Into Patagonia // Argentina & Chile
We disembarked the Buquebus ferryboat from Montevideo, Uruguay into the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pizzerias, bakeries and gelaterias on every block, the confident city step of local portenos, museums in art deco buildings filled with European inspired artworks, endless alleys crammed with architecture begging to be looked at, avenues filled with honking taxis, mate to be shared in grand parks brimming with trees… Although we adore Buenos Aires, we skipped the pomp & grit that embodies this capital city of Argentina and headed out to Andean Roads 45 minutes out of town to gather our bearings and ask our pals a little more about their recommendations on Argentine Patagonia. First stop was to Chapadmalal, a freckle of a town between Mar del Plata & Mira Mar on the Atlantic coast. We had visited earlier in the year when we were a threesome not yet a quartet, finding waves as well as friends in this beautiful post by the sea.
Adam & Coco gathered wild chard, which we made into a big salad for brunch, eaten al fresco in the cloud-splattered sky.
Relishing these moments with our blossoming family is a favorite past time. On a technical front, we do play a bit of ‘musical beds’ with the kids. Colette & Sierra go down upstairs first, then we transfer Coco downstairs when Emily & Adam go to bed. She may climb upstairs for a snuggle in the wee hours, or snooze like a splayed starfish downstairs.There is something so satisfying about reuniting with friends you have made on the road, something that makes our driving around this huge wide world seem much more real. Returning to a place you visited and liked- to feel the late spring weather warming, not cold winter waxing; to see the beach that some months earlier was barren now dappled with wide eyed visitors, many of whom have never seen the ocean before; to introduce friends to Sierra; to watch Colette play with friends she had played with before- is a wonderful experience.
Knowing we are just nomads passing through, we find that friends we meet on the road always want to do something fun & remarkable to show us the best of their slice of life. As the sun lowered, Adam & Ale paddled out in kayaks to try their turn of luck catching some dinner. There was little swell in the water, and they each caught several rays and 4 small sharks before they snagged a pescadilla & a corvina.
Jose set the parilla up, stoking the fire until the embers cracked. Low & slow they cooked the fresh caught fish, an obligatory hunk of beef, and veggie kebabs- which everyone marveled at… guess that was a first at an Argentine bbq to have so many veggies present. We drank red wine and stared into the night sky, illuminated by the full moon and the sparks from our grill. To share an authentic experience with good company is the best of gifts. Having a mobile home, we find that it can be sometimes be a mountain cabin, sometimes an oasis in the desert, and often we just find ourselves living in a tiny beach house. “I like this picture of me & daddy, but I can’t see his head.” – Colette It had rained a few days prior, and the late spring sky was abuzz with just hatched dragonflies. Not a few like “oh, look a dragonfly” but litanies of them filling the sky, flying into the van, getting caught in the grill if we drove anywhere, just hoards of them flying and bumping into each other clumsily in the sky and landing on the swaying grasses. Not in a locusts attacking the earth kind of nasty way, but a burst of life, so random and beautiful. The beach sand was littered with their dead bodies, which grew crunchy in the warm sun, their carcasses faded and without incandescence. Colette rushed among the grasses and onto the beach, chasing them, laughing and laughing, studying them closely as they landed on her for a momentary break before sputtering off into the sky again. We are growing to know who this new energy is, our sweet Sierra Luna. An old soul in a new form, she has a deep peace about her. That is not to say she can’t belt it out to let it be known when she is not stoked about something, but for the great part of it all, she is a joyous babe that delights in the new spectacle of life, watching her sister’s entertainment with rapt attention and infectious giggles. Argentina is a big supporter of the siesta. Outside of Buenos Aires, it remains a time-honored tradition, where shops close for lunch so everyone can return home for a lunchtime meal and a nap. Trying to find a business open from say noon-5pm can sometimes be impossible. If you are trying to get anything done, that can be greatly frustrating. If you are at the beach, siesta time just means a guilt free nap. During the long winter months of rain, it seems locals in Mira Mar have caught wind of the yarn bombing trend that is circulating the globe.La Paloma had some swell coming through, so Adam suited up. High winds brought us back to Mar Del Plata to find more protected bays with less wind. Our lifeguard friend Jose, dance instructor wife Anais, their 9 year old son Manuel- invited us to their house, which they finished building just 6 months earlier. In the garden, a future orchard is planted, with beds of veggies and herbs, and organic compost. We shared a meal & Emily made lavender lemonade from their garden, which they said would surely remain a tradition.The next morning Jose and Adam woke early and headed out looking for waves in his Ford Falcon. After unsucessfully finding any decent waves, Jose & Ale brought Adam to their childhood friend Guillermo Sampayo’s house to see the master leatherworker do his thing. Guillermo is self taught and has gained recognition from old masters, crafting traditional gaucho knives and horse saddlery in the tiny workshop behind his house. When there’s no waves, he can be found working away producing goods for high end shops in Buenos Aires. We would have loved