Driving 'The Beast' through South-America

Natural beauty and emissions

By Isabelle Demaeght, January 26, 2019

We spent the turn of the year in "Parque Patagonia": the most beautiful park (for me, so far) in the heart of Patagonia. North American Douglas Tompkins had lost his heart to this piece of Patagonia and, together with his wife, bought an immense area (including a piece owned by the Belgian family DeSmet) for millions of dollars to bring it back to its natural state. All cows and sheep and 600 km of fences have been removed: only wild animals live there now. Douglas' dream was to create a nature reserve based on the North American model with camping facilities, hiking trails and clearly marked rules. Parque Patagonia was transferred to Chile at the end of 2018.

Parque Patagonia Lake Isabelle in huge meadow

"We probably won't be the only souls to camp," we thought, "so we'll bring along some champagne to make it a small party. Small miscalculation: we were all alone in one of the three campsites in the park, with lots of wind and rain. We celebrated New Year's Eve together at 8 p.m. (because it was midnight in Europe then) and huddled into our warm tent shortly after. Further south there are more national parks and also more tourists. El Chaltén was a beautiful piece of nature, where we hiked to a glacier in droves.

El Chaltén Glacier lake

With the help of a digital newspaper and podcasts, we keep up to date with the (world) news. In recent weeks, the climate issue has come up a lot. We came to this continent on a not-so-proper cargo boat and have since blown 14,000 kilometers worth of carbon dioxide into the air. At the incredible natural beauty in Chile, we sometimes think about how many people also come to these parks by vehicle (plane, bus, car)... ourselves included. What is it that actually drives us? We draw the line at visiting the Galapagos Islands or sailing to Antarctica: the very last truly unspoiled natural areas on earth. People have no business there and should stay away, I think. But who am I (as a world traveler) to judge that!

Because of the crowds, we decided to skip the biggest tourist hype "Parque Torres del Paine": where natural beauty and mass tourism become an unappetizing mixture. We like hiking very much but if you have to stop every 5 steps to let someone through, that nice feeling becomes a little less.

In El Chaltén we stayed in a hostel for the first time because the wind became so strong that there was no possibility to put up our tent. I struggled to stand or move forward during our hikes. A hostel is a hotel where you can use the kitchen together. There is a predominantly young crowd; it was a nice change.

Many people visit the most famous South American glacier: Perito Moreno. This glacier flows from the mountains into a lake: a wall of 40 meter high ice that crumbles with a lot of noise. We found a campground in a nature park outside the bustle. We met 3 Dutch youngsters with the same train of thought: " stay off the beaten track ". Or, in our case, "stay away from where 'everyone' is". Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno

We've reached the southernmost point of the American Continent and later the southernmost point of Tierra del Fuego (an island): Ushuaia. We went from one nature park to another. We enjoyed the nature in not always summer-like temperatures. In Ushuaia it was 2 degrees at night (in the middle of summer) and during the day it barely reached 10 degrees.

Warming up by the fire

Upon arrival in Tierra del Fuego, things went wrong with the car's battery. We holed up in a hotel (with electricity!) to recharge the car. The next day we ended up at a garage that provided a new alternator... A few days later, something broke in the suspension of the car. We had just entered the grounds of the second farm - the property is surrounded by fences which we open and close ourselves. Estancia "Dos Hermanos" (Two Brothers) was too much for our car. (I am more used to 'four brothers'.) At a snail's pace we reached (the next day though) Puerto Deseado. Getting parts for our (apparently exotic) Toyota is a big problem in Argentina. A local garage owner advised us to drive 300 kilometers north to the first Toyota dealer who could order the necessary parts. It would (could) take a month. Adriaan went looking for a solution himself, and after a day of surfing the internet, emailing and a lot of thinking he found a mechanic and a welder to fix the broken suspension. The three of them worked on it for half a day. We are back on the road and moving on!

Toyota in shop Hiking on Tierra del Fuego

And... You don't have to go to Antarctica to see the King penguins: On Tierra del Fuego we saw these birds (in one particular delineated place). You don't have to go to the Malvinas (Falkland) islands to see the Southern Rock-Penguin: on an island off Puerto Deseado we made a very educational excursion where we saw these birds, and Magallan penguins, and sea lions, and elephant seals, and terns, and ... there is actually more than enough to see. Here. But 'here' is not close to home, unfortunately.

King Penguins Sea Lions Magallan Penguins Southern Rock-Penguin