After our short stop over in Chile, we were back on Route 40 in Argentina cruising Patagonia towards the “End of the World”. We were less than 2000km from the finish line of our expedition when the cabin door of our truck deep-froze due to the ice cold temperatures in Esquel. Our dream to travel from the northernmost tip of North America to the southernmost one of South America didn’t seem probable in that moment. We travelled that far, been through so much, we were so close and not making it. No! we were not ready to let go.
Reassessing our options we took the risk to continue south by changing the enchanting Route 40 with the Atlantic coast which presented a warmer weather forecast. We crossed the law lands of Patagonia until Comodoro Rivadavia on the east coast and drove for hundreds of kilometers until the Straight of Magellan, the last quest to reach "Fin del Mundo".
Overlanding Route 40 Patagonia
Famous for being one of the longest roads in the world together with Route 66 of USA and Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway, Route 40 of Argentina stretches from the northwest province of Jujuy until Santa Cruz province near the Strait of Magellan. The road became a tourist attraction for its phenomenal landscapes paralleling the Andes which transit 20 national parks including Los Glaciares National Park famed for the Perito Moreno Glacier.
We returned on Route 40 in Patagonia at San Martin de Los Andes mountain resort after a short stop over in Chile keen to experience those epic glacier landscapes and some relaxing camping days.
San Martin de Los Andes surprised us with spectacular sights of Lácar glacier lake, a welcoming Argentinian atmosphere and a delicious local cuisine at affordable prices. Those “empanadas” were simply the best. It could had been a perfect place to rest for few days, but there was a set back: all the established campsites were closed. It was off-season. We had no other choice but to adventure again into the wild to sleep over the night.
Camping into the wild Patagonia
Driving on Route 40 via the east flank of the Andes in Patagonia presented a landscape perspective that brought back memories from our over-landing experience in Canada and Alaska. A generous and vast nature with tremendous meadows, glacier lakes, snow caped mountain views with endless opportunities for wild camping. The type of weather and scenery that announced once again the circularity of our journey, the beginning and the end of our sabbatical.
It was for the first time in more than half a year that we were again camping into the wild. Patagonia did not only offered the immeasurable nature but as well the security to do so. For safety reasons from Mexico down the continent we chose to overnight mostly in established campsites and secured gas stations.
The meadow we camped that night was surrounded by a pine forest and an abundant river was crossing it. Suddenly it was just the two of us, listening to the wind passing through the tree branches and the sound of the fresh waters going down the stream. A type of scene we would expect a brown bear to appear. We were walking cautiously around the camp anticipating something to come out from the bushes any time. We forgot completely that there are no grizzlies or black bears in that part of the world :))
Going back to practical matters
With the cold arriving in the southern hemisphere we realized that one year sabbatical break to overland from Alaska to Argentina is not an ideal timing. We needed at least one year and a half or two years to explore both hemispheres at their best potential, during summertime.
At that point we were weeks away from the end of our expedition. Because of the cold and the short timeframe, we felt we had to rush through one of the most spectacular mountainous landscapes. It was a place we wished to return one day, to get lost into the endless land of Patagonia with its abundant waters, green sights and glaciers.
There were so many things going on in the same time. The impact of a new environment in Patagonia, the cold, the nostalgia about the end of our sabbatical, the will to reach “The End of the World” and the administrative closure of the journey. Once the adventure would be over we decided to sell Brutus, so we needed to start advertising it. Big changes were ahead of us.
Outside was snowing abundantly continuing on Route 40 to get to Bariloche. It was a picture of a wintertime fairytale. Out of nowhere a South American gray fox appeared on the road. We stopped the vehicle to watch it for minutes and the fox was staring at us without moving. We were surprised to see her friendly reaction and moreover when we continued driving she came running after us. An unexpected and funny wild moment.
Approaching Bariloche we were impressed with the scenic view of the Nahuel Huapi glacier lake and the majestic white mountain peaks overlooking the blue waters. The white landscape was inviting for skiing.
The day we arrived in the Swiss like mountain resort, Brazil was playing Mexico during the World Cup 2018. It was a great timing to stop in one of the cosy restaurants on Calle Mitre street and watch the match. Living a vibrant atmosphere with other Brazilians celebrating the victory over Mexico was fun. But after the match at -9 degrees outside temperature we decided to take some pictures of the beautiful resort and move on with the road. While in the northern hemisphere of the globe people were sunbathing and enjoying their summertime vacations, we were in freezing temperatures. There was still so much mileage to cover until “The End of the World”.
