We bid farewell to our new friends and hopped into the truck, ready for yet another border crossing. No more than ten minutes after we entered the aduana building, we were leaving Chile, both of us stamped out of the country and the truck’s permit cancelled. Why couldn’t Central America’s borders be this easy?
Pulling over for a roadside lunch, we parked next to Lago Buenos Aires and admired the almost surfable waves. I could have sworn we were beachside on the ocean instead of a lake. With the wind ripping through us, we piled into the font of the truck and slapped together a couple of veggie sandwiches. With our full tummies, we hit the road South once again.
As we were cruising along, we spotted something in the road. Nate swerved and soared over it, straddling the rock-like object in the middle of the highway. Nate glanced in his side mirror and started laughing. He said that, as we glided over the object, it rose on all fours, scared out of it’s mind and then scurried off. It must have been an armadillo!! We quickly pulled the truck over and ran down the highway to make sure our ‘armored’ amigo was okay.
Not long after the armadillo incident, we spotted something else running across the highway. However, these things were much larger than an armadillo. As we got closer, we spotted the ostrich-like birds frantically running away, flapping their butt-feathers in an attempt to frighten us. We later found out that these birds are called rheas, and are native to South America.
After driving all day, the sun was starting to set. Looking for a place to camp was becoming difficult as there were fences on either side of the highway, not allowing us off the highway. The land in this area is owned by “estancias” who have blocked off all access to the public. We were able to find an opening in one part of a fence, so we squeaked the truck through and parked well off the road for the night.
The next morning, we awoke early and hit the road to Chalten. Driving along the highway, we were forced to drive on the bumpy, pot-holey dirt road instead of the nicely, new paved road that was right beside it. They ran alongside each other most of the way, the paved road taunting us saying, “Nah nah nah nah, boo boo! You can’t drive on me!”
Chalten is a beautiful town located at the bottom of Mount Fitz Roy. It is a backpackers paradise, with hostels, pizza joints, breweries and easy access to several hikes in the area. We found a perfect little campsite within walking distance to the hike we had chosen to do the next day.
We decided to hike the most popular trail to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. Although we knew it would be crowded, we also knew that it would provide the best views of the spires so we packed our bags and hit the trail.
The first hour, we were trudging uphill behind dozens of people. Like busy worker ants, we followed each other in a single file line.
After that first hour, everyone seemed to disperse and we were able to go at our own pace. As we rounded the high rock wall, we got our first glimpse of Fitz Roy. I immediately got chills up my spine. Like a castle towering high above the mountains, Fitz Roy shot straight up in the sky, the snow glinting in the sun.
The trail became flat and grassy, and good thing, because we were both walking down the path with our heads cranked upwards, not watching where we were going!
After about three hours of trekking, we made it to a rushing river where we were able to fill our water bottles. Being so close to the glaciers, you are able to safely drink directly from the river.
Then it came time for the final stretch to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. Looking ahead, we could see people trekking essentially straight up the mountain. The trail switchbacked it’s way steeply to the top of the mountain. We ate a quick snack and put our game faces on. Let’s do this!
About 1/4 of the way up, I was so out of breath I thought I would die of asphyxiation. No not really, but I was definitely getting my ass kicked. The trail was steep, rocky and filled with people that you had to maneuver around as they sat directly in the middle of the trail trying to catch their breath. About halfway up, I finally found my rhythm and was able to keep a good pace with Nate. Passing people left and right, I felt like a couple in the Amazing Race.
The last and final stretch was a scramble up a scree covered slope. There was no definitive trail at this point as people were so delirious they just seemed to walk wherever their feet took them. As we crested the top, we got a full on gorgeous view of the spires that teased us on the entire trek. And they were amazing!!
In our trek up, we had slowly stripped ourselves of all our layers and were now sitting on a rock enjoying some cheese and crackers. It didn’t take long for our bodies to feel the chill in the air as the wind in Patagonia is relentless. Before we knew it, we had all of our layers back on and were ready to start the trek back to camp. We looked back one more time at the remarkable spires before descending down the trail.
That night, we rewarded our tired bodies with some pizza and delicious beer. With our wind burnt faces, we sat in the restaurant with Fitz Roy in the background teasing us to come out and play again.
Knowing we had many more mountain adventures ahead of us, we continued on the next day towards Calafate, where we planned to visit Glacier National Park.
We found a nice camp spot outside of town that had internet as well as hot showers in a heated (!) bathroom! We took the first day to roam around town and visit a few shops. I even made a new friend! 😉
The next morning, Nate decided to take a shower before we left to go to the park. When he returned to the truck, he only had one shoe on the ground where he left them. We looked everywhere and could not find the other shoe. We had made some new street dog friends the day before, and figured they must have come to our site and stolen Nate’s shoe when we weren’t looking. An hour of searching later, we climbed through a barbed wire fence towards a river and found Nate’s lonely shoe plopped in the grass. Ohhh street dogs, they are so cute but you cannot trust them!
