Story by Jack Stuhler with an introduction by Paul May,
Jack Stuhler, the founder of Eezi-Awn, is an adventurous man and has spent his entire life exploring the African Continent. After driving from Johannesburg to the UK through the middle east in the early 1999, Jack set his sights on the Americas. He prepared a Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Troopy by the name of Tubby for his journey and shipped it to South America. With his significant other, Margaret, their epic journey from Ushuaia to Dead Horse Alaska took over 18 months to complete in 2004/2005. They later returned south to Houston, and shipped Tubby home. Quite impressive for a couple in their 60s. Their adventures are an inspiration for us all.
THE AMERICAS WITH TUBBY XPLORER
SOUTH AMERICAN ADVENTURE PART FOUR
It was lunchtime when we drove out of Ushuaia we were totally unaware as to the convenient timing of our departure as we soon discovered once we reached the top of the pass. It was a free pass, no construction taking place since it was siesta – the daily lull in activity – another coup in driving that time of the day very little traffic. It is as if the world in South America so to say almost comes to a standstill.
We had to return via Rio Grande and San Sebastian, clear Argentinean and Chilean Customs and the ripio east to a small port called Porvenir. Talking about Rio Grande the area is known for its enormous trout that leave the rivers, swim out to sea and return in the spawning season. Trout caught in these waters are huge, actually monsters and I can only put it down to the catch and release methods practiced in this part of the world. The largest (heaviest) fish caught to date is an unbelievable 14.83 kgs co-incidentally also a world record. The average fish caught during a season varies from 9 kgs to 11 kgs. Eat your hearts out guys – makes any fly-man want to sell his truck and fish in these waters ha-ha-ha!!! Unfortunately I couldn’t wet a line when we passed through as it was raining and miserable – maybe next time?!
Arriving at Porvenir on a Saturday afternoon we discovered as usual all business closed – siesta time but now disconcertingly we had unknowingly not booked our passage with the ferry across the Magellan Straits back to the mainland of Chile but need not have panicked, our Fairy Godmother was looking after us and there was indeed space in the hold for Tubby for the two and a half hour trip across the Straits to Punta Arenas. Arriving late afternoon we decided to stopover in this port city of Chile. To date we have found both the Argentinean and Chilean border officials very friendly and most accommodating. The only notable difference is that on the Argentinean side Customs accept the “Carnet de Passage” document as a warranty in lieu of Customs duty payable to that country should the vehicle be sold, stolen, burnt out in an accident or a total write off whereas on the Chilean Border we are issued with temporary import permits valid for 90 days. This is good news in that whenever we cross back into Chile we in fact save one page of the Carnet. Our intention was to criss-cross the Andes back and forth visiting Chile and Argentina and in saving such pages proved to be invaluable.
Sunday was overcast in Punta Arenas when we ambled north to Puerto Natales. On approaching this port city we got our first glimpse of the Andes still capped from yesteryears snow. We had read and heard so much about these mountains and there they were in reality looming up on the horizon as large as life for us to set eyes on and behold for the first time of our lives. Yet at a distance even they were awe-inspiring.
Spending the night in Puerto Natales we decided the following day to make inquiries as to the fare for Margaret, myself and the Cruiser on the ferry, via the Chilean Fjords and glaciers, north to Puerto Montt. It was supposed to be a highlight in ones visit to Southern Chile. Having got the figures from Navimag, the agents who are in charge, we decided we would visit the Nacional Parque Torres del Paine (National Park of Paine) first – make up our minds and if necessary return and take the ferry and sail up north.
The Nacional Parque Torres del Paine was absolutely awesome. Soaring almost vertically to a height of 2,000 metres above the Patagonian Steppes the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) are spectacular pillars of rock that tower over the landscape of shimmering turquoise lakes, sprawling glaciers, roaring waterfalls, lenga forests and abundant wild life such as guanacos, puma, fox and water-fowl. Got our first glimpse of the Towers of rock jutting out above the earth pretty late in the day. They were partially shrouded in mist and with the sun setting on them a glorious sight – majestic in all aspect.
At the Parque entrance we were advised to camp nearby in the foothills of the Towers. We arrived at a campsite – dry river bed on one side and the ragged mountains towering above us on the other side – a marvelous setting. The grass almost looked like a manicured park but it was of such growth that most house owners would dream of. The grass never grows taller than a couple of millimeters. Well dream on guys it only grows in this area so you will just have to keep on mowing ha-ha-ha!!!!
Having set up camp, the last rays of sunshine disappearing over the sentinels above our chosen site, we had an early meal and retired to bed in our rooftop tent – most cosy and comfortable – couldn’t wish for more. Being close to the mountain it turned darn cold during the early hours of the morning before sunrise and an extra blanket would have been handy.
What a sunrise – orange across the sky then the red ball of the sun peering up across the horizon casting an orange sheen on the Towers above our campsite – magnificent. Photos, videos and more photos. What an incredible start to the day. Although the day was sunny it was cold – after all it was now almost the end of March and the season was starting to turn especially being so far south – latitude 50 degrees – hard to imagine how far down we were – way below Capetown the most southern city of the African continent.
The following late afternoon all hell broke loose – wind and more wind blew through the campsite. Much against my wishes and dismay Margaret convinced me to close the rooftop tent and rather sleep inside the van. A woman’s intuition – she was absolutely right. Even Tubby at 3500 kgs swayed in the wind. It continued throughout the night – it was time to move on. Snow had fallen during the night and it was pretty miserable outside – the wind still tormenting us. So we toodled off across an incredibly narrow bridge, so narrow that the clearance of both side mirrors of the vehicle was only 25-30mm – very, very narrow indeed.
