Travel journal South America 2005-2006
by Claudia and PJ Potgieser
Chile August 2005
Our trip on the South America continent is only 6 weeks old and we have had already so many adventures that I can start writing a book!
When we drove out of their porch onto the bumpy road PJ hit a window of the camper unit. It was a Plexiglas replacement window and a big hole was the result. With duct tape we fixed it. We travelled through north Chile through the desert landscape along the coast. Only the first night we stayed on a campground, but the rest of the nights we felt safe enough to stay overnight on the beach. The camping owner kissed me enthusiastic on the cheek, which was a bit to close for me, but it seemed a normal custom in Chile.
In Peru we had planned to meet
other Dutch travelers. Brenda and Guido have shipped their Toyota
Land cruiser from Panama to Equador and we will meet them on a campground
just outside of Cuzco.
Cuzco is a very nice
town with beautiful colorful women and lots of kids trying to sell
their souvenirs with great one liners.
After a day shopping we returned to the church square, where there was a parade going on. Man, woman and children, dressed in colourful clothes, were dancing on live music. We made great pictures.
We visited the famous Inca ruins of Machu Pichu. After seeing so many beautifully restored Maya temples in Mexico, we were afraid that these would be disappointing, but the setting is so magnificent that it did not matter that what is left of the ruins are only stone walls.
With Guido and Brenda we
travelled to Colca Canyon where we hoped to see condors. We
climbed (with the car of course...) to 4891 meters. It was beautiful
there, but the road was terrible. We saw vicuňas
(wild lama’s) and vizchaca’s (rabbits with the tail of a
squirrel). From other travelers we had heard that you had to be there
early, because the tour busses with tourists missed the condors often.
From Colca Canyon we traveled to
Lake Titicaca. Here we took a boat tour to the reed islands of
the Uros Indians. These tiny islands are really made of cut stacked
reed, and the Indians are living a simple life.
In La Paz we saw the shoe
shiners wearing black ski masks and baseball hats pulled so low you
can’t see their eyes. It seemed that they were ashamed of their
profession that they mask their faces. Isn’t that sad?
After travelling 300 km south
from La Paz the pavement stopped. The next 200 km on the bumpy and rocky
road took us 7 hours and brought us to Uyuni. Everything vibrated
and shook and nuts and screws go loose, the camper huffs and puffs. We
did not like it at all. We even had to cross 3 rivers. For Guido and
Brenda this was a piece of cake, but for us it was the first time and we
thought it was scary.
The next morning Guido and
Brenda decided to go further south to do a 3 day 4x4 track and we will
meet again in Samaipata in a week or so.
“You are in Bolivia and here we speak Spanish”, Don
hoarsly whispered. He kept pointing at the 88,8 and pulls out his tickets book.
The ticket was only 5 dollars.
On our trip to Samaipata we saw a couple of green blue parrots and even a condor in the cloud forest. But the unpaved roads in Bolivia (only 5% is paved) were a pain in the butt and everything in the camper started breaking off or shook loose. The pick-up was not behaving very well in this high country and PJ was worried about the rest of the trip.
We were on a Dutch owned campground in Samaipata, Bolivia where after a couple of days our Dutch friends Guido and Brenda arrived. We had not seen each other for only 9 days, but after our adventure on the solar we had enough to talk about for a whole week. They will continue east to the Pantanal in Brazil, but we did not dare to travel 500 km dirt road with a truck that was not functioning right. We will head south to Argentina. But for the time being we had lots of fun together.
We visited the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It was a two hour taxi drive so we wanted a ‘comfortable’ taxi with profiled tires. We found a trim and neat old guy with a decent station car, who was willing to drive us to town, wait a couple of hours, drive us to a supermarket and bring us back to the campground. With every chapel or shrine along the road he made the cross sign. The city was a bit disappointing, especially shopping for souvenirs, but we had a fun day. On the way back Brenda offered our taxi driver a cold beverage. When he finished it, he threw the empty can out of the window. That surprised us a bit. He looked so neat. But his driving style on the way back was absolute hair rising. He passed in blind corners, missed the upcoming traffic by an inch! Now we were the ones who were making the cross signs and muttering prayers.
After a week relaxing we decided to leave. But it had rained the whole night and the ground was soaked. We started slipping and sliding, so it was an easy decision to stay a bit longer. Two days later the mud had dried up and we were on the road again.
We drove to Villamontes where we wanted to camp along the Caňon del Pilcomayo. Although we tried to avoid the unpaved roads as much as possible, sometimes we just had to travel them. Because of an overseen pothole in the road, the pick-up truck bumped hard and the overhanging part of the camper hit the roof of the truck! This happened more and more often. In the USA this happened maybe one or twice a year, on this continent sometimes twice a day! We were afraid that one day this will be to much and the camper will break in two...