to work with him for our 24 Hour Bazaar- but he had no inventory, and a waiting list of several months! His work was beautiful, and easy to see why it was in demand. Using the leather from Ale’s dead horse Guillermo carefully cuts strips, then weaves them around a wooden handle for a gaucho knife. The work reminiscent of the fine Panama hats we saw in Ecuador. Some days our tiny house feels so open and spacious. As morning’s first light wakes the day in a rush of yellow creeping into orange, there is a feeling that the day is taking a deep breath in preparation of what may come ahead. All that was shrouded in darkness comes to light, and our tiny house greets the rising star of fire that we should worship, for this ball of energy is what keeps our lives on Earth good. Sometimes life is really so very simple. We give thanks for the rising sun, for the chance that lies in a new day, for this tent with a side window that allows us to see the Atlantic slowly illuminate the softly rolling waves. Seafaring has a long history as a treacherous trade. The vast oceans remain one of the great unknown expanses on our globe. We dream of learning how to sail, and we take these skeletons scattered along the coast as reminders of the real passion it takes to journey out into the great waters. Nothing beats fresh & local in our book. We have said before, but Emily insists on stopping at nearly every roadside stand to investigate their offerings, scouring for treasures, asking questions to learn about their specialties. Regionales de Jenny had some delicious olive oil, freshly smoked and ground merken, and tasty jars of olives. THIS IS OFFICIAL- we have finally crossed into Patagonia. A massive area of land, shrouded in mystery, with interesting history, that we have dreamed of for years now… and now we are finally here! Sunbathers set their gale force umbrellas to counter the winds and lounged in the sun, which was quite nice when the wind was blocked.Outside of Viedma is El Condor Natural Preserve, whose name is a total misnomer as it is home to the largest colony of burrowing parrots in the world- estimates range from 20-25,000 birds! It is as much an auditory experience as it is visual. The parrots nest along a 12km stretch of beach. Colette found an assembly of small pools to splash in, so off with the clothes and into the water she went. This girl loves the water so much, she doesn’t care if the wind whips her blue, water is too much fun! Parrots scrape out nests in the soft sandstone , limestone and earthen cliffs, forming monogamous pairs and have very strong bi-parental care. As we scrambled among the rocks at the bottom of the nests, we found a few fallen babies and many beautiful feathers- some of other birds that have moved in to share the neighborhood.On the cliffs above, there were more parrots on the power lines than in their nests. Mate is to Argentina what tea is the the British. A bitter tea, enjoyed in gourd cups sipped with a metal straw, the people of many South American countries enjoy the social aspects of drinking together. Jose gifted us this set, as well as the introduction of using honey in it, which to our unaccustomed palate makes the bitter mate much mellower & enjoyable. The bright warning of the Scottish Thistle brings an intense rush of color to a vast land of muted hues. But, we have learned that this is an invasive species here in Patagonia, a most unwelcome visitor. We have seen thousands of these prickly buds lining roads and trails from the Atlantic coast all the way to the Pacific. As our VW is a 2wd, not a 4wd Synchro, airing up and down to gain safe access to the beaches is a must. We use this most excellent Sherpa 100 from Goal Zero as a portable power source to re-inflate our tires after cruising the strand and before hitting the road. Adam’s surf research indicated there may be a wave working here. The photo does not portray the steep incline that led us to this beach access, nor the sudden drop that leads to the rocky shores. There was indeed swell in the water but the tide was too high for a surf. We had just entered Patagonia, and already we are in a world of our own. In the sedimentary layers, fossils crumble, relics of another time that try to tell their tale. Any waves down there Coco? In this notoriously windswept coastline, there was a mellow offshore breeze and some little peelers coming through. Without hesitation, Adam suited up and yelled “We are camping here!” then hustled out to catch some late day waves. Perhaps he is the first person to surf this stretch- it was not on any surf map, or recommended by local surfer friends- it was just a stretch 100 miles down a dirt road with some fun little peelers. He surfed until past 10pm, frolicking in the cold waters as light hung to the horizon. Inspired by his kayak fishing with Ale, Adam paddled out on his surfboard the next morning for some line fishing. The Leatherman Wave is our most used tool, an absolutely irreplaceable item on the must bring list if you are adventuring on the road. After catching a shark, he thought surfing would be more fun and surfed all morning with the same chill conditions as the night before. The male Long-tailed Meadowlark. While driving slowly down the dirt road, we had the remarkable luck of witnessing a truly majestic moment. A mama rhea sprinted in front of the van, spreading her wings wide, flapping them as she ran ever slowing to caution us to keep back and slow down as her brood of babies clumsily sped ahead to safety. These birds can grow to be 5.5 feet tall with an 8 foot wingspan and can run up to 35mph- it was an exhilarating sight to witness. Watching the shadow of a cloud pass over a point is a more titillating experience than perhaps it sounds. Along a south-facing beach, we stopped when out of the window, the beach’s offerings came into clearer focus. It was not simply rocks filling the great