Have a look at the video. It’s a well put together slide show by Gerard Brown the famous rally photographer.
During 2011 and 12 Penny and I were building our new house so fun and games were on the back burner for a while. In 2013 we were able to move in at last but we had a pretty hectic last quarter. In October our daughter, Rachael married Mike with the ceremony taking place in Totnes, Devon. We had a wonderful time with family coming from all parts, including the lost Rawlings tribe from the Americas. Part of the plan was to use our Talbot to transport the bride so we set off in convoy with Penny and Ivan in the very laden Citroen and me in the Talbot. After the wedding, the plan was to deliver the car to Suffolk for shipping to S. America.
Once off the ferry in Birkenhead, we motored south in convoy but decided to split up just north of the river Severn. It was about here that the Talbot began overheating. To cut a long story short, we had to have the car collected and taken to Ian Polson’s workshop, also in Suffolk to have the radiator flushed out and repaired. This neccessitated cancelling our shipping container and re-booking a week later. There were no promises made about arriving on time but we had to take that chance.
Fast forward now to the middle of November and we were on our way to Buenos Aries for the start of the next of our big adventures, the rally from BA, across the Andes to Chile then down across the wilds of of Patagonia to the “Land of Fire and Ice” or Tierra del Fuego and “Fin del Mundo”, the end of the world at the most southerly road in the world at Usuhaia; the very southern tip of S. America.. When we arrived there was still no sign of our car but then, the rest of the rally hadn’t arrived either!
Long before, we had decided that because one doesn’t travel to S America very often, we’d have a few days before the rally starts to see the sights of Buenos Aries and a bit of a break after the finish. We arrived the weekend before the start and checked into what was to bwecome the Rally HQ hotel. I didn’t give the two heavies on the door a second thought but we soon discovered that every shop, cafe, restaurant or whatever had similar security. Over the next few days we visited the Recoleta cemetry and market and visited the necroplis that has the Duarte family mausoleum (Evita), the San Telmo market (the biggest flea / street market I’ve ever seen, the Casa Rosada where Evita gave her famous speech to the “shirtless ones” and finally, La Boca where we met up with the other Irish competitors and watched some tango dancers on the street.
Just beside the hotel is a Malvinas memorial garden where I was very nearly mugged. A passerby was able to warn us and scare off the thieves so we decided to be a bit more cautious from now on. During the week I discovered that the hotel security swipe on my card had actually taken Arg$3,000 from my account so I enjoyed having a row in reception to get my money back.
Finally the day came when we were bussed to an industrial estate miles out of BA to collect the cars and whoopee! the Talbot was there too! A quick check over and everything seemed fine so we got the maps and sat-nav ready and headed off on the very busy motorway back to the hotel. We were greatly relieved to see that the car didn’t overheat as it was mid 30 degrees. The traffic gradually clogged up so Penny got the maps out and we went for a bit of a detour. In short order we arrived back at the hotel and parked up in the basement. We re-checked everything we’d packed and I gave the old dear a quick once-over.The next day we took the cars out to Tigre Museum of Art to be put on display for a day and a bit. This was probably some deal the rally director had done but it was a pleasant enough drive there and the building and reception were beautiful. Classical architecture right on the river bank.
We were given a water taxi ride back to Buenos Aries and that was entertaining in it’s own right. That night I discovered that the hotel had taken yet another “security” deposit from my card without my authority so I had yet anther row in reception and the cash was replaced.
Friday 15th November at last. We started on time and began the long trek west. The first couple of days were nearly all motorway but with time trials at motor racing circuits just to give us a bit of competition. One thing we though a bit peculiar was the motorway services. Unlike almost everywhere else in the world, in Argentina they are in the central reservation. Why is a mystery but it seemed strange to be have to slow down and begin braking thus holding up much faster traffic. After the first night in Rosario, we quickly reached Cordoba then on to Mendoza for the third night.