That afternoon, we drove the hour to the park. Driving along the road, we were greeted with a bright blue mass floating in the water. The Perito Moreno glacier, which is still growing, is one of the biggest outside of Antarctica! With stunning views around every corner, we made our way to the parking lot and up to the viewing platforms where we got an up close and personal look at the gigantic ice formation.
As we stood there, the glacier moaned and groaned, creaked and cracked. At times, it sounded like thunder rolling through the hills and then a piece would break off, splashing into the water and creating a mini tidal wave.
It was so exciting to see the glacier in action. We ended up standing there for a few hours saying, “Okay, after the next one we will go!” It was pretty chilly just standing there so we ended up walking on all the platforms to get all the views we could. As we would walk away, we would hear the low rumble and sprint back to the edge of the deck to see if we could watch an ice chunk break off.
Upon our return to our camp, we were greeted by the family’s pitbull, who took a liking to Nate. He loved to play catch with rocks. We would throw them for him but figured it must be bad for his teeth, so we donated one of Brady’s toys to him. He was so happy to have a new toy and wouldn’t let it out of his sight!
We had one more stop before pushing our way to our ultimate destination of the trip. The spires of Torres del Paine were just on the other side of the border, so we hopped in Truck once again and made our way down Ruta 40 to Puerto Natales, Chile.
We pulled into town late and quickly found a place to spend the night before we would head into the park. Having driven all day and completing our border crossing at 7 pm, we were exhausted and ready for some grub. We heard rumors of a brewery in town and were excited to sit in a warm, cozy restaurant and sip on a couple of good brews.
Unfortunately for our wallets and our waistlines, Baguales Brewery has some of the best beers we had in all of South America and the best pub food in SA to go with it.
The next morning, we hit the road and headed North towards Torres del Paine National Park. The road was paved most of the way and offered fantastic views of the mountains surrounding us. As we got closer to the park, the towers decided to show themselves, soaring high into the sky above the lake.
Dodging guanaco the rest of the way to the entrance of the park, we pulled up and went into the building to pay for our (expensive) tickets. After retrieving a map and figuring out which hikes we wanted to do, we walked back to the truck. Nate noticed a small puddle underneath but didn’t really think much of it. At this point in our trip, Truck needs a little TLC. We have beat the crap out of her and to see a little leak here and there seems pretty normal. But, just to be sure, we pulled over once we were in the park to make some lunch and check out the situation.
As I was sitting in the front making sandwiches, Nate came around shaking his head. “We have to leave the park,” he said. Whaatt?! But we just paid about $40 per person to get in this park! Why do we have to leave?
We had a pretty serious coolant leak going on and needed to get it fixed. We retreated back to the park ranger office, told them what was going on and asked for a refund for our tickets. We spent about ten minutes in the beautiful park before we were forced to go back to Puerto Natales to get Truck fixed. I guess she didn’t want to be left alone while we went hiking and this was her way of making sure we were stuck with her 😉
We drove the whole way back to Puerto Natales, pulling over every ten minutes or so to check the coolant level. Nate had figured out that the leak was coming from somewhere in the radiator. Well, this could be a problem!
We pulled back into our camp spot and let the owner know what was going on. He quickly got on the phone with his buddy, who is a mechanic, and said that the man would come to us in the morning. The next morning, a man showed up to assess the situation and had a mechanic come take the radiator out so he could weld the hole. It was kind of a scary feeling watching a man you had just met walk out of the gate with your radiator under one arm and waving bye to you with his other.
He said he would have it ready by the next day so there was nothing more for us to do than walk around town and try to take our minds off the fact that our truck was in pieces in the middle of nowhere.
While making lunch that afternoon, I saw two men walk through the gate carrying our radiator! In less than 24 hours, we had a radiator guy come look at our truck, a mechanic pull the radiator, had it welded and re-installed into our truck! All for $50!
Contemplating going back to the park, we decided against it for two reasons: One, we wanted to make sure our radiator was in fact fixed and didn’t want to be too far away from a town in case something happened and, Two: We had to get Truck onto a ship from Buenos Aires in two weeks, not giving us much time to get to Ushuaia and then drive the 2,000 mile leg up to B.A.
We hit the road South towards Punta Arenas, where we would take a ferry across the Strait of Magellan. After attempting to make a reservation to no avail, we were told to come back the next morning and wait in line to see if there would be extra room for us to squeak on. We explored the Zona Franca, the free zone in Punta Arenas, before finding a place to camp for the night.
We found a perfect, albeit very windy, free camp spot about ten miles north of the ferry. Too windy to cook dinner, we grabbed a couple of granola bars and climbed into the back to watch a movie and fall asleep. The next morning, we awoke to the terrible sound of our alarm and got in line at the port in hopes that they would let us on the boat. We felt like little kids awaiting direction from the man. We didn’t know if he would point to us and tell us to drive on the boat or to leave because there was no space. To our surprise, he pointed at us and told us to drive onto the ferry. Sweet!! After parking the truck, we found a couple of seats and got comfortable for the two hour ride to Porvenir on the island of Tierra del Fuego.