expanse, but shells- hundreds of thousands of ocean gifts littering the colossal shores- WOW! We parked and disembarked in awe of the beauty that each unique item held. What started as a brief exploration developed into a full fledged treasure hunt. Emily was inspired to make a mandala, and Colette eager to assist. She is actually almost always an eager helper, always wanting to be included in whatever task we are undertaking. Rainbow hued clam shells, massive pink and purple barnacles, sun-bleached crab claws, sea stars, love and a whole lotta time. Adam spent his afternoon gathering relics of another variety. “No, you cannot boil that seal and penguin skull in our cooking pots to scald off the rotten fur and brain matter!” These are the things we argue about on the road (seriously). Although cute, it is incomprehensible how many unending miles and miles of fence are installed throughout this planet for the safeguarding of cattle. We have seen guanaco and rhea separated from their young when they are unable to cross the barbed fences- mother guanaco hop over, while their young cannot always and young rhea climb under, while the mothers cannot. We recall in Namibia, seeing magnificent oryx suffering the same dilemma, and elephant that could not access rivers to drink because of fences. Sometimes, the road just ends, and the only access is on foot. In the blink of an eye, the weather can change here. It is said that Patagonia has all four seasons in one day and indeed that is true. One moment clear, then clouded, then dumping rain. Adam hopped out when we discovered the nut holding the windshield wiper came loose from repeated bouncing on the dirt roads… again the much used Leatherman multitool at work. Ten minutes later, a full and magnificent rainbow stretched across the celestial sphere, a dazzling arc draped gracefully across the slate sky, which brought smiles to all our faces. Bits of the storm passed through the rainbow like smears and smudges in our focus, the depth and intensity of the chroma dancing in an optical illusion. Cautiously crossing the single track road, an Argentine tortoise froze when he (or she?) felt the vibrations of our approaching van. We steered wide and stopped for a closer inspection. The Chaco tortoise live from Paraguay to this section of northern Patagonia is listed as ‘vulnerable’ due to habitat destruction, and more so the pet trade where some 75,000+ creatures are wild captured annually. We were very thankful to encounter this beautiful being, and we moved it safely into the brush after our brief hellos (not keeping it as Colette requested.)Adam got one of these thorns about a quarter inch into his foot through his flip-flops. Yeouch! Another long day came to an end with a distant storm falling upon the ocean, our hearts nearly bursting from the magnificence we witnessed. Holy shit Patagonia, if you are this good so quick, how will our hearts and minds hold all the offerings you have for us?! Guess our hearts must burst bigger to make room. Adam is a certified multi-munchkin holder. Colette has developed a hilarious and enchanting vocabulary, the ultimate hippy heart of describing her family… “Daddy, you are a moonbeam love petal. Sierra, you are a happy rainbow slice. Mommy, you are smiling beautiful sunshine heart.” As you can see from Colette’s serene smile and Adam’s beaming soul, we are all dreamily in love with our pint-sized ‘rainbow slice.’ Breakfast is now a more complicated affair, with little Sierra wanting to feed her own self. Nearly everything is ‘off the grid’ in these parts, so small scale power and independent water are mandatory for homesteading here. Adam learned to drive in the VW bus his family had when he was young. It is a family tradition we are happy to pass along. Puerto Madryn was a larger than we expected gateway city to the Valdes Peninsula. It was an affable place, easy to navigate and we got all our requisite chores like internet works and stocking up on groceries handled before we headed out to the famed wildlife refuge. We rough camped for a night on the Golfo Nuevo then packed up to enter the Peninsula. Dramatic tidal action leaves sea lettuce slathered across the ground. The Valdes Peninsula is home to whales, orca, dolphin, penguin, guanaco, and a host of other wildlife.Adam scaled a lookout tower, gaining sweeping views of the calm bay (but no whales). “It is not the greatness of a man’s means that makes him independent, so much as the smallness of his wants” – William CobbettThrilled to have interactive exhibits at the visitors center, Colette was awestruck with the size of the whale baleen. After traveling the world in two Land Rovers, Ulrich & Rita switched it up for their VW Transporter and are now livin’ the vanlife. Quite a confusing sight in this natural preserve are the sheep that roam on the few estancias that fill the interior of the island. The shelf drops off to very deep water rapidly, it is easy to see why this calm bay is favored by marine life.Mara are an animal we had never heard of before we spotted one! Also known as the Patagonian Hare, these critters are easily identifiable by the white stripe that wraps around their bum and easily seen as they bounce away on all four. Bigger than a rabbit, smaller than a wallabee, these rodents are large relatives of guinea pigs. Over our three days on the peninsula, we spotted perhaps 40 of these animals, which were usually traveling in pairs. There is one permitted camp spot on the island in the town of Punta Piramides. Well, we just happened to be quite far from there when the sun was setting. We hate to backtrack just to camp in a dingy square we have to pay for when we have the (unapproved) option to pop our top (and of course leave no trace) in the wild and beautiful places of the world. Below our camp on the bluff, a herd of elephant seals guffawed on the sand, undisturbed by our momentary