In the style of Forrest Gump, when we hit the end of the road at the tip of South America, we figured since we’d gone this far we might as well turn back around and just keep on going. So that is what we did. We turned the van north heading for warmer weather, some final adventures, and eventually the port city from which we would be shipping Chimera back to the United States.
After leaving Tierra del Fuego we headed up the vast stretch of pampas that covers eastern Argentina. We put in several long days of driving the straight, open highways through harsh cross winds. Although the roads were paved, we got some of the worst gas mileage of our entire trip. Chimera does not like high-speed driving (over 55mph) especially with wind.
Our first destination was Parque Nacional Monte Leon where we walked through a large colony of Magellanic Penguins. Much smaller than the King Penguins, these little guys settle in a few select areas along the east coast of Argentina, forming colonies of tens of thousands of breeding pairs. They were not afraid of us at all and seemed rather curious. These penguins make a noise much like a donkey braying and collectively the colony made an enormous racket.
After two solid days of driving we reached the touristy beach town of Puerto Madryn. Just like that we were out of the bitter Antarctic gales and back to sunbathing on the beach. We took a break from driving to visit the nature reserve on Peninsula Valdes. The area is rich with birds, guanacos, foxes, armadillos, and marine mammals. In the spring southern right whales breed in the bays, and throughout the year the coastline is covered in sea lions and elephant seals, but the biggest attraction for us was the possibility of seeing an orca. Peninsula Valdes is the only place in the world where orcas have been observed intentionally stranding themselves on the beach as a hunting technique. Our timing should have been right, hitting the month and tide timing when the orcas are normally observed. We spent about four hours out on the point with camera and binoculars in hand, watching the sea lions and birds and waiting for the orcas to appear. Alas, they didn’t get the memo that we were there and failed to show up.
We had a bit of time left before we planned to ship home so we decided that instead of hanging out with the guanacos and rheas on the pampas we would head back across the country to one of our favorite areas – the Lakes District. This time we had the roads and campgrounds mostly to ourselves. The summer crowds had departed and fall was settling in – which meant cool nights and colorful trees. We went back to several of our favorite places, and found some new ones.
One evening as we were enjoying the fading dusk at a great boondock spot on the bank of the beautiful Río Aluminé three catarafts floated down and beached on the rocks. A man in a half-fisherman half-gaucho outfit came up to us and asked if we were camping there and if we wouldn’t mind watching the rafts overnight. He was guiding a fishing tour group and would be back in the morning to continue downstream. He was very friendly and soon even offered us the oars and said Corey (who has steering experience) could take out a raft if he wanted. Tim and Corey took advantage of the opportunity and pushed off at first light the next morning.
We were particularly happy to be able to return to one of our favorite boondock sites on the bank of the lovely Río Pulmarí at the northern end of the Lakes District. On our way south we spent three days camped in the sunshine and being teased by the huge trout in the beautiful pool just downstream.
On our first visit, Tim had struggled in vain to catch any of the big fish that could be seen patrolling the large pool. This time he was determined to hook at least one. He spent hours trying different dry flies and woolly buggers in the slow-moving waters of pool with Corey up on the rocks spotting fish to tempt. Many of his casts got semi-interested looks, but no nibbles. That afternoon Tim decided to try casting near the river inlet. As he was tying on a new fly he noticed several of the large rainbows patrolling the incoming water. He switched to a nymph and within minutes hooked a beautiful, large rainbow trout, the biggest fish he had ever landed. The next morning, he was able to land two more big daddies, including a nice 20-incher, breaking the previous day’s record for his biggest fish. It was a triumph to be skunked for so many hours by these beautiful fish and finally figure out something that worked. We decided that these big daddies were simply too beautiful to eat, so we snapped a couple photos and sent them on their way.
Leaving this beautiful riverside camp was tough, but we needed to make our next push north toward the port. We still chose to follow the remote back roads rather than zoom up the more traveled, but less interesting paved routes. We wound along the mountains in Argentina then crossed the border into Chile at the very remote border of Pichachén, which sits at the base of Volcán Antuco. This last border crossing ended up being one of the best, not only for the beauty of the surroundings, but also the very friendly Chilean border officials. We quickly made friends and got some good recommendations on how we should spend our last week in Chile.
As soon as we were in Chile we pointed Chimera west and headed for the beach. With the upcoming week of Samana Santa, we wanted to find some remote coastline to avoid the vacationing masses. We boondocked in two amazing and remote beach camp spots that had been discovered by our friends from Carpe Viam as they drove south along the Chilean coast. Further north, we spent two nights in the surf town of Pichilemu, eating empanadas and watching the awesome and crowded point break of Punta Lobos.
From Pichilemu, it was an easy drive to Valparaiso where we met back up with Corey and prepared to ship our vehicles. One of our first chores was to buy Hobie a kennel so we can check him onto the plane with us. He was never crate trained, in fact Hobie had never been in a kennel before, so we were worried that he would hate it and refuse to enter. But once again Hobie showed us just how adaptable he is and soon after we put his bed and blanket in his little house he crawled in and curled up. We even put the kennel in the van that night so he could stay cuddled up in it.
We found a great top-floor apartment to rent in a historical district of Valparaiso well known for its street art and quaint little cafes. It didn’t take long to settle in to our new space. Our first order of business was to get the vehicles loaded into the shipping container. The process took the better part of a day, but most of that time was spent sitting in our vehicles reading while our agent haggled his way through the bureaucracy. Finally the paperwork was ready and it was time to load. Unlike when we shipped across the Darien Gap, this time we were able to drive our own vehicles into the container, disconnect the batteries, lock them up, and walk away with the keys. It was easy and the whole process went smoothly. Before we knew it we were saying goodbye to Chimera and it was time to leave. The container will be loaded onto a ship in about a week and will head through the Panama Canal to Galveston, Texas, where we will pick up our vehicles in about a month.
We have spent the last three days enjoying walking the streets of our great Valparaiso neighborhood, checking out the cute little cafes, drinking wine, and relaxing. We consider this time period our vacation from our vacation, and the first step in our reintegration program. We are learning again how to bathe regularly, sleep in a big soft bed, wear clean clothes, and attempt to fit into the non-overlanding lifestyle. All in all it’s going pretty well, but we already miss our sweet little van home.
We had the very good fortune of meeting up with Benedicte and Edison here in Valparaiso, who we shared a container with when we shipped across the Darien Gap, then sailed with through the San Blas Islands. Being on different travel schedules we hadn’t crossed paths with those two since Cartagena, Colombia, but finally the timing was just right again. We spent two wonderful evenings talking about life, the universe, and everything. Benedicte and Edison are those very special type of people that we know will be in our lives again in the future – we have no idea where or when, but we know our paths will cross again.
Tomorrow evening we will board a plane and in less than twenty four hours we will soar over all of the countries we drove through in the past year and arrive back home in Boulder. It feels rather surreal that our trip is just about over. It will take some time to reflect on this past year and put our thoughts into words. For the moment all we can say is that it has been one heck of an adventure. And now we are ready to go home.