On 9th February it was time to head back to the van.
We flew from the Falklands to Punta Arenas, Chile and spent a night there catching up with friends, Terry and Maria - always fun to hang out with. The next day we had a 12-hour coach journey back to Ushuaia, Argentina, where we were reunited with the van. There we bumped into two fellow Brits, Angela and Graham, both characters and another late night!
From Ushuaia it was time to head north, taking in Río Grande before crossing back into Chile to take the Punta Delgada ferry across the Magellanic Strait. The ferry was delayed five hours due to crazy winds, but our Russian hitch-hikers were happy to be ensconced in the back of the van, out of the wind, the more so when a pasta dinner was served up.
We arrived back on the outskirts of Punta Arenas at 2am to camp in a cliff-top park. The following day we headed into town to meet up with Guillaume and Coline, friends on holiday from France. It was great to have the opportunity to catch-up with these 'recently married' friends, especially as we didn't get to make it to their wedding.
Over a period of days our travel plans had been flipping around. We had planned to take a ferry from Puerto Natales to Yungay in order to finish the lower section of the Carretera Austral - Villa O'Higgins to Cochrane, but it was booked solid. So we decided to head to the Atlantic Coast. Although, we weren't quite ready to leave Chile, so we headed for Puerto Natales anyway. Two good reasons: Terry and Maria were there; and the Last Hope Gin Distillery was still a big draw. Another good night out and we gave the distillery owners a few pics of their gin bottle amongst the penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula.
When the forecast for a second trip to Torres del Paine put the stoppers on that, we finally set off for the Atlantic coast and crossed back into Argentina. Some fishing at Río Gallegos and a short detour to see the Petrified Forest and then we continued our quest, looking for penguins, seals and a little kite-surfing. We succeeded with the kite-surfing at Rada Tilly, an up-market coastal town. I had a short kite session before the tide came in. There we met with María, sister-in-law of a friend of a friend. You know how these things unravel.... This fantastic lady, first took Rachel off for an ice-cream and sent her back laden down with locally made chocolates - the Best in the World. María then insisted we stay the night and then took us out to dinner. It was a smart ocean-front restaurant and I struggled for something smart to wear.
The next day, we bade goodbye to María and continued north, catching Elephant seals at a distance and Magellanic penguins at a Pingüinera, not far from Camarones. We also saw lots of wild-life in Puerto Deseado, but our main goal was Península Valdés, a national reserve, in the hope of seeing sea lions and Orcas. The Orcas pop in late February and March for lunch. They ride up the beach and dine on sea lion, usually the young, unsuspecting ones, who have just learnt the art of swimming. We just saw the baby sea lions being taught to swim by the females in the group.
The first night inside the reserve, we camped overlooking the bird island (Isla de los Pájaros). The next day involved a lot of driving and long stops to watch sea lions with their young pups. Depending on your view, a happy ending....no Orca snacking in the sea lion larder.
After a long day we ended up at Puerto Pirámides. It was here we found out that Matthew, Rachel's younger brother, was flying at short notice to Argentina. Well it's a big country and Rodeo was only 2,000 kilometres away.....here we go.