We had a late start to the day. I went for a run alongside the lake (hard going on the pebble beach) and then cut up into the bush a little. I got such a fright when a herd of guanacos belted out of the bush in front of me! I rewarded my exercise efforts with a nice hot shower (Michael snuck one in too) and then we were on the road again, up towards Parc Nationale Torres del Paine. We saw our first condors - they were circling above the fields alongside the road. Their wingspan is impressive, even if they aren't exactly the most beautiful birds.
The road up to the park gate had lots of wildlife. Large herds of guanacos (including two trying to increase the herd size!), nandu (rhea), wild horses, hares etc. After much debate about time, money and what we really wanted to see we agreed that we would not go into the park, but rather make our way up toward El Calafate and Parc Nationale de los Glaciares in Argentina. We had an easy border crossing and got to El Calafate just in time for a delicious dinner of pizza washed down with beer and shandy. We drove out on a small road which went around the perimeter of Laguna Nimez and after doing the entire length of it, went back to one of the first possible bush camp spots we saw and settled down for the night...
We heard a vehicle driving past, along with fairly loud voices so we decided we had better get up and go. It was before 08h00 when we got back into town and of course nothing was open. So we did a bit of route planning and then I read while Michael downloaded some emails. There was one from Peter (Togo II) saying he was in Calafate at Dos Pinos camping so we went to look for him, but he wasn't there. We went to all the other campsites in town to see if we could find him, but to no avail. I bought some fresh bread, ham cheese and a few drinks and then I went to find out about the mini-trek on the Perito Moreno Glacier. It costs 150 pesos if you meet the crew at the boat jetty 6km before the glacier - we decided to book for tomorrow morning at 10h00.
Nyathi had quite a few admirers in town which slowed our departure somewhat, but when people are so enthusiastic and interested it seems rude to say 'thanks, bye now'. One chap invited us to his hosteria for a drink, but as the weather was so good we were keen to get going to the glacier.
It cost 20 pesos to get into the park and the lady at the gate entrance was ever so friendly. We drove all the way to the glacier, (snuck in and used the bathrooms at the restaurant) and then walked down to watch the glacier. It may sound dull - far from it! It was absolutely amazing. The noise was incredible. The cracking and groaning sounds from the shifting ice within the glacier is fantastic, but the when enormous chunks fall off the face of the glacier and into the water tens of metres below the noise is unbelievable. Then its followed by a massive shock wave and moments later the now submerged chunk breaks out through the surface of the water like a shark (or like the plastic toy I used to hold under the bath water and then let go so it would shoot upwards).
There are a number of walkways at various levels where you can get the best views of the different faces of the glacier. They no longer allow people to walk down to the lake edge because 32 people were killed over a period of 20 years from shattering ice being flung far away from the glacier. I had no idea that we would see so many pieces of ice break off and float away as icebergs. Frustratingly I had a video blip (politely put, compared to when it actually happened) and didn't film the most impressive fall of the day. We've decided that glacier watching is addictive. It's like gambling at a slot machine - you don't want to walk away just in case something happens the moment you turn your back.
We went back a few kilometres along the road to a camping site near the shore of Lago Argentino and had a siesta. I went for a run down to the lake and got caught in some really boggy ground which made for interesting running. It was so weird to run along and see little icebergs floating out on the lake. I could hear the glacier cracking around the corner too.
We both went for a hot shower and then I made a quick cold dinner to take with us to the glacier so we could watch the sunset colours across the ice and eat our dinner. There was nobody else there so we sat in complete silence, broken only by the deafening smacks of ice blocks belly flopping down onto the water below. Sadly another of nature's choruses began... the buzzing of mosquitoes. They were the biggest mozzies I have ever seen in my life and there were hundreds of them! So, our somewhat idyllic scenario was rather comical with the two of us wrapped up tightly, jacket hoods over our heads, shoving in a mouthful of food, then swatting the mozzies away - still, it was memorable and great to have the place all to ourselves!
We drove back to camp and climbed into bed. It was terrific to lie in bed and listen to the glacier groaning in the distance and then to hear the loud crack when a chunk fell into the water.
I made us dulce de leche (ddl) and peanut butter baguettes for breakfast, as well as a packed lunch for our mini trek on the glacier. We met the boat at Bahia del Sombras just before 10h00. They ferried us across the lake in front of the face of the glacier, but there was no spectacular action. We disembarked on the shores of the lake near a forest, about 50m or so away from the edge of the glacier. We met our guides and made our way up to the hut where we would eat lunch later. Then we heard a loud crack and looked across the lake to see a really big block of ice falling off the glacier face and thudding into the water. Then one of the guides shouted in Castellano '15 seconds, 14, 13...' I thought he was joking but sure enough it was followed by an absolutely massive block of ice crashing down into the water causing a splash at least thirty metres high. The resulting wave was enormous and then the iceberg sprang up out of the water like jaws. It was an awesome sight! Then we saw that our returning boat was in amongst the floating debris - how exciting and scary!*? Our guide (who has worked on the glacier for about 6 months) told us he has never seen such an large piece fall off before, so we felt really privileged.
We left our lunch in the hut and made our way down to the beach for a 'sand movie'. You could see the high tide mark on the sand from the wave of massive ice chunk falling off earlier. Our guide, Mariano gave us the background to the Perito Moreno Glacier and why it is different to other glaciers, accompanied by some great sketches in the sand.
