Vintage Cape Horn 2013
An epic 6,000 kilometre adventure drive from Buenos Aires to Cape Horn through Argentina and Chile.
Vintage Cape Horn – Route Survey - Part Two
Esquel to Coyhaique
When the route was first planned a decision had to be made about where to go from Esquel. The choices were to continue down Route 40 in Argentina crossing one of the flattest and most uninteresting parts of the country,or to go back into Chile and the mountains and explore new territory – an easy call to make, we decided to go to Chile.
From Esquel we headed south west, joining an excellent gravel road and crossing the border at Paso Futaleufu. We were the only car crossing so formalities were quick and the officials both friendly and efficient. From the border we joined tarmac for 10 kms to the village of Futaleufu then found the 231 road out of the village and started a wonderful scenic drive on good gravel roads.
Road numbers 231 and 235 led us to the famed Carretera Austral, the road started in the 1970’s to join the more remote towns of the western part of Chile together.
We followed the lovely sweeping road for a few kilometres and stumbled across a café which showed a sign saying “English Spoken Here”, this was too good to be true. As it turned out the person who spoke English only works during the summer holidays but Duncan was able to ask the lady if she could make us some lunch and a fabulous vegetable soup with home made bread was produced. I have her phone number and she promises to do the same when the rally goes that way next year.
As we were running late we decided to stop near the town of Puyuhuapi at some log cabins. The manager spoke excellent English, as well as German and his natural Spanish, and has given me his phone number so we can check on the road conditions before we drive through next year. The next morning we completed the long drive to Coyhaique through the wonderful scenery of the Parque Nacional Quelat and, although there is over 250kms of gravel roads on the drive, it is so much better than the scenery on the other side of the border in Argentina, so I think it is worth the effort. There is no tarmac alternative today- but there will be plenty of time to make the journey on the event. Optional medal sections will be part of the day but you can choose to do these or simply carry on driving through.
Coyhaique is the largest town in the region, it still only has 40,000 inhabitants, and has a nice centre with a few restaurants and bars to visit before dinner.
Our hotel is new and the best in town so it will be a pleasant place to stay after a long day.
Coyhaique to Los Antiguos
As we left Coyhaique we were once again faced with a choice of possible routes- all of them including an amount of gravel roads.
After much thought we decided to head south using the tarmac road for the first 114 kms to a small border post at Puerto Ibanez. The scenery as we drove through the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo was wonderful and our last taste of the mountains for a little while as we headed back into Argentina
The border at Puerto Ibanez was so small that we almost drove past it. We stopped and went into the office to be welcomed by a single Chilean official who very quickly dealt with the paperwork and waved us on our way. Once again we had chosen a nice quiet border crossing which will help us on the rally.
The Argentinean border post is 20 kms further on and we had to cross an often quite rough gravel road to reach it, again as there is no alternative all tarmac route we will all have to go this way and plenty of time will be allowed.
From the border we had to cover 95 kms on a reasonable gravel road to the tarmac at Perito Moreno.
There are very few hotel rooms available in this area so we are arranging a quality tented camp for the night in the town of Los Antiguos very close to the Chilean border.
We chose the town because the camp site is on the shores of Lake Buenos Aires with the chance to stroll on the beach as the sun goes down before dinner. Our host for the camp, Billy Zebalos, is an expert on trekking expeditions so we expect everyone will enjoy their night under canvas. Billy is bringing a large supply of beer, local wine and spirits, and promises a real Argentinean BBQ, there are two buildings on the site, one to act as the restaurant the other as the bar so it promises to be a lively evening under the stars.
Los Antiguos to El Calafate
This is going to be the longest day of the rally, with no other route possible than using Route 40 for much of the way. This road has been improved recently and much of it is good, fast tarmac so the kilometres are covered quickly.