viewing of their solitary post. Indeed, the Peninsula Valdes is a rarefied place where wildlife is (mostly) left to do as they have for time eternal. The name for these wild camelids, guanaco, is derived from the Quechua word wanaku. Preferring arid and mountainous regions, these creatures live in herds of 1 dominant male, with his harem of ladies, and their babies. Young bachelor males form their own groups, which can amass to 50 members. They have a recognizable high-octave bleating call that they yodel across the plains when they feel threatened. Guanacos have blood that is incredibly well suited for high altitudes, with four times the amount of red blood cells than humans. At Caleta Valdes, Megallanic penguins nested right near the road. The males of these aquatic birds return to the same nest every year and await to reconnect with their female partner, who recognizes her male by his voice (or erratic, loud, honking, squealing call). Incubation is 39-42 days, a task shared by both parents. The two also share the job of raising their young, which is usually two eggs per season for one moon cycle. Hopefully Mama or Papa penguin is not too far, this lil’ baby needs to be kept warm! We climbed the lighthouse at Faro Punta Delgada for some soaring views of the coastline; below a whale skeleton makes a heavy impression on our explorer. The only whales we saw were skeletons, in booklets and diagrams. Our friends Peter & Chloe at Lodges of Botswana have hilariously recanted tales of tourists that are irate because the animals won’t turn around (butt pictures aren’t commonly the framers) or the animals they most want to see won’t appear. Well, you can’t win them all and we certainly don’t expect animals to put on a performance for us (although it is most celebrated when they do!). If the animals we are wishing to see do happen to appear, Adam is always ready to get the shot!Except when he’s not… At camp on the Golfo San Jose we spotted not one, but TWO wild cats in one evening- the yaguarundi and gato de pajonal! Both cats were spotted around 10pm as the late sun set on the horizon, darting quickly into the low brush silently when they sensed our recognizing them. It was a thrilling opportunity to view not one, but two of these rare creatures, even if we didn’t get a photo of them. Rainbow-hued lizard (that was not in the animal book or identifiable online) darted among the dry scrub brush, catching our eye with their electric blue-green-yellow coloring. Super psychedelic! Nature has the best costume design ever- just check out these caterpillars. This plant zampa, also called Devil’s herb, is reputed to have magic powers. Natives believed that smoking out a person with this type of wild sage would relieve negative gualicho, energy, from a person. Fascinating how smudging energy is an honoured practice from North all the way to this region of South America! We of course gathered some & smudged the van and ourselves.Among the normal foxtails, these whispy blonde weeds danced upon the blowing breeze like modern dancers executing a wild and inspired choreography. Living small is not just a pintrest trend, it is a reality for many.When the gas gauge hits red, it is always a relief to have 10 gallons at the ready on our swing aways. We carry two siphon hoses from GoWesty– one for water, one for gas- which eliminate the unsavory affair of drinking gas when you are already broken down!Even cold & day old medialunas are freaking delish, especially with local cherry jam. Living the life of luxury if we do say so ourselves.In Trelew, a small Welsh outpost south of Peninsula Valdes, is Museo Egidio Feruglio. Adam & I got into a scuffle about God-knows-what, but it left us in a bit of a sour mood at the museum. The dinosaurs and big teeth and dead things and our energy must have rubbed off on Colette, who was distraught about the dinosaurs being extinct. “But I don’t want them all to be dead!” she cried. “They were animals, we don’t eat them! Who killed them? Why are they ALL gone?” She has such a wonderful big heart, explaining the workings of the world, past and present is a constant challenge. “Turtles & crocodiles are living relatives of the dinosaurs, and you have seen those” we explained attempting to soothe her crocodile tears. Sometimes being a human is a heartbreaking experience, when we learn about the changes that have been, and will be. It is almost impossible to imagine how we will explain the extinction of species that she will see in her own lifetime. Cabo Raso was noted as a potential surf spot, but it was flat. We asked permission to camp near the shipwrecked fishing boat Chubasco, which we were granted ‘only because of the face of your two angels.’ In the morning, we washed up, layered on some warm gear and walked among the fantastic tide pools, gathered wild flowers & explored the shipwreck. A pretty good morning. As we were about to depart, we spotted perhaps the most majestic swing we have encountered thus far. When in full swing, it feels as if you are flying over the ocean, far removed from every other worry (which, in fact you are). Mixed in with the browns and greys on the beach were the most radical assortment of rainbow toned rocks. The only building around was the small hostel we stopped at to explore the swing. Another set of travelers unloaded from their rides- a group of Italian photographers and videographers. We chatted for a bit and they invited us to join them for lunch inside, where we got sidetracked drinking wine & chatting with the affable crew. Part of their adventure is a culinary journey, so they ask each kitchen they encounter what their best most unique offerings are. Here, some guanaco burgers came topped with farm fresh fried eggs. None for us, thanks. Punta Tambo is the popular penguin spot, Punta Camarones is the less frequented, and less regulated one. Clearly we knew which one we would visit.
