Travel journal South America 2005-2006

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser

 

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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!

Chile
After we cleared our truck and camper out of the harbor in only half a day we drove to our Dutch friends, who lived just 100 km north of Santiago de Chile. Monique and Gerard emigrated to Chile only two months ago and were in the middle of adjusting to a new country. We had a great ten days with them.

   

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. 

     
                           Memorials along the road                     A VERY steep ascent             Boon-docking along the coast

   
      Weird landscape                               

Peru  September 2005
Crossing the border into Peru was easy, only a lot of paperwork. But customs was friendly and helpful. Just before dark we reached the outskirts of Arequipa. We decided to spent the night at a gas station.
At 5.15 a.m. PJ sat straight up in bed.
“What’s wrong?”
“I think somebody is trying to break into the camper”, PJ replied.
He shined a flashlight on the curtains. We did not hear or see anything. I am not reassured, slipped out of bed and peeked through the curtains.
“You were right, I see three guys dressed in black walking away!”
Two seconds later PJ sat next to me. They had scared the sh** out of us and at six we were already driving.

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 nice colonial city with lots of small cobblestone roads. Nice for walking, but we got lost driving through town. On a very small steep road we got stuck with the camper unit! Trying to get out half of the back of the camper was ripped open. Lots of people were willing to help us and with the support of a policeman we found the campground.

        
We stayed a week on the campground (run by a Dutch couple) and with duct tape and epoxy PJ and Guido fixed the camper.

   

Cuzco is a very nice town with beautiful colorful women and lots of kids trying to sell their souvenirs with great one liners.
“Madam, please buy my postcards today (Sunday) because tomorrow I have to get back to school”. Everything here is so cheap that I had to rein in. But Brenda had bought some real nice hand made suede boots and I had to follow suit.

   

   

   

   

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.

   

    

In the town of Aquacalientes in the jungle garden of a resort hotel we saw a Cock-of-the-rock bird, a fantastic red bird with a strange crest. I was so impressed by this bird that I missed a step and stumbled right into shrub of Strelitzia flowers (orange paradise flowers, which are sold in the USA by the flower). I was the only one who thought this was funny.

 
                                                                     Our hotel



Cock-of-the-Rock bird

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.
We camped at the Mirador der Cruz.  Sleeping at high level was not easy and we were panting in our sleep. At 6 a.m. we were ready for the birds. It was freezing cold and of course no condor in sight. They need thermal air to fly and when the tourists arrived, the first condor was floating beneath us. What a huge birds! A fanatic tourist counted 17 in total and this show lasted till 10.30.

  
Here the road is still paved                                             vicu
ňas                                             vizchaca
     

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.
“Do you think they have a toilet?” Brenda asked me. Her question was answered immediately when we saw a Indian woman squatting behind a reed hut, her skirts around her waist. No underwear and no toilet paper, life can be so simple.
In a real reed boat we traveled to the next tiny island. These reed boats can carry a whole family for a couple of months, before it rots away. We just hope that this boat was not in its last days... 

     

   

   
 

Bolivia 19 September - 9 October 2005
After Peru we traveled to Bolivia. The border crossing was easy, but before we reach the town of Copacabana we ran into a police check. Here we had to pay for a very vague tourist tax which will end up in their pockets. That gave us a nasty feeling.
In Copacabana Bolivians had their cars blessed. Their shiny cars were decorated with garlands, fresh flowers and pictures of Saints. A guy in a monk’s habit, but with dark glasses and a baseball hat and sneakers walked around the cars and sprinkled holy water over the hood, the motor, the interior and the owners. I can’t believe the church agreed with this!

   

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?
La Paz lies on 4012 meters and we trying to catch out breath walking the steep streets. Women were wearing traditional clothes; a skirt often made from brocade fabric that sparkles in the sun and a velvet bowler hat worn high on their head. I did not understand were it came from; it was not functional because it doesn’t protect their ears in the cold and the rim is so small that it doesn’t protect their eyes from the sun. 

 
                          driving through La Paz                                     The campground in La Paz includes a lama

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.
But finally we reached Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt lake in the world, which was dried up and was passable. We wanted to go to that famous island with the rare cactuses, but we did not have the GPS co-ordinates.
“Just drive 80 km to the west  and than you will see it”.
With 70 km per hour we flew over the salt flats and were having a great time. What a difference with the last 7 hours! But when we reached the island it is a disappointment. It was not an island, more a rocky mountain with some cactuses. After asking around we realised that we have had a deviation to the south and were already at the edge of the flats instead of the middle. We just camped at the edge.

   

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.
We haven’t split for half an hour or our worst nightmare came true: we were stuck in the solar!!! For one and a half day our pick-up truck was stuck in the slippery mud underneath the salty crust. With the help of a friendly Bolivian man and his son, lots of patience, bags of sand, bushes, boards and a jack he got us loose. 

   

   

After staying in a hostel for a night or two we drove to Potosi, the highest city of the world (4090 meters). The landscape reminded us of Utah and the road was still not paved. We had hardly left Potosi behind us, or we had to pay toll again. In Bolivia you have to pay toll for almost every road, no matter  the road conditions. A rope over the road announced the toll booth. A guy behind a wooden kitchen table with a lot of colourful coupons on it, started grabbing at random (?) and than we had to pay a small amount and end up with a lot of colourful coupons, stapled together.

The road to Sucre was paved, but we were stopped by a policeman with a very modern hand radar equipment. He showed us how fast we drove.
“Oh, no that can’t be true” PJ said when it shows 88,8 km, because he drove only 70 for sure.
“You were only allowed to drive 80 here, so you will get a ticket for speeding”, the guy whispered with a voice of Mafia boss Don Corleone.
“Do you speak English?” PJ asked, so he can start a discussion with the officer about the supposed speeding.

“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.
PJ grabbed his wallet and took out the 50 bolivianos
De aceurdo?” Don asked ?

“No, not okay” PJ replied angry and offered him only 2 dollars.
Don Corleone agreed with it and walked away with the 2 dollars! What a corrupt country...

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.

   
                                                      Campground with our own kitchen!

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 are driving along the dusty canyon and I saw four orange spots in a tree. It takes some time to sink in, but then I realized what I was looking at...
“Toucans, toucans!” I cried out. By the time I had grabbed the camera they were already gone. But we were very excited and decided to spent the night on this spot. Of course they did not show up again, but we saw a lot of colorful lizards, birds of prey, different parakeets and even two military macaws!

Argentina 10 - 29 October 2005
We crossed the border at Yacuiba. Getting into Argentina took a lot of time. Every custom officer had to check the other and we needed a lot of stamps, but after a couple of hours we were welcomed into the country.
Argentina was the country of soccer player Diego Maradona, presidents wife Evita Perón, guerrilla leader Ché Guevara, the Falkland war, the tango, the marching mothers and of course our Dutch Royal Princess Máxima Zorregieta.
There were a couple of things we had to get used to in Argentina. When we see people with blond hair, we can’t assume that they are foreign tourists. (In Peru and Bolivia everybody had raven black hair) The language they speak in Argentina is not Spanish! We can’t understand a word of it! Every rule we had got used to in Spanish; that the v is pronounced as a b, double l is pronounced as a j, but in Argentina these rules did not count. The language was so different from the Spanish they speak in Mexico and they speak so rapid. Will we ever get used to it? And the road blocks every 50 kilometer are annoying.

 

 

 

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.

   
From here we drove straight to the Dodge dealer in Salta. PJ tried to explain the problems of the truck in Spanglish and sign language. Everybody knows he is good at that. The guy replied that one of the mechanics will look at it after the lunch break. It was one o’clock.
“Why don’t you come back at 4?”
I thought that I had misunderstood him. “At four o’clock?” I replied amazed.
Yes, the Argentines have lunch break from 1 till 4...
A mechanic plugged the computer into our pick-up. It told him that the diesel fuel injector had to be timed. PJ told him that we have probably took bad diesel in Bolivia, but the mechanics replied that in the rest of South America the octane level is too low for our truck. We can only take Shell diesel. He decided to clean the diesel tank and the pump. The diesel in the tank was indeed very filthy with big chunks floating in it. A day of work cost us only 50 US dollar.

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.

   

               

We met a lot of other world travelers. Next to the campground was a supermarket, where daily freshly baked bread was sold. Sirloin steak cost only a dollar a pound. And going into town with a taxi was only 25 dollar cents per person. Playing loud music was one of Argentina’s favorite past time. One day we got new neighbors. A group of guys in a battered rusty truck. At first I think they are going to pick up the garbage, but when they lit the barbecue, large bottles cold bear were appearing and steaks were sizzling on the fire I realized that they were going to stay a bit longer. The volume of the radio was going up and the guys were having fun. After the pile of empty bottles was getting higher, the guys were getting more entertaining. With there bare beer bellies they were dancing the tango with invisible dance partners.
We have a good laugh about it, but we were happy when they left at the end of the afternoon.

   

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 plants.
On the free campground in the park, a guy approached us.
“Do you have toucans here?”, is the first thing I asked.
"Si, si”.
“Will the sun shine tomorrow? “ PJ asked, which is of course a much more important question.
“No, probably not”.
We hiked along the river and saw prints of the tapir. On the campground there were a lot of guans, a sort of turkey and couple of seriemas, birds that looked like storks, but with a funny crest, large blue eyes and long eyelashes. But no toucans.

   

The drizzle kept falling for two days. PJ was getting very nervous now. We would prefer to stay here until it had been dry for a day or two, but we did not know the weather forecast. Maybe it will even get worse...
We decided to leave after a couple of hours dry weather. The road was indeed still wet and slippery. The red mud was on some places knee deep with deep ruts of a passing truck. Our pick-up started slipping. PJ hold the speed and we started sliding sideways towards a ditch. PJ kept the 7 ton under control and got the truck on the track again and we kept on sliding further. My heart was beating on double speed. I tried to remember the farms where I saw a tractor on the premises. I was sure we would need one. Three times we made a frightening slide. The overhanging part of the camper banged on the roof the truck twice, this time even worst than any other time.
“I don’t like to travel through South America” PJ says whole-hearted.
I was counting down the kilometers. “Twenty...ten...eight...five..” Till the last kilometer we are slipping. When we reached the unpaved road, we sighted with relieve.

  

We hurried back to the campground and took in the damage. It had happened, the frame of the camper was broken!! PJ tried to fix it a bit, but the camper unit had to come off and we did not want to do that on a campground. 

Chile November 2005
In three days we drove back to our Dutch friends in Chili, Gerard and Monique.
Along the road we stopped at a peculiar shrine. It is the shrine of Difunta Correa. The legend told us that in the 1840’s Mrs. Correa died in the desert of thirst. When she is discovered her baby boy is still alive, nursing on the dead lady’s breast! The church didn’t want to turn her into a saint, but that didn’t kept the Argentineans from thinking this was a wonder, so they have build a shrine for her. They believe that Difunta Correa can perform miracles and leave gifts for her in exchange for supernatural favours. We saw hundreds of models of homes and shops, but there were also chapels full with bridal gowns, one with thousands of pictures of happy mothers with their new born babies, we saw a donated old timer, a BMW motorcycle and one chapel full with antique furniture. Two kids of only 16 years old were walking the stairs with their baby. A modern dressed woman crawled the stairs on her knees towards the shrine. We secretly wonder what kind of favor she wanted from Mrs. Correa. The Argentineans take this death serious.

   

   

This is not the only place in Argentina where we saw shrines. The truck drivers were very devoted and built small shrines for Mrs. Correa along the roads from Salta to Ushuaia. It was easily recognizable by the red flags and lots of bottles of water to quench her thirst.

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 South America.
Gerard and Monique were happy to host us again. PJ fixed the camper unit and we brought the truck to Dodge dealer in Vina del Mar. But they cannot find what was wrong with the truck. They checked the transmission and replaced a diesel filter.

   

Time flied and we stayed 2 ½ weeks at Gerard and Monique’s place. We made a third visit to a Dodge dealer, in Osorno this time. Their computer told us again that the diesel pump injector had to be timed. This mechanic knew what to do and took out a certain part. This part had to be replaced, but unfortunately is had to be ordered in the USA, which took two weeks. That should solve all our car problems! He makes sure we can drive the truck again for the moment, but we are not supposed to go very far from Osorno. We just have to hang around here, which was not a burden. The surroundings were beautiful with a couple of volcanoes, some national parks, lots of campgrounds and hot springs. We hope we can continue our trip to Ushuaia, the most southern city of the world.

 

   

     
                 Slender-billed Parakeet                       Chimango Caracara              Plumbeous Rail                     Pygmy Owl

   

   

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.

 

           

Argentina January 2006
But at least we were on the road again and we crossed the border into Argentina. But the motor started hiccupping again! We were desperate now! When we checked our email we read that a Belgium couple Greetje and Patrick were in San Carlos de Bariloche, the nearest city from here. We have had email contact with them for more than a year, but had never met them. They were travelling in a camper from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. We decided to meet them in town at the Fiat garage (they were having some small problems too). Greetje and Triek turned out to be a fun couple, who immediately offered to help us with our car troubles. For ten years they were living on the Spanish island Tenerife and speak the language fluently. The owner of the Fiat garage checked our motor and told us that the repair in Osorno had been done well, but probably the injectors were not tuned perfectly. This is a very delicate job and can be done in Comodoro Rivadavia, a city 800 miles from here! The owner said that we can travel for thousands of miles without having trouble, we just have to keep an eye on the temperature of the motor. This gave us good hope, especially because Triek suggested to travel together to the south. Argentina is a big country with a lot of lonely stretches and if we were travelling with another couple we hope to get the trust back into our vehicle.

       

   
      A Belgium friend Francis and his Argentinan girlfriend Ana are friends of Patrick and Greetje which we met in Bariloche

   

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.
“Three minutes? ...Yes, maybe if you drive a car with more than 120 miles an hour...” is what the guy replied.
“Didn’t you know that the Argentines are liars?”. Weird to hear somebody say that about his own people. We did find another campground and played cards with our new friends.

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.

 
On the east coast we visited a colony of Magellan penguins, no less than 800.000! We could not walk right into the colony and the little birds were curious and pecked at my boots. Everywhere we looked we saw the black and white birds, their nests were just shallow holes in the ground and one or two fluffy chicks were waiting for their parents. When one of the parents arrived the fish it caught was regurgitated right into their beaks. The adults made a funny sound, it sounded like they were playing the trumpet. We could not get enough of it.

   

   

   

Going south we took the boring paved route 3 which went through endless pampa grasslands. The wild llama (guanaco) and rheas were our only fun of the day. We had a constant head wind or side wind and the motor was using more diesel than ever.

In Comodoro Rivadavia we visited the Dodge dealer, but they could not help us. The truck was running okay now, so we tried not to worry about it. We visit the coastal national reserve Monte Leòn with spectacular high cliffs, a tidal cave, guanacos and a red fox.

   

   

Along the route 3 we saw a lot of pink flamingos and PJ made great pictures of them while they fly.
We took the ferry boat across the Street of Magellan to get to the island Tierra del Fuego, the most southern state of Argentina, but it had to share this with Chile.

   

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.
On the campground in Rio Grande we met old Swiss traveler friends, who are stuck here because car troubles (who isn’t) and we made new friends with a German couple, who were travelling with their kids. In the evening we were talking and drinking till way after midnight.

   

   

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.

 

After visiting the National Park Tierra del Fuego, where we made pictures of the beavers, our Belgium friends wanted to start travel north again. Time to say goodbye to this cordial couple.  We were glad that we could travel with them and got our confidence back in travelling.

After a rainy day on the campground we woke up with the sun and started driving to Estancia Moat, the southern most road we can drive here. Along the way we saw beautiful shaped trees, bend by the wind. We saw a belted kingfisher, a great horned owl and even some green parrots. Never would have thought that these birds lived so south on this continent. 


                              bye, bye Patrick and Greetje

   

   

Back on the mainland we visited Los Glaciares National Park. The Perito Morene glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still growing. The highlight here was that you can watch big chunks falling of the frozen wall
(without going on an expensive cruise ship as in Alaska). We sat there for hours and watched with awe pieces fall off.

   

   

   

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. 
The next morning we rose early and saw a bunch of mara’s, the Patagonian hare. Their slim high legs do not fit with their sturdy square body. And when running they jumped like kangaroos.

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...
45 minutes later than agreed we set foot on land again. A very recommended trip.  

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.
Along the road we did found a large family of capybara’s. Imagine a rodent; 1.30 meter long (4.2 ft) and weighting 65 kilo’s (143 pnd)! Cool! The babies disappeared in the high grass immediately, but the parents were relaxed and hung around in the shallow water. After three hours of bumping roads we arrived at the entrance of the park. Again a large family of these giant rodents were hanging out and we can watch them up close.
In the meantime the temperature had risen to 27°C (80°F) and it feelt tropical. On the campground, which was located next to the Iberá lagoon, we could book a boat tour for the next morning. We wanted to leave at sunrise, but the guide told us that it will be too cold. We agreed on 9 a.m.

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?”
Two hours later we hopped into the tiny boat with two Spanish guys and within ten minutes we were at the swamp area. The guide took us immediately to a black caiman, who was basking in the morning sun. Aah, now we understood why we could not go earlier, we had to wait for the reptiles to come out. Of course we think these animals were interesting, but we would have preferred to go earlier for birds and other wildlife. We did see some new birds and capybara’s, but the guide took us only to a very small part of the wetland. The last part of the trip it got cloudy and windy. After two hours we were back on the shore. It was a bit disappointing. We had expected more of these recommended boat trips.

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.
“No”, he replied, with a face that says “how can you ask”.
We walked the jungle trail and PJ discovered a group of howler monkeys. They were not black like in Belize, but yellow and orange and did n ot howl, but watched us with mean faces. Further up we made pictures of a the colorful red crested cardinal and I videoed fighting capybara’s. The air was sultry and we had already forgotten that the fall season had started on this side of the continent.

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.

Brasil
On April 28th we crossed the border into Brasil. We really have to get used to the language, Portuguese, that sounded like an East European language to us.
In Foz de Igua
çu we visited the Iguazú falls again, but now on the Brazilian site. The same falls, but from a different angle and again breathtaking. All of a sudden we were eye to eye with a big hairy mammal with a long nose and a long tail: a coati. And it was followed by lots more. They started climbing the garbage bins, that had moveable lids. It was so easy for them to get into these bins. With the invention of the bear-proof garbage cans in North America it surprised me that here they still have such a primitive bins. It made the animals aggressive, which wasn’t necessary.

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 e-mails.
In his office we made a phone call to our shipping agent and let her explain what we needed. But even she could not get through this guy! The secretary started phoning around and tried to find a broker, who was willing to help us and spoke English. Finally she gave us an address. They were probably glad they got rid of us. In the meantime the long siesta had started. The girls on the streets were wearing mini skirts, high plateau heels and tiny tops. Is this the Brazilian fashion or were we watching the prostitutes who are having a lunch break? PJ got dizzy from all these shaking butts and breasts.
Also the second agency we visited could not help us and sent us to the port. This was enough for one day and we took the bus back to the campground.
We emailed our shipping agent again and got another name of a broker. Two days later we received an email from this guy who sent us a long list of documents he needed and that we have to get, which had to be duly recognised by local notary. He also wrote that expected duration of process at Santos customs will take 18 to 20 days. And because customs in Brazil were facing a strike it could take longer. He will charge us U$500 for his service. We wondered what he will do for that amount of money, if we had to do all the paperwork. The decision was made quick, we are not going to take the chance to do this all by ourselves and get into trouble later in the port when we are ready to ship our camper and we miss a stamp or signature. We are going to leave Brazil and will try to ship from Argentina or Chile!

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.
In only four days we crossed the continent to Chile. On the Andean pass we ran into a snow storm. Our Dutch friends nearby Santiago de Chile were welcoming us again and we made reservations for a shipment to Texas on June 20th. The boat will take at least 20 days, so for us that is a good excuse to visit our family and friends in the Netherlands. In July will be back in the USA and we are already looking forward to see everybody again. And of course we will visit Fish Creek this summer.

This is the end of our adventures in South America. Hope you enjoyed it!