Saturday 18th Michael arrived in the wee hours of the morning via Sao Paulo and checked into the hotel. The streets were still thronging with people so he went for a 01h30 stroll and then collapsed into bed. I (Sandy) took a slightly more circuitous route from the UK via Washington DC. The good thing was that United Airlines gives a 64kg baggage allowance which I took full advantage of - bearing all sorts of gifts and spare parts for Nyathi which I had got courtesy of Merlin Land Rover in Nottingham. Despite a change in dealer principal, Merlin has agreed to continue our sponsorship arrangement to provide us with spare parts and their team has been very helpful.
I arrived in Buenos Aires at about 09h40 and only got to the hotel at about 11h15. It was wonderful to see Michael again. We are both so pleased to be together and excited about being on the road again (so to speak). We spent the day wandering about the vibrant city streets and catching up on some lost sleep back at the hotel.
We went to a Tango dinner evening which was really enjoyable. It was far less 'touristy' than we had expected. There were only three sets of non-South Americans at the restaurant. We kind of took pot-luck when it came to our choices on the dinner menu and we very quickly realised how heavily we have relied on being able speaking French in Africa. We discovered that tango isn't just about dancing but also a genre of music and singing. The performers were excellent and the atmosphere was very lively with many of the locals singing along and clapping. We got chatting (in very broken Spanish and English) to the people on the table next to us, who were friendly and had done quite a bit of travelling themselves.
We left at about 01h30 (and the party was still going strong) and wandered back to the hotel down Avenida Florida which is one of the main pedestrian boulevards.
Sunday 19th We slept in for a bit this morning, having had a broken night's sleep. We had a wonderful long walk down to the fashionable Puerto Madera area which overlooks the small-boat harbour and is lined with busy outdoor cafes. It also has a very fascinating pedestrian bridge which pivots around a vertical axis to allow boats to pass through.
We went onto an old square rigged ship which cost us just 2 pesos each. The ship wasn't exactly beautifully maintained or presented, but they were very relaxed about allowing you access to all areas of the ship which was very interesting. We spent a good hour pottering about trying to decipher Spanish shipping terms.
We walked about 6km in total and were pretty tired after climbing the 7 floors up to our room (we've made a pact NOT to use the lift).
Monday 20th We walked a fair distance around town today. Buenos Aires is a fantastic city. It is a bustling place with loads of people and all sorts of activity well into the early hours of the morning. It has fabulous shops and restaurants and caters for all sorts of tastes and budgets. The irritations are few and have very little impact on your visit - like people thrusting restaurant and shop promotion flyers into your hand, loose paving stones which spit up dirty water on your feet if you're not careful where you walk. The local people are generally friendly and range from polite beggars and late-night dustbin rustlers to high class portenos (Buenos Aireans) who 'lunch' and talk on their mobile phones as if they are 'walkie talkies'. It is like a big European city with a third world twist and we are thoroughly enjoying it.
We went to the Brazilian embassy to check if we can drive there with a UK-issued International Driver's Permit ( as when we got ours back from the RAC it had a letter on it saying it was no longer valid for Brazil). The lady at the consulate assured us that it was fine, but I guess we'll have to see when we get there...
Tuesday 21st Michael and I went on a search this morning for an internet cafe where we can connect our laptop. We didn't have to look for too long and we found someone who speaks very very basic English and had a bit of a technical head, which helped! It is so cheap to surf the net in Buenos Aires - the going rate is 1 peso an hour (that's £0.25).
In the afternoon I wandered around town in search of the tourist information office and somewhere to take Spanish lessons. After loads of dead ends and moved offices, I found a place which offers private lessons in your hotel room. Could you ask for anything more convenient? Not the cheapest for our travelling budget at 32 pesos an hour for the two of us, but we think it will be a worthwhile investment. Our first two-hour lesson is tomorrow!
Wednesday 22nd Michael went off to the internet cafe to connect the laptop and check emails. He was absolutely livid when I arrived to see what news there was. Things could get worse, and they just did. Our vehicle is still sitting in its container on the dock in Port Elizabeth! That's right - it hasn't even left yet!!!! It gets even better... nobody has any idea why it wasn't put on the MOL Strength. It seems both PONL and our shipping agents Dragon Freight have absolutely no handle on the situation at all.
They said they will 'try' and get it on the next ship (the PONL Olinda) which is due to sail on the 25th October and is due to arrive only on the 6th November. We spent the rest of the morning composing emails to PONL and Dragon Freight expressing our disbelief and explaining how unsatisfied we were with the service received from both parties (we left out the few choice words we'd been throwing about the hotel room earlier).
The monetary impact isn't the major problem. We have to be safely through Alaska and Siberia before the onset of winter. To meet this schedule, we will now be rushing through South and Central America, and this leg of the trip was the one which we felt was already rather too short.
P&O say that they don't know why the container was left in P.E., but "for reasons they're sure we'll understand", if there is a problem, "freight free containers may occasionally be omitted"! We see things a bit differently. P&O paid the freight on our behalf, in return for whatever goodwill and publicity was agreed between us. Had we thought our container might be "omitted", we would never have entered into the deal - putting our trip in jeopardy for £300-400 would be incredibly foolish.
Still, we can't see any solution to the problem, so we will just live with it, and write it off to experience. Luckily, Bs.As. is a lovely city, as well as being cheap by any city standards.
Our first Spanish (or correctly speaking - Castellano) lesson was at 13h30. It was entertaining to say the least. Our teacher, Rita, doesn't speak the best English and she quite rightly spoke Spanish most of the time, but there were moments when I think we all sat there thinking 'what the hell is going on?'. Nevertheless, the time flew and by the end of the lesson we had learnt quite a lot, all relaxed a little and actually had a few laughs so we're doing it again tomorrow...
Thursday 23rd We discovered today that the hotel cannot accommodate us over the weekend and the 1st November is the start of high season so all the accommodation is getting booked up. The staff were really helpful about it all and it actually gave us the impetus to get off our backsides and look for a better deal in the form of an apartment which we could rent on a weekly basis.
13h30 was our Spanish lesson which was really enjoyable (Michael may differ in his enthusiasm) but we are also beginning to understand each other better and Rita is beginning to see how mad we are and laughs at (with) us a lot. We're all set for Saturday...
In the afternoon / early evening I went for an 8km walk down along the Puerto Madera docks and into the nature reserve on the river. It was really warm and sunny and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was pretty shattered by the time I got back to the hotel. We went to one of the local cafes and had pasta and pizza for dinner.
Friday 24th We were up early. I packed up the room while Michael went apartment hunting on the internet and did some chase up emails on the shipping status. He came back to the hotel, we checked out and they kindly agreed to store our bags until we came to collect them. It is quite sad to be leaving because the staff were very friendly and I think they found it quite entertaining to see how our Castellano was coming along!
We found some suitable apartments on an internet site called www.bytargentina.com and spent the day calling the site owner to try and view them. We also went direct to one agent, but his prices were higher than those on the internet. After a lot of telephone tennis we eventually got to see an apartment in Recoleta which we took (after walking at break-neck speed across town to get there in time to view it).
