Bite Christmas

WATER, water everywhere and seemingly not a drop to wash away the mosquitoes.

Our final couple of days in Argentina and our opening week in Brazil have been dominated by water and insects which appear to have the ability to seek out any inch of your body not drenched in repellent, regardless of whether it is covered by clothing.

At least for those of us who appear as prime cuts on any buzzy a la carte menu.

Queue at the bar

Our Christmas retreat in the Pantanal has taken mosquitoes to a whole new level with even those who bragged about not being bitten falling victim, finally enduring what us mere mortals have to suffer on a regular basis.

All of whom are trumped spectacularly by those of us at the top of the mosquito food chain.

Hopefully, the mossies are sheltering from the Christmas afternoon downpour like those of us in the increasingly small area near the bar, surrounded by increasingly bedraggled statues of the local wildlife sporting our spare Santa hats.

Even the macaws appear to be dodging the sudden downpour which has broken up a few days of extreme heat that has seen us making the most of our rooms to enjoy the air conditioning and hide from the mossies. 

Not the only toucan spotted over Christmas

Apart from when we were out on safaris providing a festive feast for the insects. Or braving the bites at the bar.

It is the latest moment when water has taken centre stage in the last 10 days or so, be it more spectacular downpours, pools, waterfalls or rivers to be snorkelled or tubed down.

Probably while pursued by insects.

We could have done with some water as we rolled out of Buenos Aires with the temperature continuing to rise, a long drive day in the hands of our temporary second driver Nick ending on the banks of the Rio Uruguay with our first sight of Brazil across the water.

Slightly wet

More of the same followed the next day, which meant the discovery of a pool at our home for the night was met with a race to get in and the start of a torrential downpour which barely let up before we were finally out of Argentina.

A brief break in the rain enabled us to get out for one final spectacular steak and a couple of beers before crossing the border, but there was little option other than to get wet on our final day in the country.

In fairness, we would have got drenched regardless at Iguazu Falls and even donning all our wet weather gear failed to dampen spirits at one of those special places which pop up from tine to time.

Iguazu Falls – just part of the Argentinian spectacular

The falls which form a natural border between Argentina and Brazil are, put simply, stunning.

They have been named as one of the seven modern natural wonders and you will not get too many arguments from here – the top end of my best waterfalls chart has been rewritten. Sorry Victoria Falls.

Starting up close to the violence of the Devil’s Throat cascade, the Argentinian side of the falls is formed by trails which meander through the jungle and pop out at a series of viewpoints over selections of more than 270 waterfalls which form the natural wonder.

Being surrounded by coatis

And it comes with the added advantage of wildlife from toucan amid an array of bird life, cayman and the coatis which wander across the paths and carry warnings not to eat food near them.

Those warnings also cover the local monkeys and maybe a couple of us should have paid a bit more attention, although still refuse to accept one climbing Lisa’s poncho to get at her empanada was somehow my fault.

Was too busy hurriedly finishing mine to do anything about it.

With the rain relenting, we regrouped full of smiles for the brief border crossing and a sad farewell to the delights of Argentina but excitement at what lies ahead during our lengthy stay in Brazil – starting with getting to grips with caipirinhas at the hotel bar to settle in.

Back on solid ground

Which all aided the decision to stay behind and take it easy the next day rather than head to Paraguay in search of another passport stamp, cheap electronics and several hours in a traffic jam.

If we did nothing that day – bar an evening check on the quality of Brazilian steak – we made up for it the next morning as we headed for the other side of the falls.

While most of the group queued for ages to get in, a smaller selection took the direct route with a helicopter ride over the falls which was spectacular – although one look at some of the faces confirmed it was not just me screaming inside at some of the banking.

Iguazu Falls from above

Back on solid ground, we wandered around the neighbouring bird park and, the queues having subsided, headed to the falls and got some more astonishing views of what we had seen two days earlier from a different angle.