We were in pretty early so we took the chance to have a wander around the city centre and enjoy a meal in a street restaurant. At one point, Penny had to get something out of her bag and put it on the table. Within seconds a waiter hurried over and made it very clear that we should be more careful! That night we thought we could see the foothills of the Andes from our bedroom and talked about what lay ahead. I discovered the hotel taking more out of my card than it should have. Bl**dy Hilton!
The next day was really the start of the rally proper. We had two timed mountain road sections. the roads were pretty good but very tight and twisty.
18th November in Mendoza, Argentina and a day off. Just sitting down for a morning coffee after a quick spanner check and run round with the grease gun. Since BA we’ve used no water and less than a pint of oil which is pretty reassuring considering the heat and distance covered.
Boy is Argentina big. Our longest day yesterday began with a couple of time controls then a special test. The timings for these are impossibly tight but we were 3 mins late for the first and only 1 at the second. They were set on wonderful mountain roads to the west of Cordoba which took us then up and over the Sierra de Cordoba. The highest point was only 7,300 ft then a very long haul across salt flats, desert and scrub. The roads outside towns are excellent and we are cruising happily at about 70 to 75 mph.
The temperature is a steady 33 to 35 degrees but never below 44 in the cockpit.
About 40 klicks from town, suddenly everything turned green and we were driving through miles of vineyards.
After yesterday’s tests we are now first in class but still 12th o/a. After the near 400 mile drive everybody was sitting in pools of sweat.
Geography lesson no 1. Rio la Plata at BA is the widest in the world at 38 km so you can’t see the other side. It is tidal but not the same as the ocean. The tides rise and fall about 3 metres and are caused by the NW or SE winds and also depend on the rainfall in Brazil.
No 2. Mendoza only receives 4 days of rain a year but the water for the grapes is harvested from the Andes.
Enough of that. We can see the Andes from our room and tomorrow we’re off to Santiago in Chile. This will be the highest point on the rally at about 11,000ft and right beside Aconagua, the highest peak in the southern hemisphere at 6,960 m.
Only one special test tomorrow and another day off in Santiago then the competition really hots up.
There are some truly great mountain roads and passes in the world but this one ranks with the very best. In three kilometers the road wound down just over 1,000 metres in 30 hairpin bends. Forget any of the great Alpine passes, including the Stelvio; this must rank as one of the very greatest roads in the world.
At last we’re out of Argentina and into Chile. Today’s drive was worth all the hassles of getting the car here and all the motorway slog. It was a longish drive on good roads but our first sight of the Andes proper was just 10km out of town. In half an hour we climbed from 2,000 ft to 5,000 ft. This is the main truck route between Chile and Argieland so the road was quite badly rutted in places but in general we were able to keep an average of 60 to 65 mph.
We started out at 8:12 a.m. and by 10:30 were at 7,000 ft. 15 mins later we passed 8,000 ft, another 15 mins – 9,000 ft and by 11:15 10,000 ft. We had Aconagua to our right (highest peak in the Southern hemisphere at 23,000 ft) and kept climbing. The highest was 10,528 ft as we entered a tunnel and came out in Chile.
Border formalities were excellent thanks to the good work of CARS UK, the shipping firm who have handled everything and we were through in about 20 mins. The car never overheated once (thanks to Ian Polson and Terry Murphy) but was well down on power and fluffed a bit. Once on the other side we had to wait for about 40 mins for roadworks then we were in a huge convoy of cars, buses and trucks, as well as the rally. This amazing road knocks spots off anything in Europe such as the famed Stelvio, and we descended nearly 3,000 ft in 30 continuous hairpin bends with almost no straight to speak of.
Once we were clear of the heavy traffic we had lovely drive along a beautiful valley until we came across the favourites to win, Richard and Sadie Williams beside the road. Their Chevvy had lost a wheel; thankfully not in the hairpins and nobody hurt. Help was on the way so we pressed on. Eventually we arrived at today’s special test which was a blast up a narrow country road. The target time of 7 mins for 9.2 km was impossible. We managed just over 12 mins. It’s likely that no-one managed to clear this.