The road becomes gravel after 300 kms and we had a choice of roads to take. We used a shorter route with a good gravel surface through some hills which will allow an optional Medal Section to be run before we re-join Route 40 and the tarmac road to El Calafate.
After a long day it was great to arrive at the hotel we will use for two nights on the rally the 5* Los Alamos, no wonder the hotel was the winner of a Trip Advisor award as the service, food and facilities are wonderful.
The rally gets a rest day in El Calafate so crews can enjoy one of the many trips available, a round of golf at the hotel’s course, a gentle wander around the town or, the best of all, a visit to the incredible natural wonder that is the Perito Moreno Glacier.
The glacier is 70 kms from the town and takes about 90 minutes to drive there, the last 30 kms in the national park being very twisty and slow but with stunning views.
There are not many views more breathtaking than the first sight of this amazing glacier- one of the few in the world that is still advancing. The number of different shades of blue was incredible and we were lucky enough to be there as a sheet of ice broke away, the noise and spectacle was just awe inspiring.
We have made some route notes for any crew who wants to drive their own cars to the glacier or you can even take a boat trip right up to the ice face, this can be organised for you in advance.
El Calafate to Torres del Paine
Rather than head east across the flat steppes of Argentina we decided to head west and back into Chile once more to visit the world renowned Torres del Paine National Park.
From El Calafate it is an easy run across good fast tarmac roads for the first 100 kms before we turned right onto a lovely gravel road which cuts across country for 71 kms and will make a great optional medal section.
There is an all tarmac alternative which is 80 kms longer but the road is smooth and fast so times will be about the same.
From the point that the choice of routes meet we continued on the tarmac for another40 kms before turning off on a gravel road to the border post of Argentina.
We were one of only three vehicles, all crossing from Argentina into Chile, and the border guards were as efficient and friendly as any we have met on the whole journey. We were through in about five minutes and drove the final few kilometres to the Chilean border at Cerro Castillo.
We met up again with the other vehicles crossing from Argentina and we all carried our various suitcases and other bags into the customs hall to be x-rayed. The Chilean customs are very strict on what can be taken in to the country so expect to have your luggage searched at each entry point, we found that the searches were always carried out in a friendly and helpful manner so do not expect any problems on the event.
Having taken care of the necessary formalities we entered Chile and joined a lovely tarmac road and headed into towards the park entrance.
The road turned to gravel after a few kilometres, but it is the best gravel we have had on the whole route survey so progress was fast. Another medal section will be run on these roads before we enter the park.
The drive for the next 26 kms to the hotel was just great fun. Smooth gravel, sweeping bends, hills, views, lakes, animals, just about everything you would want on an adventure drive.
We finally arrived at our hotel for the next two nights, just as we will on the rally, the world famous Explora Hotel. Set on a hill overlooking the Salto Chico falls the hotel is an amazing building with luxurious rooms, stunning views, excellent food and wine and helpful and friendly staff. This place really is amazing and a destination in itself.
Your rest day will be filled by the team on site who can offer numerous treks, boat trips, horse rides or suggestions for lovely drives within the park boundaries. Of course you can also relax in the spa-including outdoor, lakeside hot tubs, if you prefer before a cocktail in the bar before another magnificent dinner.
Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas
We very reluctantly checked out of the Explora Hotel and left Torres del Paine on a very typical Patagonian spring morning with snow in the wind as we headed south.
We left the park and immediately found a lovely gravel road for a timed Medal Section leading to the main tarmac road and our journey towards Punta Arenas.
As many crews will be needing fuel by now we decided to take a short detour off the main road into the town of Puerto Natales and there we found three fuel stations and some shops and cafes to stock up on essentials for the day ahead.
One discovery we did make was the Café Patagon which will make a great coffee stop and passage control just over half way through the day.
The café is visited by many travellers and there are a number of signs with the distances to far flung places outside and many group stickers all over the windows and walls inside. The coffee was good and hot and the sandwiches freshly made to order.
After the stop it was a short trip of about 100 kms to our overnight halt in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile.
Tomorrow we are going to look at two possible ferry crossings into Tierra del Fuego for the last two days of our epic trip and we can then decide which would make the most interesting journey for the crews.
Both Duncan and I have felt entirely justified in our decision to spend more time in Western Patagonia, the simple, quick and easy border crossings between Argentina and Chile have made criss-crossing the mountains and national parks a joy, and allowed us to experience some truly breath-taking scenery, whilst at the same time avoiding much of the dull, flat landscape further East.
Punta Arenas to Rio Grande
We headed north from the hotel and after 5kms found the ferry terminal for the crossing to Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego. This crossing of the Magellan Straits will take just over 2 hours and will take the cars to the westernmost point of Tierra del Fuego.
As we had not booked ourselves onto the ferry we decided to drive the more regularly taken route to use the shorter ferry crossing at Punta Delgarda, this way we would have notes for both routes and could then decide later which was the best alternative.
The run to the ferry was an easy, flat 170kms drive on a smooth tarmac road. At the crossing point we waited for the ferry to arrive and watched with admiration as the captain negotiated his way across the fairly rough water to dock at exactly the right point to let the cars and trucks off.
The traffic crossing into Tierra del Fuego was much lighter than that returning to the mainland and we were very quickly loaded and on our way.
You pay on board for the crossing but cannot reserve places so we need to look at how this would affect the timing of the event.
One added bonus of the journey was the school of dolphins that swam alongside for almost the entire crossing.
Getting off the ferry was as easy as getting on with no formalities and we headed south towards the town of Cerro Sombrero where we planned to spend the night so we could have time to explore the roads towards Porvenir and the alternative ferry journey.
The road west from Porvenir was good gravel and runs alongside the sea making it a far nicer drive than the road from the north, it also gave me a chance to look at an optional medal section which can be easily avoided, no tarmac road to choose though so we will all have to use the gravel.
We drove to the point where our two route options met and then headed back to our hostel for the evening and dinner in the company restaurant, Cerro Sombrero is a town built for and used by a gas exploration company, with a very basic “meat or fish” choice but they did not really recommend the fish.
After a quick breakfast we returned south to where we had left our route the previous day and continued on the gravel roads to the border crossing at San Sebastian.
This crossing point is the only one open between the Argentinean and Chilean parts of the island so is a well used border and very efficient.
After entering Argentina for the final time on this trip we headed south to our overnight halt in a new hotel in the town of Rio Grande on the Atlantic coast.
Rio Grande to Ushuaia
Even on the final day of the trip we decided to try and find a medal section for those who want a little competition.
There is a very nice race circuit at Rio Grande and this is going to be looked at by our agent in the area to see if we can use it but we also found a superb gravel road section through the countryside with an easy all tarmac alternative route so will definitely add this to the schedule.
The rest of the route to Ushuaia is along a good tarmac road which becomes more interesting as you get closer to the town as the road enters the mountains for the final time.
The finish location is currently being looked at and the necessary permissions are being requested but we hope to have a great photo opportunity for all crews at the end of this epic journey.
Our final hotel is set on the Beagle Channel and is close to both the airport and the ferry terminal for any crews who plan to stay on and enjoy a trip to Antarctica.
Just a few final notes about our route survey;
Although the route for the rally is just over 6000 kilometres Duncan and I have driven over 9000 kilometres since leaving Buenos Aires as we have tried many different roads to try and ensure we have the best possible route for the event.
We have had only one puncture and that was in the car park in Cordoba. We have only used normal van tyres for the entire trip, run at the manufacturers recommended pressures, but this is also a testament to Duncan’s driving who has been careful not to slide the car around on the gravel roads.
Tomorrow I fly back to Buenos Aires then on to the UK to start again on future events. Duncan is taking his time to drive the hire car back to Buenos Aires but will be home in time for Christmas... phew!