The owner of the flat, Federico, was really pleasant and he and his girlfriend drove us up to the renting agent's offices where we signed the lease. Then we took a taxi back across town to pick up our baggage, said our goodbyes to the hotel staff and returned to the apartment. The apartment is on the 13th floor (208 steps) and we have decided we will not use the lift in an effort to keep fit.
In the evening we wandered about Recoleta which was buzzing with people and activity. There is a big shopping centre nearby with loads of restaurants and a huge cinema complex. We grabbed a chorizo take-away (eeeuw!) and retired for the night.
Saturday 25th Recoleta is an upmarket area within the heart of Buenos Aires where apparently the high class portenos live. It is certainly evidenced by all the fancy restaurants, designer shops and hair/beauty salons.
We had a Spanish lesson at 08h00 - yes, too early, we know! There was a lovely laid-back crafts market about 500m metres down the road in the park so we spent some time ambling through there. We went and did some shopping at a big supermarket and caught a taxi back to the apartment. We conceded that with all the shopping we'd bought we wouldn't climb the 13 floors and took the lift. I made a late lunch and then we had an evening nap.
We went out at 00h40 (which has to be a first for us) and Recoleta was still thronging with people. We strolled through the streets along with hundreds of other people (teenagers, families with children, loving couples, street children selling roses - all sorts). We had a delicious ice cream and then went to a bar for a drink. Wow! They know how to charge... 30 pesos for two double cointreaux on ice. We made our drinks last and watched everyone come and go and listened to the live music. Then we went to Solid Gold Bar which has live strip shows and pole dancers. The drinks there were 20 pesos a time whether you had a beer or a cooldrink! The people were very friendly and I have to concede that some of the dancers / strippers had amazing bodies - Michael was of course delighted! We left the bar at 04h00 and went up to the apartment. Looking out of the window, we could see people still queuing to get into the local nightclubs! When I woke at about 06h30 there were still people out and about in the streets singing and shouting, of course I just went back to sleep...
Sunday 26th We have a fantastic view overlooking the cemetery (maybe not everyone would agree) where there are the most intricate and impressive graves I have ever seen. Apparently the portenos almost compete to give their loved ones the most splendid resting place possible. Eva Peron's grave is there too. We are going to take a wander through it one of these days...
We went down to the craft market again today and walked through a different section. Then we wandered down through the park toward the river. We lay in the sun and listened to some live jazz music being played in a marquee in the park. We found another overland vehicle (from Germany) parked in the parking lot, but we didn't have any paper to leave them a message.
I went for an evening run around the nearby blocks and climbed the 208 stairs for the fourth and last time today...
Monday 27th We went to the internet cafe to check messages in the hope that we'd received a confirmation of our shipment. HURRAH! Nyathi is on the Olinda which apparently sailed on the 25th. What a relief, we would have been really mad if we'd not been put on that one either.
I took some clothes into the laundry and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and happy that our vehicle is at least on the ship. We had dinner at a cafe nearby, somewhat bland but the great fresh fruit salad made up for it.
Tuesday 28th Not much activity today. Worked on the journal and all the photographs. Nipped down to the shops. Michael went to the internet cafe and didn't collect the laundry as he couldn't remember where the place was! We negotiated a rate for the apartment for a further 11 days which takes us up to the 11th November.
We had Spanish lessons for two hours. I spoke to Javier and Sandra (some friendly people from Buenos Aires who contacted us via www.horizonsunlimited.com as they like to meet and help overland travellers) and arranged to get together. Did some skipping and sit-ups. Watched telly.
Wednesday 29th We both spent the morning updating the website and reading. I went for my longest run yet (which is NOT very far, but good for me) and collected the laundry. In the afternoon we wandered up to Avenida Santa Fe which is a great area for shopping. We searched endlessly for a charger for our digital camera battery to check whether it's just the battery or whether the repair done in SA wasn't a repair after all!
We went out for dinner with Javier and Sandra who collected us in their Jeep and took us to a great little restaurant called 4x4 Cafe. The cafe has lots of 4x4 paraphernalia and shows Camel Trophy videos on the televisions. They also have the best empanadas (a type of pie with all sorts of different fillings) we have tasted in Buenos Aires so far. We spent a wonderful evening relaxing, chatting, brushing up on our Castellano and generally having a great time. Javier and Sandra dropped us back at the apartment after midnight - they were such friendly and helpful people.
Thursday 30th Had another Spanish lesson in the afternoon. Went running again... and just for a change we went in search of a charger for the camera. Still no luck!
Friday 31st It was Aunty Betty's birthday today so I called her in Scotland. Phone calls in Argentina using international calling cards are very cheap, with about 50 minutes costing 10 pesos (£2.50). We went to our favourite local restaurant for dinner (Victoria Las Heras) and had pizza and delicious ice cream for dessert.
Saturday 1st Went running. Then had a lazy morning pottering about the apartment and the afternoon spent reading and soaking up the sun in the local park. We went across to Javier and Sandra's house in Vincente Lopez just outside the Capital Federal. Sandra was a star and organised for a 'remise taxi' to take us from our front door to their's. It was a journey of about half an hour and cost 13 pesos.
We had a fantastic evening with their family. They all speak good English so were helping us with the complexities of Spanish grammar. Facundo and Mariana were both extolling the virtues of Lord of The Rings and I enjoyed chatting to them about it. We had an 'asado' which is like a braai with various cuts of meat and sausage. It was delicious and we all sat around the table laughing and debating all sorts of things. We only got home after 01h00!
Sunday 2nd Went running in the morning. We wandered around the craft market in the lovely sunny weather in the afternoon and went to the cinema in the evening.
Monday 3rd Chased up Dragon Freight on the bill of lading as it still hasn't arrived. Sent emails and spent time reading up on Argentina and the rest of South America.
We are becoming dab hands at catching the buses now and go downtown quite a lot. Michael wasn't very interested at first (being lazy), particularly as taxis are not that expensive, but he said afterwards he was glad we did.
Tuesday 4th I discovered a big park which has the metres marked around the perimeter so I can measure how far I am running - at least I have something to set accurate targets against!
We had our last Spanish lesson today, which was a pity as I am keen to become more fluent, but am not that knowledgeable about grammar and the more complicated tenses yet!
Wednesday 5th We sent another email to Dragon Freight, they have told us the documents will be with us on Thursday which is when the PONL Olinda is due to arrive - talk about cutting it fine. We went downtown and bumped into Leandra from the Esmeralda Hotel. It was lovely to see her and as always she was really friendly and helpful and it was nice to have a quick chat. We vegged out and watched television in the evening (after I went for a run).
Thursday 6th We were alternately home bound during the day because the documents were meant to arrive via courier - of course they never did and I have to say given our experience to date we weren't that surprised. Of course we were still livid so to take our minds of it we went downtown for the night and watched two films for just 4 pesos each - that's 50p per movie!