Once back onto a motorway we headed for The city of St James (Santiago) and then the tulip diagrams sort of ran out. We ended up on the wrong road but Penny’s excellent navigation soon got us to the hotel with no trauma.
For the first time on this trip we were welcomed at the entrance with a smile and “welcome to our city” from the staff. A quick beer and a late lunch (4:30) then up for a shower.
Another day off tomorrow and I think I’ll adjust the brakes just to be on the safe side.
OK so a day off in Santiago. I had a quick spanner check and everything seems fine and the fluids are holding up very well. That’s a bit suspicious but who am I to complain. We had lunch out on the terrace and a nice relaxing afternoon. This evening we are invited, along with all the other coompetitors to the Presidential suite on the penthouse floor for a cocktail party hosted by a couple of American crews. It’s supposed to be a Cuba Libre party – basically Rum and Coke with lime juice. Appropriate as one of our hosts is a big gun with a certain cola company from Atlanta, Georgia – you know the one that the world likes to sing about in the old TV ads. Sooo, like Rallyistas all over the world, we all piled in for the frrebie. There was beer and wine on tap and lots of delightful nibbles. Enough so that we didn’t have to go to dinner in the restaurant – result!
November 22nd: Fifth actual day on the road, roughly 2,440 km behind us and we arrived early this evening at Termas de Chillan in Chile at about 5,000 ft seems to be a popular mountaineering and skiing resort. There is a world of difference between Argentina and Chile, not least the obvious prosperity. Another important factor for us is that everyone seems to smile.
Today was another long one at about 550km. Penny had a bit of Montezuma’s revenge last night so we took it pretty easy but the timed gravel tests were too tight for us and extremely rough so we just coasted through to protect the car for the finish.
Other teams however weren’t so considerate of their vehicles. Three of the big Chevvy coupes have blown all their shock absorbers and the support pickup truck for two of them has the same problem as well as a broken spring. There are tales of woe throughout the field and as I type this I can hear the banging of hammers and see the flash of welding outside in the car park (it’s ten thirty).
Tomorrow we’re heading further south to Pucon and there are now three unofficial competitions running. 1 Who can make the best picnic lunch from the breakfast buffet, so far being led by Philippa Spiller; 2 Most stylish headgear; a tie between Hugo Upton and Melinda Raker in my opinion and 3 Who can land the first trout from the hundreds of rivers we cross (some crews have brought their rods). Sorry there’s no pictures today, maybe tomorrow.
I wrote a post last night after sending the photos and I thought FaceBook had saved it but no it isn’t there. Sorry but I’m not doing that one again. Here’s a brief resume: drive, drive, drive some more, sleep. Seriously though, Penny’s tummy settled down quite a bit but we decided to cut out the rally route and take the motorway. That was still 330km (about 220 miles). We got in about 3:30 and about three hours before most of the runners. Quick bite, G&T for me and off to bed. There was lots more but now it’s time for today’s update. Once again we’ve decided to cut out the competitive sections. The gravel is far too rough for the Talbot and the steering has become incredibly heavy so I simply can’t haul the old girl around the tight corners (or the car).
Today we had an unbelievably rough road up to the border crossing back int Argieland. Ages queuing then more gravel. Finally, lovely smooth, sweeping roads down the Patagonian valleys. We enjoyed a marvellous drive up and down around some spectacular lakes then the road turned to really vicious washboard gravel again – about 30 km of it. This we had been promised was good, smooth and well graded. HA!
We have a day off tomorrow and I will swap the spare types for the rears which are almost smooth and I think I’ll replace the front main spring leaves with spares to try and improve the steering geometry so that she is steerable again.
