind. There were more tourists in Bariloche than any other area we have visited on this trip.  The town centre was full of chocolate and souvenir shops and numerous trendy boutiques. We lunched in one of the many restaurants located along the main street.

Campground Petunia (www.campingpetunia.com) (GPS 41°05'43.0”S – 71°26'47.0”W) just outside Bariloche, was easily located using GPS co-ordinates. It was situated in a small bay on the shores of stunning Lago Nahuel Huapi and was unaffected by the wind. Lago Nahuel Huapi, a glacial relic over 100 kilometres long, is the centrepiece of this popular area. Sailing boats were moored not far from our campsite. Several cabanas with grass-turf roofs were available for rental. Imagine mowing them at the height of a Patagonian windstorm.

October 20
San Carlos de Bariloche – Villa La Angostura

Bariloche's real attractions (ski-fields and hiking tracks) are outside the city. We spent most of the day in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, travelling the sixty-kilometre Circuito Chico with spectacular lake and mountain vistas. What a delightful place. We stopped by the impressive Llao Llao hotel. It commands the most incredible view over the brilliant blue lake. The spring flowers in the manicured garden beds were just delightful, especially my favourites, the daffodils.

We spent time at a roadside market. The stallholders could best be described as 'hippie-seniors', a fun group of people without a care in the world, living in earth's heaven. The variety of items for sale was impressive, hand-creams, sausages, silver jewellery, puppets, children's toys, woolen scarves, beanies, and locally produced wine.

Late afternoon we arrived at Villa La Angostura. The town takes its name from the narrow ninety-metre neck of land connecting it to the striking Peninsula Quetrihue. The alpine-style wooden and stone buildings contributed to the rustic character of the area. North of the town, Camping Unquehue, (GPS 40°45'32.2”S – 71°39'10.2”W) a huge ultra modern campground with plenty of trees and green grass, was our home for the night.

Jo decided to track down some altitude-sickness medication in preparation for our trek over Paso Jama in northern Chile. Initially he went to the tourist information centre. From there he was  directed to a pharmacist, who directed him to a doctor. All were very helpful. The female doctor, aged in her forties, was perhaps the most helpful. She planted a kiss on Jo's cheek as a greeting. He's still trying to get over the surprise!

We enjoyed dining at La en Cantada on Cerro Belvedere, just off the main street. The restaurant had a warm, cosy atmosphere. Jo ordered the trout. I selected a delicious portion of lamb.

October 21
Villa La Angostura (Argentina) – Puerto Octay (Chile)

We drove west from Villa La Angostura to the Argentina/Chile border crossing. There was the usual number of forms to be completed. We know the routine by now. Today three border guards squeezed inside. The most number to date! They exited fairly quickly.

We drove through high altitude mountain passes. Light snow started to fall. We decided to camp at Parque Nacional Puyehue but received no assistance from park officials. By this time the weather looked ominous, so we lunched and continued towards Puerto Octay, a village on the shores of Lago Llanquihue. This was a very fertile area with many dairy and small crop farms. The pastures seemed overcrowded with cows but the lush volcanic-ash region can probably cope with the numbers. Germans settled this area many years ago. Evidence of their occupancy still remains today, especially in the design of the churches.

Raindrops began falling on the roof of the motorhome as we camped at Camping Molino (GPS 40°58'38.3”S – 72°53'00.0”W) by Lago Llanquihue late afternoon. We enjoyed some pleasant Trapiche Pinot Noir and Gato Premium Sauvignon. We have enjoyed both the quality and low-cost of the South American wines.

Hopefully, if the weather clears tomorrow, we will see Volcan Osorno, the same volcano we viewed from our Qantas flight when flying towards Buenos Aires.

October 22
Puerto Octay – Copec Servo (Ruta 5)

Showers continued overnight. We explored the little village of Puerto Octay with its cute houses. Then skirted Lago Llanquihue while driving towards Las Cascadas. We followed a very narrow dirt road for several kilometers. The adjacent slopes were totally covered with temperate rain forest and undergrowth of bamboo. Numerous fish pontoon farms bobbed about out on the lake.

Jo was keeping a lookout for Volcan Osorno (2652 metres) but the thick cloud cover obstructed the view. At Ensenada a sign appeared giving directions to the volcano summit. Up we went higher and higher, and even higher, one bend after another. Visibility was reduced. The weather was clagging in at a rapid pace. I indicated I would rather be elsewhere! We pulled over for morning tea and discussed our descent.

We descended to Ensenada and drove to the village of Petrohue. From here it is possible to take a catamaran/bus trip across the border to Bariloche in Argentina. We lunched by another delightful lake and rushing rapids. At Puerto Varas, the principal town in the area, we replenished our pantry at the local supermercado. It was good to be in a position to buy meat and poultry again. We will not be making another border crossing for a while. We had no luck locating the camping ground in Osorno.

A few kilometers north on the highway, Ruta 5, we located a new 24 hour Copec Service Station. (GPS 40°28'38.9”S – 73°02'07.3”W). It was our home for the night. The Copec Servos in Chile are well equipped with restaurants, toilets and showers and WiFi. On several occasions we were given permission to park our motorhome overnight.

October 23
Copec Servo – Huechuntu, Pucon

Awoke to sunlight. Headed up Ruta 5, paying 2,000 peso tolls every now and again. It was a joy to travel on such an excellent motorway. Delightful wildflowers and forests stretched along both sides of the road. Jo was keen to see another volcano. This time it was Volcan Villarrica (2847 metres) located just south of Pucon in the Chilean Lakes District. We drove through Villarrica on our way to Pucon.