Friday 7th We called the courier company in South Africa (no presence in Argentina) to try and trace the documents, to discover that they only received the documents late on the Tuesday night and that it was a five-day delivery! At least she told us that the handling agent in Argentina would be Fedex and that currently the documents were in Miami and gave us a tracking number! Tell me again why it is better to use a shipping agent???
We phoned and spoke to the general manager at Dragon Freight who told us that his team were on the phone at least three times a day to PONL, who failed to return calls and that he wouldn't accept any responsibility for the late delivery of the documents as PONL had not delivered them on time. Michael and I spent a good half hour cursing anyone who had anything to do with our shipping dilemma.
We went off to PONL's offices to see if there was any way in which we could start the clearing process without the original bill of lading - no can do. I have to say though that the staff were all very helpful, particularly Federico who spoke English which helped a lot with communication.
So we resigned ourselves to a Monday delivery and we went off to the cinema and watched Matrix Revolutions - which provided great escapism...
Saturday 8th We spent the day relaxing, reading and watching the world go by. It rained most of the day and the wind picked up quite a lot. In the evening we went downtown and while we were there we traced the Fedex documents and discovered they had arrived somewhere in Buenos Aires, which was terrific news. Michael had his boots polished for 2 pesos (50p) and then we went to try out the renowned Argentine beef. We went to La Estancia on Calle Lavalle which had a good write up in the guide books and was also locally recommended. We decided not to have a paridilla which is a grilled meat platter with a mixture of offerings including steak, ribs, chicken, sausage and black pudding (morcilla) and instead had a bife de chorizo which is rump steak. Michael opted for the 600gr and I went for the 400gr. We made sure we asked for them cooked medium as the norm in Argentina is to have meat well done. We ordered thin chips which was a mistake as they were actually potato shavings! The meat was tasty, on a par with South Africa, but mine was still too well done - because I had the smaller cut I should have ordered it rare! The service was very good and the meal, with drinks only cost 57 pesos (£15).
During dinner we heard the couple across the way speaking Afrikaans to each other so as we were leaving we went up and had a chat with them. They were a really nice couple from Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg and we thought about suggesting going out for drinks, but it was their last night so we thought they might like to spend it alone.
We went along to our cheap cinema and watched two movies. We caught the bus to Avenida Las Heras to see if the 24 hour Fedex service really did exist, but it was just a drop off point, so we wandered home through Recoleta and fell into bed!
Sunday 9th The weather was better today and the sun came out. I went for a run and then vegged out in front of the television. In the afternoon we went to the park and read our books while soaking up the sun. We got to bed before 00h30 in preparation for our big day tomorrow...
Monday 10th We were both up early and I phoned the Fedex office to see if we could collect the documents instead of waiting for them to be delivered to us in Recoleta which might only have been at 18h00. Fortunately the documents were still at the distribution centre, but that was way out at the Ezeiza airport - a long taxi ride and 40 pesos, so I arranged to have them dropped off downtown and we collected them by 10h30.
Then we went to the PONL offices and were kept waiting for quite a while and then they told us to pay the $120 charge which we had already paid in SA. I rushed back to the apartment to get the laptop to show them proof of payment and in the meanwhile Michael went and drew money in case they wouldn't release the documents. We ended up paying the $120 again and they said when they received email confirmation of payment from their SA office that they would refund the money. Federico also told us it was impossible to get our vehicle out of the container and cleared through customs and that we would need to use an agent. He kindly gave us some contact details, but we decided we'd go down to the port first to see just how complicated it was. Time was of course against us because we had already had the vehicle in the port for almost five days and tomorrow we have to start paying demurrage too.
After catching a taxi to terminal 5 at the port we asked (in our best Castellano) a number of people directions to the correct place so we could begin the port clearing process. The people at BACTSSA were very helpful. We first spoke to a guy at the information desk who could speak no English at all and then he asked us to wait and he took our papers. Then Patricia called us to a service window and said she could speak a little English. After some to-ing and fro-ing she told us that the total cost to be able to drive the vehicle out of the terminal and onto the road was $234 (we still weren't convinced that included any customs charges). Still, it was a lot more than what we were expecting to pay so we asked to see the manager and were told he would only be back in a hour, but she gladly gave us his name (Hector Varela) and said we should definitely speak to him.
So we went back into town and went to see Federico's recommended agent - Sea and Air Logistics to get an idea of what was involved. We met with Jorge who was one of the directors and Federico had called him to say we would probably be stopping by. He was very friendly and helpful, however, he made a good job of trying to tell us how complicated the whole process was. Our discussion with him was beginning to make the $234 look like a steal! He told us we could not bring the vehicle in on a Carnet de Passage and that we needed a temporary import permit, because the Carnet did not apply in Argentina (despite that fact that it is included in the list of participating countries). He suggested the costs would be as follows...
Port storage fee: US$91 + 22.5% taxes (to go up to $216 if not
paid today - demurrage)
Cargo fee: US$3 per ton + 22.5% taxes (or correctly a minimum of
Stripping: US$100 + 22.5% taxes
Terminal gate out: US$20 + 22.5% taxes
Customs clearance: US$170 + 21% taxes (including agent's fee)
We told him would need to think about it and consider where we might get the additional funds and that we would confirm either way tomorrow. Then we grabbed a sandwich which we ate while we were walking and looking for a bank to draw more money. No luck on finding a bank machine that worked so we split up. I raced back to the apartment to get dollars and Michael went ahead to BACTSSA to talk to Hector.
When we met again Michael hadn't managed to find Hector despite having walked about the port for ages in search of his office. We went and spoke to the guy at the information desk and he told us we had to catch a bus and his colleague actually came out and got us safely on the little bus and told the driver where to take us. Hector was extremely pleasant - luckily he spoke quite good English so that made everything a whole lot easier. He didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with what we were trying to do and when we explained to him that we wanted to avoid paying additional demurrage, he introduced us to one of his team members and arranged for our container to be moved ready for stripping tomorrow and told us we just needed to pay for that part today to avoid the fee. Then he took us to a customs colleague in the holding terminal who explained that we needed to take our carnet and other documents to EMBA (Estacion Maritima de Buenos Aires) which was located near terminal 3, where they would be stamped and processed and then a customs officer from EMBA would come back tomorrow and check the vehicle and its contents.
Hector came back with us to the BACTSSA offices and after a bit more to-ing, fro-ing and explanation we paid US$231 in total (roughly $91 for port storage, $36 for cargo fee and $77 for stripping plus taxes) in total which was a whopping US$277 less than what the agent had said. So perseverance and patience paid off.
At 17h20 we raced off as fast as our legs would carry us to search for EMBA, which proved to be very elusive and which we only successfully located after a number of different enquiries and a rather lengthy walk. Their offices shut at 16h30 so there was nothing more to do than be there at 09h00 tomorrow, but at least we know where to go now.