Suddenly in Esquel
Following the Andes south the continent on Route 40 was simply magical. The snow was falling everywhere: on the meadows, valleys, mountains, lakes, pine trees and hawks. It looked surreal and scary in the same time. At some point the visibility was so law that we had no idea what would come next.
As the evening was approaching and due to the weather conditions we decided to stop in the nearby town of Esquel. We found a gas station where we could sleep for the night. When we thought we were safe and about to call off the night, that’s when everything started. Out of the blue one thing led to another.
When JP tried to open the diesel tank to fuel the heating system the key broke inside due to the cold temperatures. The lock of the cabin door wouldn’t open either. It was frozen. The people from the gas station tried to help out, but they just worsened the situation when they put hot water on the locker. All that water soon transformed into more ice. The door was ice frozen. Out of the blue we could not enter the cabin to sleep and we could not heat up the truck either. When we thought we would call off the day, that’s when a new marathon started.
The quest in fixing the problem
First we went to a key workshop trying to replace the broken key and de-block the diesel tank. Luckily that problem was solved in 30 minutes, but the second one remained: the frozen door of the cabin.
“How do we get inside the truck? How and where will we sleep this night?” first questions coming to mind.
“Start looking for alternatives, while I will try to open the door.” JP was arguing. It was already dark outside, we were extremely tired and we needed a fast response.
After one hour exercise of depleting the garage area from all the tools and spare parts of the truck, JP discovered that we could get inside though the garage, but that we still couldn’t open the main door from the inside. It meant that we needed to stay with the door of the garage opened during the night. In those cold temperatures it was not a feasible and safe option. We needed a plan B, we needed desperately accommodation.
We finally found a cottage that seemed to have what was needed: a small kitchen, heating and hot water for an affordable price. When we got there it was already late and we were exhausted. JP took some stuff out from the truck through the garage, we ate, took a hot shower and tried to rest and forget about that day.
While in bed, JP was simply restless. He could not sleep worried about the integrity of the truck.
“What’s happening? Why are you not sleeping?” I asked JP.
“I am worried about the truck”, JP answered.
“Why would you be worried? We are in a safe place. Sleep now, we need to rest. Tomorrow is another day. We will fix it when the sun is up.” I added.
“If the truck won’t be heated during the night, the water system can freeze and the pipes of the truck can explode. Because we didn’t have exposure to sun the last days, the electricity system can fail as well. The whole integrity of the truck is in danger and I am staying here like an idiot laying in the bed.” JP argued.
He then stood up and said: “ I am going to sleep in the truck with the door of the garage open and the heating system on. You stay here”.
It was midnight when he decided to get out of the bed and got in the truck through the garage.
It was a terrible night. I couldn’t sleep at all. The cottage wouldn’t heat up because of the high ceiling. At -12 degrees outside temperature I was cold covered with two blankets and worried about JP freezing. On top of this there was a scary cat meowing hysterically outside all night. I couldn’t stop worrying about the baby, about the trip, about JP, I didn’t know if we would still make it. That night passed very hard.
Finally the morning came. My eyes and face were swallowed, I had a feeling that I slept outside. I barely put myself together to get out of the bed. When I saw JP in one piece entering the cottage I was happy he did not freeze :)). He tried the whole night to fix the door of the truck falling asleep only in the morning. Imagine that he slept with the door of the garage opened in those temperatures just to keep the heating system going. The attachment of JP to Brutus was more than a love story :))
At that point we had no idea how to further move on with the situation. The door of the cabin would not open, outside was still very cold and the weather predictions south the continent were not friendly either. We were assessing our situation.
“So what now? What are we going to do? I asked.
“With this weather and with Brutus’ situation we can’t continue” JP added.
“What do you mean we can’t continue?” I asked worried.
“We will have to call off the trip. Down the continent it will be colder and our water system can explode if we can’t heat up the living cell. Plus you are pregnant. It’s too risky.” JP mentioned worried.
“This can’t be it” I was thinking. “We came all the way down here to suddenly end it this way?” I just couldn’t process that thought. We were researching for a while and assessing our options.
Our options to continue towards Ushuaia
The first option was to continue on Route 40 more than 2000km to reach the end of the Americas. It seemed very risky for the integrity of the truck and our health. At -10 degrees weather forecast we wouldn’t make it most probably, risking the whole water and electricity system to break especially then when we needed to prepare the truck for sale.