Our day to remember ended with an evening at the local shopping mall and a midnight screening of the new Star Wars film which ensured there was plenty of sleeping on the next day’s lengthy drive day after an early start.

Pretty good first impressions of Brazil (just before the first of many people walked in front of the camera)

We had been expecting a bush camp at the end of the drive, but not like the one we got – a family’s well-kept garden which they allow overlanders to use, complete with toilets in an annexe and covered area which was better furnished and equipped than many official places we have stayed.

Which acted as a handy launchpad to get us to Bonito, our home for three days during which we explored the town’s bars (including one where we served ourselves) and restaurants. Once we had dragged ourselves away from the pool.

Welcome to Brazil

But we also took the opportunity to get wet in more original ways.

Not my best look

First up was a trip to Rio do Prata and snorkelling down a clear river.

Managing to be rather more graceful without flippers, we basically floated down the river with the current, getting up close to huge numbers of fish and the springs which bubble up along the route.

Season’s greetings

Another one of those things which might have been avoided in the past, it would have been a shame to miss out on such an experience.

The same could be said the next day when we headed down another river close to town on tubes with the added obstacle of a few waterfalls to negotiate on the way down – although the biggest danger came from Danny – before relaxing in and around a lake.

There has been plenty more relaxing throughout our festive stay in the wildlife haven in the Pantanal, albeit interrupted by those pesky mosquitoes which even has the locals pointing out the marks on my legs.

Dangerous present

They have not seen my back.

Amid the bites, we have tried our hand at piranha fishing (most bites were on us), horse riding (well, others did) and walking and jeep safaris through the insects.

And we have celebrated Christmas with a massive spread on Christmas Eve and a relaxed big day itself, punctuated by various leftover cuts of meat and a Secret Santa delayed due to people needing their beds earlier than planned the night before.

Which has us all trying to work out who bought and wrapped up a dildo.

And why somebody else is so keen to swap it with the present she ended up with.

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Big Decision

“Decisions are made by those who show up”

THERE is some dispute about who came up with that phrase.

It has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Woody Allen, among others, but more recently was uttered by President Jed Bartlett in The West Wing. Just before he was shot.

Sorry to say, have spent more time watching The West Wing in the past week than showing up to the big decisions as missed a fourth UK General Election in a row due to being out of the country (and not being organised enough to sort out a proxy or postal vote).

We did camp in some quite horrible places

Nine years ago, watched the results which formed the coalition government on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, while in 2015 was in Zimbabwe where political discourse and debate is rather less open and fraught with danger than back home.

For Theresa May’s snap election of 2017, was on a historic bar crawl in Boston engaged in a lengthy debate with a Trump-loving car parts salesman from Dubuque, Iowa, and an actor from LA with a rather different point of view.

Symbol of the Mothers

This time around, was able to block out much of what was happening back home by getting immersed in the considerable delights of Buenos Aires, one of those cities which instantly has you planning a return visit to soak up rather more of its charms.

Argentina – which we left for the final time yesterday – has been truly memorable over the past few weeks, be it the extraordinary scenery of Patagonia, the remarkable steaks and the free-flowing (and very reasonably priced) wine which has finally seen me converted from white to red.

The weekly ritual in the Plaza del Mayo

And its capital, our home for four nights, lived up to the rest of the country (as did our remaining stop before crossing into Brazil, but we will get there next time) with enough to keep us occupied and entertained for considerably longer.

Tango lessons – Not something that was on my planned list for the trip

It also provided an interesting backdrop to events back home.

Four years ago, wrote about watching complaints about “Broken Britain” and the fallout from that election while in Zimbabwe – a country where people could not openly express any negative views without fear of reprisal.

This time round, election day had me watching some remarkable women who have spent more than four decades protesting and remembering loved ones in a dignified, determined and very moving fashion.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been walking round the square outside the presidential palace since the 1970s, originally in defiance of laws against mass assembly under the military dictatorship.

La Boca

They are the mothers of the disappeared, people who vanished under the harsh regime – some of whom themselves went missing.

