We were up quite early, with the promise of sunshine, but it soon began to snow a bit. We agreed it was better to move on if the weather was still closed in. I went and made hot chocolate for the road and we paid our bill. We went to see if it was worthwhile going into the National Park and doing a walk, but when we got there it was snowing again, so we decided against it. En route back to town Michael spotted a muddy track going up the hill so he decided Nyathi needed to go and investigate... It was quite muddy and sloshy, but very unappealing as it turn out to be a rubbish dump!
We left Ushuaia and went down a lovely steep track to one of the lakes. We saw crystal clear water tumbling down the mountain and when we got to the lake we skimmed stones across the glassy surface. Then we saw a squall coming across the lake and with it, the snow!
We took the less travelled, back road to Porvenir. We were rewarded with stunning scenery and a very quaint border post on the Chilean side. The official was catching 40 winks on the couch in front of the fire when we arrived. Then we discovered the bridge across the border river was broken so only heavy vehicles could cross - that's OK, we thought, they must mean only vehicles big enough to ford the river! Besides, at over 5 tons we're pretty heavy. The border official kindly walked down to the river to show us the best place to cross. It was running quite fast, but posed no problems for Nyathi!
On the Argentenian side I think it was the official's first time to do a temporary import for a foreign registered vehicle. He took forever to make sure he got it all right. We sat patiently looking at the grotesque posters warning against foot and mouth disease and studying two enormous pieces of paper up on the wall which depicted the various ear markings for sheep on the twenty or so surrounding estancias.
We drove down to Lago Blanco through a stunning forest, 'chasing' two horses which had bolted out into the road at our approach. The lake had free camping, but the wind was so strong we decided against it. It was beautiful and the water was very choppy from the strong, cold wind. We opted for a little spot down an unused road in amongst the forest. It was slightly protected from the wind and very peaceful. Soon enough the snow began to fall and it seemed surreal to be cooking dinner on the gas stove outside with snowflakes drifting down around me. The temperature fell to -1°C, so we were glad to have a warm bed to crawl into...
Today was a long one! We woke up fairly early to find a blanket of snow like thick icing sugar layered around us on the trees and ground. We took the less travelled 405 road to Porvenir. The scenery was beautiful and we saw loads of lambs frolicking about in the fields and then dashing off into the distance at break neck speed alongside their mothers as soon as we approached. The road wasn't too bad although one pickup going in the opposite direction had a bit of a tail swing because he took the corner too fast, luckily Michael had kept well over to the right so there was no problem.
We drove alongside the sea for some time and commented on the great views the grazing sheep have. We stopped at the behest of some gaucho man who ran out of his little hut in the field, waving his arms frantically. He needed a lift to Porvenir so we took down the back seat and in he climbed. He spoke so quickly I could hardly understand a word he said. After a about 15 minutes of polite and much repeated conversation I had a nap and he and Michael lulled into a comfortable silence. We dropped Jose off in Porvenir and headed down to the port.
We saw Suzanne and Sven again. We loitered about to see if the ferry (which only sails once a day) could fit us on. There was a little hail/snow storm which pelted down with stinging force so we dived for cover in Nyathi. By the time Suzanne had driven their car onto the ferry it was clear that there would be no space for us, nor some of the cars in the queue ahead of us, so we waved goodbye and headed off for the17h00 ferry at Punta Delgada. We made good time and arrived just after 16h00. We joined the queue of three cars and a few trucks and the waiting began...
The wind was howling furiously and you had to lean into it strongly to stay upright! We could see the ferry anchored in the bay so we both got out our books and read and read and read... We had no bread so snacked on biscuits and cheese and Michael made good headway into his fruit cake! We ended up waiting 5 hours before the ferry came across to collect us. We have no idea whether the delay was due to the tides or the bad weather, but at least I got to finish my book!