At Camarones, the guard asked us a little info, then waved us through the gate. We arrived late in the day and were the only ones around- that is- the only humans around! Camarones hosts a colony of some 25,000 nests- a pair and their 1 or 2 babies. Before we had climbed out of the van, the raucous sounds of these foot tall honkers was carried to us. We watched them amble around, waddling side-to-side, strange flightless birds in a dusty hillside. But to see them in the ocean, returning from the days hunt, is an unforgettable sight. Entering the bay in groups of 10-15, they first circle near their exit locale, then swim back 30 or so feet. Then swimming super fast underwater, the water churning on top hinting at the motion going on below, they all catapult themselves out of the water. For a moment they are flying! Flapping their surfboard fin sized wings in the air, they land first one then two, then six, ten, all fifteen onto the rocky shore with a running start. It is hilarious and magical! I witnessed a sad moment as a hawk flew down to a nest- both parents protested as it neared, but in an instant it stole their grey fuzzy chick in its sharp yellow talons. That is the cycle of life, to see it whole, all the components, not just the sweet, but also the sour. After several hours watching with glee the penguins that could have cared less about us, we posted up at Cabo Dos Bahias, just outside the park for a wild camp on the bay.“When I was sleeping, the moon threw a heart on me & I exploded with love! That’s how I get filled back up with hugs & kisses.”- Coco 2 weeks shy of 4 years old. Whenever possible, Emily stocks up on sundries for out tiny pantry. Dinner can range from elaborate to basic, depending on our location, ingredients available and how fast the hungry hoards have to be fed before they turn into goblins (Emily being the most prone to become hangry).This picture was taken on Sierra’s 6 month birthday. WOW! One moment she still looks so tiny, the next she is coated in several layers of fleece & sitting up all on her own. You have forever changed our lives little lovekin, thanks for joining the party. The van was actin’ a bit funny, so Adam took off the gas pump and shook out a fair amount of junk. Our time on the Atlantic had come to an end (for now) so we shoved off on the long drive across Patagonia towards the mighty Andes. Adam stopped to inspect the van, sensing a loss of power and noticed a pinhole in the oil pan. How does metal even spring a leak? Oh, to be in the middle of Patagonia with car troubles. Luckily, there was a small town Florenrtino Ameghino near the base of a huge dam, where a cozy campground happened to have a welder we could borrow. Thanks for that universe. We posted up in the late afternoon, Adam drained the oil and welded the small hole shut, us girls explored the orchards of cherries, apricots and plums.With jars of fresh apricot and cardamom jam cooling on the picnic table, Colette emulates Mama, nursing her own babydoll. Above the thick concrete walls of the damn, an eerily green lake glowed in the whiteout sky. We have been learning about the damaging effects of huge dams and support the movement of ‘free rivers.’ With small scale wind and water available for local energy, why must we transmit power over huge distances? Rock-paper-scissors is the new favorite game on the road. Along the Rio Chubut, the river flows free, creating islands and changing course as it sees fit. We were struck by how much this sector looks like the American southwest.Santa found his way to the town of Esquel, where he delivered Colette her Christmas wish- a fishing pole. “Coco, are you going to eat the fish if you catch them?” “No, I will catch the fish, then give them to daddy for him to eat.” As far as sous-chef’s go, Colette is at the top of her game. She is always eager to participate, slices with the finest precision & provides a pleasant mood for the high stress kitchen. I mean, look at the concentration on her face! Pro. British journalists turned overlanders, Paula & Jeremy Dear of Seventeen by Six were camped a few sites over, and we shared Christmas dinner together, starting the fire early as we were both tapped out of propane. It is quite a hassle to find the correct adaptor here on the road. Chile has easy filling stations, so if you are heading down for a trip of your own, be sure to always fill up there because Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina are not so simple. We may have had a few more hot buttered rums for dessert than we should have. That was sandwiched into the flowing bounty of delicious and cheap Argentine wine- malbec in the cup and wine poached pears with cream on the plate. The Bumbleride Flite stroller also doubles as a portable baby seat.
Research, route planning & documenting our travels thus far are always a fun session. Adam drew a few smiley faces into the grapes pictured here, and Colette is always delighted to discover them hiding among the others. “Daddy, are we going to the smiling grapes today?” Not only does Argentina have great, cheap wine, they also have bakeries unlike any other place. Medialunas, croissants, are served either sweet or salty- the mainstay to accompany any decent coffee. Rows of facturas, pastries, are filled with sweet pastry cream, membrillo, and dulce de leche or topped with chocolate sprinkles, sugary glaze or chopped walnuts. It is a white flour & sugar feast, but damn worth it on occasion. In Esquel, we confirmed at a mechanic that there was indeed low compression in cylinder #2 of our motor. So that means we have to pull the motor out for the 4th time on our journey. Crap. Argentina also does not have Subaru’s, so we will have to cross into Chile to attend to the issue. Double crap. Bummed at the prognosis, we ventured to Los Alerces National Park so find some solace. Nature, unspoilt, is the best medicine for the soul, it forgives so much and reminds you of how small you are in the circle of it all. The National Park was free to enter even for foreigners and contrary to what a guidebook said, and mixed among the privately owned camps, were a few free sites. We settled into one on the shores of the lake for a dynamite view & some afternoon snuggles. After 28 months on the road, the awning remains one of our favorite pre-departure additions. It creates a relaxing outside space in rain or shine. Adam would spend summers in his youth chopping wood for their cast iron stove, preparing for cold winters in Juniper Hills, at the snowline of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. Wetsuit- check, surfboard- check, fishing pole- what? Hey, Adam loves to get in a paddle even if there aren’t waves, so why not try & catch a fish? We take turns being the leader as we hike. Colette took a spill on the rocks and was very upset about it. “But Mama, why did take me this way. I don’t like to fall! My hands will never stop hurting.” But soon enough, she is tranquil and smiling, throwing rocks and picking flowers again. When Adam defrosted, he took the girls out for a walk, allowing Emily some moments of solitary time, which was spent doing yoga on the beach, then reading a book. Aah! We can all be better selves when we have some time to recharge our batteries. They returned with a bouquet of flowers, which made an already perfect afternoon that much sweeter. Putting her Christmas present to use, Colette cast out onto Lago Futalaufquen. She didn’t catch any, but there was that big one that got away… Fire crackling and gusts of cool breeze may just be the perfect recipe for bliss. Adam enjoying the ancient art of stoking & poking.As we were about to cross into Chile to attend to our low compression in cylinder 2, we had to use all fruits & vegetables, dairy & honey before crossing the border. Chile is the most stringent of any border so we made dinner over the fire with what we had lurking in the fridge, freezer and in the hanging baskets.