There are few of the original mothers left, but those who continue the tradition support human rights and the campaign to find babies taken from their mothers and givien to members of the military to raise as their own.

For all there is to get angry and complain about back home, maybe we are not quite as broken as we might think.

That was a sobering, fascinating insight into the country’s troubled past and we wandered into the heart of its current political system as we arrived smack in the middle of the inauguration of a new Peronist president which had the street outside our hostel closed and crowds on the streets.

About to be caught in the middle of changing of the guard at the cathedral

Reunited with our travelling companions who had flown to the capital a few days earlier, we stayed out of the way of the crowds in the hostel bar for happy hour – just happy enough to convince some of us to take part in a free tango lessons before heading out through the lingering crowds in search of another steak.

Discovering the hostel bar transformed into a club led to a later than planned finish, but not late enough to stop us emerging into the searing heat of the next morning for a walking tour of the La Boca neighbourhood.

Chunks of the former docks area have been transformed into a colourful, artistic community which makes for a fascinating few hours wandering around, capped off with a visit to the place which has made the region famous – the home of Boca Juniors football club.

When overland trips collide

While that was a largely unplanned trip, the evening was pencilled in and looked forward to since booking this South American adventure – a journey to the Palermo area of the city for a reunion with an old friend.

Last saw Ale when we bade farewell in Cairo at the end of 40 weeks travelling together around Africa and we jumped at the opportunity to meet up in the city she now calls home.

Farewell to Cam

It was, as Lisa who came along for the evening and a few beers said, like we had never been apart, catching up, reliving memories and spending a great night back together for the first time in more than four years.

A night of questionable decisions…

So much so, we did it again the next night – after another walking tour through the political heart of the city, complete with a house designed around Dante’s Comedy of Errors and watching the weekly protest from the Mothers – as Ale was reintroduced to life in a truck group at an impromptu party.

Sadly, this one was to bid farewell to Cam who has swanned, smiled and extended her way around South America in her unique style. The tears were flowing almost as much as the wine by the end of the evening.

As she headed home, we set out for one final exploration of Buenos Aires and one final evening as proper tourists at a tango show.

Sadly, a few of us were unable to put our new-found skills to the test at another lesson as we were sent back to change from flip-flops to shoes.

Quite why we needed trainers to sit eating a three-course dinner, drinking as much of the unlimited wine we could get the waiting staff to deliver to the table – once we convinced them they could leave the bottle of white as it would not be there long enough to get warm – and watching a show which was surprising enjoyable.

That really should have been that, but the lure of the late-night club at the hostel proved a little too tempting, despite the looming spectre of another early start.

But then not all decisions made by those who show up are good ones.

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Our Lips Are Sealed

IS it possible to be a fish out of water while actually in water?

It would certainly appear so, given my flailing around off the Argentinian coast in a wetsuit, flippers and snorkel.

Graceful was not exactly the word to describe my time in the water, unlike the local inhabitants we had come to see.

To walking with lions, being charged in a bar by an elephant, a cheetah eating my flip-flop and being knocked over by a gorilla, you can add another thrilling personal wildlife experience – snorkelling with sea lions.

If, by snorkelling, you mean floating about with very little control over which way you were moving or even which way up you were.

That would be me, not the sea lions. They are rather more agile in the water. It is closer-run thing on dry land.

Festive season comes early to Spongebob

Being in the water, let alone so close to such remarkable creatures, would have been pretty much unthinkable in the deep south of Argentina at Ushuaia, even with the help of a couple of wet suits.

But the weather improved as the miles rattled up on the long journey north, the warm clothes we have been wrapped up in for the past few weeks gradually disappearing to see out the rest of the trip in the depths of our locker as shorts, T-shorts and flip-flops again took over as the truck uniform.

Not that we could discard them immediately as we began the journey north in a truck newly festooned with Christmas decorations.

Our departure from the world’s most southerly city coincided with an abrupt end to the remarkably friendly weather we were served up in Patagonia.

