Our latest stories from the road...
The massive Perito Moreno Glacier.
Tackling a broken fuel pump wire in the Patagonian pampa.
Sunset over Torres del Paine National Park.
Fork in the road...it's a good thing they give you maps at the park entrance.
At the top of our first day hike with the Torres in the background.
Jake and Cam are treated to a spectacular view at the top of French Valley.
Waterfall in Torres del Paine.
The ultimate water bottle.
Derek in front of the Cuernos (horns) at the opposite end of the park.
What!? There's no McDonald's here? I guess Patagonia isn't that cool after all.
One inch on each side...slow and steady!
The alleged site of a penguin colony. Sans penguins.
Our birthday cake! Cam may be leaving Patagonia soon, but he's certainly happy right now.
Giant sloth statue just outside Puerto Natales, Chile.
Our morning view on the Rio Chubut. Very much like Utah.
WINDY! Derek was blown into the icy river just moments after this photo.
Our lucky dog of the week.
Three days of this.
Followed by two days of this.
The quick fix for a dragging muffler...nearby fence wire.
Only in Argentina.
Fly fishing on the Rio Chubut.
Derek in front of the Casa Rosada, Argentina's equivalent to the White House.
El Congreso, Buenos Aires.
El Obelisco, downtown Buenos Aires.
Top left was the world record brown trout until a few years ago. This guy is the president of the Bariloche fishing club...he also caught that fish!
Mom and Dad in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier during their visit.
Hiking near El Bolson, Argentina. The peaks in the background mark the border with Chile.
Spectacular waterfall outside of Bariloche, Argentina.
A glassy lake Nahuel Huapi on the ferry ride out to the peninsula.
Colonia, Uruguay...UNESCO world heritage site.
We've come a long way! Our crew in northern Mexico, late September.
May 20th, 2009....
Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina! The VWviaje trip has finally come to a close, and it's time for our last website entry. After seven months of traveling through Mexico, Central, and South America, Jake, Derek, and I have gone our separate ways. Derek and Jake finished their travels and returned to Utah, while I stayed behind in Argentina. And the van? Well, despite her lackluster performance pulling into Buenos Aires, the van lives on. Although slightly crippled, it now sits sedentary in a Buenos Aires parking garage...where she awaits the next mission - a return journey to Colombia! But more on that later. Anyway, now that I am armed with a working laptop and wireless internet in my downtown apartment, here is the final VWviaje update from Buenos Aires...
Almost two months have passed since we hiked under the azure skies and rugged, granite spires of the Mount Fitz Roy Massif. With the mountains in our rear view mirror, we drove three hours south to visit the famed Perito Moreno Glacier. As we followed the paved road, the snow capped Andes and massive glacial lakes to the west were a dramatic contrast to the vast Patagonian steppe and barren pampa to the east. Arriving in the park well after midnight, we camped in the lot and awoke to the thunderous cracking of the glacier. One of only two advancing glaciers in South America, Perito Moreno never fails to disappoint. It advances approximately six feet every day, and if you stick around long enough you are bound to see something break off. Despite the cloudy weather, the sun peeked out long enough to snap some great photos, and we saw several large chunks of ice crash into the icy, blue waters. Mission accomplished...continue south! With only one week left before Jake and Cam's departure, we crossed back into Chile and hooked north towards Torres del Paine National Park.
In Puerto Natales, Chile we stocked up on food before heading into the park. Natales is famous for the nearby discovery of giant sloth (now extinct) remnants, and this is reflected by a huge sloth statue and miniature sloths on every street sign. Tackling one of the last dirt roads of the trip, we entered the park right at sunset. Equal in scale and possibly more impressive than Mount Fitz Roy, Torres del Paine is a remote series of rock spires and glacial lakes that is considered to be completely separate from the Andes mountain range. The plan here was to spend a few days hiking and then drive south to see some penguins and drop Cam and Jake at the airport. In our constant battle with the Patagonian weather, we once again prayed for clear skies and unobstructed views. Our first day in the park was cloudy but pleasant, and we made the brief but steep hike up to the Torres, three prominent granite towers that lend the park its name. Given our last month's record of driving lots and exercising little, we were pretty sore and out of hiking shape, but we still managed to pass multiple groups of tourists on the way up. While the skies remained mostly cloudy, it cleared up just enough for us to see all three towers at once. Back at camp we took hot showers and made a delicious pasta dinner around the campfire. Which Cam promptly spilled all over the ground.