It started snowing. Unfortunately we had no opportunity to see the huffing cone of Volcan Villarrica. Pucon was a quaint little village. We enjoyed sitting by the log fireplace in Trawen, a restaurant on the corner of Fresia/O'Higgins Streets. We checked out passers-by while enjoying a hot chocolate and a large slice of delicious quince and pear cake. Our taste buds were working overtime. Sunlight began shining through the snowflakes. Maybe we will be able to see Volcan Villarrica before we leave tomorrow. Overnight we stayed at Huechuntu campground (GPS 39°20'37.2”S – 71°58'17.9”W).

October 24 and 25
Pucon – Copec Servo south of Los Villos

The motorhome was totally covered with snow when we awoke. We used hot water to melt the ice on the windscreen. As we left our campsite, the owner kindly came down to open the large wooden gate for us. He must have been freezing. We continued north along Ruta 5 with the Andes Mountains to the east. The sun began shining again after two days of drizzle. We compiled a volcano count. There were so many within close proximity to the highway.

We took the opportunity to take a short detour to the impressive waterfall, Salto de Laja, gushing over a massive outcrop in the Rio Laja.  We were soon back on the highway after a morning coffee stop. It was a Sunday holiday. During our day's drive in rodeo country, we saw several horse-riders in their colourful ponchos and sombreros. 

Further north towards Santiago. The fertile valley south of the capital is home to one of the country's best-known wine areas. There were rows and rows of manicured vines. We also saw many varieties of fruit trees in the valleys. I loved the rhyming sign Ruta du Fruta highlighting the fruit-growing region.

We took the motorway through Santiago. We had difficulty comprehending the toll-road system. Maybe it was pre-pay. If so, we will have fines to pay when we return the motorhome to Andean Roads. Santiago and the surrounding countryside were covered in smog. North of the capital we descended to the coastal plain through rugged cacti clad gorges. It was good to see the Pacific Ocean again.

We turned off the motorway to one of the small coastal fishing villages. Old men were collecting kelp from the sea. Their colourful wooden fishing boats lined the beach. Finding nowhere appropriate to camp, we continued on alongside the Pacific Ocean to another Copec Servo (GPS 32°04'48.3”S – 71°30'55.6”W) for our overnight stay. This Servo provided Wi-Fi, a restaurant, toilet and shower facilities and the most spectacular ocean view.

October 26 and 27
Los Villos – Campground Morrillos (La Serena) -  Bahia Inglesa

Each day our route takes us further north along the Pan Americana Highway. It is the most incredible dual carriageway. The collective tolls for the 2,000 kilometres we travelled amounted to approximately one hundred Australian dollars.

We left the highway near Ovalle to visit Monumento Arquelogico Valle del Encanto located in a rocky tributary of the Rio Limari. On arriving at the park entrance, we were met by an unusual looking man who was making authentic 'cat noises'. He suggested the noises were coming from our motorhome. I guess you'd have to devise some distraction to pass the time when your job entails standing in the sun all day, waiting for the occasional tourist. We asked permission to enter the park. He talked at great length in Spanish. We had no understanding but decided to agree with whatever he said! 

The park turned out to be an extremely interesting find. Petroglyphs, pictographs and ancient mortars covered the huge canyon. We scrambled over rock outcrops to marvel at depictions of dancing stick-men and alien-like forms, remnants of the El Molle culture (AD 200-700). It reminded us of the time we located the aboriginal petroglyphs at the Innaminka Choke on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The specimens were saw today were more intricate in style. The yellow flowering cacti were also very impressive.

About mid-afternoon we located a great campground at Camping Morrillos (GPS 30°09'19.8”S – 71°22'27.5”W). It was beside the Pacific Ocean, just off the Ruta 5 motorway. We walked along the lovely long beach and paddled in the sea. There were birds of various species. Some must enjoy eating the little crabs as there were discarded crab shells right along the shoreline.

The following day, we located a Mercedes agent in Copiapo where we replaced the side mirror of the motorhome. It had been damaged in the pebble storm at National Parque Torres del Paine several weeks previously.

We camped by the beach at Bahia Inglesa (GPS 27°06'15.7”S – 70°50'55.4”W) under trees that looked very similar Australian acacia. After dinner we strolled along the beach towards the village. We found a restaurant open. What a good place to indulge in another coffee and cake! The menu was in Spanish. I took a stab in the dark and gave the waiter our order. He brought us two cups of coffee and two bowls of fruit. How I longed for a piece of yummy cake! We enjoyed a walk back to the campground via the deserted beach. Lonely Planet states this town is totally crowded in the summer months. I'm glad we are here in Spring.

October 28
Bahia Ingelesa – Casas del Valle, Calama

The Ruta 5 (Pan Americana Highway) followed the coast for quite some distance. The scenery was particular interesting, especially where the desert literally met the ocean. We could not take our eyes off the scenery. The mountains had many folds, each of a different hue, so stark, not a tree, a shrub or green leaf in sight.

We photographed colourful fishing boats in one of the harbours dotting the coastline. How people live in such stark surroundings is really amazing. We gave up counting the number of shrines located by the side of the highway. The most popular saint was Saint Selena. There were many shrines dedicated to her. Most of the shrines were well maintained. Others were in a state of disrepair.

We had no difficulty in recognizing our close proximity to Antofagasta, a sprawling desert metropolis and port city. The air became pungent with fumes from the various petro-chemical and cement plants. Dark clouds of pollution hung over the city. The area is an environmental disaster. Lonely Planet suggests it is low on most travellers' lists.  Antofagasta exports most of the copper and other minerals found in the Atacama, and is a major import-export node for Bolivia.  We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, just north of Antofagasta and felt the slightest of bumps.

