Friday, November 25, 2011

Road to Iguazu falls, 4500 kilometers in a week and corrupt cops in Entre Rios

From Argentina's deep south to the top north as this week we've put on over 4500km. Most of the driving has been on ruta 3 along the coast then we detoured around the capital and joined ruta 12. Now we have heard stories of bad police in Argentina, but I never expected to encounter it ourselves because we have been traveling over 3 months in the country and only had good experience. That all changed when we entered the province of Entre Rios, on a stretch of a 200km's multilane hwy. We got stopped 3 times, the first time they told me I was speeding (I probably was speeding because speed signs changes from 130km to 80 at the merging lanes) but they weren't overly concern about that, it was the bikes on the back that they called an "infraction". The first guy in the motorhome office was using google translate to explain to me that I would have to pay $200 usd, now!. After going back and forth he finally gave up and told me to go to the next room and the next guy I guess was the final negotiator. He explained calmly our infraction with pictures and told us we had an option to pay $200 at the banks or $100 here and now. Again I told him we don't have that much money, than he asked "how much can you pay?" and Jieun opens her wallet and says "7 pesos" he smiled and told us good bye.

second stop that held us up for over a half hour and its corrupt captain behind desk
lieutenant that didn't like us taking pictures and told us to pay in US dollars  
After that experience were both kinda shocked it happen, now watching my speed at the merging lanes we get stopped again. This time they mention nothing about the bikes and asked to see our fire extinguisher, when we showed him he took it to show his captain and the captain immediately told his lieutenant to take pictures and give us ticket. The reason for the ticket was our extinguisher didn't have a dial indicator and we would again have to pay $200 usd at the bank or just them directly $100 on the spot. We went on back and forth until I told him to just give me the ticket for $200 usd. He was reluctant to fill out the ticket and told his captain but captain keep on pushing him to try to get money from us. Finally we told him we have to leave and give us the ticket please. He fills out the ticket but the amount shows only 125 pesos. So from $200 usd to $100 usd and finally 125 pesos, we left thinking this place is crazy. Third times a charm a woman officer stops us and tells us its an infraction to have bikes on the back, she takes our information into the office this time a real station and the captain comes out and tells us to get some red flags and tie them up to the bike rack, now thats nice a warning and some advice. Finally we exit Entre Rios and the only thing were thinking is we have to drive on this road again.

saying goodbye to our trusty bikes hope he gets as much travel as we did 
In Puerto Iguazu and we decided to try and eliminate our stress of Entre Rios and gave our bikes away to a young shoeless boy that was working at a supermarket parking lot watching cars. He had a smile from side to side and then told us about his poor older brother that works on farm so we just gave both bikes in hopes he and his family will get good use from them. With that out of the way our minds are back on visiting Iguazu Falls. It boarders on 3 countries Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and has just recently became a new 7 natural wonder of the world. We headed to the falls early next morning with 2 bike travelers we meet at our campsite. Ariel an Argentinean and Andrei from Romania. The cost of the park is $100 pesos and $25 for parking. It was a really hot and sunny day so seeing the falls was ideal because your on top of the falls and the spray just soaks you and cools you off. Water was kinda of muddy from the eroding land, the falls are a huge U shape water fall with lots of small falls on the sides with viewing trails around. For an extra $120 peso we took a boat ride into the falls it was crazy exciting and the tour calls it the "shower" because thats what it feels like you had after.   

too much mist that eventually stopped our waterproof camera
Andrei and Ariel 2 bicycle from different parts of the world and meeting here

no pot of gold but a great boat ride at the end

2 sisters water fall
our camera failed after this shot, but started up again when it counted in the falls

don't ask, looks like I saw the ghost from the movie Ring
After 2 days in Iguazu, we have come to the conclusion its too difficult to sell our Sienna and will now ship our  van to Florida and drive back home. We have already contacted a shipping line and will meet with them when we get to Buenos Aires. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Up the Atlantic coast and checking out the sea life

roadrunner infront of us for a good 200 meter at about 20kph
look closely you can see 15 penguins 

