A road trip to the southern tip of the American continent to discover
a remote land and another way of living
Highway 3 is one of the most unnoticed roads of south America and has its own reputation however we took the resolution to forger whatever we heard before about it. Whatever whoever told us. And just now we know we will never forget the two weeks we rode it.
We connected with highway 3 in Azul a town 307 km south of the capital Buenos Aires which we both wanted to avoid at all cost. We stopped in an old gas station to refill and take a 8 minutes hot shower for $30 pesos (0.50 usd).
Highway 3 runs along the Atlantic coast connecting the capital with Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. That was our planned destination plus severals little sightseeing detours. The highway has 3.079 kms long.
The first 300kms were farm land equipped with heavy slow machinery. This is the land that feed the world, grains and meat, a land where locals wear John Deere hats and leisure in gliders.
First stop was Pehuen Co, to visit a paleontological reserve, we wanted to see dinosaurs prints that can only be seen during low tide after 2km hike along the coast. However after talking to the ranger, we learnt the prints were cover by sand so we decided to wait for the next day and slept at the end of a dirt road. That night the infamous gusty winds that chastise the area hit us and in the morning were even stronger. A short stroll by the coast felt like thousand needles and the air was filled with dust and dirt. The prints were still covered by the sand and since the forecast was unfavourable we decided to keep heading south.
The landscape gradually changed from agriculture to cattle land and then we passed Bahia Blanca the biggest deep port of Argentina where ships filled with grains and meat left to supply the world demand.
Our next stop El Condor, to see a colony of 35.000 cliff parrots in a place where the continent ends abruptly into the ocean. We slept along the coast and above the high precipices.
Next day we visited La Lobera: a National Reverse where more than 3.000 sea lions live. We waited for the low tide to walk along the beach so we could see them from a few meters.
It was surprised to find out from the ranger that many people came here every year to renew their selfies with the sea lions and even touch them. We just keep our distances with my father ’s binoculars.
As we continued our long way south, the highway gave us time to assimilate the great open space around and the wild we were contemplating. This massive territory, empty of any human or radio energy, contrary to every day life on the city, its hit us as strange way to live. What people is doing in such a remote location? How the winter must be when the frozen south antarctic winds stroke you in the face? We imaged how those long childhood friends are kept for the entire life. Small towns where everybody knows everyone. Guessing they had not many synonymous for anonymous.
At last moment, we decided to skip Peninsula Valdez (one of the top National Reserve along the route). As always an interesting interchange of opinions on whether or not to pay to see wild life and nature filled our long drives. There was this challenge of “experiences without consumption”.
And since we always boondock for camp, we drove to Isla Escondida beach for the weekend, few locals where camping there in theirs rvs, it is a beautiful pebble beach with several sea lions colonies.
On the morning we sipped our coffee looking at the waves and sea lions cuddling. In the distance, a water spout revealed a couple of whales that we followed alternating the binoculars. We were happy just knowing they were there and occasionally seeing the tail. There was not hurry in them or in us, talking about mundane morning things, we did not know what time was, the sun was high in the sky but at this time of the year it rises too early. We were expecting nothing, neither we wanted. But does not life keep surprising us at every moment?. The two southern right whales jumped out of the water in a moment that looked to extraordinary to be real, they were celebrating something that we never known. It was pure magic.
Next stop was Penguinera Cabo Dos Bahia to watch the Magallanes Penguins, but first we restocked at a little fishing village called Camarones at an tiny family grocery store called Casa Rabal dated from 1901, inside a mix of farmer market and a vintage pawn shop.
Then we stop at the gas station, the only place in the whole area where we could find wifi connection.
There were other two traveller vehicles over there: a retired german couple who we found later were like celebrities in their country and were travelling with a converted Mercedes 1314 and already overland all Africa and American continent; the other couple, two young kids with whom we ended up spending the next three days.
If you never heard before the word “overlander” we tell you now is a lifestyle: people travelling in converted vehicles usually 4x4, all around the world for many years. You will find many retired couples just to discover that they were doing the same in their young. The quintessences of wanderlust. Imagine travelling a whole continent or the world in your home vehicle for a indefinite period of time. A mind blowing concept for us. We spend many hours talking and the magic of seeing thousand of penguins fade away a little bit.
The day before our visit to the penguin reserve we all camped along the coast and an Argentinian family joined us, they were travelling for 3 months around the country and explained us how they took the tough decision to put on hold their careers to spend quality time as family with theirs 3 kids.
That night we all collected driftwood and gathered around the fire. Surrounded by the sound of the South Atlantic ocean we all shared our stories and discovered after all we are not that different from each other; looking up at the sky, the milky way glowed so intense we could feel the whirlpool movement of the galaxy we all were part of.
Meanwhile, life continues as usual in highway 3, the guanacos, the maras, southbound traffic and the strong winds. We were not eager to leave this small piece of paradise that we shared with these strangers, now friends, but any traveller knows you must not stop because there is always something new ahead.
The old VW speakers sounded as good as in 1984 despide radio signals were inexistent. A usb key filled music was the soundtrack for this flat landscape.
On the 10th day we turned into our only inland detour to visit the National Park of Petrified Forest of Jaramillo which is surrounded by an unreal volcanic landscape.
The Patagonian winds were so strong that day that Otto could hardly stand still beside one of the ancient Araucaria petrified trees for me to take a photo. Millions of years ago the volcano eruption caused 300km winds that thrown the trees and covered them on ashes. Before that event, Patagonia was a tropical paradise. It was difficult to imagine that in front of that arid and barren scenery.
We grew inches in our excitement as we were approaching Magallanes strait, the point where continental America ends and highway 3 takes a gap in the salty waters before continuing into Tierra de Fuego. We really wanted to taste that place, the historical landmark that made posible for the Magallanes crew to go around the world for the first time 500 years ago, but a ferry employee in a fluorescence orange jacket was making fast signals to go strait on board. Yes, the road just ended at the ferry platform, we just embarked and looked each other with wet eyes, that was the end of continental America.
A few km into Tierra del Fuego region and we immediately started to think again about the necessity to live on this hostile and remote land and the solitude of daily life. Houses were many kilometres apart from each other, no trees, no mountains, for us it looked such unfriend place to live but the empty streets of a small village called Cerro Sombrero gave us the answer: oil and gas, a whole town dedicated to the industry. On the tiny grocery store an old man moved here 50 years ago, he is proud and tranquil, “ there is plenty of work for you here” he offered me, “there is people from all around the world, arabs, europeans, gringos…” he made it feels so cosmopolitan, really. In the central square there was an old cinema and a monument to the petrol workers. We resupplied and continued south.
The last 200km to Ushuaia were a completely mind blowing scenery, all of a sudden, we discerned all the glory given to this name; the landscape changed so dramatically that for a moment we thought we took a space time gap, we were surrounded by rocky peaks and crystal blue lakes.
That evening we parked along the Beagel channel, looking for hours like a tv show at the clouds passing by, the wild and cold mountains across, imagining pumas and empty forests for miles and miles, for a moment we forgot where we were, we forgot about the great plains we drove for the last two weeks. We had entered a completely different world, and we found the reason why we have been driving for so long, those snowy peaks, the freezing waters and a sun what takes hours to face away, this place is borderline, it’s what they call it the end of the world, and finally we figured out the feeling and the power of this wilderness.