We had beautiful views of Patagonia coming into El Calafate with the aqua’Lago Argentino’ and surrounding mountains.
The town was very orderly and neat with many souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. There were many well fed looking
street dogs lying wherever they liked and none of the shop owners or tourists seemed to mind their presence.

we were looking forward to our 5hour trek on the ‘Perito Moreno’ glacier but that was cancelled at the last minute when they closed all the National Parks and anything that was state run. We ventured in to what looked like a small museum with replicas of dinosaurs but it opened into several more rooms which showcased the history of the area and which had a lot of information on the indigenous groups of the region.

All Patagonia the group who were to take us to the glacier suggested a private 4wd tour to the ‘Lago Argentino’ and dinner in a cave which was a great idea. Six of us (two Brazilians from near Perinopolis, a Chinese girl from Frankfurt and an Englishman) went in a 4wd and enjoyed the views of the lake and the mountains. Our guide then showed us the thousands of years old cave paintings which were fairly faded but still recognisable. One woman owned the land on which they were found and allowed the tour groups to view the paintings and allowed the tour operators to set up basic facilities and the dinner set up in the cave. We then ate a delicious stew served in individual round bread loaves and with Malbec from the Mendoza region.

We had to wait on the bus at the bus station the next morning to hear if we could enter Chile and with luck the full bus was on its way by about 0830am to Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia.
The bus went quite slowly (40-60kms) on the good roads because there were many guanaco (smaller than llamas) on both sides of the road. The last few kms to the border was rather bumpy on an unsealed road. We all alighted and lined up at the Argentinian border where our passports were stamped quickly and we were off again. The Chilean border control was much more lengthy with all luggage taken off the bus and a lovely labrador sniffer dog put to work. One back pack was singled out. We were lined up and had to wait about twenty minutes before they started stamping our passports and then we lined up and had our hand luggage xrayed then back on the bus.

There were no more animals all the way to Puerto Natales and the speed limit in Chile increased to 100kms hour for the four hour trip. Most of the houses in Puerto Natale were in poor condition, a few had been renovated and there were many hostels all over town. As we entered our accommodation at Pire Mapu B and B the owners told us that they had had advice that we had to leave the country by Wednesday the 18th March. This was in two days time. We could not get a flight until the 20th and whatever we tried we could not get any device to accept our credit cards. Maurice came to the rescue by contacting the Chilean embassy and Dfat the departments of foreign affairs in Australia who confirmed we could leave the country after the 18th March if we could get a flight out of Santiago. My trusty friend Suzanne a travel agent managed to get us a flight on the 22st March. I then spent 3-4hours cancelling all our hotels and tours of northern Chile and Peru.

We already had a flight booked to Santiago on the 21st as we had been going to fly to Santiago and then on to the Atacama desert so we just would forgo the last bit. It was a stressful afternoon but once sorted we were relieved.
We were to undertake our 22km hike to Torre del Paine but this also was cancelled as well as other tours to the National park. we wandered around town and there were again many well fed street dogs lounging anywhere they liked. We killed the time by sitting in a bar with a couple of cocktails and then had a great king crab meal at a restaurant. It was getting colder as we went south. There were a few souvenir and knitwear shops open so we entered them and walked around town for something to do. We were surprised to find the black necked swans which we didn’t realise existed. They are native to South America.

The bus the following day down to Punta Arenas was a very comfortable one and the three hour journey went quickly. We dozed as it was quite boring scenery for much of the journey and then it started raining so we could see nothing. In Punta Arenas we caught a taxi around the corner to our digs as it was still raining.
We had again booked to go to Tierra del Fuego and to see the Emperor penguins but that also had been cancelled so we again walked around town having a coffee at one of the small bakeries that was open and we had a dog accompany us all over town and to our accommodation. We had another great crab meal at ‘La Marmita’ around the corner as well as great cocktails.