It was cold at times – particularly one or two evenings under canvas – with the odd downpour, but none of the horror tales of gales and four seasons in one day we had been served up in the build-up to the southern leg our South American odyssey.

Early stages of the queue for the ferry

Right up until we left Ushuaia.

By the time we reached the day’s first intended border crossing – there is no way back to mainland Argentina via road without heading in and out of Chile – the wind was howling but with little sign of the problems it was about to create.

For the final time we went through the Chilean custom of unloading, scanning and reloading our bags – including those belong to the people missing in Antarctica, Buenos Aires and wherever else they might be across the continent, which at least provided plenty of room on board through several long drive days – and headed for the day’s other major hurdle.

Crossing a narrow strait of water had been fairly straightforward on the way down, but that wind was about to make the return journey a whole lot more troublesome.

By the time we arrived at the Bahia Azul ferry crossing at 2.30pm, a line of traffic was forming and the ferries could be seen anchored offshore, going nowhere as conditions had been judged too rough just half an hour earlier.

And so we waited. And waited. All the time watching the clock with the day’s second border crossing – about an hour’s drive away – due to close at 10pm.

At which point, we were watching cars being loaded on to the first ferry to dock when conditions were judged good enough to sail again.

Nearly back home

The intervening eight hours had seen us do… well, not a lot really. There was not a lot we could do, bar sit it out and occasionally brave the gale to visit the nearby cafe to use the facilities and search in vain for hot food.

We did convince them to reheat our big pot of chicken soup which we scoffed down on the truck as hope rose of our vigil finally coming to an end.

When it did, it was still not plain sailing – the 20-minute crossing taking twice as long as we looked out on the ferry and the surrounding waves from some very strange angles.

With the border closed until morning, we had little choice other than to park up amid the trucks waiting to cross and set up our own refugee camp for the night, bar those who opted for the safety of a night on the truck.

Yes, the hats are still fixed to the netting above. Doubt we noticed after a few glasses of red

Our early-morning border crossing was smooth enough, although our mood was not eased by a sign declaring it would be open 24 hours just two days later.

A quick stop for cook group shopping and we were heading north again, eating up the largely featureless miles as the temperature began to rise.

It was mainly long trousers and hoodies for our bush camp on a rocky beach, but by the time we rolled into the Welsh village of Gaiman for tea, cakes, ice cream and reliving my years on the western side of the Severn Bridge, we were into what would be described as a glorious summer day back in Wales.

And it was distinctly beach weather as we hit Puerto Madryn – where the first Welsh settlers arrived, on the cliff by our campsite in 1865 – which was pretty handy, considering we were at a beach and signing up to take the offshore plunge.

Which was how a group of us were up bright and early – very early for those of us on cook group duty – to splash around with the pups of a seal lion colony.

Bush camp on the shore

Having never snorkelled properly, nor worn flippers before, perhaps my less than graceful performance was to be expected.

Who knew it could be that difficult to keep your feet underwater?

But my struggles aside, it was a truly magical 45 minutes or so as the curious pups swam and played around us, letting us stroke them as they nibbled at our flippers and wetsuits.

And when they opted for dry land, we were able to bob (or thrash around in my case) just off the beach where the giant bull kept rivals and youngsters in check and the colony went about its morning routine.

Which largely consisted of lying around, occasionally making the odd strange grunt.

A lot like a long drive day on the truck.

  • Next time: When overland trips collide, sweating it out in Buenos Aires and a little bit of politics. Just in case you hadn’t had enough.
It was long, it was flat. You start seeing things
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Ever South

The view from our campsite in Torres del Paine National Park – the bird hopped into view just before the camera clicked. Pretty much standard view in this part of the world

CHANGES in direction are taking many years, endless arguments and, quite possibly, another unclear election result back home.

But for the inhabitants of our big yellow truck, our whole journey takes an abrupt about face when we climb aboard in the morning.