Up and up over a very steep winding pass and down into another campsite set close to a lake overshadowed by the Towers viewed from another angle – sunny now but cold. Late afternoon rain set in and throughout the night it pelted down. Left early – very little visibility – mountains and valleys all shrouded in heavy mist. Drove out of the Parque due south and then east to Villa Cerro Castillo the gateway back into Argentina.
Having met another overlander at the first campsite at Torres who was crisscrossing the South American Continent on his BMW motorbike he convinced us to rather drive than sail north to Puerto Montt. In the end it proved a wise decision. Clearing customs both sides – Tubby covered in mud it was not long and we were driving the infamous and notorious ripio of all ripio roads – Ruta 40 – the mother of mothers. A road which starts at Rio Gallegos in the south, runs along the Andes and finishes off almost at the border of Bolivia and Chile to the north, a distance of close to 5,000 kms and has been mentioned in so much literature as a bone-jarring, motor vehicle destructive surface bar none. Can you imagine driving on the old style washboard manufactured of cobbles and pebbles seeing parts of windscreens, shredded tyres, plastic motorcar skirts, bits of exhausts etc en route then you know you are driving north along hells own Ruta 40. All day never another vehicle in sight on the edge of Patagonia – that shrub covered country to the east and the snow capped majestic Andes to the west. Apprehensive yet exciting – sometimes you wonder what the hell are you doing out here, shaking, rattling and rolling through the countryside – then you remember that it is the adventurism in you and that nothing else matters but to see what lies around the next corner – and so it proved with Margaret my soul-mate who is as curious as I am if not more so as to what lies beyond the unknown.
On and on we drove, Tubby Xplorer taking it in her stride – the Land Cruiser gobbling up kilometre after kilometre – the 4.2 diesel purring under the bonnet – everything barring your teeth rattling in and around you. The B F Goodrich tyres taking strain but holding up well – a good choice. It makes one feel great having put in so much work and so many accessories and gadgets to make this Odyssey a pleasure rather than a god-forsaken expedition and prove the sceptics wrong ha-ha-ha!!!
It was a sunny late afternoon we drove down the valley west onto a road leading into El Calafate. It was as if we were driving to heaven. No rattles, no shaking just the sound of a smooth diesel humming along – what a relief for both of us and believe me for the Land Cruiser.
El Calafate is a quaint touristic village constructed mainly of timber from which many tour operators conduct their businesses of ferrying tourists to the Perito Moreno Glacier. We soon found the Municipal campground – a real dump but what the hell it was only for one night and it gave me a chance to hose and wipe off most of the mud that covered Tubby once we had left Torres – once done looked spic and span again. Up early, some shopping to do and off to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Arriving late afternoon we drove to a “Mirador” a view site overlooking this living Ventiquero Perito Moreno Glacier one of the few that is actually growing yearly and not receding.
We stood there aghast as this huge monstrous wall of ice hanging on the edge of Lago Argentino – 5 kms wide and as high as 60 metres above aquamarine lakeside waters – absolutely spectacular. As the sun was setting we returned to a campsite we had passed on our way in set amongst giant lenga forest at the base of the mountains surrounding the lake and the glacier.
Extremely crystal clear night – stars shimmering like diamonds in the sky, very cold but fortunately no wind. At first light, cloudless blue sky – sun rising in the east, pack up and back to the glacier before the mini and maxi buses arrived bringing in hordes of tourists on or about nine in the morning. Very difficult to film and not pick up foreign voices around you so from experience Margaret and I always tried to beat the tourist early or stay late in the day at major interesting sights en route, this time at the Glacier. Sun now showing its colors behind us, and rays falling onto this huge field of ice ahead of us. Apparently when the ice melts, it dumps with it glacial powder of ground rock giving the water a milky grey colour. This sediment remains unsettled in the surrounding lakes and rivers and refracts the sun’s light and creating the stunning turquoise, aquamarine colors of the lakes and the fast flowing rivers – the latter of which we crossed many of on our drive northwards on Ruta 40.
Pale blue due to the compactness of the ice, the extra weight of snow etc forces the glacier to move. All the movement causes crevasses and deformities in the ice and all this action sets off a noise that sounds like the crack of a long whip or a pistol being fired, then a sudden groan and a massive piece of glacier breaking off and with a thunderous roar falls into and half submerses into the water below. What a sight, what a sound – all recorded on camera and video. Had the glacier all to ourselves for just over an hour without any foreign disturbance whatsoever only cracking, moaning and groaning of the glacier and the occasional pecking of a woodpecker and chirping of little birds so early in the morning thrown in. Happiness is !!!! Before long the throngs of tourists arrived and we gleefully left and retreated to our campsite.
Another day another bonus and back to El Calafate and onto our nemesis Ruta 40. A long trek that day 640 kms to “Estancia Telken” – heading into the wind thundering across Patagonia, Tubby battling along like a Trojan horse. Third, fourth, back to fourth, never reaching fifth gear. How many changes heaven only knows!! But what the heck!!! “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Arrived almost at dusk – rain set in and we were just in time for a cosy evening – no camping tonight. Wholesome meal and a real bed to sleep in – what a thought, what a joy. Most hospitable hosts and good company – wished we could have lingered longer but Ruta 40 was beckoning us to another challenge however only a short stint via Perito Moreno to the border village of Los Antiguos before we cross back into Chile via Chile Chico – sounds cute doesn’t it. Well wait and see.
Adios – Ciao for now!!!!
Stay tuned for more stories from Tubby Xplorer!