A local couple asked us to tow their 4x4 onto the ferry for them as they were having engine trouble. They were so pleasant and extremely appreciative. The trip across the strait was horrible. They jammed in as many cars as possible onto the ferry leaving very little space to walk between and the boat was heaving up and down (Nyathi was rocking from side to side in the wind even though most of her body was below the gunwales!). I needed the loo so decided I'd get out the car and go upstairs to the little passenger lounge. Just as I was squeezing my way carefully through the cars a massive wave of spray came over the side of the ferry and drenched all the vehicles below - I made a hasty retreat back to Nyathi and decided nature's call could wait.
When we arrived safely on the other side we towed the other car off the ferry and up the hill and said our goodbyes. We drove until 23h30 looking for a bush camp that would afford at least some protection from the wind. En route we saw loads of zorros (foxes) and hares - Michael took great delight in driving straight for them, with me chastising him in vain.
It dropped to -2°C last night! We got up at 05h00 when we conceded that the wind was too strong and buffeting Nyathi about a bit, so we decided to drive on... We made good time to Puerto Natales where we changed some money at 610 Chilean pesos to the dollar. We did some food shopping, bought diesel and took advantage of the hot water in the bathrooms to freshen up.
We continued along the less beaten track past some lovely estancias and more and more sheep. At one stage a stupid sheep wandered across the cattle grid to get out of our way (why it didn't just go to the side of the road I don't know) and fell through up to its belly. Michael got out and approached it slowly, calming it down a bit and then he had to lift it out and it ran off happily to join its lamb.
Then we we discovered that the track the GPS told us we should be turning down was blocked by a locked gate. We drove back about 100m to a previous gate, but it had a padlock and chain around it too. We saw an estancia up a little road to the left so we decided to go there and ask if was possible to use the road or not. The estancia owner was extremely friendly despite being very busy. One of the farm workers directed us to a little shed next to the cow pen and when he came out to see us he had a gloved arm which had very clearly been up one or other of the cow's nether orifices! We didn't shake hands, but he was very helpful and told us we could use the track and that in fact the second gate looked like it was locked, but it wasn't. So we said our thanks and goodbyes and headed off. It really was a little-used, muddy track, though still very easy to drive. There was lots of opening and closing of gates and at one stage we stopped in a stream to wash off the dousing of salt water from Nyathi's ferry crossing yesterday.
Then we came across a wooden bridge which went over a small river into the lake. As it seemed possible that the bridge wasn't designed for a 5 ton vehicle, Michael opted for fording the river. The pebble bed was extremely loose, and the river was a little deeper than it looked, and Nyathi sank into the gravel bed up to her axles. She would still move back and forth in 6x6, but made very little progress in getting up the far bank. So we winched her out as swiftly as possible to avoid getting water in the diffs. Her exhaust was bubbling away in the water and Michael had to climb in and out of the window and onto the bonnet so as not to get wet! We used the base of a strong tree as an anchor and Nyathi trundled out slowly but surely. Our first time on this trip using the winch to get ourselves unstuck! (Namibia doesn't count, as the rear propshaft was broken).
Shortly afterwards we saw another vehicle - driven by a guy named Alejandro who owns a campsite on Lago Toro. It was only a 5km diversion so at his invitation, we followed him there. It was a wonderful place with loads of trees, lovely green grass and superb views of the lake. The showers were wonderful and hot, although we had parked some distance away in the lee of the hill to avoid the wind.
Despite the cold and windy weather, Michael decided it was prudent to check and change the differential oils, and at the same time, he did a minor service, - engine oil change, replaced various filters, checked the rear brake pads, and checked the gearbox and transfer box oils. The six wheel drive unit was pretty empty - so he was really glad he checked. He did the messier work and the crawling under the vehicle while I did the fetching and carrying and pumping of oil at the appropriate times.
Dinner was quick and simple as I reheated the second half of the chilli soya I made the other night and boiled up some spaghetti. We sat in the warmth of the cab stuffing our faces and listening to the water lapping up at the rocks.