It is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world (since 1988 it has really remained fairly static overall, but is not retreating). The enormous Lago Argentino has been formed by the glacier's melt water. The ice flows at a rate of about 1.5m per day (though slower along the two edges) but due to the continual ablation (melting) process its length remains roughly constant. The glacier measures 29km in length by 10km at its widest point. The front of the glacier stands about 50m high, with a further 130m under the water down to the lake bed. However, the glacier is wedge-shaped and at its thickest point at the top of the glacier measures over 2000m. All in all magnificent!
We had crampons fitted to our boots and started the trek up the glacier. Mariano gave a great demonstration on how to walk on the various slopes of the glacier and encouraged us that the more ridiculous we look, the better it is. The walk wasn't particularly strenuous, but it was amazing to see the glacier at first hand. The surface was like crushed ice and the different blue hues were incredible. There were a number of very deep crevices but our guides were careful to steer us around them. What I found so interesting was to see the rivers running underneath and through the glacier and the waterfalls it formed with blue crystal water tumbling for many metres down to the lake below. We also saw some superb examples of how the dark soil which is carried in parts of the glacier absorbs more light and as a result melts the ice above it to form pockets or holes in the shape shape as the soil below (I think it is called a mullah). The trek ended in style with whisky served on the glacier rocks (proper) along with a delicious chocolate.
The group of people we trekked with (15 in total) were very pleasant. We got talking to a lovely Portuguese couple (Marta and Manuel) who spoke impeccable English and then we discovered they had lived in the UK and now lived in Zurich! Their friends (Isabel, Antonio and Vasco) who also came from Portugal are currently living in Buenos Aires. It was wonderful to talk to them and we chatted about Angola and Mozambique and all sorts of other places we'd been to.
We ate lunch and had a pleasant journey back on the boat with the sun beating down. When we parted ways at the jetty Marta and Manuel invited us to join them at their hosteria for drinks before dinner. We went back to camp and had a siesta, followed by a hot shower. We met Marta, Manuel and Vasco just after 19h30 at Los Notros. The hotel was gorgeous. Tastefully decorated, with a rustic touch. Canapes were served and we helped ourselves - they were delicious. We sat and had drinks and chatted and the time just flew by. Antonio and Isabel joined us a little later and soon all the other guests started to arrive for dinner so we moved upstairs. The views from the hotel were breathtaking, but way, way out of our budget.
Just before we left Marta, Manuel and Vasco came to have a closer look at Nyathi and then we said our farewells, so they could go and eat their supper! It was great to meet such interesting and lively people on our minitrek - it really added something special to the day!
I stayed in bed until after 09h00! It was glorious. The sun was shining in the tent and it was only the lure of the glacier that got me going. We packed up and headed back to the glacier. We saw quite a few chunks fall off the face, but the massive piece we were waiting for never did its thing and we decided to set a time limit and leave at 11h30. I really didn't want to go. The sun was shining and the glacier was teasing me by dropping of bits from the surrounding area I wanted to fall, but nothing major happened...
We drove back to El Calafate, stopping to take a photo of a striking eagle which was right next to the road. We had lunch in a very atmospheric little restaurant with a Castellano singer / guitar player. The service was pretty poor, but the staff were friendly and the food was delicious. We both had bife de caballo (rump steak topped with two fried eggs). We asked for medium rare knowing they tend to overcook them and we got perfect medium steaks.
Then we started the 1,500km journey north toward Bariloche. The scenery was still pretty impressive, with deep, dark lakes and snow capped mountains in the distance. The road was quite heavy going with lots of coarse gravel and loose stones that tend to form ridges that like to pull the wheels in the wrong direction if you're not concentrating! We came across a sign for an estancia with camping so drove the 4km to see what it was like. Sadly, we didn't receive the kind of friendly farm welcome we had expected and coupled with poor camping options (effectively 10 pesos for a shower), we decided to drive on... About 20 km along, we found a reasonable spot sheltered from the wind and Michael said he was happy to have fruit cake for dinner as he wasn't that hungry, so I didn't have to cook - yay!
A long day's driving today. We were on the road at 08h00 and stopped to bushcamp shortly after 20h30. The road still required concentrated driving, the wind continued to blow directly at us and the scenery became more desolate. We drove through a number of one-horse towns in the middle of nowhere and saw very little traffic going in either direction. We filled up with fuel in Perito Moreno which is a nice little town, but it was deserted because we happened to drive through at siesta time. While we were there we met Adrian and Natascha from Austria who are travelling in a converted 6-ton, 4x4 Mercedes van with their two children (4 and 6 months).
En route north we also met Alistair, a British guy who is cycling in Southern America for about 6 months - now that's tough going! We think it's bad when the wind is blowing directly towards us in Nyathi because it slows us down and wreaks havoc with the fuel consumption, but on a bike, you really pray for the wind to be at your back.
As the night drew on, we spotted a sheltered patch of ground down a deep ditch at the side of the road. After a brief inspection, we decided to call it a day, because I still had to cook dinner and it was unlikely we'd find anything better. We rolled out the awning because rain looked like it was on its way. Michael started a fire to boil up some water so we could have a wash after dinner. It rained a little, but for the most part it was very pleasant. Some locals stopped on the bridge above us to check we were OK and then went on their way. We certainly wouldn't have been keen to park so close to the road in Africa, but I don't think that camping travellers here are such a novelty!