So with a feeling of partial triumph we headed home at about 18h15. Michael went to check emails and brought home pizza and ice cream. I went for a run, had a shower and then we both ate dinner and watched TV.
Tuesday 11th Hurray!!! We got Nyathi today. At very very long last. We were at the EMBA offices for 09h00 and there was nobody there. It was just a small office attached to a large warehouse and the people inside the office cannot see if someone is waiting outside to see them. So we sat and wrote up our list of goods to declare and then I knocked on the door again and opened it to discover there was someone inside and they said someone would be out to help us shortly. The customs man (Sebastian) was helpful and could speak a little English and he seemed entirely happy with all our documents (including the Carnet), but he wanted our original bill of lading (which we had forgotten to get back from the BACTSSA cashier last night), so Michael raced off to get it from terminal 5 and I waited and went through the rest of the paperwork with Sebastian.
Michael had a bit of a run around. They knew exactly what he was after the moment he walked in to the BACTSSA offices, but they the papers to Hetor's offices where the vehicle was going to be unloaded. The little bus was nowhere to be seen so he ran both ways and arrived back at terminal 3 pretty exhausted, especially as the wind was blowing up a storm too. Sebastian was happy with all our documents and told us we should go back to terminal 3 and take the vehicle out of the container and then call the customs officer from EMBA to come and check our goods. He would also then verify the Carnet de Passage against the vehicle and stamp it.
So it was off to terminal 3 again. I made the mistake of looking at the security guard at the gate and then he wanted to check our details whereas Michael just walked through this morning and as a result we missed the little bus (actually the driver was being a real jerk because Michael asked him wait and he could see I was coming and he just drove off)! So we walked about 1.5kms to the holding terminal and Adrian and Fernando were really helpful and took us straight to our container. It was at the end of the line, but was in such a position that we wouldn't be able to reverse Nyathi out. So we got to watch the crane lift it up and turn it around and put it back down again - it was pretty impressive. The BACTSSA workmen broke the container seal and unlatched the door catches. Opening the doors was a bit nerve-wracking, not sure what we would see inside, but all in all she was fine. The container workers set about untying her and un-nailing the chocks. She had lost a lot of air in the right hand side tyres so we had to pump them up to even her out so she could fit through the door cavity. We were helped by the workmen who all hung off the back of her to give us an extra centimetre or so of height clearance. When she was clear of the doorway we pumped up all her tyres and did a quick check to see that all was OK. The workmen helped Michael put the spare tyres on the back - they were a really nice bunch of guys.
Adrian kindly phoned the EMBA customs official for us to tell him the vehicle was ready for inspection. Then lots of other people came to have a look at her and we spent sometime explaining to people where we had been and where we were going. Then Marcelo from EMBA arrived. He was very pleasant and was really relaxed - dressed in jeans and trainers. He had a brief look inside each of the external storage areas and then said everything was fine and he would stamp our carnet and finalise the paperwork.
The cab area was a lot less stuffy than I had thought it would be, even the fridge (which Michael had left full of drinks) was fine. So all in all we were delighted. About half an hour later Marcelo returned with all the papers and said goodbye and wished us safe travels. We went inside the offices to wash up and say our goodbyes to everyone at BACTSSA who had been so friendly and helpful. Driving away from the empty container was such a fantastic feeling.
At the terminal gates the guard had a cursory look in some of the external storage areas and we were finally on our way... We drove out at about 14h30 feeling really pleased with ourselves. Of course within the first hundred metres on the 'open road' we were stopped by a 'customs policeman' who wanted to see all our papers. He kept asking in Castellano for insurance documents, but of course we just ignored that, were very friendly and gave him all the other remotely relevant papers we could find and he waved us on...
Driving in Buenos Aires is a new experience for us. The people are more laid back than African drivers, but they have absolutely no concept about lane usage. They drift over from lane to lane, often straddling lanes for miles and of course they squeeze into any available gap, which isn't great for Nyathi who needs a relatively decent sized stop gap. They also drive very fast and very close to one another which can be a bit disconcerting.
We spent quite some time driving around trying to find an 'estacionamiento' (parking lot) where we could park Nyathi overnight, but in the end we had to park her in an open air parking lot which was only open until 23h00 and we decided we'd think of another plan once we had eaten something and spoken to Sandra and Javier.
After some consideration we decided we would park Nyathi on the road outside the apartment block between 21h00 and 08h00. I worked on the journal and packed up our clothing while Michael went off to the internet cafe to download some maps we want for the Ushaia trip. Then Michael tried to fix our digital camera, but to no avail so he had a sleep instead. I took our last load of washing to the laundry and went for a 2km run. At 21h00 we moved Nyathi to the front of the apartment and paid the 'parking attendant' 3 pesos for his service. We decided to have pizza and washed down with some alcohol and then ice-cream for dessert as our 'goodbye to Recoleta' meal. I ordered home delivery from Victoria Las Heras which was pretty entertaining (at least the guy at the other end of the phone thought so). We spent the rest of the evening eating, packing and got to bed just after midnight ready for a 06h40 wake up.
Wednesday 12th We were up, packed and ready to go before 08h00. The traffic was quite heavy, but we found Javier's shop (Dakar Motos) quite easily. When we arrived at 0845 they were both there and gave us a warm welcome, as usual. We had 'medialunas' (croissants) and hot chocolate /cappuccinos for breakfast with them.
Then their friend Mongi who is a 4x4 specialist came to see Nyathi and tell us how long it would take to change the suspension bushes and fit the rear-axle wishbone ball joints. (Nyathi has been making progressively worse clonking noises in the suspension for the past 10,000km). We drove to his friend's workshop (which is more secure than his to store the vehicle overnight) and he and Michael climbed underneath Nyathi to have a look-see. There was oil on the brake disk, so Michael decided it would be a good idea to put in a new oil seal (and bearings if needed)! Mongi kindly drove us back to Recoleta and then he took Sandra (our friendly translator) back home.
Michael and I stopped off at Best supermarket to get some drinks and went back to the apartment to eat our leftover pizza from last night and to wait for Federico and his partner to arrive. They were friendly as ever and said it was actually sad to say goodbye to us as their tenants. We went up onto the roof to get our last bird's eye view of Recoleta cemetery and to take photographs. Michael did himself some damage by walking straight into the wire washing line which bruised and grazed his forehead and the bridge of his nose; it looked really sore.
Then we went to the internet cafe and uploaded the website. I went downtown to PONL to collect our US$120 refund as their SA office confirmed that we had already paid it. Then I wandered around Alto Palermo (upmarket shopping mall) while Michael finished off the website upload. We caught a bus (after a very long walk to the bus stop) to Sandra and Javier's house, which took about 40 minutes, but it was interesting to look at all the new places along the way.
We ordered delicious empanadas for dinner and all chatted and relaxed for the rest of the evening, falling into bed in the lounge just before midnight.