The non-trademarked “super veggie wreath” ensures your veggies won’t slip off the grill (which can result in the insta-sad face & burnt fingertips). Make your own with a regular ‘ol piece of wire & veggies. Happy grillin’! Dinner happened to be spinach milanesas with a little pesto and grilled veggies. Certainly not anything special or one for the cookbook, but just a picture of dinner as it happened. Sierra, our sweet little fuzzerhead, peeps the morning view from the top bunk.We had inquired about the boat ride out to see the stand of Alerce trees, and they told us it seated 70 people, would not fill up & we could purchase tickets from the dock on the other side of the huge lake, so we took an afternoon to think about it as the tickets were twice what a book had priced them at. Once we had decided yes, we do want to take the boat ride, we hiked out to the dock. The walk was glorious, full of new dramatic vistas of the deep and clear rivers meeting slow and glowing lakes. Overhanging the rushing waters, a tree just begging for a hammock reached far beyond the rest of the forest in its search for sunlight. At the dock, the ‘office’ to purchase the tickets was nonexistent, so we would have to hike back in the morning early to buy a ticket pre-departure. Around the bend, a gorgeous view of the glacier. Colette is a bit flower obsessed these days- she draws flowers, wants to wear only dresses with flowers, and most of all, loves to pick flowers. We have been seeing SO many new kinds, almost daily, that this fascination is no surprise. Hidden among brown grasses, we found a patch of wild strawberries. At first one, then two, then we were all crawling around, picking the sweet morsels, rejoicing at these gifts from the earth. Pretty stoked on putting her hiking boots to good use, our tiny adventuress adores to climb trees. These beautiful plants Colette has named “fairy balls” because fairy’s would like to jump from one to the next. The Argentine Parks Service gets major bonus points for their use of these tiny & stylish Land Rovers.At the north end of the park, there was no free sites, so we settled into the campground near the river where the small café was churning out woodfired pizzas and smoked trout. It smelled dreamy, but we opted to stay on budget and use up our food before we crossed into Chile. In the morning, we again took the loop trail out to the dock and waited patiently as the passengers who had purchased tickets ahead of time loaded on. There was 1 couple ahead of us waiting for any laggers to miss the boat. Luck wasn’t on our side that day, they made it on, we did not. Damn, our indecision (and financial caution) got the best of us, so we hiked back enjoying the scenes, but regretting we could not make it to the grove of Alerce, that are some of the largest trees in Patagonia, nearly wiped out because of man’s aggressive export. On September 19th, 1900 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid robbed the First National Bank in Nevada and headed for South America with the money and Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place. Outside the farming community of Cholila, Chubut, Argentina they settled and tried to make an honest living raising cattle. This was their place down here in Patagonia. Well, the notorious thieves soon grew bored & started robbin’ again. They were eventually killed by the Bolivian army in 1908 (although tales that they returned to the US exist). There’s a great account of their time here in Bruce Chatwin’s book “In Patagonia”. Being a badass (at life!). Back to Esquel, where the Paul Theroux’s book “Old Patagonia Express” comes to a close. Being between Christmas & New Year, the schedule was off and there were no trains heading out. We could have waited several days for a ride, but we were feeling the itch and decided to bounce into Chile instead. On the road winding west into the sunset, our eyes delighted as the road wound around the southern edge of Los Alerces National Park. The fields closed in, forming a narrow canyon as we headed towards the lowest pass around- the border towards the world’s top whitewater river destination- the Futalefu! New Years Eve we crossed the border back into Chile- Sierra’s 1st time in and our 3rd pass. The thing we have learned about crossing borders is that they always take time. Having no expectations of a fast crossing, then it is no annoyance if (when) there is a delay of one variety or another. The border crossing was small and efficient, we entered Chile pleasantly surprised and relaxed. In the town of Futalefu, we did a little wifi, hit up the little grocery store and got some Chilean pesos from the ATM, which felt like it was kind of cheating after having to find places with good rates to change USD on the black market in Argentina. A new discovery is that if you go to an Argentine casino, you will likely get a good rate! The legendary place of whitewater dreams, Futalefu was too high to paddle, so those that had come to enjoy her majestic beauty were rerouted to other rivers nearby. Emily & Adam both wanted to experience “the Fu”, but with two small kiddos, that was off the list. I am sure we could have wrangled some babysitters or something, but on NYE with no notice, it was a feat we weren’t up for. We envisioned welcoming the New Year in a place of quite solitude, so that is what we continued down the road to find. On NYE, the kiddos fell asleep in the back of the van, and we adults held hands driving in the perfectly serene evening, smiling as the road followed the snaking river. No discotheques, no raging parties, just us. We kept looking for a great spot to camp & welcome in the new year. Sometime you have to have a fuck it attitude to find the dreamy spots. They aren’t in the guidebooks or have signs leading to them, there likely won’t be anyone around to ask for permission… you just have to use your best intuition and not settle until you find it- so we kept driving. We passed beautiful hostels with campgrounds, we passed a place with teepees and signs for a party that looked like it would have led to all kinds of