Then, the day after we have the problem of Carretera Austral which is gravel for hundreds of km and as our top speed on this stuff is about walking pace is obviously a no-no. We’ll work out a route to avoid that and stay on tarmac.
Well folks, there’s good news and bad news. First off, Penny’s tummy has quietened down, and she’s much brighter. Bad news is that our dear old Talbot is out of the rally. Saturday’s rough stuff really did for her. I have a pocket of nuts that have fallen off the car but the real problem is the steering box. A few days ago I had to top it up with a lot of oil but on Sunday morning it needed a full litre. After the gravel the steering was so tight I could hardly turn into the corners and more importantly had to fight to get the wheel straightened up afterwards. Everything else is fine but for the steering. The road to Llao Llao must be one of the best in the world but when you’re not quite sure about getting into or out of a corner, it sort of loses it’s charm. I’ll post again later with more details. For now we’re off to Esquel with Hertz Racing Team. There are four cars in the team so far and more expected to join soon, especially after tomorrow when we have more than 200km of gravel.
A very big thank you for all the sympathy and commiserations we’ve received. Very much appreciated.
I got into a bit of a panic this morning. Alex, our local fixer who is travelling with the rally promised us a hire car first thing this morning. So, up early as usual, breakfast then wait for the Hertz office to open in the hotel. Went for a pee and I lost my place to another couple of rallyists. Never mind I thought, the car’ll still be there for me. Ross and David took about an hour and a half to finally get the keys and do the scratch inspection so into the office I stepped. “Sorry Senor, I know nothing about you and Hertz have no more cars in this province, it might take a few days”. Except his English wasn’t that good, nor was Google Translate for that matter but that’s the gist. After double & treble checking the database I started sending out texts to anyone from the organisation crew who might know Alex’s number. Then Ross & David stepped up and offered us the back seats of their Hertz Toyota Hilux to the next hotel in Esquel where we might get another rent a car. I was ready to go for it and Penny, as usual was calm and wanted to sit tight because the thing would work out alright. So, guess who was right? A short while later one of the concierge guys tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a man who wanted to speak to me. It turned out that when Alex couldn’t get a Hertz car, he started ‘phoning around to see if anyone would let us hire a car and leave it Usuhia. After a bit of wheeling and dealing he persuaded a local firm to fly down and collect the car when we finish and drive it back and all for much, much less than Hertz.
So, tonight we’ve arrived in Esquel, car no. 16 is resurrected (after a fashion in the form of a Renault/Dacia Duster ) and we’re back over the border to Chile again tomorrow to drive down the famous Carretera Austral (200km of gravel that the Talbot would never have liked).
The rest of today, because we left so late was spent on Ruta40 driving south across Patagonia. Esquel is small and Penny thinks our hotel is the local knocking shop but how she knows is anybody’s guess.
Sorry folks that there was no post yesterday. Patagonia’s connection with the outside world is tenuous at best so when thirty odd rally teams try to upload their blogs at the same time, things tend to go a bit awry with the wonderweb.
When we left Esquel the rally had a few laps of the local race circuit. Ecurie Hertz had a go too but untimed for results. Our Renault, now nicknamed “Dusty Springfield” – get it? Renault Duster….. never mind. Was passed by two of the three Toyotas. Such ignomy!
From Esquel we were supposed to cross the border into Chile again but their border guards are on strike. So a visit to Coihaique was missed and we jumped a night and drove straight Los Antiquos, still in Argieland. A very long haul. Because we’d lost a day we were supposed to have an extra day off but we’ve decided to push on. Today might be the longest. Nearly 700 km with about 200 on gravel.
Tonight we’re in a super wee hotel in El Chalten in the shadow of the Fitzroy Range of mountains (google it – spectacular) and away from the group dinners for a night.
More details and photos tomorrow.
From El Chalten we had only about 230 km to El Calafate where we have another two nights. Today we’re of the the Puerto Moreno glacier.