Thursday 13th Our beds were both very comfortable and we slept well, but I had a sore throat which kept me awake and was very uncomfortable when I woke up in the morning. Michael went with Javier and Sandra to Dakar Motos and Mongi collected him from there and they went to the garage where Michael worked on the onboard computer and Mongi on the polyurethane bushes. I went for a nice long run at the local park and then began my epic journal writing session.
Javier came home for lunch and we had proper, fresh ravioli with a tomato salsa - it was absolutely delicious! (I had seconds). Michael, Mongi, and Mongi's father worked through lunch and they too had fresh ravioli at about 16h30, which Mongi's mother made.
At 17h00 Sandra and I walked Julian to his English class, stopped off at the supermarket o buy hamburger fodder for dinner. Then I went and had my hair cut with Sandra watching closely and the hairdresser taking care not cut too much off. She was lovely and the haircut cost just 5 pesos (£1.20). We stopped in at the bakery and bought rolls, but after seeing all their other tasty goodies I am keen to stop off there en route in the morning.
The guys finished their work on Nyathi at about 19h00 - the bushes are all installed, but the ball joints weren't needed. The oil seal has also been changed, and the bearings were ok.
Mongi is an engineer who has developed some interesting products. For example, he converts Renault Trafic pickups (which are front-wheel drive), into four-wheel drive. His design uses the same mechanicals at the front and the rear, which means that the 4x4 version uses (almost) all standard Renault parts. He also has developed a set of very neat caterpillar type tracks (with rubber tracks), that bolt on in place of the wheels on a Defender or other 4x4.They are designed for use in snow, mud or sand, and look like they offer formidable traction, and a very low ground-pressure. (A set of 4 tracks has a combined surface area of nearly 1.5 square metres!). I had to restrain Michael from ordering a set of 6 for Nyathi...
After Michael and Mongi had finished their work, they played a bit with the tracks, and took a few pics of Nyathi with some of the tracks in place of the wheels. They had a lot of fun checking out all Mongi's inventions, and generally being boys.
After all his work, Michael tried to pay him the amount he had quoted, but Mongi refused to take any money from us, saying we were not customers any more, we had become friends! He insisted and said one day he'll come and visit us in Nottingham instead. It was really generous of him and much appreciated.
We drove Nyathi back to Sandra and Javier's house. I finished up my diary writing and Michael worked on the computer again because he couldn't get it entirely sorted this morning. Now I can smell the delicious aroma of hamburgers with ham, cheese, fried onion, tomato and lettuce wafting through so that's it for now...
It is going to be really sad saying goodbye to Sandra, Javier, Facundo and Julian in the morning. They are a wonderful family and have been the most terrific hosts.
It was absolutely wonderful to sleep in Nyathi last night. It was like coming home again - needless to say we slept really well (especially Michael, who only got to bed at 04h00 after working on the computer most of the night). We kept ourselves very busy in the morning packing up, tidying up the cabin a little. I cleaned out the fridge and Michael sorted out the GPS routes for Argentina.
Javier and Sandra gave us a Castellano short stories book so that we can practice our language skills. It is a book that is particularly special to them so we really appreciate the sentiment. It was really sad saying goodbye to them as they have become friends now. I had a great time over the last couple of days chatting to Sandra and getting to know her better. It's nice to have some female company sometimes. Michael and Javier of course talked all things technical.
It was terrific to be back on the road again. We took a few wrong turns in Buenos Aires, but were soon on the open road which was nice and relaxing. The scenery was lovely. We were only at 26m altitude and most of the fields we passed had large areas submerged in water. The cattle didn't seem to mind and some had to walk along streams instead of cattle paths. It was very green and teeming with birdlife from waders and storks to loads of different birds of prey. At lunchtime, we stopped near a garage, raised the tent, and had a snooze for an hour.
We arrived in Azul just before sunset. We drove through the town to get a feel for it and then stopped of at the tourist information office to get a map and find out where the best camping options were. Javier and Sandra had told us about a guy called 'Pollo' (chicken) who had a motorbike shop and had loads of travellers from all over the world stay at his place. We doubted that he would have space for Nyathi so we went to the municipal campsite first to see what it was like and then we went around to say hello to Pollo. He was delighted to meet us and invited us to stay for an asado with him as "Friday Night is Party Night". When we said we couldn't because Michael had only got to bed at 04h00 and we had work to do on Nyathi he seemed genuinely disappointed.
He took us into a room next to his shop where loads of travellers had written and drawn pictures all over his walls, doors and cupboards. It was fascinating to read and it sounded like all the travellers had enjoyed their stay. He asked us to write in our book and asked us again to please join him for the asado. We decided that despite feeling pretty tired we should stay for the evening, but said that we would have to leave by 23h00.
We walked down to a local supermarket and bought some cooldrinks, wine and crisps. When we got back there were already a couple of Pollo's friends there. That's when our Castellano practice began...
It turned out to be a fabulous evening. There were about 18 people there including us and everyone was very approachable and very patient with our somewhat stilted communication, but we managed to talk about loads of different things all evening so it was great. We spent some time giving a 'guided tour' of Nyathi and showed them some of our photos.
They put out two trestle tables and everyone sat on stools, grabbed what cutlery was available and then Daniel (the appointed "jefe de la cocina") kept coming around with different bits of meat for us to eat along with our bread and salads. The food was plentiful and delicious, as was the red wine (which everyone else mixed with either sparkling water or coke). We rounded off the evening with ice-cream served in our wine tumblers - it was great. At just past midnight we said our farewells and made our way back to the camp site.
We slept well again, but were woken up by the noisy chattering of the birds. I went to for a run around the track at the neighbouring athletics club and then did sit ups and other exercises next to Nyathi (with the bemused caretaker looking on...). We both went for a shower. The bathroom facilities were pretty dire and the guy who designed the showers should be shot, as the floor slopes directly away from the drain so you have an ankle bath with the remnants of the last person's shower - mmmnn!
We stopped off at Pollo's to say goodbye and give him his GPS coordinates to help future travellers locate his shop more easily. Then we went to a supermarket and bought some fresh baguettes, fruit and drinks.
The scenery became less water drenched and more undulating. Then we drove through the 'sierras del la ventana', which were beautiful. They are more like hills than mountains, with the highest peak just over 1300m, but they were nonetheless very striking covered in green grass and with bits of granite protruding randomly and yellow gorse scattered all over the place.
We camped in the town of Sierra de la Ventana in a a campsite called El Paraiso run by a very pleasant lady, who clearly takes pride in her facilities. Each campsite has an individual bathroom unit with toilet, wash basin and shower, all of which were clean and worked properly.
We went to dinner at a lovely restaurant called Eneas which became increasingly busy as the night went on. The food was good and the atmosphere was friendly and smoke free! We wanted to go to the internet cafe, but all the machines were busy so we drove back to El Paraiso and settled in for the night...
