Our drive from the south was as expected, long and mainly uneventful with a few memorable stops. When we left Ushuaia, it was a bit emotional. Our compass was finally pointed north, which brought us into the sad reality that the end of this journey was nearing. We stayed one more night on Tierra del Fuego near Lago Fagnano. The owner collected other people’s trash as his treasure and made quite the campground out of any scrap you could imagine. He even had a little museum-like park across the way to display his larger creations. The campground showers were some of the roughest we had seen in a while and I came out thinking my experience was bad until Eric emerged and explained that someone had left a half-eaten sandwich on the stool in his shower. We followed the traveler’s trend and left our mark in the community room. It was great to see the wide variety of dates, countries and travel modes posted around the room from all the others that had passed through. That next morning, we backtracked on a long washboard riddled road giving us time to talk to the massive amount of sheep herds cruising around, crossed into Chile for the very last time and boarded the ferry from Tierra Del Fuego to the main land.
We made it to the border of Argentina in the late afternoon and approached a long line of cars with a border control officer making sure everyone stayed in line and no one tried to turn around. In the border building, the most gymnasium style, echo-y place of all time, with people yelling and children crying, we checked back in to Argentina. We went back to Pedro to wait in line for the most detailed vehicle check of all borders we had passed through to date. In front of us we witnessed the officer go through a trunk filled to the brim with hilarious Christmas decorations and gifts. It hadn’t felt like the holidays to us at all, so we were surprised to see such a festive array in front of us. Luckily, we were waved along after just a peek inside Pedro. No rummaging through our home that time. Before nightfall we found a small crater lake on the Argentinean side of the Pali Aike National Park. We had a quiet night with only us and a couple from Switzerland camping near the crater. They had driven south for about a week or two from Buenos Aires and were at the very beginning of their adventure. They were questioning us about the border process and were nervous as this was their first. It seemed so long ago that we trying to calm our nerves before our first border crossing.
That next morning, we officially started the 2800+ km push north. The scenery was painfully flat and never ending. Imagine Texas-like barren land for thousands of miles. We were so excited when we eventually got to the coast line just for a better view. We spent most of our days listening to the same play lists on repeat, stopping at every gas station for water and fuel as they became few and far between and experiencing some rough options to keep up on the hygiene during the long drive days. We spent most of our evenings off of the highway by just enough to not hear or be seen by others. Every night we enjoyed the expansive sky filled full of the most impressive stars, without any nearby city lights drowning out their depth.
When we made it to Puerto Madryn we decided it was time for a quick hotel stop. We caught up on some internet time, enjoyed the free breakfast, king bed and extra hot showers. The B&B was a beautiful place, with the most gracious hosts and beautiful décor, one of those places where you just want to move in. That night we went to a pizza place in town and from the second-floor, witnessed Santa (a man dressed as Santa, we assume) waving at people, enjoying his ride down main street perched on a makeshift throne in the back of a pickup.
One of our musts on the drive north was to stop and see the penguins at Punta Tombo. We arrived outside the road to the penguin sanctuary at dusk and set up camp. That night we only saw two other cars and enjoyed a peaceful night, minus the growing penguin anticipation (mostly from me). The next morning we made it to the reserve before it got too busy. Eric asked the woman collecting tickets if there were still penguins there. She laughed a little and kindly said yes. We didn’t do any research on the area and didn’t realize how ridiculous that question was until we got closer to the water. Thousands of penguins. Tiny, tuxedo clad birds, with squinty eyes and webbed feet. They burrow in the dirt, living under the small brush in the area and then slowly but surely waddle their way down to the ocean for food and swimming. They don’t seem to mind the tourists and the signs that say “penguins have the right of way” hold true.
We saw some of the most amazing sunsets and stars as we made our way north, spending the nights tucked away on dirt roads. Sadly the days were getting a little shorter compared to the light filled evenings in the south. One of our overnights was spent near ocean cliffs that are famous for housing the largest number of burrowing parrots in the world. I can’t tell you if that is really the case or not, but there were a TON of birds. Once we turned off the main road and started heading for the coast, we started seeing more and more parrots as we approached the ocean. They were bright yellow and incredibly fast, probably double the speed of Pedro. There were clusters of them lined on the telephone wires and others constantly flying overhead. The spot was posted on iOverlander and after parking we looked up information about the place and the parrots. Sadly, the spot has become a mini tourist attraction and with the town wanting to bring more people to the area, they made a beach access by destroying a large part of the cliff side, the bird’s habitat. It was off season so we were the only ones on the quiet cliffs but still felt like this area should be much more protected for the sake of the parrots.
The last evening in Argentina we were coming into the border town on the edge of Uruguay and we missed our exit, conveniently placing us in a police check point. The policeman immediately pulled us over. The first offense was not having our lights on. We had a headlight out, which turned out to be mildly impossible to replace in South America, so Eric had been driving with the dims on. Eric got out and talked with the policemen, eventually having to go into their small trailer. He came out about 15 min later and explained that they were saying the ticket was almost $300 US dollars and now also included the fine for having bikes on the back of the car. They kept telling Eric that if he didn’t have cash to pay immediately they were going to take our keys and make us leave the car. Eric fought back with the response, “fine, then we will sleep here in our car.” Luckily Eric’s patience won over in our worst bribery situation yet. After about two hours later, of the how much cash do you have, don’t you have a debit card, we’ll take you in the police car to the ATM, etc, they finally let us drive away with our paper ticket of punishment. We were exhausted after dealing with them and arrived to the campsite at dark because of the delay. The campsite, although it had great wifi, was expensive, dirty and riddled with mosquitoes. Not to mention the heat and humidity was like being back in Central America. We were pretty disappointed that our last camp night ever in Pedro was ridiculously uncomfortable, but somehow it seemed fitting. We took a few deep breaths, opened a beer, shed clothes down to our last layer and laughed through the good and the bad of our life in Pedro days.