We spend the night in National Park Calilegua, where we saw some real funny jays, with fluorescent blue eyebrows. Also the agouti, a sort of large cavia on high legs was entertaining.
The campground in Salta has the biggest swimming pool in the world. But it is empty...It will take a week to fill it! The city has beautiful old buildings and in the evening they are lighted in sugar sweet colors.
Saturday night was the Miss Salta contest on the campground. The sound show overtook every decibel. Till 2 in the morning we vibrated in our bed, even our earplugs did not help. Music was definitely part of the Argentine culture.
During a test drive to the northern part of Argentina we saw rheas, a sort of ostriches and canyons that reminded of Death Valley, California. But when the engine started hiccupping again, we knew that the problems were still there. We hurried back to the campground the next day and there were no problems at all! That made PJ even more nervous.
After a week we give it another
try to the National Park Finca el Rey, a humid forest where we
hope to see toucans. As the crow flies it was only 80 km from the
campground in Salta, but we had to drive 200 km to get there. The first
part was paved, than 50 k´s gravel road and the last 50 were just a
forest road. The last week in Salta we had great sunny weather, but
today it started to drizzle. The forest road was a bit slippery and we
hoped it would stop raining soon. We had to cross small rivers seven
times. I could feel PJ wanted to turn around, but he knew how much I
love to see toucans and we kept going. The truck did not disappoint us.
We saw a glimpse of a tapir, a large mammal that lives from water
Chile November 2005
We drove the pass over the Andes
mountains, but although it had been hot and sunny for three days, at
that moment the sky clouded and we could not see the highest mountain of
1 January - 4 April 2006
In Osorno (Chile) we had to wait for four weeks in total for two repairs (replacing the diesel pump and cleaning the injectors) on the motor of our pick-up truck. That was why we missed Christmas in Ushuaia, the southern most town of the world where travelers with vehicles with foreign license plates gather. We were very disappointed about that, but we still celebrated New Years the Dutch way with 'oliebollen' and champagne.
In El Bolsón,
a laid-back little town we tried to find a
campground in walking distance to the centre. I saw a flyer in a
supermarket about a campground which is 3 minutes distance from El
Bolsón. In a hardware store Triek asked for directions.
The next morning we wet to the market. Three times a week the local craftspeople sell their goods there. The artists were mostly old Argentina hippies and their goods were really creative and original. Here I tried for the first time mate (pronounced as may-tay). It was a herbal tea made out of the leaves of bush which is a relative of holly! It is a typical and very popular Argentina drink, which is not served in restaurants. A gourd is topped with the leaves and hot water is poured over it. The tea is sipped through a silver straw with a bulbous filter at the end. The drink is often shared with others and everybody drinks from the same straw. Triek asked a total stranger if I could have a sip. Uch, that was a gross drink! To get rid of the bitter taste we bought genuine Belgium waffles with whipped cream from a Belgium guy, who had a stand on this market for already twenty years.
We crossed Argentina, a lonely stretch of 500 km with only a few villages with 3 houses or so. We were glad with our Belgium company. The surroundings were a bit like southern Utah, with colourful mountains and blue skies. The truck was running good and we were getting more and more confidence in it.
That was why we
had to cross the border four times that day. What a hassle with
passports, visa, importing the car, exporting the car, fruit – meat and
vegetable checks. Ridiculous because we were only driving through Chile
for 100 miles. But these miles cost us four hours, because the road was
not paved and in very bad shape.
The next day we were finally in Ushuaia! Alaska is 11.000 miles north and south there is only Antarctica. We had not dare to think we would made it this far and it was really a highlight of this trip. This place was mythical.
At Lago Argentino we also had to use our patience to make pictures of the skittish pink flamingos.
At the campground in El Calafate we met Dutch travelers and a Danish girl and having much fun with them. It was a week of fiestas. In the evening there was a pop concert and a crafts market. The next day we went to an asado, an Argentine barbecue where in a big circle of fire the meat was roasted on vertical grills. With so much female charm (3) and so many blond hair (4) we got the meat for free. The folklore continued with a rodeo. I made nice pictures of the brave men, who had to sit on the wild horse for 60 seconds without a saddle. During that minute an Argentine sang passionate about the horseman and forces up the beat with his guitar. PJ was less charmed by this rodeo and said that it was animal abuse. They were indeed a bit rough on the horses, but almost every horse took revenge by throwing the horseman of within the 60 seconds. We also ran into the German family which we had met in Rio Grande.
On the campground in Puerto San Julián the showers were hot and clean and we can even was our clothes with warm water. This was the first place where they have separate garbage bins for recycling. I felt a bit ashamed when I emptied our garbage in the one that was collecting the leftovers. But that feeling was quickly gone when I saw the garbage truck coming to collect and throwing every bin in his truck. South America keeps surprising us!