Early the next morning, under bluebird skies, Jake and Cam embarked on a marathon hike to the French Valley, while Derek and I drove to the far end of the park to check out a waterfall and get a different view of the jagged mountains. With absolutely incredible weather, this was the ideal spot to spend my birthday. In the evening, while we waited for Jake and Cam, Derek treated me to an incredible birthday dinner at the luxurious Torres del Paine Lodge. High class!
Having checked off our final VWviaje destination, the time for goodbyes was nearing. Through a light drizzle, we chugged south one last time and arrived in Punta Arenas, which lies on the Strait of Magellan. From here, Jake and Cam would fly back to the states in just two days. It was Cam's birthday, and although slightly less picturesque than Torres del Paine, it was nonetheless entertaining when we watched Derek's futile struggle to filter water out of a mud infested lake...only to find out later that it was salt water. A nearby penguin colony was reported to be worth a visit, so after a massive all-you-can-eat dinner, we drove out on a gravel road towards the reserve. However, in the dark we had no luck locating the spot, and we decided to camp and figure it out in the morning.
Morning dawns, but there are no signs and no penguins. We were in the right spot according to our map. So, after a frustrating three hours of back and forth driving on washboard dirt roads, we finally swallowed our pride and asked for directions. Apparently this was the wrong time of year to see the penguins, and the reserve was shut down. So much for seeing the little buggers. Sorry Cam...your visit to Patagonia was almost complete! Back in Punta Arenas, Jake and Cam packed up their gear, and prepared for their flight home in the morning. The trip was nearing its end. Much to our entertainment, Jake spent most of the afternoon wrapping his surfboards in blankets, clothes, abundant duct tape, and who knows what else to prevent them from being damaged on the plane...the final product was a ridiculously unwieldy package that he somehow managed to get safely back to the US free of charge! Our final night as a group we feasted on one last all-you-can-eat dinner and camped right outside the airport.
Way too early the next morning, in the freezing predawn, Derek and I bid our buddies farewell. After seven months, our time together had finally come to a close...but what a journey it has been! My final view was of Jake lugging his monstrosity of a surfboard "bag" past the airport guards who were cautiously eying him with suspicion. Not wanting to be involved when airport security accused him of being a terrorist, Derek and I hightailed it to the Argentine border. We would spend the next five days driving through the flat, windy pampa (plains) en route to Buenos Aires, making intermittent fly fishing stops to ease the monotony.
Our final border crossing was uneventful, and we passed into Argentina at Rio Gallegos where we proceeded north through the flatlands to the Rio Santa Cruz. Famed for its great steelhead fishing, we had a picturesque campsite on the banks of the huge, swollen river. Unfortunately, neither one of us had so much as a bite. We didn't feel so bad, however, when we met an American ex-pat who says he has only hooked into one steelhead in the past two years...and he fishes in Patagonia for six months out of the year.