We arrived at Calama. This large town serves as a base for families of workers at the world's largest copper mine several kilometers north at Chuquicamata. It took some time to locate the campground Casas del Valle (GPS 22°27'38.3”S – 68°54'38.6”W). Juan, our elderly male host, was elegant, well dressed and very old school. He insisted on shaking my hand before we commenced business. The campsite was spacious but a little tired looking. Memorabilia from a bygone era was spread everywhere including the remains of an outdoor movie theatre.

October 29
Calama – San Pedro de Atacama

We had fun in the Calama Hiper-Lider buying fruit and fresh vegetables at 2,700 metres. It was one of biggest supermarkets we have ever seen. The interior spread for miles. The quality of the stock on display was first class. The young man packing our purchases was friendly. He enquired where we were from. I said Australia. He asked if we were from 'Sid-der-knee'. I said yes. It was easier than explaining where we do actually live. He seemed very happy we were from Sydney!

As we drove from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama, it was good to know we were at last approaching the Atacama Desert. The mountains in the distance were spectacular. The terrain along side the road was incredible too. It looked as if someone had just graded it. It was so flat.

As we increased height, the scene below took our breath away. The whole of Salar de Atacama, a vast saline lake, became visible. The colours and shapes of the mountains were amazing. We had never before seen anything like it. It was huge in magnitude. It was overwhelming. So much of the planet seemed to appear, spread out below us. We felt miniscule. We reached an altitude of 3,200 metres before beginning our descent into San Pedro de Atacama. It was the most incredible spectacle.

We located a good campsite at Camping Oasis Alberto Terrazas (GPS 22°55'24.8”S – 68°10'00.9”W) three kilometres east of San Pedro. We were the only overnight campers during our four-night stay. Locals and backpackers visited during the day to cool off in the swimming pool. A lone caretaker appeared each evening. He went about his business wearing a night-light on his forehead. 

After lunch, we drove a short distance out of town to Pukara de Quitor, the crumbling ruins of a 12th century fortress. We walked upwards into the clouds and enjoyed a view down over San Pedro de Atacama. What an amazing place! I keep writing this, but it's true!

Late afternoon we walked through the busy town centre. Enjoyed a beer and a Pepsi in an outdoor restaurant setting. Visited the plaza and the 17th century adobe Iglesia San Pedro church where the wide floorboards creak and sigh. The massive blue doors were hewn from the cardon cactus. We also checked out the market place, Paseo Artesanal.

October 30
San Pedro de Atacama

In the cool of the morning we headed south, firstly to the pungent Laguna Chaxa about 65 kilometres from San Pedro. This huge saline area is home to three species of flamingo (James, Chilean and Andean). What a special place. We stood and watched the flamingos for ages. Their   graceful dance-like movements contrasted with the raw beauty of the area. The only other wildlife we saw were a couple of lizards scurrying among the mounds of salt terrain.

We travelled further south along the road to the Paso Sico in the Andes. We turned off and spent time climbing up and up, towards Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques, sparkling azure lakes at a height of 4300 metres above sea level and about 155 kilometres from San Pedro. The lakes, the blue sky, the stark mountains, and the quietness, made this area a very special place.

On our return journey, we called into the dusty town of Toconao where we saw Iglesia de San Lucas. This church dates from the mid-18th century. We returned to Camping Oasis Alberto Terrazas for another night's stay.  It was good to cool down in the huge swimming pool. We felt confident doing so, having seen the caretaker replace the pool water each night.

Late evening we visited the Tourist Office in town to gain information about the road to Geysers el Tatio. The attendant didn't speak English, but two male European tourists did. They indicated it was an okay road but had many curves and bumps. We decided to give it a go tomorrow and turn back if things didn't go according to plan.

 October 31
San Pedro de Atacama

The prescribed curves and bumps appeared as we climbed into the mountains. Looking down into the depths of the gorges was pretty scary. The road was bad. We continued and passed by a road-making gang (grader, water truck and gravel truck). Each driver indicated to stay on the right-hand side of the road. Jo followed their instructions. A short distance ahead, the soil overlay from another grader totally stopped us in our tracks. There was nowhere to go. It was not safe to turn-around on such a narrow road. Jo had no alternative but to reverse slowly down the twisting, narrow mountain road. Just crazy.

We located an alternative route to El Tatio, so decided to continue. Not long afterwards we drove into a beautiful valley, green and fresh and filled with alpaca grazing. Much excitement, as this was the first time we had seen these animals in the wild. Some had dainty coloured ribbons on their fringes making them look very cheeky.

We travelled a considerable distance, around 80 kilometres from San Pedro to a high altitude. When we were almost to our destination, Jo noticed the motorhome engine starting to lose power. It had no grunt! He thought it may be dirt in the fuel, but was unsure. It was close on midday. The sun was hot. We didn't want to be stuck in such an isolated, desolate place so, to be on the safe side, we returned to San Pedro. We were a tad disappointed but very relieved to be back safely. Thankfully the motorhome was purring quite well again. Maybe it didn't like the high 4300-metre altitude.

We were keen to see El Tatio, the world's highest geyser field, so booked on a tour for tomorrow. I wasn't all that excited when I heard about the 4.00 am start time! Apparently the geysers are at their greatest magnitude between six and seven in the morning.

Just prior to sunset we drove through Valle de la Luna. We climbed one of the high sand dunes.  Watching the sun go down over the many and varied shapes was great. The landscape was harsh, but extremely interesting.