Going north along the east coast we took some side roads along the boring route 3. These places were surprisingly different for scenery. Our first stop was national monument Bosques Pétrificados, a colourful desert landscape with petrified trees that were scattering the area. Just like in the United States the ranger points out that it was not allowed to pick up any petrified pieces. From Petrified Forest National Monument (USA) on yearly base 11 ton of petrified wood is stolen and only big chunks were left there. Here we saw that there were not many visitors and next to the path it was loaded with small pieces of petrified wood. It was tempting to let a small piece slip in our pockets, but we did not do it. This petrified wood came from araucaria trees that used to be a forest 150.000 million years ago, even before the Andes mountains existed! When they were covered with volcanic ashes, the process of petrifying started. It was hard to imagine a huge forest in this desert landscape.
We spend the night at an
estancia, a large farm, where they had a huge collecting of fossils
and petrified fir-cones and even fossils of fish and shells in stone.
Again a side road from route 3
to Puerto Deseado where we took a 3 hour boat trip. The rubber
raft took us on the azure Rio Deseado where three kinds of
cormorants were nesting in the steep white cliffs. We saw a colony of
sea lions, but what impressed us most were the black and white
Commerson’s dolphins. Four of these mammals played hide and seek
with us, blowing their breath into our faces when they came up. After
this we went on land on an island with a penguin colony. During sunset
we sat on the beach surrounded by these cute birds and the gourd with
bitter mate tea went from hand to hand. PJ tried it too and
thought it tasted like bad coffee. Maybe this will give you an idea what
a weird drink this was...
We are on the Peninsula Valdéz in Argentina at the moment. The peninsula is about 100 by 100 kilometres and is private property of sheep farmers. The surroundings are dry, flat and dull, grown with yellow pampa grass. Still we are here now more than 5 weeks. What is keeping us? The orcas!
This place is unique in the world for the orcas way of hunting. They literally snatch baby sea lions from the surf, moving their huge bodies onto the beach. We knew it was a waiting game, because it doesn’t happen all the time, but we would never expect to have to wait for 26 days to see and be able to make pictures of it!
Travel Journal 4 South America Argentina and Brazil (April 7 - 3 June 2006)
After our wonderful experience on the peninsula Valdez we traveled further north. The fall had started, the leaves of the trees were falling off and it was raining. In the El Palmar National Park we hoped to see some special wildlife, for example the capybara, the largest rodent, but it was Eastern and half Buenos Aires had decided to spend the holidays here. The campground was more than full, and there were even lines for the toilets! We left the park immediately and spend a couple of days in a thermal swimming paradise with warm waterfalls and Jacuzzis. Further north the surroundings became greener and after the endless dry pampa in the south this was a welcoming difference.
I suggested to take a side road
to Iberá National Park where we hoped to see the capybara.
In the travel guides this park was compared with the Brazilian
Pantanal, a huge wetland wilderness full of wildlife. The 120 km (74
miles) gravel road was in bad shape and PJ already regretted that he had
agreed to go. “Only the roads in Bolivia were worse!”, he complained.
The next morning we woke up a
7.30. Half a hour ago the sun had risen and it was already 20°C (68°F).
“What did the guide mean by too cold?”
PJ wants to go back to the main
road right away, but I preferred to stay another day, so we can walk a
jungle trail in the afternoon. I asked the guide if it is going to rain.
At 4 a.m. we woke up from a storm that was shaking the roof latch and the camper. It was still hot outside. PJ closed the latch and fell asleep again. At 4.30 I heard rain drops on the tin roof of the camper. “Oh no!” I thought and jumped out of bed. Our adventure on the slippery road in Northern Argentina are already six months ago, but still fresh in my memory. And this road was twice as long! I paced up and down in the tiny space and started sweating. I knew PJ will hate me for getting us in these circumstances again. After ten minutes the rain stopped. Maybe the road will be still okay...
The next morning it was cloudy but dry. We started the trip back. The first part of the muddy road was okay, but half an hour later the road got slippery and the camper started sliding. It must have rained here longer than 10 minutes. We had to drive in the middle of the road, because the shoulders were very soft. PJ could not avoid the big mud pools and waves of muddy water gulped over the wind shield and left us seconds long with no visibility. PJ was cursing and I am mad at the guide, who told us that it was not going to rain. The sun started to shine, but not enough to dry out the road. The mud - that was caked on the camper - started to dry and was getting as hard as concrete. After five hours we were back on the paved road again. The camper and truck had never been so dirty. When we tried to park, the gear did not go into ‘park’ anymore! We needed to clean the truck as soon as possible, but it was siesta and the car wash was closed for another three hours. We kept on driving and of course we could not find a car wash along the main road.
