argentina

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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.

Ushuaia

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.

ruta_40_jump

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).

glacial_lake

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.

cerro_campanario

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.

Biking with wine

We left Uruguay promising to return to it’s chilled out old-school vibe and headed into Argentina with plans to meet up with our friends (and partners on drivetheamericas.com) to get a little conversation and drink a little red wine.  We hightailed it over the bleak pampas, passing flashes of pink flamingos, to the wonderfully sunny and charming Mendoza.

Wine Tour Mendoza

Since we were in wine country we felt that to really experience it we should take advantage of the nearby wineries.  Boarding a bus for about an hour and half took us to Maipu and right to Mr. Hugo’s bike rentals.  We pedaled through the spring day, stopping in at a few wineries to sample the wares.  But I think the highlight of our little afternoon jaunt was the last stop – a small shop, A la Antigua, which had every sort of homemade delicacy imaginable: olives, dulce de leche, chocolates, preserves and liqueurs from Scotch to Absinthe.  Osvaldo, our giggly and rather round host, invited us to try a little of everything all of which were ridiculously good, so good that we all left with backpacks a little heavier than when we came.

Concha y ToroAfter enjoying a week of Mendoza’s sunny days and great wine we decided it was time to head to Chile in search of waves.  But, before we could hit up the surf we felt it was only proper to pay our respects to Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine exporter and creator of one of our most favourite joyful finds.  After a night of free camping (people are really too generous) we arrived at the crack of 10am to take a tour and a tasting at the humongous bodega.

Wine SnobsOur tour guide, who had a very odd accent (think William Shatner’s Captain Kirk with a British accent), told us a little about the winery as we wandered around the estate, the Concha y Toro cellar and the infamous El Casillero de Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar).  Señor Concha y Toro found that wines were going missing so he created a bit of a legend that the wines were protected by the devil himself thereby keeping frightened thieves out of his private collection.  The tour includes two tastings of the medium brand wines and your own Concha y Toro wineglass…all in all a pretty good time.
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