The second option was ending our journey there and head back north towards Porto Alegre, JP's hometown in Brazil. It seemed to be the safest and least costly option, but our mission wouldn’t be completed, we wouldn’t reach the end of South America, Ushuaia. We might had regret that decision in time.
The third option was to change the direction paralleling the Andes with the Atlantic coast which presented warmer weather conditions. Although a less exciting journey, it seemed more probable that we would make it, but it was still not for sure. Tierra del Fuego was announcing cold temperatures too. Plus we had 12 days left from Esquel to Ushuaia and then back up to Buenos Aires where part of our Brazilian family was waiting to meet us.
To be able to make it to Ushuaia and back up to Buenos Aires in the timeframe left we needed no incidents and a fast pace, about 500km per day during a period of 10 days. It was the only way. It was that or nothing, then or never!
The final decision
JP was exhausted and so disappointed that he couldn’t fix the problem of the door that night. He was all in to call off the trip and return to Porto Alegre.
He said “It’s done. This is it. We will return. It’s done.” He got into the shower convinced that the trip was over, that we needed to focus on the baby’s safety, our safety and the truck’s integrity.
While he was taking a shower I was preparing the breakfast very thoughtful. When he got out, looked at me and asked: “Why are you so sad? What’s going on?”
”Well it’s sad to see that after we made it that far, we can’t really reach the end. It’s not the way I envisioned it.” I said.
I paused …. and added “I saw the weather forecast on the east flank is warmer, we can do it.”
I guess that was what JP wanted to hear. He looked at me and said:
“Let’s do it then!”
We ate, prepared the luggages and got back on the road continuing south towards Facundo on our way to Comodoro Rivadavia on the east coast of Argentina. When we stopped at the next gas station just an hour after the sun was up, I tried to open the door normally from the outside, just to give it a try. Magically it did open. Yuhuu! It was a good sign. The cumulated tension started to east down.
Our way to “The End of the World”, Patagonia
While JP was driving I was sitting in the back of the truck with the heating system on keeping a non freezable temperature inside the truck. The sun started to shine, the sky cleared up and our electricity panel showed improvements. The visibility was clearer and soon from the tall Andes covered with snow we met the flat lands of Patagonia.
We started to feel more optimistic about our adventure. All what we needed was more sun. More sun, would mean more supply of energy to our electric panel, more chances that our truck won’t freeze, more chances that we would make it until “The End of the World”, more chances that we would keep safe and healthy.
That night we slept in an abandoned gas station. It was scary, we were in the middle of nowhere, exposed to the cars and trucks that were passing by. We prayed for the best. After the exhaustive days JP slept like a baby, while I had a light sleep listening to all the sounds coming from the street and the wind that was blowing fiercely.
Crossing from west to east Patagonia
It was 4th of July 2018, exactly one year since we landed in Halifax to recover our truck from the port to start our sabbatical journey on the Trans-Canada Highway during summertime. After one year we were at the other extreme of the globe in wintertime season, days away from our final destination, Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
Although we expected a less exciting trip to Comodoro Rivadavia crossing Patagonia’s flat lands from west to the east we were enchanted by the flora and fauna of that vast territory.
The environment changed from white snow mountain peaks and spruce to endless grasslands and steppes. We spotted all sorts of wild animals including guanacos which are similar looking animals with lamas, a bit taller, the black neck swan, the Darwin Rhea, which looks like a smaller ostrich, huge hawks called Southern Crested Caracara and pink flamingos. A road trip full of wow moments.
Towards the Strait of Magellan
JP managed to pull out those first 500km drives per day to get to Comodoro Rivadavia and then to the southern province of Santa Cruz. The weather was warmer on the Atlantic coast, we were out of the minus degrees temperatures, the sun was not covered by the clouds, so our electric panel was working. We cruised on a safe mode towards the Strait of Magellan, which separates to the north the mainland of South America and Tierra del Fuego to the south.
While the nature impressed us, the cities of south east Argentina were contrasting the ones in the west and north. We noticed a poorer infrastructure, less care, dirtier side roads and towns. The people were more hostile, suspicious, a bit more of an indigenous environment compared with the other parts of Argentina. A type of environment we had met before in Peru and Bolivia.
We felt fortunate that we made it on the Atlantic coast of Argentina. There were 2 more driving days separating us from the place named “The End of the World”. We had to pass back into Chile via Strait of Magellan and then back again in Argentina in Tierra del Fuego on our way to Ushuaia, the southernmost city of South America. “Fin del Mundo” here we come!