The next morning three guys were working one-and-a-half hour to get the truck and camper clean. Although PJ told them that it only need a rinse, not a soap wash, the guys kept cleaning with soap, brushes and water for a fixed price of only U$ 7. And don’t think that we were ready to go after one-and-a-half hour... no, first we have to wait for our turn, in the middle of the cleaning process the water tank was empty, when our truck stood on the bridge they started cleaning another car, after cleaning the underside they had to rinse the whole car for the umpteenth time...It took us 4 hours to get the camper washed. It is not the money, but you really need patience on this continent. But at least the gear was working normal again.
In Puerto Iguazú we visited the famous Iguazú waterfalls. Not one, but 275 waterfalls in a jungle of 2100 sq meters (820 sq miles). On one of the trails we saw a capuchin monkey with her baby on her back. She was afraid but also too curious to run away and kept coming closer on the tree branches to have a better look at these weird creatures. We stayed put and had a better look too.
The Iguazu falls are not the highest falls in the world, nor the widest but still are an amazing sight. A spectacular amount of water cascaded down and on the varied trails we can see the falls from different angles. The surroundings were with bamboo plants, ferns and palm trees with sickly smelling fruits. Different coloured butterflies were dancing around us and landed on our hands to lick the salt from our skin. We had the feeling we have entered an exotic advertisement for shampoo. We saw toucans in the wild and other colourful birds. It took us two days to enjoy it all. What a beautiful place.
Leaving the national park I discovered a place where toucans were hanging out in the afternoon. Three days on a row we visited this place and made nice pictures of these cute birds. The campground nearby town was just a piece of jungle cleared from the ground vegetation and with the old trees remained. It was very nice place to stay for a longer period.
We were leaving Argentina. We had spent a total of 18 weeks here. This country had lots of variety, the dry pampa in the south, the snow capped mountains in the west, the colourful desert in the north and the jungle in the north-east. We have seen many new birds and lots of wildlife. We really like Argentina, although the distances were a bit long and big parts in the south were rather boring.
Nearby the national park was an aviary park and I could not resist the temptation. They let you inside the cages with toucans, macaws, parrots and parakeets. Minutes later I was standing only centimetres away from a toucan. A parrot landed on my head and started pulling my baseball cap. This was not funny and we left the cage before the huge macaws started landing on us.
We needed to drive 1000 km (620 miles) to get to the coast , where we had reservations for a shipment of our camper from Santos to Texas. We had made this reservation already in February, but only recently our agent wrote us that we needed a broker for the paperwork for customs. The agency she recommended doesn’t reply to our e-mails and if we wanted to ship within a month we really need to visit him personally.
Along the road we saw (as in everywhere in South America) the so called ‘love motels’. In these motels you can rent a room for a couple of hours, if you get my drift. The motels are surrounded by high walls and closed gates. Sometimes we can have a sneak view over the walls and in front of every room is a curtained parking lot. Not to keep the car in the shade, but to avoid that your neighbour will recognise you. They have catching names likes Amor, Eros or Playtime (seriously!), but to call your motel Alibi sounds a bit far fetched to us...
We camped way north from the harbour town Santos on a campground near the beach. The next morning we took the bus to Guarujá and from there we could take the ferry to Santos. We had the last seats in the bus. Maybe we should stand up for elderly people who enter the bus after us, but the driver drove like crazy and we were glad to have a seat. Even sitting down we almost fell out of our seats. The driver stopped suddenly, for example 100 meters after the bus station, even if the waiting passengers were clearly visible. Or when we expected him to stop (for a red traffic light) he kept on driving. The speed limit is 60 km (37 miles) on this curvy road, but the bus driver went at least 100 km (62 miles). We were glad we could leave the bus after 45 minutes and jumped on the ferry to the old town of Santos.
We were stared at by girls in
hardly covering clothing who were standing on the landing of obscure
hotels. We were glad to find the office of the broker. Mr. Santana was
playing cards on his computer, while his secretary had not got one. He
and his secretary did not speak English and did not have a clue what we
wanted and what we were doing here. No wonder he didn’t reply our
We did not have much options now. We could ship from Buenos Aires with a European shipper to Germany. The cheapest way is to go on board of the vessel for 4 weeks, that way the camper can be shipped as ‘hand luggage’. But PJ gets already seasick from watching Love-Boat, so he is not very happy about that. Another option is shipping from Chile to Texas, but that is a long drive from here. We have to cross the whole continent again. We decided to go for the last option.
Within two weeks we left Brazil again and stayed
another week on the jungle campground in Puerto Iguazú.
This time there were a lot of world travellers with their own vehicles,
so we had a lot of fun.
This is the end of our adventures in South America. Hope you enjoyed it!