The sky began to clear in the morning. Michael went to the internet cafe to see if we had any replies on Horizons Unlimited to our request for someone to bring another digital camera for us from the USA. I went for a run and got rather muddy. I had a wonderful hot shower and did all sorts of girly things like dyeing my eyelashes (so I don't like like so much of a rat anymore), cutting and filing my nails... By 11h30 Michael was still at the internet cafe so I walked up to see how things were going. He'd been looking at cameras to buy on eBay as we had a positive response to our request on Horizons Unlimited from both Mick and Jose in the UK, so could now seriously bid on one, but we need to make sure it can get to them on time...
We spent the entire afternoon and evening sorting out Nyathi. I unpacked and repacked the cab and cabin areas, while Michael sorted out the two external storage areas. We now have everything nice and orderly with space to spare - what a pleasure! I carried on cleaning out the kitchen while Michael went to phone Andrew in the UK to enlist his help in bidding on a camera. We have decided to buy an identical one to our present camera (which is now quite cheap), and then consider getting a better model when we reach the USA.
The eBay bid wasn't successful, so we went to have dinner at a little restaurant up the road. We stopped off on the way back home to get a small tub of ice-cream for dessert - delicious!
We were up early and got ready quickly as the rain started. It was pretty dismal weather with lots of rain. We were pleased we'd chosen today to be a travelling day. The scenery was still pretty impressive, but because of the low cloud cover we didn't get to see Ventana's Hole (a massive eroded hole at 1134m altitude which measures 8m x 5m x 10 m) which has created a spectacular window in the mountainside.
When we were driving through Tornquist a lovely lady in a Land Rover Defender overtook us and signlled for us to stop. She was just making sure we were OK and not lost and offered for us to visit her estancia if we wanted to. We thanked her, but said that we were making our way down to the Valdes Peninsula. That's the second farm owner who has invited us to come and visit!
The scenery became flatter and more mundane as the day progressed, but it was still pleasant to look at. The rain was unrelenting. There were periods when it was coming down in sheets requiring concentrated driving and a firm grip on the steering wheel! We took turns driving and each got to catch up on some sleep. We crossed the Rio Negro which was quite wide and flowing rapidly.
There were a number of checkpoints en route trying to control the import of fruit, vegetable and animal products into Patagonia. One guy had a look in our freezer and must have thought we were mad to have so much drink for two people!
As we got closer to Puerto Madryn the weather cleared a little. We saw our first guanaco (wild version of a llama with brown fur and more delicate features) wandering in the bush. We also saw our first tarantula crossing the road. It was rather a large, hairy specimen and we spent quite a while trying to encourage it (with Michael's shoe) to walk in the right direction for the best possible photograph.
The entry fee into the Valdes Peninsula was 25 pesos (£6) per person irrespective of how long you stay. We drove down to Puerto Piramides and rushed down to the far end of the town to get a photo of the sunset. On the way back we stopped in at the campsite and met Peter Breunlich from Austria, who is backpacking around Southern America. Then we took Nyathi down to the beach and walked around the headland to see the most spectacular red remains of the sunset. Michael raced back to the vehicle to get the camera, but the light was probably too low for any of the pics to have come out (damn we miss having a digital camera).
We stopped in at a local cafe and had empanadas for supper. I took pity on a local cat and dog (whose spine must have been damaged as he walked crookedly and Michael kept teasing me saying he'd never get anywhere because he'd only ever be able to walk in circles) and fed them each a piece of salami which I got from Nyathi's fridge.
We drove back to camp, chatted to peter for a while and then went to bed.
The dawn (05h00) chorus was a cacophony of howling dogs, a neighing horse, squawking chickens and turkeys courtesy of the neighbouring homestead! We managed to sleep for an hour or two longer and then gave in and got up! We decided to do a round trip of the peninsula and offered for Peter to join us. He was very keen and we set of just after 08h00. We were lucky with the weather as the sky cleared in the morning it was pleasantly warm, but the afternoon became very windy which brought a serious chill to the air.
We had a very exciting day which started off with a sighting of a large herd of guanaca and a flock of nandu / rhea (large, flightless birds similar to the emu). Then I saw a snake on the road, but it had shot off into the grass by the time we reversed Nyathi to have a look. The next snake was a lot more docile and lay patiently in the road for us to take a number of photos. We wanted to move it out of harm's way and when Peter cautiously tapped it with his boot it coiled up and rattled its tail and raised its head. Of course then we took some more photos and Michael used a long umbrella to lift it off the road and threw it into the safety of the bush.
The next snake we saw was just like a brown house snake, but unfortunately it fell victim to one of Nyathi's tyres and lost some of its skin. Again Michael moved it off the road and put it in the shade of the bush in the hope that it might recover.
Our next animal encounter was a skunk carrying its baby in its mouth. It ran across the road quite far ahead of us so we slowed down and saw it just next to the road. It was really cute but we made sure we kept a safe distance from its puffed up tail and the the threat of its stinky spray.
At Punta Norte we saw lots of very large elephant seals. They are much bigger than I had anticipated and the adult males can grow to 3,000kg! There were a lot of males moulting which gave them a somewhat manky appearance. As usual they were all pretty inactive merely using their flippers to splash sand over their backs every now and again. The younger ones were playing in the water and barking at one another. There were also a few sheep lurking above the beach which seemed rather out of place!
The sea was unbelievable! It was an amazing dark blue fading to an azure, turquoise blue up on the rocks and beach sands. We drove just inland of the coast down to Caleta Valdes. The scenery was spectacular. There is an inlet that runs for 30km down the coast which is host to myriad wildlife including burrowing Magellanic penguins, elephant seals, guanancoa, gulls, cormorants, storm petrels and much more. The water was an amazing range of blues and was crested with white froth where the wind was whipping it down the channel.
At Caleta Valdes the penguins walked up the banks to come and say hello. We met some French and English people there too who were very interested in Nyathi. The wind began to really build up so we made our way down to Punta Delgada and just before entering the protected area we saw another tarantula. Michael and Peter took photos and kept edging the tarantula away from the dense grass. Michael was keen to get past his fear of spiders and wanted to let it crawl over his hand (which I discouraged knowing I'll be the one who has to play nurse if the spider takes a bite). I have to concede it was extremely docile and despite being fended off in different directions it never got aggressive. Michael tried to get it to crawl over the sleeve of his jumper, but the tarantula wasn't keen.
We wandered down to the viewpoint to see yet another breathtaking sea view and of course more elephant seals. There was also a big lighthouse which dominated the landscape and loads of large portulaca flowers.
Just before arriving back in Puerto Piramides we had a puncture. Our favourite tyre which had the massive bolt through it in Gabon. We soon changed the tyre and stopped off at the whale watching place as we entered the village to see if they had any dinghies going out in the late afternoon. Sadly not, but we did not want to go out in one of the bigger boats - we wanted to get up close and personal!
We went for a quick siesta and then I went for a walk along the far bay to whale watch. En route (in the other campsite) I met a German couple (Gerhard and Helga) who are doing a two year trip around the Americas and Australia. They had a very nice custom-built LandCruiser with a camper-type body on the back. We chatted for a while and then I made my way down to the beach. I walked as far out as possible along the rocky promontory and found a sheltered place below the wind line and I sat and watched the whales through my binoculars.