November 1
San Pedro de Atacama

It was a brisk morning when our Cactus Tour bus arrived to collect us. The group consisted of twelve people, old and young, from several countries. It was exceptionally dark as we drove up the mountains on our second attempt to see the geysers. We arrived at daylight after the most swaying, lurching, noisy and uncomfortable 90-kilometre bus trip I have ever done. We were the last of the group to be collected, so were seated at the back of the bus, a position not conducive to good travel.  

Breakfast was served before we drove down to the geothermal area. It was quite spectacular with the sun rising in the background. It was also extremely cold, but it didn't take too long before the sun warmed us. The geysers certainly met our expectations. There was plenty of bubbling and spurting and plopping.  Extremely hot water gushing here, there and everywhere. The guide-sheet advised that 'the great fumaroles come up to the surface through fissures of the terrestrial crust, reaching a temperature of 85 degrees centigrade and 10 metres in height'.

On the way back to San Pedro, we stopped by a volcanic warm-water spring. Some of the young backpackers enjoyed a swim. I wet my toes and Jo rambled along the valley checking out the geology. He also photographed a cactus, estimated to be 8,000 years old, growing in one of the gorges. This species of cactus grows only one centimeter per year.

A really great day was spoiled on the return journey. The driver acted irresponsibly, speeding around curves and driving so very close to the guardrails. It was necessary to close the windows to keep out the dust. The air-conditioning went on the blink. It was hot inside. One young guy called out a warning to the driver. Jo added his concerns, telling the driver how dangerous the situation was. Several others voiced their concerns. Thankfully, the driver finally got the message and slowed down, but very reluctantly. Our day of travel was All Saint's day on the religious calendar.  We must have had a few saints looking down on us today. We arrived back in San Pedro, alive and thankful.

November 2
San Pedro de Atacama – 'Camping La Reliquia', Purmamarca

After four amazing days in the San Pedro area, we headed east towards Paso Jama and Argentina. We were farewelled in very loud Spanish by the toothless night watchman.  We cleared customs and immigration just ahead of a long line of truck drivers with their copious amounts of paper work.

As we drove towards the border, we counted twenty-one volcanoes. Today we reached an altitude of 4,800 metres as we crossed over the incredible Andes and the high altitude plateau. Altitude sickness was not a problem for us although we did walk more slowly than usual each time we got out of the motorhome to enjoy the scenery. Our gait reminded me of the pioneering astronauts taking huge strides as they walked on the moon. We left the motorhome several times to move closer to the flamingoes, the vicunas, and the lamas. It was breathtaking, to say the least.

Our border crossing from Chile into Argentina was time consuming. We stood in a queue for ages, not knowing where it was leading. That was a tad disconcerting. There were only a few personnel on hand to process the large number of bus arrivals.

After we crossed into Argentina, the colour variation in the mountains was a special surprise. It ranged from pinks, to mauves, greens and parchment. Next came the most unexpected part of our day's trip. From Susques we descended from 4,100 metres to 2,300 metres through several steep gorges.  There were numerous 's' bends to negotiate. Huge trucks and several school buses use the road. We silently prayed the brakes on the buses were serviced regularly. Out of the blue, a male cyclist and his heavily laden bike came into sight. He was ascending, not descending the mountain pass. A truly amazing feat. 

At night we camped in the village of Purmamarca, outside La Religuia (GPS 23°44'40.4”S – 65°30'01.5”W) a backpacker hostel that would register no more than a half star rating! We enjoyed locally brewed beer in a plaza cafι as we listened to the lyrical tones of the French tourists at the next table. We visited an old church perched high on a hill, then strolled around the central plaza.

November 3 and 4
Purmamarca - Tilcara (Quebrada de Humahuaca)

We were up early for a climb to the top of the hill overlooking Purmamarca. The local rent-a-dog joined us. He knew the path well.  We left town heading north on the RN9. It snaked its way through the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Lonely Planet's description of the Quebrada proved to be accurate: “a painter's palette of colour on barren hillsides, dwarfing hamlets where Quechua peasants scratch a living from growing maize and raising scrawny livestock.”

Our first stop was Maimara where the hillside cemetery was so different from similar places at home. Extremely bright rainbow colours decorated the graves dug into the rugged, stony hillside. Beautiful fresh flowers added to the colourful scene. On to Tilcara, a quaint town with narrow streets and adobe shops and houses. Then further north to Humahuaca, a popular stopover on the Salta-Bolivia route. We walked through the narrow cobbled streets before locating the town square, the elaborate clock tower and the colonial adobe church, Iglesia de la Candelaria. This whitewashed church is the resting place of the Virgin de la Candelaria, Humahuaca's patron saint. The interior decoration was lavish and garish. Numerous plastic floral arrangements contributed to a total over-kill.

We enjoyed some empanadas and a huge bottle of coke for lunch before returning to Tilcara where we spent two nights at Autocamping El Jardin. (GPS 23°34'33.8”S – 65°24'00.6”W). We had a great green-grass site, a dramatic change from the desert conditions of the Atacama. There were three motorhomes on site – the most we have seen during our trip.

Some overdue laundry was done before we headed into town. We purchased handicrafts including strong, colourful striped handbags from the local markets then lunched at a modern indoor-outdoor restaurant, La Chacana. Jo was hoping to tap into their of Wi-Fi connection, but had no success. In the late afternoon we walked to Tilcara's hilltop site of El Pucara, a pre-Hispanic fortress. It has unobstructed views over the valley below. We agreed with the guidebook criticism of the fortress as being 'too restored'.  It was however an interesting place to visit, given population traces from the year 10,000 BC have been found close by in the Humahuaca Ravine.

We returned to La Chacana for our evening meal. My chicken-filled pasta was covered with wild mushrooms and Jo's green spinach packages contained exotic cheeses. They looked somewhat like a luna landscape. We were surprised and delighted to find our very favourite dessert, crθme brulee, on the menu. It was delicious.

