Friday, 20 February 2015

0212 San Sebastian to Laguna Blanco

20th Feb 2015

It was cold and windy when I woke up – No shelter at all meant that a quick breakfast and pack up was called for !  I went and had a chat to Joshua and Shannon and it looked like we were headed in the same direction today – Off to see the King Penguins on the shores of the Bahia Inlet – Actually joined to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, but more directly to the Atlantic.  I believe this place is the only one where you can see the King Penguins from land (ie without having to go out by boat to an island somewhere) – All the other penguins down here are the smaller Magellenic (?) penguins. But Joshua and Shannon are having a few suspension alignment problems with their car after all the rough roads, and after the penguins want to try to stay on black top roads as much as possible as they head north to ship their car home to the USA. 

The road was the usual flat, wide open plains / steppe kind of country, with lots of sheep and guanaco.  I passed yet another enormous estancia that is in perfect condition (ie no broken windows or anything), and yet appears totally deserted and abandoned – As if one day the owners just locked the doors and walked away.  Once again a big shearing shed, and a lovely old house similar in style to one I had seen elsewhere.  Perhaps these empty estancias are just the result of the downturn in the wool boom some years ago, and people really did just walk away ?  Whatever, it is stunning to see these buildings just sitting idle by the road out in the middle of nowhere.

Shortly after that we came to the penguin park – And there were two French cars, mine, Joshua and Shannon’s American one, and a local Chilean one. Another US one pulled up later.  As we get closer to Ushuaia we are starting to see more and more international vehicles – as if they are all funnelling down towards Ushuaia !! 

In to the penguins – and it was cold and windswept – Real penguin weather, perhaps ! This is not a big colony, but has apparently only recently started to be used again by the king penguins, having been abandoned for some years. But it was great to see them at last, and as we watched more were strolling in across the dunes.  There were also quite a few little grey babies in amongst the adults.  Smell was interesting – Even though there weren’t many of them, the “aroma” of fish was very strong – I can only imagine what it must be like in Antarctica when there are 100’s / 1000’s of them !

After chatting with everyone for a while after the penguins, and meeting the two French couples (Joel and Brigitte and Xavier and Elana), we continued on around the shores of the Bahia Inuttil (inlet). The wind was so strong, and obviously this is not exactly rare, because all the estancias are located in little dips and valleys where they get some protection.  The coast was pretty
desolate, and even the sea birds huddled together on the beach, all facing into the wind !  I dropped into the little town of Cameron, just to see what was there – And the answer is “not much”.  I thought they might have a panaderia or something, but there wasn’t even a shop – Just houses. And the only people I saw were 3 men working on a building – Not another soul to be seen.  No kids running around, no one walking down the street or hanging out washing.  Nobody.  Very spooky !

After Cameron I turned inland, heading south east towards the Chilean / Argentinian border.  Once again, very flat open country, but LOTS of guanaco – Almost as many as there were sheep. They were everywhere, often in quite large groups. I had managed to find a relatively wind free spot to make my lunch, and then in the middle of nowhere came across an old dredge near a place called Russfin.  From what I could make out from the Spanish sign, it was brought in from England in 1904, and was used in the search for gold in the region until 1910 – And then just abandoned !  100 years later it is still there in the same spot !

More steppes, more guanaco, more wide open spaces !  Across a few rivers, often with an old collapsing bridge still beside a new one.  I had bumped into the French couples again on the road, and we were all heading towards a free camp site at Laguna Blanca.  We were very close to the Argentinian border, and if we took a wrong turning on the dirt tracks we were likely to inadvertently change countries !  After finding a Customs guy at an office at a cross roads, he put us on the right road to the Laguna Blanco instead of Argentina – And suddenly we were out of the steppes and into a heavily forested area, and for 12 kms we wold down through the trees, finally coming out beside the gorgeous blue (not white !) lake, with several international vans already there – 2 Swiss (one in a Troopie), then the French, a German, and a couple of others arriving late and departing early.  But it was a beautiful spot, although it was
cold despite the blue sky and sunshine.  While I was setting up camp and starting to cook my supper (vicuna sausages again – I have now realised that’s all you can get down here !!) 2 foxes appeared right beside my van, and just sat there waiting for scraps – I couldn’t believe how tame they were.  Joel and Brigitte had invited me over to their spot for drinks at 7, so I took a couple of the sausages with me as hors d’oevres, and we had a very pleasant hour or two.  I had seen them parked outside the Weatherford (oil field service company) offices in Punta Arenas, and found out my hunch was correct – He used to work for Weatherford. Turns out we have both worked in the same places in several locations around the world, so had quite a lot to chat and laugh about.  A most enjoyable evening before I returned to my supper and my foxes.

A beautiful sunset over the lake before I went to bed. 

Pics are here :-

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