Long road ahead

After 11 weeks heading south from Quito we can go no further and day 80 will see us roll back out of Ushuaia and north on the long road back through Patagonia.

We will do it with the truck festooned in Christmas decorations (met with a variety of responses from delight to, well, mine) but shorn of a large chunk of its passengers.

Five have not had enough of heading south just yet and are somewhere on boats en route to Antarctica, one has been forced back to Santiago by a passport issue while a growing number have opted to fly to Buenos Aires early to miss a series of long drive days and bush camps along the Atlantic coast with what could be some of the most inhospitable, least exciting conditions Patagonia has thrown at us.

Ice and drink is a dangerous mix

Not that anything it can serve up can wash away the lasting impression the whole region has made on us over the past couple of weeks – it is simply stunning.

It is difficult to keep coming up with superlatives for the constant stream of extraordinary scenery, so just take it as read that anywhere mentioned throughout this post is breathtaking, beautiful, dramatic, picturesque, unique, memorable and any other adjective you want to add to the list.

Often a combination of several or all of those things all at once.

And, considering what we had been warned could lie ahead, we have got away with the weather so far.

We have had the odd rainy day and a fair few clouds, while a couple of camping evenings have got a little bit chilly if you were not properly wrapped up in a sleeping bag or under a couple of blankets.

But the weather has played its part in helping us savour this remarkable part of the world, albeit wrapped up in a variety of layers – bar those strange people who seem able to wear shorts or a T-shirt in all weather.

When you left us in El Chalten, the weather was very much playing ball and it held firm as we headed around the neighbouring lake to El Calafate, enabling a group of us to dine al fresco in the pretty main street.

So deprived were we of winter conditions, we headed for an ice bar to cool down – dressed up in thick gloves and hooded winter capes for half an hour of unlimited drinks (always a dangerous thing to offer an overlander) in what was essentially a large freezer.

Calving at the Perito Moreno glacier (Video: Becky Clark)
Mother hen

It paved the way for a birthday celebration at a nearby restaurant – almost inevitably in Argentina featuring great piles of meat – and another one of those nights in a nearby bar which drifted on a fair bit later than originally expected. For a couple of us at least.

While we had been enjoying sun and ice, several of our number had done the same thing at the Perito Moreno glacier in perfect conditions.

Which was not what we got the next morning for our trip, via a couple of interesting stops at a bush – yes, seriously, got off the coach in the rain to look at a bush in the middle of nowhere – and a ranch which was supposedly notable but all we saw were the puppies which curled up, shivering, between my feet.

Up close to the ice in the rain

By the time we arrived at the glacier, the heavens had well and truly opened but it remains a mightily impressive sight, especially when it calves off large chunks of ice – even more so when we got up close under clearing skies during an hour-long boat trip.

Our relentless journey south bounced us back across the border to Chile – a common occurrence which we will do for a couple of hours tomorrow before leaving for the final time – and the town of Puerto Natales.

Selfie advice – watch out who is trying to squeeze into the picture

It is, to be polite, functional rather than pretty but serves as the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park for which pretty would be a remarkable understatement.

Shorn of four of our number – rather quicker than anticipated – who were heading off for the four-day W Trek, we tucked into takeaway pizza and steeled ourselves for three nights under canvas this far south.

Our first port of call was the same as our intrepid trekkers, to the point that we bumped into them on the trail of the Towers trek which ranged from sheer hell to people with a bad knee (the muddy, uphill early bits) to a fun stroll through Middle Earth.

The top of the Towers trek

Was regularly expecting a hobbit to pop out as we meandered our way through the forest and while most headed up the final steep section, some of us put discretion above valour – it was snowing after all – and headed back down the trail for what was still a long, rewarding trek.

Never too far from a stunning view

Even more rewarding were the views which greeted us en route and around our campsite deep in the park on the edge of Lake Pehoe which deserved the toasting they got deep into the night. Maybe too deep in some cases.

Which may have explained a slow start to the next day which largely consisted of too many cooks doing their best not to spoil a variety of dishes being cooked on an open fire to mark Thanksgiving for our American contingent.