November 5 
Tilcara – Yala

Our drive today was very short. We were attracted by our camping guide's description of El Refugio Complejoturistico (GPS 24°07'04.9”S – 65°24'12.8”W) situated near Yala, a short distance north of San Salvador de Jujuy. Sadly, the description did not exactly match reality. It was a hot day and the pool looked inviting. But it was soon taken over by a group of noisy young men. They were having a ball, especially the cook in charge of the charcoal-barbeque lunch.  Their enjoyment was good entertainment for us.

November 6
Yala – Parque Nacional Calilegua

We drove through San Salvador de Jujuy this morning but did not stop. The more we enjoy the physical features of this amazing continent, the more we avoid the cities. It was another hot day. We drove with the windows down. Unfortunately the motorhome did not have air-conditioning. Stocked up at the supermercado in Liberator Gral San Martin before heading northeast on Ruta 34.

We noticed little children cooling off in the channels carrying water from the rivers to the towns. We wondered if the water is treated before being used for domestic purposes. Several trucks passed us, loaded to the brim with sugar cane.

Just on dusk we arrived at Parque Nacional Calilegua (GPS 23°45'43.1”S – 64°51'04.2”W). The park ranger directed us to a suitable campsite above an extremely wide river. There were no camping fees. We were the only campers until a group of young people arrived. It was dark when they started erecting their tents. They had only a small torch for light. Then the mosquitoes arrived! We covered ourselves in foul smelling repellent and tried to get some sleep. It was not ideal weather for being outdoors.

November 7
Parque Nacional Calilegua – Cabra Corral

We had an extended drive through Parque Nacional Calilegua. The forest was very dense and difficult to penetrate so we kept to the road, climbing higher and higher into the mountains. It became misty. The air was fresh and cool as we turned south towards Liberador Gral. San Martin. Here we spent time at the Saturday morning market.  What a busy, crowded, vibrant place. We purchased several bags of tomatoes, capsicum, bananas and oranges for only a few pesos. Back on Ruta A34, we headed south towards Salta.

We took some time to locate Camping Municipal Carlos Xamena in the southern suburb of Salta. It did not look inviting. In addition, we were concerned there may be a noise problem from the crowds of soccer fans heading to the Saturday night games close by. We continued south towards Cafayate. On the way, we located a great spot for the night at Camping Punta de Mahr (GPS 25°17'15.9”S – 65°24'31.5”W) in the small lakeside village of Dique Cabra Corral.

 November 8 and 9
Dique Cabra Corral – Cafayate

We crossed the lake by a high bridge. Some distance across, we were amazed to see the roadway closed off with a bungee-jumping business taking up a couple of lanes. It was an incredibly long way down to the lake. Several beautiful mansions were positioned high above the lakeside.

Back on Ruta 68, we drove south towards Cafayate. Soon we were driving through the Quebrada de Cafayate with its martian-like landscapes. The distinctive sandstone landforms presented a surprise around every turn in the winding highway. One feature was named El Obelisco (Obelisk) for obvious reasons. Another highlight was a wall of massive red pillars, known as Los Castillos (Castles). El Sapo (Toad) looked as if it had been freshly sculptured overnight, it looked so real. The wide beautiful River de los Conchas sparkled down below.

We were most impressed with the town of Cafayate. The central plaza was a popular meeting place, a coffee drinker's paradise. Here the green grass and shady trees were in stark contrast to the dry countryside on the outskirts of the town. A perfectly proportioned white-painted church with twin bell-towers took prominence overlooking the plaza. We booked into Camping Lora Huasi (GPS 26°04'52.5”S – 65°58'32.5”W) just south of the town.

The following morning, we walked into town. I enjoyed some quiet time in the church. As in other churches we've visited in Argentina, the Virgin Mary takes pride of place.  Signs at the back of the church indicated a First Communion Service for children had been held yesterday. Perhaps the bell ringing we heard last night was for this special occasion.

Late afternoon we visited a couple of vineyards. We entered one by driving over a waterway. The abode and stone buildings were very impressive. The gardens even more so! We were having difficulty locating the tasting rooms. Next minute, a young man appeared and asked if we would like to book into the 'hotel'. We apologized. We had misinterpreted the information at the stone gateway entrance, some two kilometers away!

on our way back to Cafayate we visited the Vasiji Secreta vineyard. The old stone buildings were clad in traditional ivy. One building housed an excellent museum displaying family archival information. Jo bought two bottles of white wine, known as Torrentes, a style unique to the Cafayate area. At 1,600 metres, we wondered if this was one of the highest altitude wine growing areas in the world. We stopped by Baco (corner Guemes and Rivadavia) a popular terrace-restaurant, where we enjoyed a great evening meal of pizza, beer and Torrentes, our newest favourite wine. Afterwards we checked out another Lonely Planet recommendation, Heladeria Miranda where we bought wine-flavoured icecream. An elderly gentleman served us. He looked rather glum. We think we were his only customers for the evening.

November 10
Cafayate – Tafi del Valle

 Plan A for the day, to travel north through Valles Calchaquies from Cafayate to the village of Cachi, came unstuck. The gravel road was too gravelly and too rough. Our teeth could take no more corrugations! We drove as far as San Carlos with its graceful white church before returning to Cafayate.

Plan B was a quick decision to head south to Tafi del Valle. It didn't look very far on the map, but it took us ages. The third-rate bitumen road had a twist and a turn every few hundred metres. I may be exaggerating a little, but it became even hairier as we ascended into the mountains. A cloud mist enveloped the motorhome. Visibility was reduced, even more so, when the mist transformed into light rain. We reduced our speed. Apart from the slush, there were sheep, goats and horses wandering onto the road. We needed to be sensible and careful.