We are making our way up north to see the waterfalls of Iguazu, but first we had to re-enter Chile, and while there, we decide to check out Chile's most southern city of Punta Arenas. We had read somewhere online  of people buying foreign cars here because its a tax free zone, but no luck. We spent the night, checked out the town main square and market that served up cheap, great seafood. Next morning we left early to check out a penguin reserve about 1.5hr north of town don't even remember the name, its was kinda hard to find because they didn't have proper signs. Half of the way is gravel and about 10km's before the park there's a booth that charged us $3 EACH for parking??? When we arrived at the park we asked the office with the advice from the parking collector, "how many penguins are there?" 15 on the beach she replied. Ok, we wanted to see them up close at the cost of $30 for both. When we got to the beach sure enough 15 cute tuxedos,  but it was   way too far away to see them up close. We did manage to see 2 walk by the fence to get some pictures. 

gang of penguins, you scared yet
happy feet 3 coming soon
Next day we visited Punta Tombo, because Ji, wasn't satisfied with penguins we saw in Chile. Punta Tombo  penguin reserve is about 200km's south of Puerto Madryn and is one of the largest and most important Magellanic penguin colonies. It cost us only $8 each to enter, no parking fee and this place was full of these little cuties. It was early November so the females are nesting keeping their eggs warm and safe, so they weren't too active but the males were walking back and forth from the ocean to meet their mates. Plus here you can get up close, but they cautiously walk by you. It was a great experience and yet another reason for us why Argentina is better than Chile. Later that day we arrived in Madryn, hoping to get lucky and see some whales off the Peninsula Valdes. At the park entrance we were shocked to see the fee of $18 He told us to head to the beach just north of Madryn on the dirt road and you can see the whales off the coast. It was a nice feeling to have a local tell us about this place and help us save some money for once. We decide to cook dinner on the cliff side with a panoramic views of Puerto Madryn and the ocean always keeping an eye out for a whale. When we finished eating the sun was setting and still nothing in site. We headed down the coast alittle more and stopped when we saw another RV parked and searched again and then we saw it, a mother teaching her young to swim. Amazing day overall,  tomorrow we back on the long road for Iguazu.  

yes, its far but we were lucky enough to see these amazing creatures 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Long and exhausting road to the end of the world

cuanacos of Patagonia are a relative of the llama 

we pay the same prices as a transport truck thats Chile for yeah!
this guy at YPF station was nice enough to help put on my steering belt. thanks 
As we leave El Calafate for Ushuaia, we both get the sense our sienna down south is almost over. A lot of our time driving was spent talking about how we are getting home and what we going to do instead of the usual where to sleeping, what to see, and eat. Ok, we're getting ahead of ourselves because we still have a lot of road to cover before its all over. To get to the end of the world is not easy nor cheap, its far and we had to enter Chile yet again, this time on a long dirt road and while in Chile we had to take a short $28 bucks ferry  thats only one way. There is no way to avoid Chile trust us we looked. Tip: gas up in Rio Gallegos and it will be enough to get you through Chile because their price is double.

most recent ship wreck of the area
When we arrived in Ushuaia, we expected it to be a small town but the opposite. Ushuaia is a large city, has a big port, casino, hotels and loads of shops. Its a very touristy town with very interesting museum of maritime in the old prison. The national park of Tierra del Fuego is about 30 minutes outside of town and this is where the road official ends, and we could go no further south. The park is nice with hiking, free camping, and a information office inside the park where you can get an end of the world stamp on your passport, for a cost that is. Note we entered the park early at 715am before the gate office opens, and we just drove in without paying and when we left the park later that afternoon they didn't check anything. So if your inclined to get there early you might get in free as we did and save $20 bucks per person.  

worth wild place to visit with interesting stories of the ship wrecks and prisoners 
new warden in town
official end of the road from here we had to hike the last 300 or so meters
national park of tierra del fuego
met Joan of Spain at the campsite and he joined us for the hike to the end of the world
In town we camped at La Pista del Andino for $13, had internet, good washrooms and the owner was very nice and helpful. Oh, don't close the door to the washrooms because we did and got locked inside, lucky the owner heard us banging on the walls and let us out. Now we travel north 4000km's plus to see the water falls of Iguazu, one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Over to the coast and back, to see the famous Perito Moreno Glacier and trekking 15 hours

