Well, dear friends, we have begun! We saw the start line, we approached it, and we’ve left it 1300km behind. Not bad for one week’s effort.
To recap: our final week in England was spent in sunny Salisbury, sorting and consolidating boxes of belongings to be stored in the attic, picking up final bits and bobs to add to our adventure kit, and finally, packing. (That bit didn’t take long.)
Saturday 15th saw us heading off to the airport in a blaze of springtime sunshine; the first of three flights took us to Madrid, from whence we flew overnight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a 36-hr stopover.
It seemed like an auspicious sign when, after striking up a conversation with an American-Argentinian chap called Stephen in the queue to leave the airport, he and his girlfriend Maria then gave us a lift to our first friend-of-a-friend connection Paul, who was putting us up for the night. We were there in time for Sunday lunch with his extended family. Muy, muy bien!
Our pit-stop in Buenos Aires was a mere dip of the toe into South America, ahead of our final flight down to Ushuaia (Oo-swhy-a), the most southerly city in the world: the full deep-end dive. We were welcomed by a panorama of snow-capped mountains, a lift with lovely northern Brits Dave and Judith, and a seafood supper – you can’t say fresher than mariscos from the local South Atlantic Ocean.
We allowed ourselves a couple of nights’ recuperation for the sake of energy levels and making the most of the glorious surrounding landscape. On Tuesday afternoon we took a short bus ride to the local national park and undertook an 8km walk (it’s kilometres from here on in, folks) of woods, lakes, blue-pebbled beaches, and wonderful, beautiful silence.
And then – then – to Wednesday: the true beginning. We arose, breakfasted, and left (with more than a little apprehension on Jo’s part, but enough excitement on Steve’s to cover us both) to seek our first hitch.
Jo shouldn’t have worried. When we reached the end of town, it took us roughly three minutes to get our first lift – Fabricio, 22 – 10 mins out of town. Another 5 min wait and Daniel, 29, rocked up, and drove us 2 hours to Rio Grande. A brief rest stop was followed by a lift from Federico, 23, a second short ride of 10 mins or so.
After Federico dropped us off to head to his estancia, we had a bit of a longer wait due to a reduced flow in traffic. This would have been absolutely fine, had it not been for the FEROCIOUS WINDS punching us from every angle, particularly when trucks thundered past. It wouldn’t have taken much more for us to go cartwheeling across the plains like a piece of mere tumbleweed.
Mercifully, before that could happen, Flor and Marta stopped by – a 28-year-old chica going on holiday with her mum. It was such a blessed relief to get out of the wind that it took us a few moments to appreciate that Flor was actually a fluent English-speaker; our nascent Spanish had been serving us fine up until then, but at the moment we can only get so far. We knew, then, that we were onto something of a winner – we just didn’t know then how right we were.
First of all, they drove us across the rest of Tierra del Fuego, which involves crossing into Chile and then taking a ferry in order to re-enter Argentina. Due to those aforementioned gales, earlier ferries had been cancelled and we had a two-hour wait, but what did we care – we had music, maté (a rather bitter but very popular tea-like drink) and Marta, Steve’s new adoptive mother (bringing the global total of Steve´s Overseas Mums to around 69).
After the ferry we drove to Rio de Gallegos (Ga-jay-gos) and Flor’s Aunt Monica’s, arriving at about 12.30am and pitching our tent for the first time. Noting that we ourselves were almost blowing away whilst putting it up was slightly unnerving, but we persevered. In retrospect, we have learnt that sleeping in a tent being buffeted by gusts of around 30mph isn´t entirely conducive to actual sleeping, and the tent has been packed away for the time being.
The next few days saw us being firmly ensconsed into the Moreno family, and further wowed by spectacular sceneries. We continued on with Flor and Marta to El Chaltén in the west, where we spent two nights, also meeting Flor’s brother Facundo, who works there. On Friday we trumped our previous trekking effort with a 25km hike to the menacing but magnificent Mount Fitzroy – by the end the thighs were burning, but it was worth it.
Yesterday we journeyed south to El Calafate (a slight regression in terms of direction, but we were invited, so why would we say no?) and peered through miserable rain at the Perito Moreno glacier – no less grand because of the weather.
Here we are, then, in El Calafaté, spending our first Sunday catching up with ourselves and gearing up for hitching to begin again tomorrow. Last night we undertook the new challenge of eating a parrilla (par-e-ja), grilled meat enough to feed a family of four.
Today we visited a church round the corner from our hostel, understanding very little but appreciating it all the same.
Until next time…
Total number of lifts: 4
Week One distance travelled: 1320 km