We were on the road just after 08h00. We had both woken up at about 06h00 but decided that our warm bed was too enticing and we'd sneak in an extra hour or so of sleep.
The drive today was magnificent. From El Hoy to beyond El Bolson the scenery was like a summer alpine village. There were lush, green valleys with fruit orchards (apples, cherries, raspberries) and streams churning over chipped slate. The roadside was littered with lupins in pink, purple and mauve, it was so colourful. El Bolson was enchanting. The main street had a lawned centrepiece with hundreds of rose bushes and all the buildings had a quaint feel to them. We wished we'd the time to stay the night (there were lots of fabulous campsites), but we agreed that we had to push on. We did go up to see the Cabazo del Indio which is a big granite rock which has been weathered into the profile of a 'Noble Indian'. The route there was lovely, but the rock itself was not particularly impressive.
The scenery became more dramatic from El Bolson to Bariloche. The mountains were so steep that nothing grew on the upper reaches and there were grey river landslides of shale running down the crevices. The winding road was lined with dense, bright yellow shrubs which looked similar to gorse, but were more delicate. With the odd bunch of lupins thrown in, the snow capped mountains in the background and the choppy lake down below, it was breathtaking - it was hard to concentrate on driving!
Bariloche is quite a big town (a base for skiing, trekking, the lakes etc.) It is similar in many ways to Ushuaia. A strong tourist feel with lots of shops and beautiful buildings, but still a little rough around the edges (which we got to see when we went to have our punctures repaired at the gomeria). Bariloche is also renowned for its chocolate making.
We went to an internet cafe and I called Javier and Sandra to wish them well on their travels to Ushuaia. I also called their friend Alicia who told us about some nice place to go for supper which are frequented by locals rather than tourists. We went to Vogue and had a fantastic meal - large salad with 14 ingredients to start, followed by fillet steaks with sauces and mashed potato / chips, all washed down with beer and shandy. By the time we got to the campsite about 13km outside of town, along the lake, we just fell into bed!
What an unbelievable and awful day all rolled into one...
I got up and went for a run down the road and lake. I am getting less fit now (which is not great), because I am not managing to exercise everyday. When I got back both Michael and I went for a shower. We chatted to a French couple who are keen mountain climbers / walkers and I played with the resident campsite Labrador pup whose name was Inti and reminded me so much of Togo!
Then we went on a spectacular drive around the Llao Llao loop on the southern side of Lago Nahuel Huapi. We saw the most beautiful hotel in a picturesque setting - just like on the cover of a chocolate box! Then we drove up the 4x4 track up Cerro Lopez. We started off at about 900m altitude and stopped at about 1500m. The route comprised a series of steep switchbacks, with lots of mud, rocks and ruts all set in the most beautiful surroundings of mountain forest. It was such a pity it was so overcast because the views of both the rocky mountain peak (along with patches of snow and gorgeous resulting waterfalls) and the dark blue lakes below were breathtaking. Just to add that special touch to the whole atmosphere it started to snow quite heavily - it created a hush which was almost magical.
With the snow all around us and me directing in the blizzard, we tried a fairly steep, muddy and rutted ascent and we dug in quite deeply. We are sure Nyathi would have made it up, but it would have meant carving up the road somewhat, so we decided against it because it must require quite a bit of effort to maintain and we didn't want to make it any worse.
Then back to earth again... I noticed a slow leak - puncture number 23 (I think). So in the cold and snowy weather we reversed onto some flat ground at the last climbers' refugio and changed the muddy tyre. We washed our hands in the icy puddles of water and were pleased to be able to jump into the toasty cab. With the rain, sleet and snow the descent was a lot more slippery than the ascent, but all in all the 20km round trip took us 4 hours.
We drove back into Bariloche and visited the friendly gomeria again to have the tyre repaired and then we went into town. We parked in the main street and went in search of a late lunch and stopped in at a few chocolate shops! But that's when the day went from good to !*?!*?! awful...
Some bastard had forced and broken the lock on the driver's door and stolen our camera bag, including our cameras, lenses, flash, walkie-talkies and EVEN WORSE... all of our films from Argentina and every video tape from our 7-month trip in Africa. We both searched the vehicle frantically for any other missing items, but luckily they left behind the video camera, our phone, documents etc. so I suppose we should count ourselves lucky! Still, we are most angry at ourselves for being stupid enough to leave all our films and tapes in the camera bag - we'll never do that again!
The other frustrating thing is that we managed to avoid theft throughout Africa and it happens to us in broad daylight, on a busy street with hundreds of people walking by. They also broke into the car in front of us and the lady was complaining bitterly to the policeman we had summoned. We met a Swiss couple in between all of this and they invited us to join them later for dinner if we wanted to 'get away from it all'.
We went to the police station to make a statement. We think it is highly unlikely they will recover our cameras or film, but a police statement is also required if we claim against our travel insurance. It took us a considerable amount of time, but the officer was patient and understanding - which helped. After that we made a tour of all the dustbins within a 3 block radius of where the car was parked, just in case the thief decided to dump either the camera or more likely, the films and tapes. However, despite receiving some very strange looks from restaurant patrons and various passers-by while delving elbow deep into the rubbish, it didn't produce anything!
