Big Names

Here we are. In the middle of what are probably Patagonia's most famous tourist attractions. Can they keep their promises?


The tourist highlights of Patagonia lie ahead of us. And the weather is finally favourable again after a long interruption. Full of anticipation, we drive to the entrance of the "Torres del Paine", where we want to spend the night again in order to start exploring this national park early the next day. But during dinner we discover an unpleasant surprise. Beni notices oil dripping from the car. After a quick analysis, it turns out that it is leaking from the oil filter when the engine is running. We quickly measure the oil level. It is just within the green range, but no further driving is allowed. What now? During the past 12'000km we had no problems with the oil. However, the last service at an official Toyota garage was only about 350km ago. The oil and the oil filter were changed there. The suspicion is that something was not done correctly. But it's no use trying to find someone to blame. Solutions are needed. There is no way around driving back to Puerto Natales to the next mechanic on the following day. But unfortunately we don't have any extra oil with us that would allow us to do so. Sounds a bit naïve? It is, but nothing can be done about it now. The rangers at the park entrance can't help us and all the tourists we approach are also without extra oil. Finally, we decide that Ben will go to buy oil by hitching a ride. After a few minutes he is picked up by a Swedish couple who are already on their way with the spare tyre and want to change it as soon as possible. Car problems are simply part of everyday life on these roads. After about one and a half hours on the gravel road and five minutes buying oil, he heads off again in the other direction. This time with a young American couple. Before they let Ben in, they ask him if he is really not carrying any weapons. He doesn't, and so another hour and a half later he is back where Sara and Javier are. We fill up the oil and head back to Puerto Natales, this time with our own four wheels. The mechanic around the corner reveals the problem within minutes: an incorrect oil filter. He himself just shakes his head at the amateurism of the Toyota garage. Fortunately, he has the right filter in stock and shortly afterwards we are ready to drive again. For the fourth and last time on this day, we take the now all too familiar route under our wheels and pitch our roof tent again in the same place as the day before. This is one way to spend your days.

Torres del Paine.
In Chile's best-known national park, there is a lot to see and also very beautiful multi-day hikes. However, these are so popular that the expensive campsites have to be booked well in advance. As we did not want to give up our flexibility, we did not do this. We plan to do a few less travelled routes and then do the highlight, the "Torres" as a one-day hike. The landscape we are now driving through is, once again, breathtaking. Beautiful mountains, huge glaciers and deep blue lakes. It seems like a condensed version of the Carretera. We are overwhelmed by the beauty that awaits us once again here, on the last kilometres in Chile. On the first hike, we encounter only a few people, including three policemen struggling up the steep path in uniform and with service weapons. On enquiry we learn that they come from Santiago and support the park rangers during the summer months. Definitely not a bad place to work. We spend the night in the car park of the visitor centre. We are not the only ones, because it is about the only possibility in the park to stay overnight for free. It is also going to be a short night for us, because at half past three in the morning we set off for the "Torres". We would like to enjoy the sunrise there. We climb up in the light of our headlamps and are a little surprised when we arrive at the top with the first rays of sunlight. Because dozens of people who had the same very same idea are already waiting for us here. But there is more than enough room and so we enjoy the view. Enjoying is perhaps a little exaggerated, because it is rather chilly up here and so, like most people, we start our descent again after just under an hour. Of course, this now opens up completely new perspectives for us, because it is now light. This highlight marks the end of our time in Chile for the time being. We look back with gratitude on the past months and are, of course, also curious about what awaits us in Argentina.

Perito Moreno.
Our first stop in the land of the world champion is El Calafate. A place that is best known as the starting point for the Perito Moreno glacier. This glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is the third largest freshwater reservoir in the world. It is also one of the few glaciers that are not receding, but remain relatively stable. All this, but especially its spectacular calving into a lagoon, makes this place definitely worth a visit. So we make a pilgrimage with many other tourists on wooden walkways to the numerous viewing platforms. From there we watch the movements of the huge ice masses spellbound. It is a true natural spectacle that unfolds before our eyes. We can hardly get enough of the beautiful ice formations and the enormous dimensions of this glacier, which is more than three times the size of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. The imposing sight makes us completely forget the many other tourists. Back in the village, however, it quickly becomes too much for us and we retreat to a beach a little outside, where we spend the night. Again, there is an incredible amount of wind, which some kitesurfers take advantage of. In the meantime, we have found a solution for the nights that lets us brave the wind. Instead of putting up the roof tent, we set up our second, small tent in the lee of the car. But this night there is another problem. The swirling sand is pushed through the mesh into our inner tent, so that we wake up in a pile of sand. After getting up, we face the next challenge. We need Argentine pesos again. Since the official exchange rate is unbelievably bad compared to the one on the street, it is worthwhile to leave the credit card and exchange dollars directly. A second solution is Western Union, which offers an even better rate. Of course, most travellers know this, which is why the demand is always very high. The day before, we had to give up after standing in line for an hour because there was no money left. That's why we want to be ready before opening time. Nevertheless, there are already about a dozen people in front of us. Once again we wait patiently and after about three hours we actually hold Argentine pesos in our hands again. And in bundles. The biggest note is the 1000 pesos note (about 3 Euros), but it was no longer available. So we have to make do with 500 pesos notes. After this venture has succeeded and we have safely hidden the bundles in the car, we finally escape the crowds and leave El Calafate.

Fitz Roy.
After an uneventful drive through the Argentinean pampas, we finally turn left towards the mountains. A dead straight road leads to the well-known mountain formation around Fitz Roy, at the foot of which lies the village of El Chatén. Here, a similar picture awaits us as before in El Calafate. It is teeming with people and the bass is blaring from the bars. We look for a place on one of the campsites, as wild camping is forbidden here. Every grassy area, no matter how small, is advertised as a camping site, but we finally decide on a larger one, which at least offers a little more infrastructure. Here, too, the constant theme is the wind. So our small tent comes into play again. We take a day's break, because we want to be at Fitz Roy by sunrise. We start again at half past two in the morning. As dusk sets in, the beautiful landscape around us reveals itself. The path leads across a plateau along lakes and streams. The mountain peaks begin to turn red, lending something magical to this magnificent mountain world. After the last steep ascent, we are suddenly standing in front of it, the Fitz Roy. Those who know Ben know that he often carries this silhouette around with him. It is the model for the "Patagonia" logo. Definitely an impressive sight. Despite the cold, we take our time to savour this moment. It will be a while before we really get back into the mountains. Actually, we would have liked to do another exciting multi-day hike, but due to a forest fire the route is closed. So we say goodbye to El Chatén a little earlier than expected. The big names of Patagonia certainly did have something to offer!