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When we were in Otavalo, a short drive south of the Colombian border, I spotted a wool shop that I wanted to check out and then promptly forgot the following day.  Fate must have been thinking that I was in need of a new jacket because Casa Helbling, the hostel we stayed at in Quito, was directly across from the exact same store, Hilana.  Not only do they sell beautiful wool, they make a well-designed selection of wool jackets, slippers, scarves, mittens and much more.  I believe the designer is French but all the materials are sourced from Ecuador.

It was actually Tom who spotted this jacket and suggested I try it on.  The sleeves were a tiny bit short but with a bit of chatting the lady at the shop managed to get the sleeves lengthened in 24 hours.  And I came away with a custom tailored, 100% wool jacket and a couple of skeins of lovely Ecuadorian yarn for $60 USD.

Jacket from Hilana

After reaching our destination of Ushuaia we saddled up for the long drive back to Buenos Aires.  The landscapes are pretty much the same up the Atlantic coast – mostly large estancias in the empty pampas.  We motored along heading to Punta Tombo, home to the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America and who doesn’t like penguins?

Penguin Walking

We cruised into the park around 5pm and after buying our tickets priced at three times what Argentine nationals paid we wandered into the reserve. Minutes into our walk we started to spy our cute tuxedoed amigos.  One lone little guy even hopped up onto the bridge to say hello and we spent about 15 minutes up close and personal with a very forward and curious penguin.

Our drive up the coast then took us to Puerto Madryn where we were lucky to catch the Southern Right Whales that come to Argentina’s coast to have their babies and teach them how to swim in a safe environment. Driving down to the nearby beaches we were happy to find the whales hanging out and playing at both Playa El Doradillo and Punta Flecha.

Penguins and Whales from Kels M on Vimeo.

I was rather taken by the whales and wanted to have a closer look so we cruised about 35km up the coast to Peninsula Valdez – a marine animal sanctuary.  Puerto Piramides offers boats tours to see the whales and we hopped on a sunset cruise, perhaps we were just lucky but we ended up with an awesome day, capped off with a blazing fiery sunset.

A Whale of a Tail

On October 20, 2009, 20 months, 18 border crossings and 45,946 km later we arrived in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego without a single flat tire.

The end of the drive...

Marlin, our little red battler, survived temperatures ranging from -40 to +40ºC, painfully huge speedbumps, numerous river crossings and some of the craziest roads to bring us to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.

The end of the road actually lies within Tierra del Fuego’s Parque Nacional  – a packed, dirt road winds through thick forest taking you to the end of Ruta Tres.  And from, there, well you are going to have to walk if you want to get any further.

Wine at the end of the world

We enjoyed a picnic at the end of the road with good friends and fellow roadtrippers, Kristin and Chris.  Wine (from the end of the world of course), some nibblies and lots of laughter capped off our trip.

It is hard to believe that after all our saving, talking, planning and, of course, driving we are suddenly here.  It is quite surreal and at this moment I think we are still a bit stunned that we made it.  A few nights before we arrived I lay awake pondering our travels over the past 20 months. With the Pan American Highway now behind us, I tossed and turned disbelieving that our driving adventure was coming to a close (at least for now). So we find ourselves at the end (literally and figuratively) with our trusty little Volkswagen Golf thinking of the generosity of those we met along the way, the countries we have seen, the moments of frustration, the laughter, the learning and the knowledge that a small car and a couple of regular people can sometimes do something just a little bit out of the ordinary.


The land at the end of the road

Ruta 40

Driving through most of Central and South America has given us some insight into Latin American border politics, so after narrowly escaping a hefty fine for trying to smuggle popcorn into Chile we were surprised to find a lack of reciprocity and much more amiable officials on the Argentine side of the border.


We crossed over from Chile to drive through the Argentine Lake District in Patagonia and to meet up with the famous “Ruta 40″ which stretches over 5000 kms – pretty much the entire length of the country… one of the largest routes in the world (apart from the unofficial Pan American Highway) along with US Route 66 and the Stuart Highway in Australia).


The land here undulates around ragged mountains and breaks quietly apart falling into deep lakes and glacial valleys. We spent a few days in Bariloche and climbed Cerro Campanario to get a stunning view of the hidden lakes. Driving further south we stopped to have a traditional tea service in Trevelin, which was founded by the Welsh in 1865 and still maintains it’s strong Welsh heritage.


We made a quick detour off Ruta 40 to check out Perito Moreno a huge Glacier fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field before heading out to the coastal and windy Ruta 3 which finishes in Tierra del Fuego… the end of the road.

The point breaks in Chile are legendary – bonfire rumors of long lefts, icy waters and uncrowded waves had both of us excited about our prospects as we rolled into Pichilemu, home to the world’s largest collection of left hand point breaks. Kels had hooked us up with a sweet camp spot, it was low season, we were with friends and there were waves to be had.

The point was roaring, I rented a 4 x 3 full-suit, got some pointers from a local and jumped in off the rocks at Punta de Lobos. It can be a bit of a tricky paddle, you have to time it between the sets or you run the risk of getting pushed back onto the rocks. Adrenaline kept me paddling until I was out of harm’s way, but after about 5 minutes I was slowing down and soon I could barely move my arms. It was then that I realised that I hadn’t been in a full wetsuit for years and that I was very unfit.

When we came back the next day the swell was gone, leaving no indication of the thundering lefts of the previous day. But I was happy, I’d caught a couple waves and we were lucky enough to see Punta de Lobos on a good day, the water is cold but the locals are friendly and the waves are world class.

we are here

we are here

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