Prior to ascending the mountains, we stopped to visit Quilmes, a pre-Hispanic pucara (fort). It is Argentina's most extensive preserved ruin. Dating from about AD 1000, the complex urban settlement covered about 30 hectares and housed 5,000 people. The remaining thick stonewalls stretch into the mountains for a considerable distance. We enjoyed our visit, especially when we discovered a flat rock feature showing signs of the perpetual grinding of seed during a time long past.

Just outside Quilmes, we offered a lift to a Scottish couple from Dumfries. It saved them a 5-kilometre walk to Ruta 40 where they intended catching a bus back to Cafayate. It was lovely to hear their accents and their laughter when we told them of our Scottish heritage. The midday sun was pretty fierce so they were thankful for the ride. 

We headed on to Amaicha del Valle where we located Museo de la Pachamana.  What a find! The artist, Hector Cruz, used his talents and inspiration to create a tribute to the indigenous Diaguita culture. It is probably one of the quirkiest museums we have ever visited. Apart from the cultural aspects that are depicted in massive sculptures of rock, pottery and aged iron, the museum housed a remarkable mineralogy section.

Bad news when we finally arrived in Tafi del Valle, the only campground was closed. We called into the Tourism Office. They were unhelpful. We talked with the owner of a hostel. She agreed for us to park our motorhome in her garden for the night. Sadly, the motorhome could not be edged under the large wooden beam at the entrance gate. We settled for a place at the back of the hostel, under a blaze of streetlights.

November 11
Tafi del Valle – San Fernando Del Valle De Catamarca (Catamarca for short)

Remembrance Day. We checked out the town's two supermarkets and filled our needs including hot fresh bread and pastries for morning tea. We are now at ease using hesitant Spanish to ask for specific items. We can always fall back on our pointing skills. They have not let us down to date!

A few kilometers after leaving Tafi del Valle we experienced a descent of 2,000 metres through Passo Angosto with its stunning rain forest. The bird life was extraordinary. It was so eerie driving through a very green temperate forest with our heads in the clouds! We noticed noti moss on the trees, some bromeliads and, at a lower altitude, very fine-leaved bamboo. We stopped for morning tea at a reserve in the foothills. The birdcalls were brilliant. Sounded like hundreds of different species.

On completing the descent, we drove through flat agricultural country. Tobacco and wheat were the main crops. The wooden, open-sided sheds used for drying tobacco were ancient but still functional. Small motorbikes buzzed past us. They are the main form of transport in the rural areas. Dads and mums and kids show much skill in staying upright.

We took time tracking down an overnight stop, Camping Municipal de la Quebrada (GPS 28°27'50.3”S – 65°49'57.0”W) in the hills above Catamarca. It was excellent, beautiful trees and open grassed areas and once again, numerous birdcalls to enjoy. After our street campsite last night, it was a treat to indulge in the hot showers. 

November 12
Catamarca – Parque Nacional Talampaya

Ruta 38 took us in a southwesterly direction towards La Rioja. There were olive trees by the acre alongside either side of the road. Rather uninteresting country until we turned north on Ruta 76 and headed towards today's destination, Parque Nacional Talampaya.  We noticed snow on one of the mountain ranges in the distance. The map indicated it was Gral. Belgrano at 6097 metres. Quite extraordinary to see snow when the area we were travelling through was warm and dry.

Parque Nacional Talampaya was so different from Australian national parks. We were not able to drive our motorhome into the park. It was necessary to book on a four and a half hour escorted tour. Thankfully, we were able to park near the park headquarters overnight. (GPS 29°47'04.6”S – 67°59'37.7”W). We sighted several foxes just near the motorhome. The Park Ranger told us there were lots around.  We will have to wear our fox-proof shoes!

We met Leonardo from Italy. He was on his fourth trip to South America. He thought there would be more tourists staying overnight. But it was to be only Leonardo and the Macs by two. Leonardo intended camping and catching one of the irregular busses that pass through this area late tomorrow. He became annoyed as he endeavoured to pitch his tent. His frustration was predictable for someone trying to erect a tent for the first time. (His mother made him bring it in case of an emergency!).  To add to his frustration, the restaurant was closed. He would not be able get a meal. Jo assisted him with his tent while I prepared a chicken pasta dish and salad. We invited Leonardo to share our meal. How incongruous to be sharing an Aussie style pasta meal with someone from Italy. In true Italian style Leonardo arrived with a bottle of delicious red.  We had a great night sharing travel stories and munching on a mega block of tasty chocolate for dessert.

November 13
Parque Nacional Talampaya –  San Agustin de Valle Fertil

The trip through the recently listed UNESCO Parque Nacional Talampaya was good value for money. The scenery in the canyons was incredible. The sheer height of the rock walls required us to bend backwards, drop our heads, and look skywards to reach the top of the precipices. The Ranger pointed us in the direction of three majestic condors soaring over ahead. They looked like black dots.

We stopped at four sites: (i) The Petroglyphs sculpted in the stone by Aguada and Diaguitas cultures, dating from 600 to 1500 years old. (ii) The Botanical Garden with native plants and flowers under red rock cliffs towering 150 meters above. (iii) The Gothic Cathedral with impressive rock formations, huge walls and cathedral-like spires. (iv) El Monje (The Monk). A site of surreal rock formations sculpted by water, wind and time.

We continued on to Los Cajones (the Boxes) and walked into the narrowing canyon with walls up to 60 metres high and only 7 metres wide. Not as impressive as the earlier part of the tour. 