So, feeling thoroughly frustrated, stupid and pissed off we decided to go and drown our sorrows with a terrific bottle of wine. We went to Parillo Alberto at 8km Bustillo and met up with Francis and Sandra. They had finished eating so we joined them at their table had a bottle of wine, chatted and tried to forget about our horrible day! Michael and I discussed the idea of putting an advert in the newspaper and offering a reward for the return of our films and tapes. Francis suggested we park our vehicle in the same place tomorrow and put a notice up asking the thief to return the cameras to any hotel in Bariloche and to mark the package with our name. We thought that was a good idea and as he is fluent in Spanish, he wrote the notice for us too.
We only left the restaurant after 01h00 and the restaurant owners kindly let us camp in their parking lot which was attached to a park, so that made getting to bed easy, which turned out to be after 02h00 in the end!
Today turned out to be another bizarre day - if anyone had told me what was going to happen, I would not have believed them...
We were up early, eager to get the notices up on the vehicle in town as soon as possible. We said our farewells to Francis and Sandra, who really made us feel so much better last night (thank you) and went back into town. We had decided to modify our plan slightly to try and increase the chances of getting our films back. We asked the thief to return the films to one of three places - tourist information, Hotel Sol Bariloche or Hotel Nahuel Huapi (both of which were near where the car was parked) and to mark the package for Sr. Groves. As soon as we stuck the notices to Nyathi there was loads of interest and almost every person who walked past, stopped and read them.
We barred up the vehicle and went off to the Secretaria del Turismo to tell them what we had done. They were very apologetic and said that it was no problem if anyone should return the films they would phone Alicia (friend of Sandra's from Bariloche) to let her know. The lady suggested it would be a much better idea to advertise our loss on the radio or television and we said we agreed but acknowledged that would be a bit difficult. She told us to wait a few moments and she called someone.
Unbelievably, within 15 minutes we were standing in the square outside the tourism office being interview by the local TV and radio stations. It's bad enough doing media stuff in English, let alone Castellano, but I stumbled through OK saying how wonderful our trip had been so far and that it was sad that this had happened, but all we would really like is to get our films back. The tourist information officer apologised to us on camera about what had happened, it was actually quite embarrassing.
One thing lead to another and the next thing was that they were filming Nyathi in the street - notices and all! We just stood in the background staring into a chocolate shop trying to pretend it wasn't anything to do with us! Having said that, the three crew members were so friendly and apologetic and we explained to them that bad things happen all over the world, but in general the people we'd met had been wonderful.
Later, on a pass-by of the vehicle we saw two men discussing our notice. The one man said he thought it was an excellent idea, but the other said that the way in which it was written implied all Argentines were thieves. We asked him how we could change it because we didn't want to offend anyone. We duly did and they both wandered off, debating the increase in theft in Argentina.
We needed to get a few things done around town including taking the washing to a laundry, sending emails to Sandra and Alicia and of course, buying some chocolate from the chocolate shops. We bought a box for the tourism people and they seemed genuinely touched that we had done so. On returning to Nyathi, we saw that the notices had either been ripped off, or blown off by the wind (which was pretty furious). Michael also saw a note pinned to the windscreen with a name and number. We decided we'd go for lunch (at Vogue again, which was delicious) and then walk down to the tourism office to ask them to call on our behalf as my telephone Castellano is appalling.
Despite speculating that it may be the thief, who was telling us where the film was left, we thought it highly unlikely. It turned out it was one of the men who was saying our notice was a good thing. He was simply inviting us to tea! It was so kind of him but I explained to him that we had already been delayed by a day, so we were about to leave.
We left Bariloche feeling very frustrated and remembering all the amazing photos we had now lost. Still, miracles do happen - perhaps they'll return the film later...
We drove to El Chocon home of the Giganotosauras Carolini, a newly discovered dinosaur species, the remains of which were found here about ten years ago. It supersedes Tyrannosaurus Rex as the largest know carnivorous dinosaur weighing at least 9.5 tons. We spent the night at the local campsite, finding the shadiest spot we could in amongst the trees and away from the very strong winds.
We went to the palaentological museum which cost 2 pesos to get in. The museum was quite well put together, but there were no English scripts and it was interesting to see from their photo evidence how primitive their excavation of such a big dinosaur appeared. The museum had two life size skeletal replicas of the dinosaur and it must have been something to reckon with in its day! There were a number of other displays which made for an interesting wander.
Then we went about 3 kms south of El Chocon to see original dinosaur footprints on the rock alongside the lake - the size of the prints and the spaces between them give a good idea of how large the beasts were!
We decided to go via Neuquen to Viedma to drop in at the Horizons Unlimited Traveller's Meeting. We drove pretty hard all day and arrived there after 22h00. We managed to make contact with Sandra and she gave us directions to where they were eating and staying. When we arrived there were about fifteen people from all over the world eating pizza, drinking and swapping all sorts of tales. We received a very warm welcome (especially for non-bikers :-) and settled down to good pizza and great company.
Then we drove over to the campsite with Sandra and Sam in the cabin with us and three drunk 'navigators' on Nyathi's bonnet. Then we had a bit of a show and tell session with everyone having a nosey at Nyathi and we spent until about 02h00 chatting to all our fellow mad travellers, it was great!
Had a fantastic night's sleep and for the first time in ages had to get up because it was beginning to roast in the tent. I went for a lovely run along the Rio Negro and had a great hot shower afterwards. We spent most of the day chatting to the other travellers and Oscar and his family and friends. The travellers had been all over the world and many of them made us look like absolute novices, though none have, as yet, done a trans-Africa.