Our final day in the park brought more walking, although for some of us it was little more than a stroll up to a waterfall and around the edge of the campsite, but even that was enough to test the superlatives.

Look, the views were amazing. Just take my word for it
Penguins at home

Especially with the local wildlife more than happy to put on a show for the cameras, right up until the gloriously clear final morning as we rolled back out of the park and back to Puerto Natales.

Reunited with our trekkers – with around 100km banked in their legs – we kept on rolling south, not without mishap as a coach opted to cut a bit too close to Spongebob (remember, big, yellow, square and hard to miss) as we were parked up waiting to board a ferry.

And overlanders at home for the night up the road from the penguins. We were warned the weather would be awful

Black and white dolphins bouncing around in the wake were enough to keep us entertained, as were the king penguins at a colony which provided an interesting backdrop (and soundtrack if you listened carefully) in the distance to our bush camp for the night.

Our final few hundred kilometres heading south took us back into Argentina and on to Ushuaia – the end of the world.

End of the road south

And we feel fine. 

It is a landmark stop, providing not only a welcome bed (and we have managed to shed five roommates to Antarctica and Buenos Aires inside 24 hours), ample opportunities to shop, eat and drink (which may have seen a couple of us locked out of the hostel and forced to sleep on the truck) but also to get lost on a relatively simple trek up to a lake.

Not to mention its significance in the trip.

In the morning we head north through possibly the longest (and most Welsh) few drive days of the trip which will begin to take on a new shape as the terrain changes, big cities return and layers of clothing are consigned back to our lockers.

But until then, we will continue to savour southern hospitality.

The lake was worth the trek – whichever way we went
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My Favourite Dress

The glorious view back to Mt Fitzroy on the trek back to El Chalten

WE may have packed our bags as individuals – some a lot better than others – but a form of uniform inevitably becomes the norm on an overland trip.

Some may fight the inevitable and stick with their own stab at individuality, but a look around the truck on most travel days will reveal a reliance on the same style of clothing.

There will be an array of T-shirts, normally one or two of the trip design (mainly in black) since their arrival in Cusco, with the main debate on how many days in succession you can get away with wearing the same one. 

Messing about in boats at Bariloche

That number will get longer as the trip goes on and in relation to the number of consecutive days we are camping.

They will normally be matched with shorts and, in the mornings, the odd fleece or hoodie which is usually discarded around the time of the first comfort stop. After the pockets have been stuffed full of snacks if the stop is at a decent petrol station.

Some persist with long trousers, usually of the zip-off trekking variety, while others will fight against whatever the weather throws at us and stick with shorts – the only concession to a fall in temperature being winter shorts which come with added pockets.

Footwear will be largely flip-flops or, to please our Australian brethren, thongs. Thankfully the lack of native Kiwis has stopped jandals becoming a realistic alternative name.

Celebrating back on dry land

Amid this, there are variations. Mainly worn by Cam who has mastered wearing items of clothing in multiple ways – the right way, back to front, inside out and both inside out and back to front.

Others have tried something similar with certain items of clothing when clean laundry is running short.

But over the past few days as we have headed south through Patagonia, that uniform has changed out of necessity.

There’s still plenty of T-shirts being worn, often more than one at the same time. But they are buried under fleeces, hoodies (two at a time in my case) and waterproof jackets, while the trousers have grown in length and thickness, the footwear has become closed and sturdy and wooly hats have appeared from the depths of bags.

Even socks have been dug out of lockers – or, warm and fluffy, bought at supermarkets and worn night and day.

Relatively dressed up for a long night…

The fashion choices have been made for us at times as the nights have got cold, we have been hit by a few downpours and keeping warm in our tents has moved to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

The weather is not all bad. We have had a pretty glorious couple of days in El Chalten to complement the stunning surroundings.

And it was still pretty nice when we rolled into Bariloche, our entry point into Argentinian Patagonia after another stunning drive day through the country’s version of the Lake District.