We drove across to the Atlantic coast hoping to see some penguins at Monte Leon national park. We made a stop midway to visit the petrified wood forest near Sarmiento, Chubut. Its about 30kms of gravel off the main road. On the way we didn't notice any entrance we just stopped on the road and walked around in this rocky valley of dirt and petrified wood. Next we drove all the way to the coastal town of Puerto deseado, that was kinda of waste of time and gas for us. Its about 150km's off ruta 3 so we had to spend the night in town at this busy campground just outside of town, $10 and we only slept in the parking lot and used the washroom. I was unable to take a shower because the water was not warm enough but Jieun, toughed it out. The whole town was full because a rally car race but it all got delayed because of weather, it rained cats and dogs all night, the camp ground was flooded, feel sorry for all the campers their tents were sitting in pools of water. They have a penguin island but its too far to see off the coast you have to take a boat tour around the island, it cost too much so we opted not to because we knew we would see more down south.

wood thats turn to stone 

we could see the penguins from the shore but not as close as we would like

Next day we cooked lunch with on and off rain than headed to Monte Leon National Park hoping to camp and see some penguins and seal lions but it didn't pan out that way. The park officer told us because of the rains we would not be able access the park. So we just decided to drive to El Calafate, to visit the one of Argentina's most visited places. The road from the coast to El Calafate was long gravel road about 200kms. When we arrived you instantly see how touristy this town is, with its countless restaurants, shops, hotels, cabins, hostels and tour operators. We elected to no take part in that nonsense and stayed at the YPF gas station in town, they had a nice lot beside the river and clean washrooms. We checked out the town and totally splurged on dinner at the most expansive restaurant place in town.  El Tablita is just before the bridge and across the tourist office. We dinned on BBQ Lamb, beef and chicken plus bottle of red, tax and tip came to $80 bucks. In north america this would be a steal but when you've been on budget for the past year and half its seems like a boat load.

playing with ice thats older than me
Next morning we're off to see what tens of thousands tourist every year come to see, one of the largest and still growing ice glacier in the world. It cost us $25 each to enter, why so expensive you ask because we're foreigners, locals pay about $10. We arrived early with only a hand full of people in the park, down the path we were alone and no more than 10 minutes in we saw a chunk of ice and I kid you not, about the size of a 10 story building crashed into the lake causing waves of 5 feet on land. Its wasn't the only piece of ice we saw breaking off but it was the largest. Talk about good timing, because we heard stories of people starring at this glacier for hours without seeing anything. We spent about 4 hours walking on the nice walk ways getting all different views of the glacier. Overall it was a great day and a must see in Argentina, and its definitely worth your while and your money to see.

tinny town but loads of construction

ready for some trekking
weather turn bad time to get serious
on a mission

end of day one trekking Laguna Torre
day 2 sore but sprites are high

red head wood pecker only found in this area of Patagonia
bin laden lives
the trekking is over, now the hard part, road to the end of the world begins
After the park we drove about 5 hours to the north section of Glacier National park in the town of El Cheltan, Argentina's unofficial trekking capital. We arrived in town late at night and decide to sleep in the parking lot of the look out point to Monte Fitz Roy. What a mistake that was, it was so windy that we could hardly get any sleep from fear the van would flip over. After a few hours howling winds and rocking van, we decide to drive into town to find a better protected place to park. We ended up parking at the bus station/information centre. Bright and early we checked out the info centre that was no help. They couldn't recommend a place to stay, she only gave us a list and told us to call them on your own plus she had no info on the treks. But as luck would have it Jieun spotted a cabin just down the road from the information office and we check it out. They offered us a basic cabin for $35 bucks, and we told her we would stay 3 days and asked for a discount and got the place for $25 a night. It was nice to have a place to rest after going 2 weeks sleeping in the van. We did 2 treks, Laguna Torre and the Monte Fitz Roy trail with a total of 15 hours hiking over 2 days. By day 2, I thought I was going to have to carry Ji, back to the cabin, because she was having alot of problems with her right knee. Thank god we made it back but she wasn't moving too much for the next 2 days. All the entrance to the park trails are free and free camping. Good information on hiking and camping at the park ranger station before town. The only down side of our visit to El Cheltan besides Ji's bum leg was the poor weather we couldn't see Monte Fitz Roy, I guess summer would be the best time. Next up the long road to the end of the world Ushuaia.