The motley crew were... Argentina - Sandra and Javier; UK - Mick (who brought our camera across for us), Sam and Dave, Bob, Simon; Australia - Martin and Jo; Holland - Maarten; Germany - Mika, Frank, Daniel, Jorg, Bernd; Four other German guys arrived much later in the day, but I didn't really get a chance to speak to them.
Oscar had invited the local news team to come and interview various travellers. We had a short session and I spoke in my 'best' Castellano, helped with the trusty translation services of Camila (Oscar's daughter). The cameraman got into Nyathi and was filming her from all sorts of angles and we had to hasten him on because there were lots more to do...
At 16h00, the majority of us went for a trip on a boat along the Rio Negro. It was quite a sight to see all the bikes driving along the banks of the river with Nyathi bringing up the rear. The river trip was pleasant, but too long, especially with the black rain clouds threatening to unload their cargo on us towards the end. I went with Mika and some of the local guys to the supermarket and greengrocers to get stuff for the asado. Then we all went to see Simon's presentation of his world trip and how he is raising money for two medical charities.
There were about thirty people at the asado and there was still meat left over! We drank lots and I fell into bed after 02h00 and Michael after 03h00!
I woke up with a tender head, which felt a lot better after a nice hot shower. We had a leisurely pack up chatting to everyone, swapping email addresses and GPS maps, getting people to write in our 'guest book' etc. I asked everyone to stand around Nyathi for a group photograph - we had six people up on the roof and the rest of us standing and sitting on the ground. It became a marathon session because of course everyone wanted a shot with their camera - it was comical!
It was sad to say goodbye to everyone because we had thoroughly enjoyed our two days with lots of people equally mad about travelling. Oscar, his family and friends were fantastic hosts and of course we said goodbye to Sandra and Javier again, who are headed south to Ushuaia. We have the key to their house and have promised not to have a party with Facundo while we are there!
We filled up with fuel and got some for ourselves (hamburguesa completa). However, I suddenly felt nauseated and decided sleeping quietly was a better idea. I only ate my burger cold, but delicious three hours later! We stopped in Tres Arroyos for fuel, which was a real run around because only one fuel station would take credit cards and they were charging a hefty premium for it! So we had to find a cash machine etc. etc.
En route we saw hundreds of tractors, combine harvesters and all sorts of other enormous farm machinery either trundling along the road, working in the fields or parked at the roadside with a gypsy-type caravan. It was quite a sight and I gather they must move from farm to farm down the country helping the farmers harvest their crops.
We reached Azul just after 23h00 and found Mika, Sam, Dave , Pollo and two of his friends drinking beer at La Posta del Viajeros. It was great to see Pollo again and there were hugs all round! One of Pollo's friends has a chacra in Sierra La Ventana and he is very keen to travel on his bike for a year. He was telling us that he will need to sell 120 cattle to pay for it, so he has some convincing to do with the rest of his family! We drank and chatted until 01h00 and then we all collapsed into bed.
Nice and hot in the tent in the morning, but quite cold at 5°C last night. I went down to the local confiteria to buy some medialunas, facturas and to the supermarket to get some muesli and milk for Mika. We all ate breakfast together and swapped travel information with each other. Sam, Dave and Mika are planning Africa as their next continent so we gave them as much info as we could. We then picked their brains on Russia, Asia, Central America and the rest of South America.
We said our farewells to them and Pollo and were on the road at about midday. It was noticeably hotter than on our downward journey and the pampas grass had grown taller and was hiding the swampy water. It was so lush and green!
We stopped of en route at the same EG3 garage as we did on the way down, for a siesta. We were also hoping they would have some of their delicious empanandas, but they had not hot food at all so I made us some tasty rolls with ham, cheese, tomato and avocado pear. We also got some cold drinks from their fridge as ours seems to be playing up and we're not entirely sure why.
By the time we had negotiated all the roads and toll booths, we arrived in Buenos Aires at about 20h30. We parked Nyathi in the open air car park next to the big steel flower monument. We went back to our old haunt and used the internet cafe and got take away pizza. We arrived at Javier and Sandra's house at 23h30 and Facundo was still up studying for his exam tomorrow. We chatted for an hour or so and then went to bed.
We spent some time searching for the Garmin book with the unlock codes for the maps, but couldn't find it. We fear it may have been in the camera bag. However, what I did find was three of our video tapes from Africa! I had a vague recollection that I had put them in a box at some stage, but didn't want to get my hopes up too much. So we were delighted - at least we have some footage from Africa.
Michael discovered that the compressor for the fridge has blown. He called Mongi to find out if he knew where we could get it fixed and to get some other bits and bobs for general repairs. Mongi came round and the two of them pottered about with Nyathi and then went off shopping.
I spent the day updating the journal and creating some travel cards to give to people we meet en route (tired of writing down our details on scrappy bits of paper). It was fun playing around with different photos and designs.
Then, more exciting news... Sandra phoned from Bariloche to say that when they spoke to the police about whether our films had been recovered, they said 7 films and two video tapes had been handed in and they had given them to the local judge! Why? I ask you! Anyway, she said she would go and see him tomorrow to see if they could get them back, but that we shouldn't hold out too much hope. I sent her an email with the transcribed details of the police report (which Mariana said were appalling) and anything else we thought might help. We also suggested they have one of the films developed to prove they belong to us.
Mariana helped me with some Castellano. We spent a very pleasant evening with her and Facundo chatting and eating empanadas, pizza and, of course, ice cream!