My main issue after a relatively quiet night around camp was not rain but a water bottle leaking all over my sleeping bag, pressing my alpaca blanket and moose onesie – an impromptu pillow until Lisa took pity on me and bought me a proper one – into service in a bid to have anything approaching a warm, dry night.

… probably too long

Mission partially achieved, kept largely dry if not exactly warm as a small group of us headed out on a yacht for a fairly leisurely few hours crossing the lake alongside our campsite before heading into town for a few early drinks and an evening birthday celebration over fondue which, via various dramas, dragged on into the early hours.

Which was when the heavens opened. And continued to do so for hours, ensuring a quiet morning as people sought refuge in their tents or in the only covered area at camp.

Thankfully, the rain was not an issue for our trip to an escape room which lightened the mood considerably, especially when we got out with 18 minutes to spare and did our best to make the most of the spare time by finding a bar.

Not so easy in the world of siesta when you have to get back for cook group.

Most definitely not part of the uniform – grabbing whatever was around in the rain

The rain returned just as we rolled into our next stop, one border crossing, a search of all our bags and more spectacular scenery later at Futafelu in Chile, which meant the chances of our little group emerging from our cabin for long when we had wine, cheese and salami to keep us company were slim.

When we did emerge, it was to stunning surroundings (you may be spotting a trend here) of mountains, waterfalls and a fast-flowing river – too fast for the proposed rafting route, but not enough to stop those brave enough to take on the alternative.

Local delicacy

Another birthday was marked by a Patagonian lamb roast supplied by our hosts, more wine and, for some reason, an impromptu transatlantic rugby lesson which reversed the result of the US War of Independence.

Just not hard enough if the evening which followed is to be taken in evidence,

That remarkable scenery and rain dominated the next couple of days as we racked up the miles glued to the passing views on the road to Coyhaigue – a touch of tree surgery enabling us to enter our camp site ready for an early start to miss feared protests.

Home for the night

The start of a two-person bid to watch every episode of The West Wing before the end of the trip later, we were back out on the road, this time with little to see as the rain blocked out any scenery – handy to catch up on some sleep without feeling guilty at missing something.

The rain was still hammering down as we reached Rio Tranquilo and the only campsite still open in the conditions, so what could make more sense than getting even wetter on a boat trip?

The Marble Caves – supposedly glorious in the dry. In the wet, looks more like… well, you decide

The Marble Caves are supposedly much more spectacular (and less, ahem, anatomical) in the sunlight, but it proved a more than enjoyable diversion before heading back to dry land and our more normal habitat. The bars over the road.

There were no bars the following night as our home after a long drive day and another border crossing was on cliffs above a salt lake, although still managed to be on the truck with a couple of bottles of wine until fairly late – an evening which had consequences well beyond the morning after.

Which brings us via, you’ve guessed it, more spectacular scenery to our current stop in El Chalten which has the feel of a ski resort but rather than winter sports enthusiasts heading off to the slopes, it is walkers hitting the trails into the surrounding countryside.

Setting off up the Fitzroy trek. Knee still in one piece

And then apres-walk rather than apres-ski.

Most of us donned a different uniform of trekking gear and headed out in small groups up a glorious trail to a viewpoint of Mt Fitzroy and its surrounding peaks which rise above one end of town.

The walk was fairly straightforward up a few rises, through forests, across streams (which at times masqueraded as the path) and alongside a lake for the first nine kilometres before a steep rise up the final stretch to the best viewpoint.

A creaking knee made by decision to skip the final stretch but it was still a lovely walk, topped off by a rapid, painkiller-fuelled descent back to town. Which is where things went a bit awry.

Plans to head straight for a shower, change and wait for others to return were derailed by a welcoming party in the bar next door – our base for the next 11 hours, bar a quick switch of venue to the nearby waffle house.

Which is beginning to beckon again.

The spectacular sight on the lake at Puerto Rio Tranquillo – once it stopped raining
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