Fingers crossed we can get through the border tomorrow.
Here we are in Torres del Paine national park in Chile. The border guards are still on go slow but we seem to have found a window to slip through quickly. Yes Anette, we are still having a wonderful time. Every day the vistas are spectacular either for their drama or barrenness; so much so that we are running out of words. The view below really is taken from our bedroom window and on the way here we drove past hundreds of guanaco (sort of llama), rheas (sort of mini ostrich) and saw our first guaranteed condor. The first glimpse was very close, less than a hundred yards and below us but by the time I’d got stopped, he’d soared up to join a couple of others higher up.
We have a day off again tomorrow so we might take a trip on the lake to some waterfalls or perhaps a safari drive. After that to Puerto Natales and leave Chile for the last time. We are on the very last leg now and will soon be in Fin del Mundo, the end of the world at Usuhuia in Tierra del Fuego.
Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas today. BIG winds blowing all the time. When we set off there was a hint of snow and it finally started after Puerto Natales. The open vintage cars had it blowing straight through under the hood and they were freezing. One big squall hit us and bowed the doors out enough to operate the courtesy light switch. Never had that happen before. We all stopped at the little cafe in the photo for a time control and a bite. The two girls running the show were completely inundated (about six tables and 100 hungry rallyists) and I think everyone was satisfied by the best squash soup and steak sandwiches this side of Antarctica.
We have a very early start tomorrow for the ferry to our last frontier crossing back into Argentina. Fin del Mundo (the end of the world) is just over the Straits of Magellan and then we’re into Tierra del Fuego at last. I suppose you could say that tonight we go to bed beside an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and tomorrow we’re beside the Atlantic Ocean at Rio Grande.
Less than 200km to go and it’s snowing.
Sorry there’s been no posts recently. Today we have better WiFi in a petrol station cafe than all the hotels in Patagonia!
Last nights dump was easily the worst ever, including Russia. Dinner was an hour late and consisted of starters and pudding. Only one corkscrew for the whole party. Breakfast this morning was over before it started. They ran out of fruit, cereals, milk etc.
Well, we’ve made it. The first test of the day was at a race track outside Rio Grande. The snow was blowing in horizontally.
Shortly after the last shot was taken we climbed the last pass of the journey and the weather closed in. What you see in the photo at the bottom is a snowplough, only one of several we passed as the conditions deteriorated.
Down into Usuhuia and then to the hotel. The organisation team decided to cancel the actual finishing ceremony at the real end of the road because of rhe weather. The competitors in the open cars are thawing out now in front of a log fire in the bar. It’s nearly mid-summer here don’t forget.
We will soon be re-packing stuff so that some can be sent home in another Irish car and other stuff can come with us to the Valdez Peninsula where we’re having a couple of days off to recuperate. Whales calving, elephant seals doing the same, penguins, all that sort of stuff and we’re staying in a b&b lighthouse.
If the weather lifts I’ll post a picture of the Beagle Channel from our bedroom but apart from that, we’ll be on holiday so no more posts. When we get home, and probably after Christmas, I’ll update the website with lots more photos and more descriptions of the journey. If you have been, thanks for reading the rubbish I’ve written and thanks too for all your kind comments.
From snowy Tierra del Fuego, Felice Navidad (Happy Christmas)
Today we finally drove to the bitter end of the road in the Ushuaia National Park. It starts at MTC 20.5 on the left of the map and there really is nowhere else to go. From that point ruta 3 finishes 3,800 km later in Buenos Aires. So, we’ve driven two of the longest roads in South America, R3 and the famous ruta 40. Los Cauquenes is where we’re staying. In the park we had a Magellan red fox come up to the car and have a look at us. It turns out that they have no fear of us. We also had a bird called a Cauquene (there’s a clue in the hotel name) just stroll across the road in front of the car. Photos of these are in the camera and will be on the web site eventually.
Here are some photographs I uploaded after we returned home: