THE MAD DASH TO BRAZIL-WITH SOME CHILEAN WINE TASTING-IGUAZU FALLS FROM THE BRAZILIAN SIDE.
3/14-Puerto Varas -Llanquihue Free camp(20 miles) Today is the day we are supposed to Pick up Paco. I went to the shop at around a 9:30 to see what progress had been made. Well the tranny was sitting right next to the car, and the mechanics were just getting ready to lift it in. The owner of the shop hadn't come to work yet, because he was at the dentist. We needed to go to drop off the tip for our guide on the kayak trip, There was a maximum on the amount we were able to withdraw, so this was a daily thing with the mechanic. and the outfitter for the kayak business and had a nice conversation about the trip. Jass showed up ;and we gave her the well earned tip for working so hard on the trip We met the So we went shopping for decals and a window sticker for Sin Represa, (no Dams) in Patagonia. Found the dam sticker and Karla got some other things for gifts. We returned at and around 11 and found out that we were going to need some more money to finish the deal. The owner of the shop, Rodrigo, had it all down on a paper showing us all that was done and the cost of it all. It all seemed to be as agreed and we were going to have come up with some more money from the bank before we could go. So Karla went shopping and had another great lunch at the Irish Pub called Pimm's. It was raining and cold so was a good day to sit inside and stay warm.
That afternoon we came back to the shop and they needed just a little more time to finish up.. So we went to a coffee shop with Internet. I told Rodrigo where we were going and when he finished he drove by with a thumbs up. We had decided to stay the night at our free site in Llanquihue, and would come back the next morning to the bank then pay off the final $200. US. We were both amazed at how well Paco worked.. When we finally settled in at the pre approved free site, I took a look at the birds that were on the lake shore. There were two rather slim and small looking Curlews, along with some Greater Yellow-legs, Brown headed gulls, and Yellow billed pin tails. Something was really different about these Curlews, that didn't fit what was the norm for that area, a Whimbrel. These two birds were smaller, and had shorter beaks, slimmer, and did not have the distinct markings of the head and face of a Whimbrel. I had Karla look at them and a rainbow formed just in front of us as the sun broke through on the lake, rather dramatic, but it really happened. So, I just assumed that these were very young year birds and found another two Silvery grebes out a bit further into the pot of gold. PS> I later discovered that it was remotely possible that these two birds may have been Eskimo Curlews, probably the last two on earth.. That was a great little private place on the edge of the lake... I spotted another new bird for me at that site as well., a Plain capped canastero. It is always fun to see new to me birds. Oh, and by the way, while in Puerto Varas, waiting for Paco, taking the Kayak trip, a new bird to the world was discovered just off the coast of Puerto Montt. It was just an hour to the south of us, but we were tending Paco while he was in surgery. I could not take the time to find a birder that knew how to get to see these newly described species of storm Petrel. I will just have to come back some day to do all those things that we didn't get to do... right...had a great night cool temperature and a slight rain.
3/15-- Llanquihue camp-Puerto Varas-Itahu roadside rest on Ruta 5(800 km=497 miles)
Woke early to break camp get to town to the bank to get the money from the ATM and then pay off Rodrigo and thank the mechanics that did all the work, so quickly and efficiently.
Got a late start to make it to Santiago. So we drove like crazy, making it as far as we could. We had planned to do some wine tasting at a couple of winery s, and needed to get to the area so we could spend some time. We had a book of campgrounds listed Chileile and by the time it was to stop in the early evening we had found a truck stop to stay in. Camp dogs were around to keep us safe for the night along with about 50 other trucks. A long long day.
3/16-Wed-Itahu rest to Camping Millantu Isla Maipo o65 (260 km=165 miles)
I got up and watched some rails pitter around on a mud hole next to the parking lot, while the water for the coffee was getting ready. These truck stops were quite nice, hot water, showers, and of course toilets. We did pay for them by way of the tolls that were paid to use this freeway. I believe that we spent more on tolls in Chile than any other country south of the Mexican Boarder. Although, these two lane freeways, or Autopistas, were fast and direct making it easy to go great distances in a short time.
We traveled a short distance north, to find tUndurragaaga Winery, just outside of the small town of Telegate. We found the winery and were able to get a private tour/ tasting session. Our guide Danial, had lived in the US and spoke English, which made Karla happy, she is still having trouble learning Spanish. In our tour, we discovered that the Under ragga family was one of the first vineyards to make wine in the late 1880s, Today the family has sold the business to a conglomerate of south American business, the principle one was from Columbia. The label today is one of the top 10 exporters of Chilean wine. We tasted some of tCarmaneraara, that Chileans are famous. Danial gave us some of there reserCarmaneraara. We paid about $10. US for each bottle. The most we have every paid for wine while down here in South America. Boy oh boy was this wine good. It would be sold in the US for 2 to 3 times this price, so we just had to splurge. After a delightful session of tasting and chatting with Danial, we had to find someplace close to camp. Danial gave us directions to a great campground that was still open. We found it and were the only people there... another nice evening on the Maipo River at Camp Millantu.
3/17-Thurs-Millantu camp to Manantiales de Panquehue(130 km=80 miles)
We took a walk along the river and bird-watched some of the species that I had come quite familiar with. Ducks=yellow billed pin tails, white faced grebes, and a Austral rail and of course the south American Lapwing. We had hoped that today would be the day we would get the air conditioning fixed. We had a name of a mechanic in Santiago but that didn't pan out. So I stopped a repair shop in Talagate and asked if they had any recommendations. Of course they had one in Santiago, a VW dealer that would know all. I got directions from them on tInternetnet and Karla and I drove to Santiago with all the confidence that things world work out. Well, the dealer didn't have the part but knew of a specialty shop that may carry it, we went to the shop, with directions in hand and found that they didn't have the part either. As the shop owner was getting directions to a air conditioning specialist that could be trusted, a young lady walked into the shop and ordered a bunch of parts for a Kombimbi(old 70s stile van) I spoke to here and she spoke English. Are we lucky, well Rosio and her boyfriend live Ushuaiauia and have an okombimbi that they are fixing up. She was visiting her dad and while in Santiago, was picking parts up for her boyfriend. Well, Rosio offered to take us to the Air Conditioning shop. She gave us a local tour of the Alameda of Santiago while getting us to the turn off. What a beautiful town, that I am sure we would have missed had we not had Rosio's help. We got to the shop, a huge one with about 20 stalls. The manager, set us up and in three hours we were fixed and on the road. They purged the system and checked it for leaks and filled it back up again. The part that we thought was broken now seemed to work. But not for long... to be found out later.. We drove out of town and toward San Felipe a town in the Valley of the Aconcagua another little valley with a couple of fine wine bodegas. We found that there were only four winery s in the valley. We first found a small shop just before closing and got some great Cab, and late harvest wine,and would you believe sothompsonson seedless grapes that were delicious. We also noticed that all tvineyardsrds were full of grapes ready to be picked. We asked if he knew of a campground in the area. Of course, just down the road, less than a mile was a great one. So that is were we went to spend the night. It had a great little lake, warm water, and nice sites with tables. We were set.. Another cool night, with a good rest.
3/18-Fri-Manatiales camp to Hwy 7 roadside rest(Argentina)(125 km=80 miles) We got up to a nice cool morning aenjoyedyed a cup of coffee as we walked around looking for birds. We had decided the night before that we would try to get onto a tour at tErrazurizriz bodega if we could. If that worked out then we would drive up over tCristosto de Rentor Pass into Argentina. As we left the campgrounds no one was around to collect the fees, we looked and walked aroua bitbit to even see if there was a charge. No luck so reluctantly we left without having to pay. This is the off season and I don't think that the few campers that show up are charged, even though we did have hot showers, electricity, and nice rest rooms.
We arrivedErrazurizriz parking lot and were in time for an 11 am tour. We hchosensen this place because of the great bottle of their Carmenera reserve that we drank in Puerto Varas. We knew that we were going north and made a point to find out the name and location of this fine Winery. Come to find out this is one of tpremiumium wines of Chile. Of, course they all say that, but this bodega had the credentials to prove that they were in the world competition for the best wines in the world. They had won tasting competitions in France, which of course shocked the French out complacencyncy, and had won many other recent competitions for their Ccabrinet-sovengionSaChardonnaynay, and Carmenera. Our tour with two other couples from Miami took about an hour and a half. It cost us about $25.US a piece for the tour and tasting about four different types of their reserves. I requested that I just wanted to taste differeCarmaneraras and the guide kindly obliged. As we get into this it becomes quite complicated, the year, the reserve, special reserve, etc. After about three glasses I began to wonder if driving over a 10.000 ft. pass was a wise Idea. Well, even after we both agreed that we weren't going to buy any wine, we did buy some of the best Carmenera I have ever tasted, Max Reserve Estates-2009, again about $12.a bottletle. I know this is getting to be expensive. The tasting at the end of the tour was fun but the tour itself was quite interesting. Because they were picking grapes and pressing them and putting them into huge stainless steel vats. Our guide told us of the Carmenera story, this grape was brought over from France in the late 19th century. A fungus killed all these grapes in Europe. It wasn't until 1993 that it was discovered that the grapes that were being used as a Merlot wein factact Carmenera. This wine today has developed into a hall mark for Chile. Making this the grape that Chile is know for, even though now you can find some Carmenera, grown in Australia, and the Yakima Valley in Washington. Karla and I like this wine because it is seems to be milder than a Melbeck, and a little bolder than a Merlot with a mellower finish. I am beginning to scare myself, of what we know about wine. This may become a very costly fascination.
We had a late lunch in the parking lot, while the two couples from Miami had a full 5 course meal, with fine wine included on a beautiful patio overlooking tvineyardard. They were taking a 4 day tour of some of the Chilewineriesrys, I don' t know how they were able to stay sober visiting twinesrys a day and having an all ogourmetmet meal with at least 5 different wines. That might be something we might like to try some day when I win the lottery.
After lunch, assessedsed our conditions and determined that we should still cross into the Argentina. So off we went up to about 10,000 ft Portilloilo(a famed ski area) from tAconcaguagua Valley at around 3,000 ft. We were drinking water like crazstemminging off the effects of too much wine, and altitude sickness. Portilloilo, after over 30 switch backs, with two loaded trucks rolled over,we walkthroughght the wall of photos in the hotel. Paco as a matter of fact just did great going up this steep incline. We enjoyed the aqua-marine lake just below the ski area, as well as all the champion photos of Olympmedalistist in the lodge that had trained there. After we passed the Chilean check point we then went up another incline and drove through a tunnel that was at least 3 or 4 miles long. I did a similar tunnel in 1968 with a group of students-6, took a taxi up to the Christ of the Andes, the tunnel then was used for both cars and trains. You can only imagine the anticipation of seeing a single head light coming at us. Of course that didn't happen but when you are in a long tunnel with just enough room for a train or car going one way, it does get your juices going. Today that old train tunnel is closed and a big new tunnel has been made to allow two way traffic. It was fun remembering the events of the taxi cab driver and us students driving through that tunnel. Karla and I had decided that if there was enough sunlight that after the tunnel we would drive up to the Christ of the Andes. This was a huge statue that was given to the Countries of Chile and Argentina for settling a boarder dispute in 1903, I believe. The statue is at about 13,000 feet, the road to it was from the east side and again many gravel, steep switch backs to get to it. Karla and I were glad we did it but the whole time driving up this mud and gravel slop, all I could think about was of an earth quake making this into pudding and us sliding down 3000 feet with it. Chile is prone to this. It amazinging what lack of oxygen will do to your imagination.
We made it down and still had some light left to enter the final boarder station into Argentina. We had such a long wait that dark had set in by the time we were done. We needed to stop, so drove until we were at around 7,000 feet so we could sleep. The wind was howling and the trucks were very loud, making our choice of a pull off a probable restless night. This is one time that I am thankful for my bad hearing.
3/19-SAndeanian roadside rest to Termas Manicipalidad de Balde(370 km=240 miles)
Woke early because of a lot of trucks coming down the mountain at around 4 amStoppedped in the small little town Uspallataata, bought groceries, and hit the ATM. Today we drove a far distance across tChacoaco of Argentina, it was about 85-90 degrees F, but it was dry and now we discovered that the air conditioner was no longer putting out like it used to. Again they didn't change the part that I wanted, and said that it was now working. I checked it and it was cool but at the time we didn't need it so I thought it would take a while to get cooler like it used to . So now it doesn't work at all and jurecirculatestes the warm air in the car. So we use the old method of cooling, OPEN THE WINDOWS and have the air blow you a bet cooler. The Chaco is flat and dry, we basically drove through farmland, cattle ranches, and miles of Soy beans. As we drove Karla was at the Lonely planet and discovered a Thermal bath in a city that would make a good days run. So we aimed for the little community of Balde, which had a municipal termas, and a private termas. We arrived at around 4 in the afternoon. We checked out the municipal grounds which had no open restrooms or electricity. We were becoming more dependent on electricity for the use of the fan at night so we cold be cool enough to sleep. Then we went over to the private facility. It was a tad bit shabby, and the attendants had uniforms that looked a bit tattered. The young lady manager, showed us around and gave us the price for a private two person bath, and said that she had space in the small campground with electricity. It worked out that the hot bath was about $8.US, and the campground was about $4. US. So how could we go wrong. The room with a large tube had a bed in it for resting. I of course got the wrong idea. The water was so hot and it heated up the room so that after about a half hour we couldn't wait to get out into the open air. We went back to the car and had a Mate, in the cooling air as night fell.. A great relaxing time, it was nice to have the bath. It was about 104 F. The air temp at the time was in the mid 70's, so all worked out well. We had a later dinner and a good sleep that night.
3/20-Sun-Termas Balde to El Rincon Ecological Camp in Belgrano(358 km=223 miles)
We had desided that we would try to visit the area around Cordova. There seemed to be a neat little German village, Begrano that was the October festivel center for Argentina. And I had read about some good birding spots to see some typical Chaco birds in the area as well. We the maps we had were not quite acurate and the information about the birding places I found was about 15 years old. By late afternoon, after driving through some more agricultural land we finally made it to Belgrano. It was as reported, a great little German architecully designed village. It was reported to have at least two local brewerys and we found a little resteraunt that served one of them. We had a dinner for two with beer, like three different kind of sausage and sour kraut, potatoe salad, and bread. Very good.
We had found out from the tourist information center where the nearest campground was and headed for it after dinner. A nice little place outside of town, with horses, chickens running around. We set up in the soccer field, because all the tent sites were walk ins. It was great little place, electricity, hot showers, and it seemed like a good place to bird in the morning as well.
3.21-Mon-El Rincon camp to Laguna Mar Chiquita near La Para (320 km=198.8 miles) Did I say chickens, well I forgot ROOSTERS, and about 4 in the morning we were awakend by their familiar calls. There were three of them and we were right next to the chicken coop. What an oversight..
From El Rincon camp we drove up into the Sierras to look for some of the specialty birds of that high Chaco. The roads were steep and windy and slow going. Paco did fine, travel on these roads was slow anyway. We made it to a place called and birded before and after lunch getting some good looks at a few species, only one new one A Cordova Canastero. We then drove to another area but it took so long to get there that we decided to continue to drive so we could get to the famed Mar Chacita. We lucked out and found a water man(Culligan man) and filled up with water. We made it through the big city of Cordova, with is the second largest city in Argentina, by taking a bypass freeway around the outside of the city at rush hour this was a God send. We finally made it to near the Mar Chaqita. Got directions to the old site along the Mar. Drove about 10 miles on a dirt track and found the old camp abandoned and out of use. So we found a great windy little place and made camp for the night. Before we made dinner we did walk out to the lake edge and saw thousands of chilean Flamingos, South american stilts, and Brown headed gulls in the millions, hundreds of Neotropical cormorats, ducks, Southern Screamers and wood storks. It was fun to see such a large number of birds. In the trees around our cam we did see a lot of activity so I set my sights to wake early the next morning to see if I could see some new species of the Chaco. We did notice a bit of Mosquito activity so netted up Paco and turned on the electric fan we hooked up to the auxillary battery. It did cool off that night and didn't need the fan all night. I was excited to see some new species that I had read about, and studied them before bed. Liking this fan a lot. It did cool off and we turned the fan off in the early morning. These warm nights are going to take some getting use to.
3/22-Tues-Mar Chaquita near Para to Areoclub Paran(340 km=200 miles) I rose early and dressed for mosquitoes, covering my entire body and spraying my covered ankels, and hands. Well the birds were active and the first one was something that I had never seen before, then another and another. I was on overload and was getting frustrated. By the time I had written down a description of the bird another popped up and looked at me in surprise. It was really active for about an hour. And I saw about 20 species, 4 or 5 new ones that I still am having a time trying to name. My descriptions sometimes don't get the one feature that a species has that would really nail its ID. I won't go into the details of the species, but I did have a difficult time with the Canasteros, and spinetail species. My book is not that great. I tried to economize and just brought one book for all of southern south america. It colors and drawings were not always like what I had seen. So this was also frustrating.
After breakfast at around 9 it was so hot that the bird activity had waned. This place was supposed to be a terrific sight because in 1993 a group of 4 eskimo Curlews were here for a while in one of the ponds off the road we drove. The ponds this year were dry. So we continued to another bird viewing sight at a place along the Mar called Miramar. We drove to the bird sight which was on farm dirt tracks , when we got to the tower we notice a huge spraying machine that arrived and began to spray the soy bean field right next to the path and tower. The wind was blowing in our direction and Karla couldn't get out of that place fast enough, we hopped into Paco and whizzed out of the parkinglot just as the toxic spray arrived.. I wasn't too happy about this either. The birds we did see were so far away that Iding them was really difficult, we did see the same birds we had seen at the first sight though.
We then decided to drive through the little beach town of Miramar, and see if we could either bind a place to eat our lunch or buy one. Again remember this is the off season, and this town was almost closed up totally. We found a little restaruant on the beach and order a typical afternoon meal, soup, stewed beef and potatoes. It was quite good, we visited with the parents of the owner and he I think told us his life story, and complained of a hotel that the rich Germans had made just down the beach. He told us a lot more but I just knodded my head and agreed etc. when we finished luch the owner/cook gave us a good luck charm and wished us a bien Viaje. People here are so great. I just love it. We have really not met a bad person, although we aren't looking for one either.
We then headed for the Parana river, and the city of Parana. Again driving through miles of agricultrual lands. We arrived in Santa Fe which is on the west side of the Parana river, and drove another 30kms to Parana on the eastern side of the river. After two bridges and a 2-3 mile long tunnel under the Parana River we passed through the big city. Hoping that on the outside there might be a camp of some kind we could find. We found a private one that only accepted clients that were members. OOOOOOH, it was getting dark and things were getting tense with Karla. We drove by a camp that looked closed, and I drove on. Karla said nnnnnnno I saw some one there so I drove back and found that the Aeroclub Parana was open, had electricity, hot showers, and mosquitoes. But we had a place to stay, and just in time not to have to break our no driving at night rule. Talked breifly to the owners and told them of our wonderful journey. They were happy to have us as their guest.
3/23-Wed-Areoclub Parana to A police check point just Outside of San Jose, Correiente, Argentina.(745 km=450 miles) This was a particularly long day of driving through flat, agricultural lands and small little cities. We had a number of police checks, this was the highway that many had told us that the police were always trying to take money for any trumped up reason. We were stopped once and asked if we had a fire extinguisher, my antenna went on alert and I became a nice happy guy just willing to show the police that we were in compliance. Whewww, that was it and we were waved on... We did see some Reahs along with some cattle. But mostly this was another very unspectacular day. As we began to start to look for camping spots, we began to hear a horrible thumping noise coming from what I thought was a left CV joint. OH NO NOT another problem. The noise got louder, and finally it was dark, and we needed to stop, and figure out what was going on. We found a police station, with a large lot along the highway, I asked the officer that was on the poarch if we could park here for the night, NO PROBLEMo. The best thing is that it was also very secure here... I was just sick of car problems and that here we were about 30 miles from a large enough town that might have a mechanic in it that could change a CV joint. But you know what I was confident that we would be fine and make it to our boarder crossing into Brazil in time. With so many problems with Paco, and having such good luck, I was optimistic about a solution. But I was frustrated that we did have a problem. So we set up the car for the night and had a toast with some fine wine of a fine day of driving such a great distance.
3/24-Thurs From the roadside Police station to Camp Pindo in Puerto Iguazu, Arg(360km=240 miles)
Woke early, got the coffee going and looked at the axel, I could see that the boot was broken and oil had leaked out of one of the CV joints on the left hand side. I later talked to the police in the station and asked which way would be better for a mechanic and he said that Posada was a bigger city and closer. It was about 30 miles to Posada, so after breakfast we started the drive, with a thumping all the way. I knew that we were good for at least 50 miles, with our past experience with another CV joint on the right side. Although this sound was a bit different, I thought we could make it. At about mile 15 it seemed like the sound stopped if I drove faster so I cranked Paco up to 55mph, and moved out... With our hearts in our throats, and hopeful at the same time, we made it to Posada. I had remembered that we had stopped at a VW dealer there last year. So as I was driving in the direction of the dealer, we were looking at all the repair shops along the way and they all seemed to be CLOSED. What was going on? All of the dealers and big shops were closed, the streets seemed to have little traffic for 10 am. We stopped at a gas station and its lube shop was closed but they were open for selling gas. I asked if it was a holiday and he said yes, for two days, today and tomarrow. Things would be open on Saturday... OOOH OHHH. That was the day we needed to cross into Brazil for our visas to be valid. So on the verg of panic, we began to look for an open independent garage. I had seen one open on the way to the gas stations so went back to it. It was open, I drove in and asked the mechanic if he was open, he said yes until noon. But he was busy with another repair. I asked if he knew of another garage that might be open and he said yes, Pedro should be operned just around the corner from here. So we drove to Pedros shop, yes he was open and would fix us up, NO PROBLEMO. By 12;30 the problem was fixed and we were finishing up getting hair cuts, just across the street from the Garage. Apparently all that was wrong was that a couple of bolts had come loose connecting the CV joint to the axel. They took out the old boot replaced it and regreased both CV joints. Pedro bought me two extra boots with grease for just in case. All said and done for $80. US.. Dad, thanks for those prayers.... We were on the road by 1 and looking for a nice place to have lunch.
We made it to Puerto Iguazu by about 4:30 and found a campground in town with all that we needed. We set up Paco and got ready to go out on the town and have dinner at a Parrilla. First we went for a swim in the campground pool. Oh did that feel good. Then we got ready to walk into town for dinner. It was only about 8:00 pm and was still early for most restaurants to be open for dinner. We found one that was serving and ordered a special dinner for two with all the meat one could possibly imagine. We counted our pennies and had just enough to have dinner and a tip but not enough to have a glass of wine also. They didn't accept visa only cash. What a great meal, Beef, pork, chicken, intestine, and Kidneys. I devoured the beef, pork and some chicken, as did to a lesser extend as karla. We both passed on the Intestine and Kidney. I am sure the restaruant dogs, and cat were well fed that evening. We were told that at 9:30 live folk music would be performed, so we stretch it out and did ejoy our last night in Argentina with Pena Musica. When we finally got the bill, we got charged for listening to the music and didn't have enough for the tip. We both felt pretty bad about that, and now didn't have any money in hand, but we had used all of our Argentine Pasos...
3/25-Fri-crossed into Brazil From Camp Pindo to Paudimar international hostel (45km=25 miles)
We had a time getting the internet working and had no money to go into an internet cafe. So we just got some more pesos to tide us over until we got to an ATM in Brazil. So we crossed from Argentina into Brazil at about 11:00 am with no problems and were finished in an hour. We drove int the town of Poz del Iguazu, now we had to learn a new signs, new language, to find a campground. By 1 we had found a great hostel that had sites for motor homes, a pool and internet. We were set. We change our Pesos into Reals and had a great hamburger for lunch. Dinner that evening after a nice swim in the pool we celebrated by finally using the very bad wine that we had bought in Peru to give it back to the earth mother, Pachi ma ma. A very warm night.