fun trouble- but we kept driving. And then we found it. The spot. Right on the river, hidden from view, with a great patch of grass, an area of clean sand and dry firewood. Champagne was popped fireside, stars began to appear as clouds parted. Sierra awoke to share the fire with us for a half hour, then went back to sleep. Lunar illumination brought dimension to the clouds that swept lazily by. This was the first New Year’s Eve that Adam & I had really celebrated in quiet solitude in our 14 years together. The year prior we were on a beach in Iquique, Chile, and before that with family in Costa Rica. Our third year on the road. Milestones like this make us reflect on where we have been, where we’ll go, what we wish to manifest different in the next year, how very much we have to be thankful for in our life. The sound of the rushing river had a far more powerful effect than fireworks, but the overwhelming feeling of celebration was profound. The first day of 2015 was a study in electric color: electric blue skies, glowing turquoise water, neon green grass and trees, even the clouds were radiating an electric grey and white. The first family portrait of 2015, on the banks of the Rio Futalefu, Chile. “Daddy, come look at the forest I made.” We believe in child led play, but also foster time to learn. Almost 4, Colette knows how to recite and identify the alphabet & numbers, and has just started inquiring about how to spell this or that, as well as adding small numbers. Her Spanish although not perfect, always surprises adults who turn to me & ask her name and age. My reply to them, ask her! As we do not plan on settling down next year, we are looking into and discussing the serious role of educators that Adam & I have for this hungry mind. A big ‘ol YES to all of this. Giving thanks for 2014, welcoming enthusiastically 2015, manifesting our dreams, living our dream. I literally cried tears of joy to have these two sweet girls and the love of my life by my side at the start of a new year in natures majestic harmony. We let the day unfold slowly, making breakfast together, washing dishes with finger-chilling river water (and of course dumping it away from the fresh untainted source) and eventually getting on the road for an afternoon of scenery that turned our eyes into saucers. The thing most noticeable about the wilderness of Patagonia is that it is wild. It is not manicured, it is left to be as it is. These things at first go unnoticed, but start to add up. The rivers flow free, forests grow, are flooded, and remain submerged; driftwood is not collected but gathers into piles. There are so few people in this region of Chile, and there is an appreciation for the power of this raw nature by many, but there are also strong-armed parties that wish to exploit beautiful Patagonia for all her resources. Hydroelectric companies, mostly international conglomerates, wish to dam rivers and flood valleys to create large-scale energy, which would then have to be sent thousands of miles on massive powerlines to Santiago, then north to where half of the country’s energy is consumed by mining operations.Finally the road spit us out onto the Carratera Austral. General Pinochet, who was the military leader who led a coup in 1973, is normally credited with the construction of this 1,200 km track linking much of rural Patagonia to Puerto Montt (and by way of virtue to the rest of the country)- but the plans were already sketched out prior to his violent overthrow. Along the understory of the rainforest, prehistoric & gargantuan nalca is in abundance in these parts! Chileans use the leaf to cover curanto, a seafood feast cooked in the ground & like rhubarb, the stalk is edible, peeled & eaten raw with salt or used to make jam. The root can also be boiled & used to color wool, it creates a smokey blue color. From the famed dirt highway, Yelcho Glacier beckoned; as we drove past a bemused climber sat self-satisfied next to his huge pack where dangled his crampons and ice-axe. We swore to each other we would investigate that glacier more when we were heading south! Unable to book our spot on the ferry from El Chaiten to Puerto Montt from Futalefu as their website was down, we just crossed our fingers and hoped there would be a spot for us (and our van) on the boat that only sails 2x a week. El Chaiten town was covered in soot and ash when the namesake volcano exploded on May 2, 2008. It remains a disheveled place where the gas station is the only place reliably open. We camped on the other side of a river, taking several dirt roads until we found one that led someplace nice. Adam wasn’t quite sure what he might catch in the brackish water where the river met the bay, but he was happy to try.The sun set slowly, then intensified into a sonnet of color, turning the still waters into pastel pools of liquid light.We like camping as close to the water as possible, but sometimes it’s a bit too close. After the sun set and everyone was fast asleep, us adults awoke when we heard water lapping the tires. The extreme tides in the Bay of Ancud crept up on us and we drove out in a couple feet of water in the dark. We lost our outdoor rug which wasn’t pulled in for the night, but otherwise survived unscathed. We set the alarm and woke up early to head to the Navimag office to secure our place on that morning’s boat (the previous day being New Year Day, it was closed and the site had previously been down). Second in line, we were thankful to have actually stuck to our schedule and had no problem securing a ticket for the 10 hour sailing to Puerto Montt. At the dock, we saw a behemoth 2-part vehicle trying to back into the vessel- after about 15 attempts, the driver finally succeeded in reversing the rolling hotel into the berth of the Don Baldo. Setting sail into the Bay of Ancud, the boat headed north on a 10-hour journey blessed by tranquil waters and clear skies. We passed a myriad of conical peaks and mountain summits, perpetually ice capped and calling to us as we motored by. No whales or dolphins were spotted on this long stretch, which made us ponder how