I started off the morning with a run in the local park. There are so many cats there and most of them love to be stroked. We took Nyathi in for an oil change. It was great because the workshop had a big pit and we could see her chassis, suspension and running gear. Michael took the opportunity to tighten up bits and pieces. I took photos! We went into town and Michael did all the internet things including uploading the website. I walked to Alto Palermo shopping centre to look for maps and to check out the price of a head cleaner for the video recorder. Town is very Christmassy now and all the shops have some form of decoration.
I had my haircut and bought some phone cards and then we headed back to the house. We ended up doing a very circuitous route home, taking the wrong slip road off the motorway and getting caught up in loads of one way systems which added at least twenty minutes onto the journey.
Sandra called shortly after we got home to say that in order to get the films back she needs a fax with written permission including her DNI number etc. etc. Talk about making life difficult for tourists (not to mention poor Javier and Sandra)! Mongi came to collect us and we went out for dinner with him and his fiance, Roxanna. She is a translator and speaks lots of languages, but we still spoke as much Castellano as possible so Mongi knew what was going on! We had a delicious dinner and had to argue with them to let us pay (even though Mongi had done all the work on the Land Rover for nothing when we were last in Buenos Aires)! They conceded, and we drove back to the house, the four of us squeezed into the cab of Mongi's truck.
We sent the fax to Sandra (after discovering the number Facundo told me was wrong), with formal written permission, a copy of the police statement, along with a copy of Michael's passport.
Then we went and dropped off our clothing at the laundry and took the disk with the travel card along to the printers. Back at the house we did all the plumbing for the hot water system. It was quite a tricky job because access under the bonnet wasn't the easiest and working with the hosing under the vehicle was pretty dirty and mud-caked, but we got it done in the end and had hot water flowing... then it stopped! Why can't a job be easy - just for once? After some fiddling, Michael discovered there was a bad connection in the wires and he got it going again. Now there is just the electrical bit to do with connecting it to a switch in the cab etc.
We also drove up the road and had all the oils changed at a place Mongi recommended.
The great news is that our films and remaining video tapes are now in Sandra's hot little hands! We are thrilled and really thankful that they were prepared to go to so much effort on our behalf to get them back - hurrah!
We wandered up to Ave. Mitre and had a simple supper of beef chop with chips at a slightly grim (but open) sidewalk cafe.
I wandered up to collect the laundry and got some facturas and cherries for breakfast. Michael worked the whole day on the wiring for the pump and other other stuff, like connecting the spotlights to the headlight dimmer switch.
The flower sellers and 'trolley pushers' wandered by Nyathi, with lots of her contents spread on the sidewalk, thinking we were a bit mad - as do all Sandra and Javier's neighbours, quite a few of whom have stopped and chatted and exchanged a bit of neighbourly gossip.
I started the onerous task of cleaning all the tools from the silver and orange toolboxes, as well as the Metrinch set. I started off wearing rubber gloves, but the petrol soon ate through them and I decided it was better to do without them. It took the whole day, punctuated only by a stint of carpet gluing and a 3km walk to collect our travel cards from the printer, but they looked good! Michael says he is going to feel bad now when he dirties them - so he should :-)
We both had wonderful hot showers and caught the no. 93 bus into town. We stupidly left our camera behind, which was very annoying. We went and bought a head cleaning tape from Zenok, using our remaining credit and then we wandered down to the cinema. We went to see Realmente Amor (feel-good chick flick with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and loads of other famous names) which was good fun. Then we had a lomito (steak sandwich) and went to another movie, Tribunal en Fuga, based on the John Grisham novel, Runaway Jury, which was enjoyable.
We caught the bus home, which turned out to be quite a drawn out affair as we got home just after 03h00.
I went for a run first thing and took the hand-held GPS to measure the distance etc. which was quite nifty. Michael marked our route up to Igauzu on the map while I cleaned the fridge. We said our goodbyes to Facundo and Mariana and I quickly stopped in at the local confiteria to get some tasty things for the road and we were off...
The road north was busy with summer daytrippers, lots of whom waved at us and gave us the thumbs up. There were loads of peajes many of which charge a double rate for foreign registered vehicles - cheek! We also drove over two impressive bridges spanning rivers.
We encountered our first bit of corruption on the road in the province of Entre Rios. We were stopped at what looked like a normal police road check so we did all the normal greetings and smiles. The officer asked me for my driver's licence and papers and then told me I had committed an 'infraction' and would I please come with him to the parked police car on the other side of the road (with officer no. 2).
They told us (all in Castellano) that we had been going 89km/hour in a 60km zone. I told them it was impossible for our car to go that fast without shaking horribly (I hadn't seen a 60km restriction sign, but I knew I was not doing 89km/hour)! They said we must pay a fine. I asked to see evidence, of course they couldn't provide it (except from their buddy on the radio down the road). We knew they wanted us to offer a bribe so we just bided our time. They spoke among themselves and inspected all our papers closely. I pretended to play with the ants in the grass and Michael fetched the camera to photograph the ants! Then they tried to explain again what we had done wrong. When we asked to go to the police station, they said "we are the police". Officer no. 1 eventually told us we needed to pay 368 pesos in cash (about $125) and unbeknownst to me, Michael had the recording setting on the digital camera working. He and I kept talking in Afrikaans to each other and he said I must ask officer no. 2 what we must do now. I said I didn't have any money and wanted to see the evidence and that it was impossible I was doing 89km/hour. Officer 2 spoke to his radio buddy again and it turns out we were only doing 74km/hour, the vehicle before us was doing 89! I explained that they could not expect us to pay a fine if they couldn't correctly tell who was doing what speed and that we really needed to go to a police station. In the end, officer no. 2 grumpily told us we were free to go, so we didn't hang around - said thank you and sorry and left!
