#21 - Rio to Ushuaia
(Punto Arenas, Chile) – We have had some really major incidents in this
trip - and all that stuff is grabbing the journal space. I figured we
needed a journal to show you a few of our favourite sights and stories
on the trip from Rio de Janeiro to Ushuaia, the southern tip of South
America. As usual, we covered the six thousand kilometres at blazing
speed. But there was still time to do some sightseeing. Here are some
of our best pics.
25 December 2001
south from Rio de Janeiro, wiggled around Sao Paulo
and kept going to Curitiba. After the chaos and grime
of the big cities, it was a massive change. It is a
provincial capital and is a fabulously well kept and
pedestrian friendly place to visit - it is ranked 3rd
cleanest city in South America! They are quite proud
of that. Of course they don't tell you which cities
beat them. Probably in denial.
| There is a cluster of old fishing villages east of Curitiba
near the ocean, so we made a little side trip the next
day and headed east to Paranagua. Very authentic. It
is getting more and more authentic by the day as their
tourist industry really kicks in. After a few hours
of wandering and some stupendous seafood, we drove
30km north to Antonina. This tiny coastal town tucked
along the river is a hidden gem. Picturesque, and really
worth more time than the 15min we spared.
the way back to Curitiba we opted out of the beautifully
paved (and heavily tolled) highway, and took the scenic
route instead. Avenida Graciosa is the old access road
to the coast and winds up some nastily steep cliffs.
A couple dozen kilometres of the road has been turned
into a flower park. With picnic sites, hiking trails,
and little refreshment stands, it adds to the reasons
to visit Curitiba and the surrounding area. Now, it
the city could just climb a couple notches on the "Cleanest
Cities in South America" ranking...
About an hour west of Curitiba just off the
highway there is another attraction, Vila Velha
- which is basically a path through a cave, a patch
of forest, and some rocks which kind of look like
chimneys (those smart brains in the Curitiba tourist
office, making the most of their allotted bit of
real estate). Sure, we wanted a break from the
driving so we set off tramping around the path,
took lots of pictures, excellent, excellent. And
then at the back end of the loop, a full 1/2hr
away from the parking lot, there is this huge sign
warning of snakes. And the sign is six feet high,
in the world of signs would be like a screaming
lunatic standing on a soapbox yelling himself hoarse.
That is when we realized that Teva sandals may
not have been the best choice that particular day.
Iguacu, or Iguazu Falls as we English speakers like
to say. Very nice, the guidebook said a minimum of
two days was required to really see them - so that
meant one day for us. We went through the national
park on the Brazil side of the falls for the best top
view of the falls.
And while I am talking about Brazil, the day
after we visited the falls, my brand new Sony digital
camera was stolen right out of the truck. We were
in a cafe waiting for our Paraguay visas to be
processed, a kid went past on a bike, snatched
the camera and was gone. I haven't lost anything
to thieves in such a long time, even in Africa,
so it was a complete shock. I called AMEX because
I used my gold card to buy the camera. They said, "Oh
we're sorry. If the camera was on the table it
would be covered, but since it was in the truck
- too bad." So never lose something from your
car and then call AMEX!
to the falls. We drove over to the Argentina side (blitzed
through the border with the truck), and spent four
hours wandering across miles of catwalk strung along
the edge of the many falls. This is the side where
you can really get close to the spray. Though after
four hours we could echo the sentiment, sometimes you
can have too much of a good thing. On our way back
across the border we were driving through the Brazil
post when the guards started yelling at us. Stopping
the truck, we tried to understand their Portuguese.
They pointed. Ahh. Everyone piled out, stepped on two
foam pads (foot and mouth prevention) and then we were
waved through. No immigration, no customs, just 'step
on the foam pad!'
"Paraguay is totally like
Africa." Jody was looking at the water eroded
ditches and wooden tea shacks that lined the highway
into Asuncion. Unlike Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay
doesn't even have emerging economy status, it is
remains a third world country. There are bits and
pieces of sparkling new stores and roads in the
capitol, but turning a corner you see the poverty
all over again. To me, this set of pictures best
represents what Paraguay hopes to be and what it
has to contend with. Same statue, different angle.
may have been a third-world country, but at least the
prices were easy on our budget. As soon as we crossed
the border into Argentina, South America's most expensive
country, we were hit by sticker shock. Really cheap
hotels were $40 or $50 per night. Even camp grounds
were $7 per person. Riiight. It turned out that many
folks used gas stations as free campgrounds. And most
gas stations had showers and small restaurants attached.
So we simply drove till we were tired, pulled into
the back lot, popped open the roof tent and slept.
The next morning, cafe con leche, a hot shower, and
a fill-up of diesel. Truly a win-win proposition.
a day in Buenos Aires to catch the riots, we split
for the south. It became clear pretty quickly that
we were in for a long haul. As Jody said, "It's
only an inch between cities on this map, but that is
one heck of an inch!" I missed the turnoff near
Bahia Blanca and we wandered around the city for an
hour trying to find the highway again. In the midst
of the search, I pulled into a gas station, clear on
the other side of town, looked up and saw the Opera
House lit up like a jewel sparkling in a light rain.
It was one of those moments. Jody found a guy who spoke
some English and we backtracked 10km to rejoin the
south from Buenos Aires was a three day marathon punctuated
by occasional stops for food, gas station camps, or
quick sightseeing spins through a town. Gulin and I
drove in shifts. The first night I handed off at 1am
and curled up on the back seat. At 5am I woke up and
looked around. Do you know that scene from 'Dumb and
Dumber' when Lloyd drives in the opposite direction
and when Harry wakes up they are in Kansas not Colorado.
It wasn't quite that bad, but we had gone 150km the
wrong way. After several minutes of hassling the women
reminded me that I had lost over an hour circling aimlessly
through Bahia Blanca. 'So shut up.'
that kind of a trip. Too much time in a metal box can
make you stir crazy. Patagonia was beautiful in a desolate
and windswept kind of way (the mountainous area is
to the west on the border of Chile), but it was back
to that 'too much of a good thing' concept.
We seemed to have more problems than normal
too. A fender bender in Brazil that cost us $200
to get out of (my fault), a spike through one of
our supposedly impervious Michelin XZY tires, and
a stone cracked windshield on one of the gravel
roads in Patagonia. Jody lost an ATM card, my camera
was stolen, riots in Buenos Aires - an ugly leg
of the expedition.
we were at Ushuaia. Past Ushuaia in fact, to the state
park of Lapataia - the end of Argentina's Route 5 and
the fabled Trans-American Highway. Over 3400km from
Buenos Aires (including the time we had to wind around
through Chile to get the ferry to Tierra del Fuego
We had great weather, December is the middle
of summer down here, and hiked till 10pm on Christmas
Eve (the sun just barely sets in the evening, from
midnight to 3am a dark twilight hovers till the
sun rises again). We all felt better after a good
shower and a soft hostel bed. All in all, not a
bad way to spend the holiday season.
As usual, we were on a mad schedule. We needed
to be in Santiago, Chile by Jan. 7 to meet Sally
- so on Christmas Day we headed off north again.
Destination; Puntas Arenas, the Moreno Glacier,
and more gas station nights.