Spent the night in a shady campground Camping Municipal (GPS 30°38'01.4”S – 67°28'40.0”W) in the tourist village of San Agustin de Valle Fertil.  Jo was not convinced the valle was indeed fertil. It did appear quite dry. Two young boys walked past carrying fishing rods so there must have been water somewhere in the vicinity. We had an early evening meal at an outdoor restaurant. 

November 14
San Agustin de Valle Fertil – YPF Servo, Olta

Early morning, on the outskirts of San Agustin de Valle Fertil, we were stopped by a politica (uniformed police officer).  Jo hadn't broken the law. The police officer wanted to hitch a ride with us north to Valle de la Luna. We were going in that direction and wanted to assist but had concerns regarding our motorhome insurance. We said 'sorry'. He thanked us and waved us on.

Arrived at Parque Provincial Ischigualasto in time to join the first tag-along tour of the day. The tour covered 40 kilometres through a fascinating landscape and took about three hours. The Ranger spoke Spanish. Approximately half the group could not understand him. It did not particularly concern us. We were happy to wander around at our own pace. At nearly every turn in the desert valley, the intermittent waters of the Rio Ischigualasto have exposed a wealth of Triassic fossils and dinosaur bones, up to 180 million years old, carved in distinctive shapes in the monochrome clays, red sandstone and volcanic ash. Quite spectacular, especially the concretions resembling martian bocce balls and another formation known as the 'Submarine'.

From Parque Provincial Ischigualasto we began the last kilometres of our adventure by heading southeast on Ruta 38 towards Buenos Aires. Again, we received no assistance from the Tourist Office, this time in Chamical. There was however no hesitation from the YPF Service Station in Olta (GPS 30°38'17.1”S – 66°16'08.9”W) for permission to park the motorhome for the night. We were given the key to the bathroom and enjoyed a hot shower.

A double-bogie rig backed in a short distance from us. After assisting her partner with chores, a young woman climbed up into the cab. We were more than surprised to see her carry down the dearest little baby girl. I made contact with the young mum, giving her one of our national flags. Both mum and dad recognized I was from Australia. I experienced a special un-spoken connection with them. Mum gave me permission to cuddle her beautiful little daughter, named Nana. Her ears were pierced with little ruby gems. Later in the evening the woman asked Jo to take a photo of me with her and Nana. How special.

November 15
Olta –Camping Tibidabo, Cosquin

It was a reasonably short drive today, with unusual weather along the way. We took a diversion from the town of Cruz del Eje to a lake of the same name a few kilometers out of town. 

We came across a Politica roadblock. It came as a surprise when the police officer waved us to the side of the road. Jo had the parking lights on instead of the headlights. This is the law in Argentina. We could not understand the police officer. He requested Jo to accompany him across the road to an impressive looking guardhouse.  He wrote in Spanish on a piece of paper something along the lines of: 300 Pesos sin (without) problematica and 500 Pesos con (with) problematica.  We came to the conclusion we were to be fined for not having the headlights on. We understood we had a problem but we failed to understand why we were given the choice of the differing amounts. Why would you pay 500 pesos if you could get away with only paying 300 pesos? The police officer asked for my Spanish/English dictionary. He began flicking slowly through the pages. After what seemed like hours, he found the word multa, Spanish for fine. We were to be fined. But how much? We wanted to suggest fine in English can also mean bright and sunny and everything's okay. Everything was not okay, and we were anything but fine!

By this time we wanted to pay and be on our way. Just then a young police officer came into the room. He was eating, presumably his breakfast. Some of it fell onto the newly polished floor. This caused great consternation for the police officer interrogating us. He grumbled something to his careless colleague. He grumbled something to us. We remained silent. A few minutes later, he grumbled again, threw his hands in the air and sent us on our way.

We drove through cloud and mist in the Sierra Chicas mountains. There were some pretty strong wind gusts as well. We located Camping Tibidabo (GPS 31°14'01.5”S – 64°27'56.2”W) in Cosquin and had a lazy day. We had a surprise awaiting us when we drove into town in the beautiful late afternoon sunlight. A Folklore Concert was in progress in the Central Plaza. A huge audience was enjoying the most amazing Spanish music. We particularly enjoyed a group of four young men. The lead singer's voice was pure magic. We joined in the clapping of beats. It was great to observe the locals, young and old, participate in various folk dances so spontaneously. I had not realized there were so many versions of the tango. We watched with amazement at the sensuous movements and the vitality of the dancers. The annual nine-day Festival Nacional del Folklore is held in Cosquin each January.

November 16
Cosquin – Jesus Maria – Villa Maria

We followed the ring road around Cordoba, then headed 50 kilometres north to Jesus Maria to visit Museo Jesuitico Nacional de Jesus Maria.  We will have to believe Lonely Planet's description of 'a wonderfully preserved and restored Jesuit Mission'. We had no opportunity to gain entrance. We chose to visit on a Monday when the Museo is closed. Lonely Planet describes how 'the Jesuits, after losing their operating funds to pirates off the coast of Brazil, produced and sold wine from Jesus Maria to support their university in nearby colonial Cordoba'.

We decided to stay the night at Villa Maria. We had difficulty locating a campground.  Jo stopped by a bottle shop to buy some beer. The female attendant spoke some English. She suggested we drive down by the lake and camp there.  Before choosing a site, we decided to check out the other side of the lake. BIG mistake. On reaching the end of the narrow bridge, we realized the motorhome would not fit under a steel span built across the roadway. The bridge was crowded with peak-hour traffic. Our only option was to try to reverse the motorhome back over the bridge. It did not take long before there was total chaos.