overwhelming the sounds of the massive motors blaring must be underwater. Perhaps the animals know the routes from which to best avoid being hit? For those of you that know Coco, this will ring true as a perfect portrait of her… always in motion. Her middle name in Nova- as in supernova- a fast & bright moving star, an appropriate name which she lives up to. And the yin to Coco’s yang is Sierra Luna, our old soul that calmly watches, laughing in delight, studying the workings of the world as if she has seen it all before, but nonetheless is delighted by the show. Puerto Montt, at the southern end of continental Chile, marks the beginning of Patagonia and is the center of the commercial salmon fishing that earns much of the regions income, but pollutes the ocean with antibiotics and processed fishfood for the salmon. We headed to Puerto Varas, where we had visited 10 months earlier, ate at a yummy restaurant and camped on the lake overlooking Volcan Osorno. It is a cute, if touristy nook of a town that has a way of inviting you to linger longer & spend your money on quinoa salad and artisanal gelato. When we escaped the enchanting spell of good weather and decent wifi, we hit the smoothly paved highway north 4 hours & camped on a river outside Temuco, where we met Yessica & her lovely family. Thinking us homeless (and in some sense we are) invited us to their home, but we declined, trying our best to gracefully explain how our van IS our home, and we were perfectly happy to be camped on a clean river in warm weather with no bugs. We did, however, take them up on the offer to meet up in the morning and head to her friend’s place for an afternoon visit. Clorinda Yclef, of Mapuche descent, is the proud and energetic matriarch of a large family. Looking none of her nearly 80 years, she has 7 children, 20 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren! The Mapuche are reputed as the only tribe to not be conquered by the Spanish. Clorinda tends to her organic garden and orchard, raises cattle, ducks and chicken, spins and dyes her own wool, which she then knits. To say she is a burst of energy is an understatement. She was thrilled to have us over on a Sunday afternoon, making freshly fried sopapillas served with boiled eggs and deliciously smokey merken hot sauce. We enjoyed the warm relaxation of a busy family home and the kindness of these strangers that became fast friends. After snacks & chatting, we headed to the garden where we purchased a variety of fresh as it gets, organic produce- potatoes, lettuce, peas, strawberries, cherries, and herbs. Raul, one of Clorinda’s sons, by way of the small world bringing things together, just happened to be a Subaru mechanic at the shop we had our motor rebuilt at 10 months earlier. We could not believe the synchronicity of it all and felt it was surely a good sign that the universe was bringing it all together! The rest of the Sunday afternoon was enjoyed teaching Colette how to swim. She still needs more solid days in a row, but gets better and more capable each time. Sierra thinks Colette is just the greatest, staring at her every move with rapt attention and love in her eyes. Ugh, and we just gush over her. I mean, look at that face. Shelling sweet peas went something like: peel, pop one into mouth, put one into jar, repeat 157 times. We walked into Euromotors first thing Monday morning, and upon entering the building, we could immediately sense that they were not pleased to see us. We had sent an email earlier in the week saying we were on our way to them and they responded with an email saying they would be closed for 3 weeks for the holiday. By arriving at their doorstep finding them open, we had called their bluff and challenged their workmanship on the rebuilt motor, which after only 10,000 miles had no compression in cylinder #2. They said they could not help, it was too much hassle and asked us to leave.
In a haze of disbelief, we returned to the van and went to sleep. It’s like we were just too in shock to believe we had driven across Argentina, into Chile, taken a 10 hour ferry, driven for 4 hours to the people we had paid $3,000 to rebuild the motor only 10,000 miles prior- and they just said “Nope, not interested in helping. It’s a bit complicated and we just don’t want to bother.” We were not expecting a free repair, and to be turned away was a shock. We thought the previous days meeting of Raul was a sure sign from the universe that it was all going to align. After the depression-induced nap, we shook it off and drove around town scouting shops for the repair. After interviewing a few mechanics, we found one that was willing, able & looked quite capable. They tested the compression and confirmed what we already knew, #2 had low compression- They removed the heads hoping that was the issue so the motor wouldn’t need to be removed but after inspecting them they were fine, the motor had to come out. And so it did, and revealed that piston #2 was shot. How does that type of major motor failure happen after 10,000 miles on a rebuilt engine? Hoping it was caused from the old e.c.u., that we replaced 2 months after we rebuilt the engine last year, and not something that will happen again. In the past, we have lived in junkyards for up to a month while we watched over the repairs for 2 reasons: 1 Adam likes to see what they are doing to learn about the process and make sure they are doing things properly and 2 the van is our house & holds all our stuff- having a motor in your living room makes it difficult to lock your house. But this time was different. We spent the afternoon gathering all our backpacking gear from the storage box up top and told the shop to email us when everything was done. We were not going to waste sunny days sitting on our thumbs, it was time to get out and explore the rich and beautiful area around Temuco. After 2 hours on a good bus, we arrived in the resort town of Pucon- which is set on a gorgeous lake and has national parks, hotsprings, one of the worlds most active volcanos all in close proximity. Time to put these hiking boots to the test!