Battling the vicious Patagonian crosswinds and opposite direction tractor trailer traffic, we chugged northbound. The van was running quite well, and our only complaint was the standard early morning push start procedure. As dusk approached, we decided to turn off towards a potential fishing hole on the Rio Chubut. Much to our surprise, we soon descended into a dramatic canyon with the full moon overhead, commenting on how much it reminded us of Moab, Utah. Although our proximity to the large dam (looming overhead just upstream) was slightly disconcerting, we parked for the night on the shore of the river amidst the lunar redrock formations. Morning dawned, and we found ourselves in a gorgeous canyon of rust colored cliffs with lush trees lining the clear river...a true oasis and impressive contrast from our drive through the vast Patagonian pampa. And much like a southern Utah landscape, with which we were both quite familiar. Here, we stayed for two days and caught several small trout each. Derek also reeled in a large perch to finish up our fly-fishing adventures in South America. On the drive out, we crossed over the dam and had our first view of the reservoir, nearly a mirror image of Lake Powell or Lake Mead.
The final two days of driving were broken up by several attempts to fish on large, muddy rivers...although in the back of our minds, we really just wanted to get to the big city, eat lots of steak, and find a hot shower. We made our last casts of the trip on the Rio Negro at midnight under a full moon, but with no luck. On to Buenos Aires! But, like usual, the van had a different idea. Only one hour short of the city, we heard a metallic grating sound coming from the back of the van. The following conversation sounded something like this:
Derek: "Sounds like the muffler is dragging on the ground."
Long pause. We keep driving. The sound continues.
Even longer pause. We continue driving. The sound continues.
Derek: "I guess we should probably do something about it."
Another minute passes.
Me: "Yea, I guess so."
So we pulled over, and briefly laughed at the sight of our now detached muffler hanging on the ground. At this point, neither one of us really cared that much about the van, and we just wanted to make it to the city. But no, so close to our destination, it decides to test our patience one last time. Maybe she just wasn't used to driving north for so long. However, within ten minutes we were back on the road with a makeshift muffler support crafted out of wire from the nearby fence. Despite the van's best efforts, we were going to make it to Buenos Aires!
Buenos Aires is the third largest city in all of South America, and the largest one outside of Brazil...needless to say, it was a dramatic change from the last five days of driving through the flat plains and farmland. Luckily, we pulled in on Easter Sunday, and traffic was at a minimum, making it relatively easy to navigate to our hotel. We parked the van, took absurdly long hot showers, and immediately turned on the cable TV. Over the course of the next three days we explored the streets of Buenos Aires and checked out the sites of the downtown area, only a small part of this enormous city. Modern and European, with wide streets and even wider boulevards, Buenos Aires is a refreshing break from the countless other dirty Latin cities we have visited. It is, without a doubt, far superior to any other city we passed on the trip, although Medellin, Colombia isn't too far behind. Sometimes it's even quite easy to forget that you are in Latin America at all. Until, of course, a pack of street dogs goes cruising by. During our stay, we also ate an unhealthy amount of the delicious and cheap bife de chorizo, the local steak dish. Here in Buenos Aires, white tablecloth restaurants and wine glasses are the norm, although a classy dinner might set you back less than ten dollars!
Finally, against our will, we tackled the brutal task of cleaning out the van, throwing lots of junk away, and packing up all of Derek's gear. Which he conveniently stuffed into his kayak in order to have only one piece of luggage for his flight home. Well, we would soon find out that Delta Airlines doesn't think that this is such a good idea. So, after three days of relaxing in the city, we climbed into the van together one last time, and navigated through traffic to the airport. Here, I dropped Derek off for his flight and watched him drag his heavy boat into the terminal, much to the amusement of the airport crowd. We said our goodbyes, and I was finally left alone with a very empty van. The VWviaje trip was finally over!
The first thing you learn about driving our battered vehicle solo is that finding a good parking spot is absolutely essential. Because it isn't easy to push start a 6,000 pound vehicle by yourself. Trust me. So, without a place to stay, I pulled into a Shell station and planned to sleep there for the night. Once asleep, I got a knock on the window and was promptly kicked out by the night guard, who claimed that he could not let me sleep there for security reasons. No amount of arguing could convince him otherwise, even though the guy before him told me it was OK. After seven months of traveling, this was the only time we were told to leave a campsite! Apparently I am bad luck. So, with some minor difficulty, I managed to push start the van on my own, and I slept on the side of the freeway with the truckers.