We could not believe our luck when miraculously a police car appeared. The young police officer made a quick assessment of the situation brought the traffic to a standstill. He then cleared a way for Jo to reverse the motorhome several hundred metres back across the bridge. I wonder if a warning sign, in English, has been installed as a result of our visit? 

Back across the bridge, we found a suitable camping site near a well-lit Sporting Complex (GPS 32°25'01.5”S – 63°15'16.7”W). This complex was in full use until late in the evening. We enjoyed a lakeside walk along the boardwalk before snuggling into bed after an eventful day.

November 17
Villa Maria – Buenos Aires

Plan A to camp in the Rio Parana delta north of Buenos Aires did not eventuate. We drove around the little village of Bandera but there were no suitable campgrounds open.

Plan B was decided. We headed south towards Buenos Aires in the heaviest rain. The driving conditions were extreme. The uneven road surface caused havoc when trying to pass trucks. Great sheets of water splashed over our windscreen making visibility almost impossible.

We phoned Sebastian to check if it was okay to stay overnight at the Andean Roads office, one night earlier than planned. No problems. The directions, provided by Andean Roads, were excellent. The depot was located in a beautiful garden in a northern suburb of Buenos Aires.  We were both pretty tired by the time we arrived. Sebastian assisted us to phone a couple of accommodation options for the following night. We booked into Cypress Inn. (www.cypressin.com). It was a friendly, eight-room boutique bed and breakfast hotel in the suburb of Palermo Viejo.

November 18
'Cypress In' - Palermo, Buenos Aires

We cleaned the motorhome and packed our bags. Sebastian kindly offered to drive us into Palermo. How generous. This was beyond our expectations. We located Cypress In at Costa Rica 4828. The parks in this suburb are huge with beautiful trees and manicured green grass. There are many plazas with massive marble monuments, all looking very regal.

Late evening we headed to the restaurant and bar area of Palermo and enjoyed another Quilmes beer, plus a yummy vegetable quiche and bruchetta. We saw a young man approach a waiter and, in a very Aussie accent, said, “Okay if I grab a table?”  The look on the waiter's face was one of amazement.  It was hilarious to see him experiencing trouble understanding our Aussie slang.

November 19
Buenos Aires – Iguazu

The taxi driver taking us to the airport assisted us with the pronunciation of Iguazu. He said it was most important we place emphasis on the last syllable. We repeated the correct pronunciation, Iguazu several times, much to his amusement.

We booked into the Sheraton Iguazu. Wow! What a huge, well-decorated room. Our view was special, even though it was a jungle-view rather than a falls-view. A porter advised us to collect a key from reception to access the rooftop terrace. From here, we had our first view of the amazing falls and the huge rising plumes of mist.

We spent the afternoon enjoying the Circuito Superior in Parque Nacional Iguazu. The walkways meandered through dense foliage of sub-tropical rainforest. We were able to walk by the top of the massive waterfalls. The view looking down over several cataratas and waterfalls was spectacular. The noise of the surging water was awesome and quite deafening in places. The whole natural complex was so huge.  We spotted a raccoon looking creature climbing along the walkway and many, many colourful butterflies. The mist rising from the falls gave a refreshing feel to our skin. We both commented on the lack of tourists. How special to enjoy such a popular tourist destination without 'maddening crowds'.

Following our walk, we swam in the hotel pool. Later we enjoyed the silver-service attention in the dining room. Our evening meal was first class. We turned on the television before going to sleep but decided we've forgotten how to watch it. It's been good being away from it for so long.

November 20
Iguazu – Buenos Aires

We booked a morning Gran Aventura. This comprised an eight kilometre drive in an open back truck through the jungle, and a two kilometre trip up the Rio Iguazu Inferior towards the impressive 'Ingreso al Canon de Garganta del Diablo'. The jungle drive was enjoyable but our only sightings were a couple of toucans and a giant tiger ant! The best was yet to come. The high-powered zodiac boat-ride, through rapids towards the semicircular Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall was scary, crazy, exhilarating, very, very wet and heaps of fun. We felt like giggling little kids doing something very silly. It was certainly one of the highlights of our South American adventure.

Our zodiac driver returned about four or five times to the thundering falls and manoeuvred extremely close to give us a thorough drenching. He received resounding cheers for his efforts. The experience was like standing naked under the biggest shower in the universe. We had no visibility whatsoever. A truly remarkable experience. I felt for the two elderly women sitting across from us. The raincoats provided by their tour company were useless. They had no protection. Over-awed by the experience, they sat without movement, like drowned rats.

Spent some time in one of the Sheraton Lounges before leaving for the airport. Had a giggle as I flicked through our Lonely Planet South America On A Shoestring guidebook. It was somewhat incongruous exposing this well-thumbed tome in the surrounds of the 5 star Sheraton.

Our Austral flight to Buenos Aires was delayed by a severe storm. We spent an hour confined in the aircraft on the tarmac. Thank goodness we had a good in-take of air. Otherwise, it could have been a pretty steamy experience. The taxi ride from the Buenos Aires domestic airport to Posada de las Aguilas was very long (about 35 kilometres across the city) and very cheap.

November 21-23
Buenos Aires - Sydney - Rockhampton

Our Qantas flight home was good. The on-board service by the all male crew was great.  We were jet-lagged by the time we cleared Customs at Sydney Airport.  The Sydney Stanford provided another pleasant overnight stay. Our direct mid-morning flight from Sydney to Rockhampton only took two hours. It was good to see and feel the coolness of the Pacific Ocean as we drove up the hill to No. 6. It was pretty special to be home again. The end of a truly amazing adventure.