We experienced three other firsts today...
Just after dusk we saw an unbelievable display of lighting from behind one single rain cloud. Giant streaks of lightning rippled across the cloud and lit up the horizon - I tried videoing it, but it didn't do it justice at all.
We ended up driving into the night and went looking for a campsite down a forested side road. We saw the most spectacular natural display of fairly lights courtesy of hundreds of bright green flashing fireflies. It was magical they way they all flitted in amongst the trees.
We found a large petrol station surrounded by a mini forest, which made a perfect night stop. We went to the lovely little Restaurant 290km (next door), for a bite to eat, which was incredibly good value for money and very tasty . When we left to go across to the wood Michael spotted the most enormous toad we have ever seen in our lives. It was the size of a large guinea pig and it was gobbling up all the insects in sight.
We decided to take a small road north east of Mercedes which runs alongside the Ibera Marshes. They aren't publicised much in Argentina, but I read about them in the guide book. The one thing both the tourist information and the book should have said was that you definitely need 4x4 in the rainy season...
It was fabulous. The road provided challenging driving and the scenery was beautiful - water logged fields on our right, reedy swamps on our left and loads of wildlife everywhere. No matter which direction we looked in, there was something interesting to see. We saw lots of capybaras (largest rodents in the world, which swim rather well considering they look like dog-sized guinea pigs).
We saw a large otter-like creature which Michael stalked through the bush, as well as, an armadillo and a large green fish in the little lakes of water which had encroached on the road. We also spotted a lone marsh deer and at least 30 species of bird including, various heron, gallinules, long tailed swallows, rhea etc.
After crossing the causeway at Lago Ibera, the roads became worse and human population a lot sparser.
We got to see less wildlife because we were concentrating on the road, but the birdlife was still abundant. At one point the road got really slippery and the camber quite severe and Nyathi decided that she wanted to travel at right angles to the road when we hit a really muddy, tricky bit. Despite lots of manoeuvring, some mud digging and branch placing, she was still almost sideways on. Then we checked to see exactly which wheels were spinning and discovered the 6x6 unit was not engaging. Michael reached underneath with a large screwdriver as a lever, and engaged it manually and after that she moved out with relative ease.
At dusk we could see thousands of dragon flies and as the light faded more and more insects appeared. We stopped at the side of the road on a slightly wet patch of ground. I decided any kind of cooking which required a light outside would be a clear invitation to any of the millions of insects flying around, to come on over!
We opted for a cold dinner of bread, crackers and a tasty tuna, creamed sweetcorn, onion, tomato and Tabasco mix. It was delicious (and we were very hungry). We sat and ate inside the cab and watched the night draw in. With it came lots of biting mozzies, but the firefly display outside made up for it!
We were in bed by 21h30. We could see the starry sky through the windows and hear the somewhat out of tune choir of insects, frogs, cows - all sorts!
Had a good night's sleep despite both having to get up for a pee in the middle of the night. The mozzies find your bare flesh in seconds - we were both scratching fresh bites when we jumped back into the tent. This morning I was very excited to find Maned Wolf tracks around the vehicle and along the road. There were at least two adults (whose front paw prints were enormous and sank into the sand quite deeply) and two cubs. I followed them back along the road for ages, but didn't find anything more interesting.
We saw a number of gauchos herding cattle and horses. The road remained "interesting" all the way to the tarred section - the camber still encouraged Nyathi to slip sideways, but Michael generally persuaded her otherwise!
Michael also noticed a lack of power and when he took out the fuel filter it was clogged with sand. The pleasures of driving 'off road'!
When we reached the end of the dirt road I gave our doors, mirrors and the windscreen a scrape of and wash down, while Michael cleaned the fuel filter - again! We searched for a clean river to drive Nyathi through to try and rid her of some of the mud and grit caked to her underside, but in Posadas we found a better solution! A car wash with a high pressure hose, plus a ramp strong enough to drive the car onto for chassis cleaning. We paid them 20 pesos and they cleaned chassis, engine and the external of the vehicle. She was unrecognisable in the end.
Then I went to an enormous hypermarket and did some shopping while Michael checked a whole lot of stuff on Nyathi in the comfort of the car park. No noticeable contamination of the new diff or gearbox oils, but the input- and output-shaft oil seals of the 6x6 unit were leaking, as was the diff pinion seal in axle #3.
All three just required the flanges to be removed - a simple job - but needless to say, it took longer than it should have. We changed the input-shaft seal in the 6x6 unit, but had to extract the whole gear, as we couldn't separate flange from the shaft until we put the whole thing in the vice. The flange was quite worn (we didn't have a spare seal when we renewed the bearing in Gabon), so Michael thinks it will have to be done again soon. He cleaned up the surface as best he could, and seated the seal more shallowly (so it runs in a different place), and it's ok, at least for now. We didn't have time to do the other two seals, which are really just weeping, and besides, it was almost 11pm.