I went to the supermarket across the road to buy some fruit and water and they were only letting in the old and handicapped people and carers. The rest of us waited outside for about half an hour and then once the last lot had left we could go in and shop. I only needed some water and fruit as we had bought a stock of empanadas to have in case the restaurant closed.
We managed through Nini, a lovely lady at our accommodation ‘Innata Patagonia’ to book a private tour along the coast which didn’t venture into the closed national parks. Our last day looked very stormy but it cleared while we were travelling to the Faro San Isidro which is the last lighthouse on the mainland of South America.
From the carpark we walked about 3hours and would have made it to the lighthouse but there was a stream to cross and it was just a bit too wide and we didn’t want to fall into the icy water so we turned back which still gave us a good walk on the loose stones on the coastline. The wind in places was very strong so we chose a dry log and stone on which to have the empanadas that we brought with us. There was a very cute, playful puppy which belonged to the fisherman on holiday from Santiago. He caught two large fish.
We also stopped at a memorial to a Mr Pringle who commanded HMS Beagle on its first voyage of exploration in the south Atlantic. After two years in command of the Beagle, depressed by the harsh winter conditions of the Strait of Magellan, he committed suicide. He was a British cartographer.

There were many water birds along the coast and we saw a little woodpecker. We also saw a large sea lion. Rodgrigo drove us the hour and a half back to Punta Arenas where everything bar the supermarket was closed. We therefore bought some rolls for lunch the following day and ate the other empanadas that we had bought the day before.

Unlike the Argentinian food which I found very bland, the chileans usually provided a hot sauce with a meal.
We were unwinding on our last night in our room and I went to check in for our flight to Santiago when we had a notification that the 930am flight the next day was cancelled. This was a shock. We had to find an alternative flight so as to connect to our flight from Santiago to Sydney. We had had 5weeks of our 10week planned South American trip but we had to cancel the rest because of the Corona virus. The Latam site was not working and no one was answering the phone to make an alternative booking.
We decided to go to the airport straight away and try our luck with a 2am flight. Nini was very helpful and found us a driver and within ten minutes we were packed and ready to go. We got to the airport about 1130pm.

We then found out that all the other Latam flights were full and overbooked. The Latam system seemed antiquated and most of the staff were under a lot of stress from the volume of passengers that they had to shift.
So many countries were closing their borders and the majority of the travellers did not want to get stranded in Chile.
We were told that the 2am flight was overbooked but they would put us on standby for a later flight. That flight came and went and there were still 32 passengers on standby.
Suzanne our trusty travel agent friend in Perth managed to book a later flight but when we went to get our boarding passes the Latam staff said that we were not showing in their system for the flight and were rebooked for a flight which did not connect with our Australian flight.
Back to Suzanne who kindly spent a lot of time tryng to organise a flight for us. We ended up paying for a new flight and were given boarding passes and told to come back before the 10pm flight. We had been up all day and night and were getting rather weary standing in line for most of the day.
One bit of light relief was seeing two grey foxes chasing each other across the car park in front of the airport.
We finally got away at 2145 on a full flight to Santiago. There we caught a taxi to the “City express hotel” which was only 5minutes from the airport and we managed about 4hours sleep before heading back to the airport to check in for our 1335 flight.
My bookclub friend Jan and her boyfriend were on the same flight after having to buy a business class fare from Bogota to Santiago.
The 14 hour flight in the last Qantas 747 to operate on its last flight was smooth and went relatively quickly.
Amazingly we had no health checks in Sydney and Gay was collected by her husband Robert. Gay was staying at home in Sydney and Robert went to their holiday apartment in Kiama on the coast. I went to the domestic terminal for the four hour flight to Perth. Maurice picked me up and we went home. Maurice to spend two weeks living in our campervan and me in self isolation in the house with Barney the cat. We were very relieved to finally reach home with so many flights being cancelled all over the world but were disappointed at not being able to have our last five weeks in South America.

I really enjoyed our five weeks spent in South America and was just glad that we had managed to see the Carneval in Rio, the interesting cities of Salvador, Brasilia and the small town of Pirenopolis and then of course the wonderful Iguazu Falls.
Buenos Aires was also a fascinating city with so much history and our day trip to Colonia in Uruguay was a lovely quaint town.
Patagonia was dramatically different from the northern areas and we were just sorry all our activities in that area were cancelled.
We hope to go back one day.

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