Early in the morning, after leaving the Antarctic vessel, we retrieved our camper at the airport. It was time to explore this legendary Tierra del Fuego…but that was not meant to be, yet. On the way to Ushuaia, the (automatic) transmission started slipping until, right at the entrance of town and in the middle of the highway, it refused to go any further. The gas station across the road could not help us, and all businesses were still closed. After Thijs came back from the gas station, and after discussing what to do – not believing what happened- he gave it another try… The truck moved again, although just for two kilometers. We limped to the Mercedes garage on the other side of town, pausing and going. At the garage, the people were friendly but not very helpful: with the World Cup Soccer finals coming up, they were not planning to take on any work, but suggested we’d search ourselves for transmission oil and filter, and maybe a new transmission, all of which, they assured us, would not be available in Ushuaia, but maybe in Commodoro Rivadavia (1350km), or Buenos Aires (3100km) or the USA (?!). It did not sound very promising. We limped back – stopping and going- to the waterfront parking lot, where at least we could camp out for a while in the company of other campers – many of them also in MB Sprinters, albeit the Argentinian (manual) version.
From our location overlooking the Beagle Channel, we watched the Argentinian soccer league win the World Cup, followed by two days of partying. And what a party it was! Everything, except of course for the bars, was closed. Our friendly South American Sprinter neighbors however did their best to contact their Sprinter dealers to find our necessities, but all of them were far away, with expensive and time-consuming shipping involved…
However Thijs did not sit still: he contacted our US Sprinter angel Dr. Andy, who has helped us brilliantly several times before, and then heeded his advice: our battery was old and did not give enough voltage anymore, so replace that first. (Thijs did that) Then find MB certified 236.15 (top grade) transmission oil, and a new filter. That was a challenge to find, but after a few days of searching, Thijs walked into the local Jeep/Chrysler/Dodge dealer and found the right filter and a local address for the oil. But of course: MB Sprinter in the US used to be sold by and as Dodge! (Why didn’t the MB dealer know this, while one of the people there drives a Jeep!?) We got our appointment at Mercedes for the Friday before Christmas. They serviced the transmission with our locally found oil and filter, and all was good again. In hindsight, maybe the battery was all we needed to exchange, but it felt great to see that the filter was showing no signs of transmission damage.
We left town, and drove to a non-functioning and therefore free campsite adjacent to a pretty creek called Rio Pipo and the touristy railroad station that runs into Tierra del Fuego National Park. Here we met several of the waterfront camper neighbors again and celebrated a bit of Christmas together.
On Christmas day we visited Tierra del Fuego National Park, where the mountains meet the sea. We drove through forested mountains, along bogs, and lakes where black-necked swans and pairs of patagonian geese drew our attention. Then we reached the end of the road, route #3. We walked the trail that continued through flowering bushes. Moss-like ferns and yellow buttercups carpeted the forest bottom of multi trunked trees, adorned with lichen. We passed beaver-chopped trunks along an overgrown riverbed but saw no sign of a dam or fort. We continued along a pebble beach and passed outcrops that marked the next beach, until we could go no further. Clear water with kelp fields filled the bays. Snow peaks rose above the horizon. On a quiet sunny day like we had, it looked truly idyllic. Unfortunately, those days are rare in these southern lands…
When we wanted to explore more of the island, a violent storm with heavy rain and gale-force winds came over us. Nights were restless, with howling winds shaking our truck, even when we sheltered behind buildings to protect us. In driving rain we crossed the Chilean border, where at least the rain stopped, but the winds continued. On the other side of the island we took the last (wild) ferry ride from Porvenir to Punta Arenas. We arrived there late at night, just before the winds picked up to a true storm and the ferries canceled next day’s rides.
In comparison to Ushuaia, Punta Arenas looks like a real city with stately stone buildings, and a cemetery that tells history. Here we needed to find a bank to get some Chilean pesos, and a phone company to get a local chip. In town, we fought the wind at intersections, and doors that blew open and refused to close. We did not stay long, but fought our way north to Puerto Natales, through gusts of western side winds that almost blew us off the road every time a passing truck created a temporary vacuum.
Puerto Natales is the jumping-off point to the world-famous Torres del Paine park, which should be one of the highlights of our Patagonian experience. The weather forecast did not spell much good; only a full week later would the skies clear up, and the winds die down to moderate. We have time, we can wait it out: we have laundry to do, groceries to buy, and a blog or two to write and publish. We wild camped most of the time around a city park, where its trees and surrounding buildings gave us some protection against the eternal wind. Publishing a blog without Wifi is a bit primitive; the local phone plans programs eat gigabites like it’s nothing and that unnerves me. But we still have a few days to make it work.
Today we’re at a campground, where the common room has good Wifi connection. This coming weekend should be top days for the park. We will leave Thursday – today is Wednesday. What will happen… you will hear later.