We drove on until about 12km south of San Ignacio and stopped at a YPF station. We were pulled over at two police checkpoints, both annoyingly just because the vehicle looks interesting and they are a bit nosey, but all we wanted to do was get to sleep!
We went to some very impressive Jesuit ruins in San Ignacio Mini. The entrance fee was just 5 pesos for both of us and we bought a bilingual guide book for another 5. We sat on the stairs of the museum in the sun reading the book which had an appalling, though very amusing translation.
The ruins are remarkably well preserved considering the jungle had invaded them for about 200 years before they were 'discovered'. Some of the walls (which are over a metre thick) have trees growing through them and you could get a real sense of what it must have been like to live in a protected community in the middle of the jungle.
We stopped at lunchtime and Michael replaced all the rear brake pads and checked the front ones. I snuck in 40 winks and then made some rolls with ham and cheese.
En route, we helped a tractor driver who had got stuck in a ditch - a few minutes with the winch probably saved him several hours of digging in the mud.
We got to Iguazu at about 16h45, but decided that because they charge entry per day, it was better to come back first thing in the morning and make a full day of it. We found a camp ground with relatively good facilities (including two pools) and lots of shade. Michael had a siesta while I phoned Karen and then went for a short run (too hot, too humid, too many insects). I went for a nice swim when I got back and then the two of us went into town to have some supper.
We chose a great little place called 'Jockers' (seriously). We could park the car across the road and keep an eye on her while we drank mind-numbing cocktails, ate picadas (table snacks) and tasty pizza. A great way to end the day!
Today was unforgettable - we went camera mad and took over 100 photographs (lots of sifting will be required)! Being born in Zimbabwe makes it hard for me to say this, but the Iguazu Falls are far more impressive than Victoria Falls. We were very fortunate as Iguazu had received 300mm of rain in the three days preceding our arrival, so the falls were very full and in fact they stopped access to one of the islands, because the water had risen too high to let the boats land. Above the falls, the Iguazu River opens out to a width of 4kms and the precipice over which the water plunges is 60 metres high. The actual frontage of the falls is 2.75km long and comprises 275 different falls.
We paid the 60 pesos entrance fee for the two of us and had a quick look around the interpretation centre. Before we made our way down to the falls we were very effectively persuaded by Chris from Adventura Nautico that the best way to see the falls was from the river approach. To cut a long story short, we bought what is called a pasaporte verde which allows you to spend about 5 hours on your own exploring the area, but includes a 7km truck ride through the jungle, a boat ride down the river rapids in a rigid inflatable with 2 x 200hps motors culminating in an up-close and personal encounter with the falls, plus a half-hour paddle along the river above the falls.
The ride down the river was a spectacular introduction to the falls - first speeding along the fast flowing river, then a few rapids and then the splendour of the falls open out in front of you! They stop and let you take photographs from all different angles and then they tell you to put all your camera equipment in plastic bags and prepare to get wet...
It was awesome! The boat driver clearly knew what he was doing and he took us really close to the base of all the different falls. The spray was so heavy and thick you couldn't see a thing and it was like sitting under a super strong power shower. Everyone got absolutely drenched and the driver kept taking us back for more. It was more thrilling than either of us had expected.
Then we got off the boat and had a chance to dry off a bit and admire the falls from below (a little further away from the soaking mist). We walked along the 'lower circuit' for an hour or so and got wet again, because the walkways get so close the sheets of water thrashing down.
Then we went to the roof of the Sheraton hotel to get a panoramic view of the falls and from there, we went on the 7km Macuco Trail through the jungle to a separate waterfall further up river. The walk was really peaceful we only saw about 5 other couples/groups on the trail. We saw capybaras, monkeys, giant lizards and some lovely birds. The falls were stunning and plunged into a rock pool below, but we decide not to swim as the water was a bit turbulent for our liking.
Then we walked back (briskly - to avoid the mosquitoes and other biting insects) to the main attraction and did the 'superior circuit'. I would not have thought I could be more amazed than earlier - but it was magnificent.
The sun was shining brilliantly, creating a spectacular rainbow through the dense mist above the falls.
Then we took the mini-train along to the final walkway which leads out to the 'Devil's Throat'. The walkway seems to go on forever and we stopped to look at an interesting wasps nest and lots of really colourful butterflies.
You could also see the remains of the two old walkways which were washed away in previous floods.
Devil's Throat is an apt description - the volume of water gushing down the massive chute is unbelievable. It pours over the edge a deep, muddy, chocolate brown and plunges below choking together at the bottom, a mass of frothy white, sending up an enormous spray to soak anyone standing at the the top! Absolutely awe inspiring.
We ended off the day having a tranquil (were it not for the other gabbing tourists) float down the river spotting caiman and all sorts of birds, including toucans.
We decided not to wait for the little train, but to walk along 'green circuit' back to the main entrance. All in all we walked about 15kms and were both exhausted and exhilarated by the end of the day. We gave two backpackers a lift into town and then we went to 'Jockers' again to relax with a cocktail and eat pizza. Michael phoned Jennifer for her birthday.
It turned out to be a late night after meeting the restaurant owner (Marcelo) and his friend (Cesar). We got chatting and drinking and we showed them some of our photos. The more cocktails we drank, the better our Castellano became! (Great cocktails for just 6 pesos - highly recommended, the pizza was good too).
Cesar recommended we spend the night in a very spacious and quiet YPF station on the outskirts of the town. We drove there slowly and hit the sack - our heads spinning somewhat...