Ushuaia - El Bolson (31/12/15 - 10/02/16)

Ushuaia - Punta Arenas

Our four days spent in Ushuaia covered a complete range of weather conditions from warm sunny t-shirt weather to freezing snow storms, often changing many times a day. It seemed to be a town designed to process tourists with many of the cruise ships heading for Antarctica either leaving from here or calling in and delivering waves of visitors for the day, very busy and interesting but too expensive to stay too long.

Next stop a return to Tolhuin where we had camped on the way south, to a funky campground on the edge of the lake where the owner had built most of the buildings from rough sawn timber off-cuts and lots of artwork decorated the buildings all made from recycled odds and ends. The highlight of Tolhuin was the Panaderia (bakery) where we ended up each afternoon along with half the local population, but also managed nice walks around the lake among weird pre-historic looking forests dripping with old-mans-beard lichens.

Punta Arenas

To leave the main island of Terra del fuego we had to cross back into Chile and catch a ferry again, we arrived at the tiny port town of Porvenir only to find the single daily ferry had long since departed, campgrounds didn't exist in the town and even a supermarket or bank was hard to locate! We finally wild-camped on a wind-swept beach and caught a ferry the following afternoon after waiting on standby for about four hours – not a place we were sad to leave, pouring down and freezing cold to add to the joys! Then to our total surprise Punta Arenas was the opposite, modern, clean, colourful busy and all hyped up pre-Christmas, we loved it and stayed a few days, even spending a whole day in the duty-free sector!

Torres del Paine

A planned hike around the famous Torres del Paine – setting off on Christmas eve in fearsome winds, intermittent downpours and dwindling temperatures, we survived the first 3.5hr leg and set up camp, the first night was surprisingly pleasant and both slept well. Awoke Christmas morning to cool pleasant overcast and set off early for the next camp 5-6hrs away, we covered the majority of the leg in good time but alas were thwarted at the second hideously high and long swing-bridge. Unable to cross we backtracked with the intention of continuing the hike in the other direction then came continuous rain and freezing temps followed by snow – my first ever white-christmas! We were soaked and chilled and sadly had to abandon the trip and along with many other bedraggled trampers we boarded the catarmaran back to base. Christmas night was spent shivering in the truck over two-minute noodles and a bottle of wine!

Despite abandoning our original plan to hike for 6-8 days we weren't completely disheartened and after a couple of drying-out and recovery days we headed to the northern edge of the mountain and had a fantastic full-day hike up to the mirador del Torres. Again the weather decided to test us and showered intermittently then covered the horns in cloud by the time we arrived at the view point but it didn't spoil a great hike and we saw the peaks clearly on the days before and after hiking. 

Chile, the Carretera Austral

I don't think anything can prepare you for southern Chile, the raw stark beauty, isolated, clean, peaceful, natural. We crossed at the border post between Los Antiguos and Chile Chico and were amazed by the journey around Paso Las Llaves, the incredible road which follows lake General Carrera, between us we've traveled some impressive roads but we were in awe of this one … one of the best drives in the world on a good day! Azure blue lake, rock faces, snow-covered mountains, brilliant green pockets of farming, the occasional gaucho on horseback, the narrow road cut into rock face hundreds of metres above the lake!

Next came the famous Carretera Austral, renowned among cycling enthusiasts as the ultimate journey, a 1240km road linking Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, very little of which is paved and with an intertesting history to its construction, championed by Presidente Pinochet in the 1970's when progress finally sped up with input from the Chilean army. The construction and engineering was expensive and difficult due to glaciers, rivers, mountains and fiords but gave access to Aysen territory which had previously only been accessible by boat or plane, work continues in various parts with the aim to finish by 2040.

The scenery was stunning and the 3 day journey was broken by an hour long ferry ride across one of the fiords but we found the road nightmarishly busy and dusty with a constant flow of cars and trucks all seemingly in an incredible hurry and near continuous dust – we were happy to be driving and felt very sorry for the poor cyclists struggling in the dust. Villa O'Higgins is the cute small town at the southern end of the track with only 600 inhabitants, originally only a camp for hunters and fishermen it is now developing with the opening of the road. The only way out was to backtrack and the highlight of this was a night spent camping on an old farm converted to a campground complete with a little old farmer and his wife who cooked us our best meal so far in South America, produce fresh from the garden.

We left the Carretera at Chaiten where we arrived late due to many temporary road closures, it was dark, dismal, raining and cold, and the huge beautiful and sinister Chaiten volcano loomed behind the town having last errupted in 2008 causing the evacutation of the entire town.


A three hour ferry ride from Chaiten delivered us to the island of Chiloe, famous mainly for its churches built by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century and 150 of which are still standing in various states of repair. Here we finally found fresh seafood markets and feasted on inexpensive fresh fish and smoked salmon. The landscape was similar to parts of New Zealand but the buildings definitely set it apart with rows of brightly coloured houses built on stilts along the shoreline. Lots of small villages, markets, lush green landscape and ferry rides between the small neighbouring islands made it an unexpectedly lovely detour.

Chiloe – El Bolson

As we drove into Puerto Varas both commented on the lovely old buildings and impressive layout of the town with the lake then volcanos Orsorno and Calbuco towering perfectly in the background, it reminded Martin of German villages so it wasn't surprising to find that the town had actually been founded by German immigrants in the mid 19th century. Its name means “city of roses” and it lives up to this with beautiful roses growing in most gardens and decorating all public areas. We discovered that there was a German Bierfest on in the neighbouring town of Llanquihue so spent an “interesting” day there sampling the food, bier and culture!

The lakes district of Chile and back over to Argentina was stunning with green countryside, lakes, mountains, rivers and volcanos. We took our time meandering through to the beautiful city of San Carlos de Bariloche, tucked into the forests on the banks of lake Nahuel Huapi, a popular tourist destination and as such expensive with scarce good camping options so we headed south to El Bolson. This town was also originally home to many german immigrants but was invaded by hippies from Buenos Aires in the 1970's and has retained its “alternative” vibe with an economy based on its artisan markets, tourism and outdoor activities in local lakes and mountains. We stayed more than a week while we awaited news of Martin's passport, visiting the huge markets with an incredible range of innovative arts and crafts, and sampling as much of the yummy food as possible!

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