At about 19h45 Michael, Peter and I went in Nyathi to the other side of the mountain to watch the sunset over the sea. What a fantastic idea! We stopped at the top of the hill, overlooking the bay. Within seconds we had a visit from a friendly fox (which I nearly walked straight into, had Peter not warned me he was there). We took a few photos but then shooed him away, unsure of how healthy he was. We had cold beer and cider, crisps and the best view we could wish for seated on Nyathi's roof. The sunset was the most breathtaking one I have ever seen over the sea. The cloud formations made it even more dramatic and it seemed to last forever, changing from creamy yellows and oranges, through to a deep cerise pink. To round the evening off perfectly I spotted orcas jumping and splashing in the bay - spectacular!
Peter kindly invited us out for something to eat and drink to thank us for providing him with a 'private tour'. We went to lovely little restaurant which became busier as the night went on and the atmosphere was terrific. We met Gerhard and Helga there and chatted to them. We also met two guys from Australia and America. We had really big, tasty burgers with ham, cheese and salad for dinner. Then we met a lovely Italian girl called Lucia. She was so lively and spoke impeccable English (she has lived in the UK for five years) - Michael, Peter and I had a great time talking to her and Peter was teasing her about the places she wanted to visit (like the shitty hands on the wall and the shitty boat). We dropped her back at her dorm and then we went back to camp and rounded off a perfect day with gin and tonics!
I left the guys doing the last bit of packing up and said that I would walk on ahead out of the village and up the hill. 4.6km later they caught up with me. They put in fuel which had taken quite a while. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, it was really peaceful, but I didn't come across much wildlife. I walked at a reasonable pace of 1km/6minutes, so at least I got a little bit of exercise. I also stopped off at a mini memorial at the roadside. It was a cute little 'house' containing figurines of Mary, along with candles, flowers and some bottles of water (not sure why?) There are loads of these memorials along roadsides, some of them quite impressive.
We had a full day's travelling and arrived at Comodoro Rivadavia at about 16h00. We went to an internet cafe to check mails and t good news is that it looks like we have our digital camera situation sorted out. Andrew is selling us his and sending it directly to Mick O'Malley who will leave it at Sandra and Javier's house for us to collect. We went to the tourist information office but it closed at three - useful! So we made our way back out of town to the big tourist information sign we saw on the town outskirts. We discovered it was held within the police building at the road checkpoint and some chap went and got a few uninteresting brochures from some cupboard in the back, so we thanked him and went on our merry way. We decided to have an asado for dinner so went an stocked up at a local supermarket and went to a campsite just off the main road. The owner, Freddie, was very friendly.
Peter put up his tent while Michael started the fire and I made a salad. We had an absolutely delicious dinner with bife de lomo (fillet), bife de ancho and hamburges, along with sweet potatoes, salad and bread, followed by braaied marshmallows (still leftover and fresh from our South Africa trip).
We all had quick, hot showers and were on our way by 08h00. We headed off on Route 26 towards Sarmiento. We passed loads of oil fields where there were oil rigs pumping up the oil. They looked like those old bar gimmicks you used to get which were birds made of blown glass, filled with a coloured liquid and which dipped up and down in a rhythmic rocking motion. Peter and Michael thought they looked like dinosaurs!
We stopped off at the tourist information office in Sarmiento, friendly, but not particularly brimming with information. The petrified forest was 30km south of Sarmiento, but did not have any paleantological finds or displays, they are apparently in the town's museum which only opened at 14h00. So we headed off down the ripio (rough, gravel road) and annoyingly within he first five minutes a pick-up truck drove past at speed and sent a rock into the windscreen which caused a nasty chip - not reparable!
En route we picked up a lonely backpacker, Roger, from Switzeland. He couldn't believe his luck that he had managed to find a lift on such an untravelled road. We all had a wonderful walk around the petrified forest reserve. The landscape was spectacular and almost lunar-like and the specimens of petrified wood were amazing. There were thousands of them all over the place - it was so interesting! We spoke to the ranger afterwards and he was really helpful. He told us that the trees had all been swept there by the sea about 70 million years ago and that they have not excavated the area at all, but let the trees exposed themselves naturally. The other interesting thing he told us was were to find the dinosaur footprints in situ, in the ground. It is near Nequen in the north so we are going to try and go there when we go back to Buenos Aires.
We dropped Roger back in Sarmiento and he told us to look out for his friend Christian riding south on a bicycle. We headed back toward Comodoro Rivadavia to head south on Route 3. On the way back we had puncture number twenty! So now we had no spares. Needless to say we went looking for a tyre repair shop in Comodoro Rivadavia. After enquiring at a few and looking for the correct kind of inner tube, our best bet was Pirelli Tyres. They were great. Their staff were very friendly and helpful and we got a new inner tube and three tyres repaired for 62 pesos (£14).
We stopped off at an enormous hardware shop to buy some chicken wire to put across the windscreen to try and prevent another chip from driving on the ripio. We also bought ourselves a few other bits and bobs. Then we headed south with the sea on our left splashing up against the pebble beach and the white horses of the waves being blown about wildly like smoke.
We saw a road leading down toward the beach and decided it would be nice to bush camp on the beach! We found a fairly protected spot, with flat ground and set up camp. I prepared dinner ready to go on the stove and then we took a large beer and some sprite down to the beach to have sundowners. The beach was pebbled and went down in steep steps to the water's edge. We relaxed and watched the sky in the east turn from blue to a pale, glowing pink, with the fiery sunset doing its thing behind us and the hills.
I made dinner in the remains of daylight while Michael did some GPS coordinate logging and Peter went for a swim - mad Austrian! we wolfed down dinner and rounded off with gin and tonics and Frangelica - delicious...
We were ready to leave by 07h30. I was feeling pretty tired as the wind was strong last night and was flapping the tent sides about wildly, making a lot of noise and swaying the vehicle a bit. We resorted to jamming our rolled-up sleeping bags between the tent canvas and the roof gas struts to try and take up some of the slack and reduce the flapping!
We stopped off at a YPF garage to buy bread and some facturas (Danish pastries). A short way out of town we saw a traveller on a bicycle riding in really close behind a big truck to avoid the ferocious wind. Michael said he wandered if it was Rogers friend Christian and indeed it was! We stopped and gave him some facturas and some water and chatted for a bit. He said we were the second group of people who had brought greetings to him from Roger - it is a small world. He said the wind was making it tough going, but he was determined to ride and not take lifts (which quite a few people had offered). We said our goodbyes and I thought how glad I was to be able to travel with the comforts Nyathi provides!
I slept for about an hour and fifteen minutes, until the crick in my neck became unbearable. We needed to transfer fuel, so I drove for just over three hours while Michael started the laborious task of filling in the missing GPS coordinates and mileages into the website tables. Then we swapped and I made us all rolls with ham, tomato, cucumber and cheese - tasty! Then we had puncture number twenty!!! I didn't even get out of the car. Michael and Peter had it all sorted within 15 minutes and I sat and wrote my journal entry instead.
The scenery was not particularly inspiring, flat, with green and brown scrub, punctuated by the odd river or dam. The other drivers were friendly (probably bored) and waved when they drove past. One of the things I find funny to see is drivers of cars and trucks sipping on their mate (tea made with bitter yerba mixture) while they drive. It seems a flask of hot water along with yerba is an essential part of road travel!
We had to stop at a police checkpoint about 25km before Rio Gallegos. The policeman was rather grumpy and told us that we had to go and register our passports in the office (I'm sure it was only after spying them in the wallet with Michael's IDP). Rio Gallegos was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. We split up to get all our things done and then went to a pizzeria for dinner, which was very tasty.
We left town (rather quickly after making an unintended illegal left turn to hear lots of police whistles and Michael saw three policeman running into the intersection, however, we decided as they didn't look very enthusiastic about giving chase we would just continue) and when in search of the Police campsite. No luck and it was in a rather undesirable area so we headed for Chacra Daniel instead. It was a little way out of town on Route 3, but was lovely. Nice green, mown grass, clean ablutions with hot water and very friendly hosts who brought clean hand towels when we arrived - pity we were only there for the night...
I got up and went for a run up the hill (after being given chase by the chacra dogs) and down to the main road and back. I had a lovely hot shower and then we went and dropped Peter off at the bus terminal. It was sad saying goodbye as we had enjoyed the company and he was an easygoing travel companion.
On the way out of town we decided we would put up our expanded metal mesh windscreen protection and then we saw a police check ahead so we thought we'd do it after that. There was a local backpacker who was really keen for a lift, but we tried to explain we had to work on the vehicle and to be honest we weren't keen to have someone travelling with us again so soon. W sent about an hour folding, cutting and fixing the mesh to the support posts on either side of the window.
Then we conceded to taking Leonardo (who was Uruguayan) up until the border. Of course when we arrived at the border there was no town nor facilities to speak of so he stayed with us until the crossing of the Magellan Strait - where we waited for over 3 hours for the ferry, because it was a spring tide so the two normal crossings were cancelled (not that anyone told us that - Leonardo found out from one of the truck drivers). In the end we took Leonardo all the way to San Sebastian (the second border post back into Argentina on Tierra Del Fuego). It was great practice for our Castellano, but very exhausting... He really wanted us to take him all the way to Tolhuin, but we explained we wouldn't go that far today and the policeman told us he would have no problem hitching a lift with somebody else from there.
So, on our own again we decided to look for a good place to bush camp. There were fences all along the road that made it impossible so we went into Rio Grande and filled up with fuel and I went inside to order us some food from the cafeteria. While we were sitting there we saw the Rugby World Cup Final - England/Australia - was on so we sat glued to the television until 00h30. What a fantastic but nail-biting game! The other patrons must have thought we were a bit mad shouting 'come on England' and throwing our arms up in the air every now and again, but the lady at the cafeteria was really friendly and kept asking me how we were doing.
We left the cafeteria on a high and went in search of a bush camp which we found about 35km south of Rio Grande. We fell asleep within minutes of crawling into bed...
We woke up to hear the sea crashing on the beach nearby. We washed our faces in ice cold water which woke us up, cleaned our teeth and we were on our way... The scenery further south became more interesting. It became hillier and there were loads of interesting shaped trees dripping in 'grandad's beard'.
Lake Fagnano was absolutely beautiful and to complete the atmosphere, we had a few snowflakes fluttering about in the wind! There were lots of waterfalls tumbling down the sides of the road as it twisted and turned between the snow capped mountains down toward Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.
The town was lovely. The houses form a U-shape around the city centre and the contrasts between the homes are quite vivid from cold, dishevelled looking shacks and small, brightly painted brick houses with flowerpot gardens, to large alpine-looking houses (closer to the Tierra del Fuego National Park) and colourful apartment blocks with lots of outdoor fogones (barbeque cooking ranges).
We spent quite a lot of time in the internet cafe catching up on emails and we also phoned home and spoke to family and friends, which always brightens up the day. I took a wander through the town and saw more foreigners than I had since leaving Cape Town. Listening to them all, I realised very quickly that the majority of them were from the massive ocean liner which had docked earlier. Much to the delight of the overpriced souvenir shops they had all descended upon the town to spend lots of money.
I found an excellent photographic shop which had spectacular photos of Ushuaia and the surrounding areas. With the cloud cover we had today we are unlikely to get such idyllic shots! We bought some more film and mourned once again not having our digital camera.
We had a lovely lunch in the Banana Cafe and the waitress was quite surprised that we could greet her and order everything in Castellano. It sounds pathetic, but it made me feel really good that we'd made the effort to learn at least a bit of the language. We had absolutely delicious hamburguesa completa (with ham, cheese, egg, tomato and lettuce). I couldn't finish all of mine and then I saw a little dog walking outside, so I kept my leftovers to feed to her.
When we got back to camp it was getting pretty chilly so we decided to christen the electric blanket I'd got from Karen and Paul. It fittedon the bed. What an absolute luxury!
It snowed on and off the entire day today. It was absolutely beautiful to watch the snowflakes floating serenely down to ground. I had already committed myself to a run this morning so I donned my beanie and off I went. I only managed to run for twenty minutes before the novelty wore off (when I was running directly into the wind and all snowflakes). I went back to camp via the bakery and collected fresh bread and facturas. I went up to the bathrooms for a nice, invigorating hot shower and was very disappointed to find the showers ice cold. So I splashed myself down, soaped up a little and had a face cloth wash!
Luckily, Michael had left the electric blanket on upstairs so I had a wonderful cosy bed to crawl into. We sat in bed eating our breakfast, listening to the snow settling softly on the roof. We lazed about like sloths all day. I finished reading my book, as did Michael. He also did lots of GPS coordinates 'catching up'. I sorted out the laundry and Fernando arranged for the laundry people to come and collect it for us.
In the early evening I decided to go up to the communal lounge and make myself some hot chocolate and start a new book! The view from the window overlooking the valley and the bay was stunning. The roofs of the houses were covered in a blanket of snow and the big flakes continued to float on down...
There were a few other travellers there from Denmark (on a trip led by a really nice guy called Hans - who is building a Unimog and he wanted to come down and have a look at Nyathi sometime) and another guy from Holland called Wouter (his girlfriend had to fly back home for a funeral). We sat and chatted about where we'd been and where we were going. He was really having a tough time with the really cold weather so I offered to lend him another sleeping bag.
I ordered pizzas for delivery and on cue, Michael arrived to have a chat. We ordered a bottle of wine and our pizza arrived 15 minutes later. Then Suzanne and Sven from Germany (who were in a hired mini motorhome) arrived from their day out feeling cold and in need of a beer! We spent the rest of the evening chatting and we got some good info from Suzanne and Sven about where to visit. They also gave us a spare photocopy of their map of Patagonia which was in more details than ours, so very useful.