Our first full day in Ushuaia was my birthday, and it was really fun celebrating the beginning of another year by waking up in a place I never thought I’d visit.
Before setting off, we tried to repair our busted hydraulic strut, but somehow in the wind, either the strut or our roof had shifted enough that we couldn’t quite return things to their previous state. We gave up and moved on towards Rio Gallegos, the next major town. Upon arriving, we were disappointed to find that while the town actually did have a Volkswagen dealership and service center, it appeared to be closed, presumably for the holidays. We stopped for gas and a few basic supplies before heading south again. We’d done a pretty good job eating through all our fruits and veggies in anticipation of our border crossing back into Chile where we knew they would confiscate anything. Just before crossing we made one last set of sandwiches for lunch, finishing off everything we could.
I’m not sure how Santa fared this Christmas in Patagonia. Judging by the howling wind all night, it must have required monumental effort for him to fly around and drop down all those chimneys. The wind wailed all night long, keeping us both up for much of the night. In the morning, we had grand plans of a super early morning, hoping to seize the day, but after a rough night’s sleep, we gifted each other with sleeping in a bit :)
Once we packed up we finally made it to the trailhead. Our hike to an alpine lake with views of a glacier sandwiched between jagged peaks was stunning.
Over breakfast we chatted about the plan. Wolf’s research indicated that part of our “highway hiccup” problem could be dirty electrical collections, and after tinkering a bit more with the van, we decided that the responsible thing to do would be to put off the big day hike we had hoped to accomplish and go see a mechanic for some help. We drove a few blocks back to the shop we had spotted the day before. We stopped in and told him that all we wanted to do was have him clean a few specific electrical connections, but unfortunately he didn’t have the right cleaner and sent us to a hardware store around the corner where we picked some up. We picked up the laundry we had dropped off the day before and I set about putting things away and packing lunches to take with us on an afternoon hike while Wolf set about cleaning the connections. We were both feeling good and responsible and had accomplished our goal. We ran one last errand and then started towards the trailhead, but somehow, things had gotten worse. Now the car seemed to have lost the ability to idle. The first minute or two after startup were ok, but then it wouldn’t maintain an idle, and stall out unless we were giving the engine a bit of gas. Somehow our issue had gone from bad to worse.
Waking up at the lake was incredibly peaceful. We were all alone, and in the morning light, the lake looked turquoise, a stark contrast to the sandy dunes all around us.
Sunday morning we made a plan. We decided that we should try to push on to a larger town with, hopefully, a mechanic who might be able to give us a little more guidance. The car was driveable, after all. So after breakfast we packed up and headed out. Wolf had puttered around in the engine that morning, trying to figure out a few DIY fixes, so we gave it a shot, heading out of town. We made it about a mile down the road before the issue came back. After a quick chat weighing our options we decided to turn around and see if Diego could help us out. One thing Wolf thought would help was replacing the oxygen sensor, which seemed to be a popular solution to our problem in the online community. With impressive foresight, Wolf had thought to bring a new oxygen sensor with us, but we didn’t have the right tools to do so. We first stopped back at the hotel and borrowed a wrench from the owner (we brought a decent amount of tools with us, but just not the one we needed for this job) to see if we could change the part out ourselves. Brute force wasn’t enough to make it budge, so we made our way back to Diego’s place. We knocked on the door and found him hanging out with a few buddies, enjoying a Sunday afternoon which we were about to ruin.
Eager to have our detour behind us, we grabbed hot showers and said goodbye to our neighbor:
Friday morning the sky was a bit bluer. But it seemed the road south was no closer to opening. The gas station attendant told us that the police had asked her to let everyone know that the road was still closed and would likely remain closed until Monday. Monday… three full days away, which would put us pretty well behind schedule….
We had debated over breakfast that morning about how to tackle the day. There are exactly four ways to leave La Junta. The road south, continuing down the Carretera Austral was not an option until the road opened, hopefully by Monday. The road west and out to the coast would mean waiting a week for the next ferry – not really an option. Driving north would take us back the way we came, which didn’t seem to make much sense. To the east, about 100km down an unpaved road, was a border crossing into Argentina at Lago Verde. We weren’t excited about exiting the Carretera after only a day, but we really didn’t see any other options. Since the weather hadn’t improved and it was still raining, we weren’t convinced that the road would open by Monday. And waiting until then to come up with an alternate plan didn’t seem wise to us. So, we decided to try our luck with crossing to Argentina, hoping we could cross back into Chile at the next border crossing south of the landslide.
Our overnight ferry pulled into the dock around 8:30am.
We loved waking up to a beautiful view over the harbor. The night before we had watched the ferries going back and forth, and enjoyed the same view over breakfast. Wolf gave some love to the local kitty before we headed out to try the ferry we had been studying from our campsite.