The next morning, I battled throngs of commuters through the chaotic, downtown rush hour traffic, and managed to find a decent parking spot (on a hill, of course) in the city. So this is what happens when ten million people need to go to work in the morning. Right. I passed the day looking at apartments, and finally found a comfortable one with cable, wireless, and a prime location downtown. Here, I could pass the next two months and live the city life while looking for a job. That night I settled into the apartment, and for the first time in seven months I finally had a stationary base...something that I could more or less call home. At least for a short while. Well, little did I know, Delta did not let Derek take his kayak on the flight the night before, so I had to make one last drive back out to the airport and pick up his stranded boat. I will be taking a 90% commission on the sale of your boat Derek, thanks!
I passed the following weeks in the city just fixing up the van in an attempt to sell it. Free time was spent exploring the different sectors of Buenos Aires, playing guitar, and making an attempt to get back in shape after so much van time. Much to my surprise, a posting of the van on Craigslist swamped my mailbox with interested emails, and I showed it off to quite a few people. However, after a trip to the customs office, I found that some very minor changes in the laws here now make it completely impossible and illegal to sell the van here in Argentina. No loophole like before. Looking for another option, I sent an email to our good friend Mauricio in Colombia, who had expressed a great interest in purchasing our vehicle at the end of our trip. Even after describing the myriad of problems that the van now has, he said that he was still interested! Thus, we slowly began to make plans and sort out the paperwork while on opposite ends of the continent. As of now, he will fly down here sometime next week (with his mechanic!!!), and we will drive it back to Colombia where I can legally sell it to him. So the trip lives on, and I will be back on the road soon enough to make the marathon drive from Buenos Aires to Bogota.
Just recently, my parents flew down to visit me here in Argentina. During our ten day trip, we packed in an incredible amount of sights and activities. We flew deep into the heart of Patagonia to see the Perito Moreno glacier, and then up to Bariloche, where we spent several days hiking and exploring the surrounding area. Here, the pre-season snowfall enhanced the spectacular contrast of white mountains, bright blue lakes, and fall colors. Back in Buenos Aires, we traveled up to Tigre, a nearby river delta that provides a great escape from the busy city. We then made a day long journey across the Rio de la Plata into Uruguay where we wandered the streets of Colonia, a UNESCO world heritage site. During the time my parents were here, we managed to use every possible means of transportation...from car, bus, plane, and taxi to boat, train, and subway! We had a great time, and I am grateful for being spoiled with extremely large meals several times a day!
One last HUGE thank you to everyone who supported us throughout our journey...sin tu apoyo, el viaje no habria sucedido! Also, without our PayPal donors, we would be in serious trouble...your generosity helped us with precious gas money, numerous repairs, and the recent work of fixing up the van for selling. Here they are: Liza Barton, Mark Ferne, Brad White, our German friend Jens, Mike Gough and Rebecca Degagne, Val Gonzales, Jana Novak, Danny and Tammy Sinclair, Caleb Pope, Scott Nielsen, Mary Pat Degagne, Bonnie Martin (who donated twice!), and Mark Lega (who also donated twice!). Thanks again! Well, although Buenos Aires is an incredible and lively city, its distant location from any sort of mountains, rivers, or waves makes it only a temporary residence for me. Who knows where I will head next? As of now, the options range anywhere from Patagonia to Colombia to El Salvador. So feel free to contact us in the coming months to see what we are up to...our emails are here on the website. Well, hopefully this entry provides some closure on the trip for those who were wondering what has happened in the past few weeks. Although the posts won't be nearly as frequent, I will try to keep the website updated about once a month to keep you in the loop about the (still undetermined) fate of the van. One last gracias to everyone who kept track of our adventures, and we hope that each one of you has lived vicariously through the journey!
The photo gallery is in a new format...with captions!
To see more photos click below: