Patagonian Road Trip – Part 2

This post returns to our road trip through Argentina and Chile, in which we pick up a friend and start to experience the real wilderness of Patagonia with all its beauty and occasional difficulties.

Day 9: Bariloche (Argentina) and around (92km)

We awoke in our lakeside campsite and had breakfast before heading into Bariloche to collect Stella, our new companion for the rest of our time in the van. We had met Stella in Salta at New Year and had stayed in contact. Realising we were all heading the same way with the same time scale after Bariloche, we decided to travel together in Amanda.

In the cab of Amanda on the ferry to Chile Chico
In the cab of Amanda on the ferry to Chile Chico

We needed to more than just a vague plan for the rest of our road trip so the three of us used the WiFi in Stella’s hostal to plan the rest of our road trip. While it it’s never nice to lose so much time to planning, we finished a few hours later with a rough plan. We also used the opportunity to do some laundry and stock up on supplies. While we waited for the laundry we sat outside in the sun enjoying a pint of beer from a local microbrewery and then drove to a nearby campsite.

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Road trip, the beginning

We’ve been back in the UK for a fortnight now and while our first priority was to see family, a few of our closest friends, and to find somewhere to live in Bristol, we have finally found some time to get the next post ready to publish.

Here is the first of a few posts about our third road trip, where we hired a camper van for 27 days and drove all the way from Santiago in Chile, through Chile and Argentina down to Punta Arenas. We crossed the Chile-Argentina border four times and drove 4,678km in total.

Day 1: Santiago (135km)

Amanda, always easy to find in a car park
Amanda, always easy to find in a car park

The plan was to pick the van up nice and early, collect supplies and make a quick dash to our next destination. Well we all know what they say about the best laid plans, and sure enough our first day with the van ended up being something of an adventure (which of course is the positive spin for “a bit of a nightmare”).

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Heading Home and a Face-lift for the Blog

Well although it is not yet reflected in this blog, we are now on our way home. Our flight leaves Buenos Aires around 9pm tonight and after a brief stop in Madrid we should be arriving home in the early evening tomorrow.

After a bike ride around Montevideo
After a bike ride around Montevideo


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Santiago & Valparaíso

Our bus to Santiago, not so Rapido thanks to a 3 hour delay at the border
Not so Rapido thanks to a 3 hour delay at the border

Alex here again to tell you about Santiago and Valparaiso. We were back in Chile after a bus ride that took the best part of 10 hours (4 more than advertised!). We met two really nice English girls on the bus and swapped travel tips to pass the time whilst waiting at the border, this part of the journey took 3 hours waiting in a queue of buses! We’d heard mixed things about Santiago, most backpackers we’d met skip it, or just pass through in transit, but I’d had recommendations from my parents so wanted to spend more time there. We weren’t disappointed and really enjoyed the city.

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Wine Tasting in Mendoza

View across Mendoza from the hotel
View across Mendoza from the hotel

Hi all, its Alex back again to describe our time in Mendoza. Unfortunately two days before the end of the last post, I dropped my camera and it eventually gave up and stopped working, this means all the photos from Mendoza are taken on our mobile phones. We replaced the camera in Santiago so will be back to better quality shots in the next post.

To get to Mendoza we took our first overnight bus from Tucuman, where we’d dropped off the rental car. This bus was a better experience than I’d expected as the seats were comfy and we were served surprisingly good food.

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New Year’s in Salta & a Road Trip in Northern Argentina

Alex here again to describe our second road trip and new year’s eve. We hadn’t made any advance plans for New Year’s Eve, and were persuaded by Ellory, an American we’d met whilst travelling, to come to Argentina. So we hopped on a bus from San Pedro in Chile to Salta in Argentina. The border crossing was very easy and the bus pretty comfortable, although a large section of windy mountain pass reminded me why I don’t like to travel by bus!

Vegetarian sushi in Salta
Vegetarian sushi in Salta

We arrived in Salta in the early evening and realised we were totally unprepared for this new country, having not really done any research. We found the hostel, dumped our bags and went to explore the city. We were pretty hungry and thirsty but had no money. After searching the town for a while we were getting concerned, all the cash machines had queues (the Argentinians are ones to rival the British for queuing!) and only seemed to accept local cards. Then we managed to find a row of international banks, no queues, and they accepted our cards, phew! We went for an unconventional first meal in Argentina, at a very nice vegetarian restaurant with huge portions and some artesanal beers.

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San Pedro de Atacama

After boarding our bus at the Bolivian border we drove straight into Chile and towards San Pedro. Since we were off-road in Uyuni we drove through the dirt and eventually joined a paved road that led into San Pedro de Atacama. This was the first proper road we’d seen in nearly a week and the proliferation of roadsigns, painted lines and general good state of the road told us that we were definitely out of Bolivia!

Sunset in the Atacama desert
Sunset in the Atacama desert

About an hour later we reached the edge of San Pedro. San Pedro de Atacama (to use it’s full name) is a small laid back tourist town in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Rather than taking us into town, the van took us to a police building on the outskirts that serves as border control. There we were stamped into the country and had all our bags x-rayed. Once we were done with immigration the van took us another few hundred metres into town and we hopped off, standing sweltering in the desert heat still wrapped up in jumpers from the Uyuni altitude.

We had no hostel bookings for San Pedro, we had tried to book a camper van before we left Potosí but had struggled with the website and slow internet. I’d emailed the company but, having had no internet access for nearly a week, I had no idea whether they’d received my emails and no idea whether we’d have a van waiting for us or not!

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Thoughts on Bolivia

In contrast to our high expectations of Peru we arrived in Bolivia with low or maybe mixed expectations. Bolivia is the poorest and least developed of the countries that we’d be visiting. It also has a history of poor governance, is landlocked thanks again to its previous poor governance, and nearly the whole country exists at a high altitude which I’d already discovered does not always agree with me. There was also what we’d heard from other travellers. Before starting our trip we’d heard mixed reports and during our travels what we’d heard from people who’d already come through Bolivia was that although it was an incredible and beautiful place the people were unfriendly, the infrastructure was terrible and the food was pretty dire.

Posing at the train graveyard outside Uyuni
Posing at the train graveyard outside Uyuni

As a result of this we were thinking of Bolivia as somewhere to be endured whilst seeing the sights and saving money that we’d need later. What we actually encountered when we arrived in Bolivia surprised us. Although my first memory of Bolivia is of rushing around trying to find a working cash machine, we generally found the infrastructure to be reasonable, in particular the mobile phone network was no worse than anywhere we’ve been. On top of this although the food was nothing to write home about, it was no worse than Ecuador or outside of the big cities in Peru. Finally I never found the people to be at all unfriendly. What I did find is fewer people were as overtly friendly as we found in other countries. When we got to know a few people we realised they were not unfriendly, just not as talkative. Maybe it’s because we have spent so much time in London but I certainly felt a lot more warmth from Bolivians than I’d expect from Londoners!

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New Perspectives in Uyuni

We’ve just got back from an incredible 11 days in Antarctica on the Ortelius. We saw some incredible wildlife and scenery and got some great photos. That will have to wait for now though as we have a lot to publish first! In the meantime here’s one we prepared earlier….

Back during our Spanish course we’d been told about a “must see” place in Bolivia called Uyuni. We didn’t know much about it but saw some amazing photos of what is apparently the world’s largest salt flats, and we knew we wanted to go. A few weeks later we bumped into a couple who told us we had to travel there before Christmas (due to partying locals being dangerous on the roads over the festive season, and also the Dakar rally in early January). So we started to do some research along the way, and as has happened with most things here, in the end we booked a tour just the week before going. We booked a place for me, Chris and the three Dutch girls and managed to get a great deal with a recommended company (Al Extremo) by having five of us together which almost filled a van. The company was also about $100 cheaper than their rivals as they only offered Spanish speaking guides.

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Into the Underworld, a Weekend in Potosí

Church on the main square in Potosi
Church on the main square in Potosi

Our last post finished with us navigating our way through the narrow streets of Potosi in the random taxi we picked up in Sucre. We eventually found our hostel and checked in to a reasonable looking room with a private bathroom. We decided to go out quickly to explore the town however Jacqueline was feeling ill and stayed back for a nap whilst Alex, Esmee, Katinka and I went out. We quickly found the central plaza (10 de Noviembre) and although it was smaller than the one in Sucre, they certainly hadn’t skimped on the Christmas decorations as there were trees and fake snowmen, candles, a model Father Christmas and thousands of lights. We then explored the central market which was surprisingly large but half closed. In our attempts to escape the meat smell we walked down some stairs and found a section selling everything from dried pasta to electronics.

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