A seed had been sown in our brains many months back to sail between the South American and North American continents through the Caribbean Sea from Cartagena in Colombia to Portobelo in Panama, stopping at picture-postcard islands along the way. An opportunity we just could not pass up. Our trip was to be made on the majestic Mintaka, a German sailing yacht. The Mintaka set sail from it’s homeland of Germany 21 years ago and has been sailing the oceans ever since. The owners of the yacht, Manfred and Petra, were to be our Captain, crew and guides for the next four days of sailing through paradise. As we hoisted the main sheet and rolled out the jib, our last sight of South America slipped out of view with the flickering lights of Cartagena fading in the distance in the dark of night.
As a land locked country Paraguay certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of water. Lying to the north-east of the country, and shared with Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal. Dissecting Paraguay in half is the immense Paraguay River, the great drainage system of the Pantanal which empties its waters thousands of kilometres away in the Atlantic Ocean. The Rio Paragauy is the lifeblood of this isolated region of northern Paraguay, acting as the primary source of transportation for people, animals, food and goods to the communities spread along the river banks. To experience this alternative way of life we jumped onboard an old, very slow, rickety river boat called the ‘Aquidaban’, the only commercial trade and passenger boat which traverses these remote waters, to visit a small community called Fuerte Olimpo. The days ahead would require patience and a cool head in an otherwise steaming hot environment – a challenge of our resolve to travel like locals.
The northern-most province in Argentina, Misiones, extends up the map like an arm reaching out and terminates at a natural border, and triple frontier, with both Brazil and Paraguay formed by two mighty rivers, the Rio Parana and Rio Iguazu. A short trip up the Iguazu River is the world famous Iguazu Falls, a thunderous waterfall of unimaginable power. The small border town of Puerto Iguazu was to be our last stop in Argentina. After over a month in the country we were sad to have reached our last stop but excited at the prospect of seeing yet another natural wonder in this incredibly diverse country.
Chile is a long long long country, as it thins out towards the most southern tip at Cape Horn the country breaks up into fragments of isolated mountain ranges and icefields separated by spectacular fjords and lakes. This region is almost entirely undeveloped and uninhibited except for small rural towns sparsely scattered along the Carreterra Austral, the long road which travels from Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lake District into the depths of Chilean Patagonia.
Argentina is famous for three things; Wine, Beef and Football, and Mendoza just happens to be pretty good at all three. Mendoza is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city, in the heart of Argentine wine country. They say the best wine in the country is produced here, and so of course we had to come and find out if this is true by exploring the vineyards to sample fine wines, and get a taste of some local gourmet food and of course we hoped to catch a football match – Iain needs to get his fix of his beloved sport.
The ten hour bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile across the border to Salta in Argentina was by far one of the most spectacular bus journey’s we have ever taken. The bus made its way over high altitude lunar landscapes, passed flamingo filled lakes, volcanic peaks, and rolling Andean mountains. As the bus navigated its way down the windy roads on the Argentine side of the Andes, we were mystified by the rainbow coloured mountains and quaint little mud-brick villages. It was certainly worth every penny of the AUS$56 we forked out for the trip. Sadly our faces were too busy being stuck to the window, in awe of the view, to bother taking photos, unlike the guy in front of us who was snapping away constantly the whole trip. Click, click, click!
Our arrival into San Pedro de Atacama came with a bit of a come down ending in a bump – a bump the size of a Volcano. After the confusion we had gone through with Oscar and Dennis, at the Bolivian-Chile border at the end of the Salt Flats Tour, we finally found our ride to San Pedro, only to learn they had one less seat than we needed. Travelling in a group of four (including our tour buddies Laura and Phil) there was only 3 seats left so one of us had to make do with a cool box/esky as a seat, Phil volunteered for the cool seat.
At 3600m above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is the highest Salt Flat in the world, and at over 10,000 square kilometres it is also the biggest. The Salt Flat was formed many moons ago as a large ancient lake dried up leaving behind the whitest, flattest expanse of salt you have ever seen. The only way to experience the Salt Flats is by jumping in a 4x4 with a bunch of fellow travellers and driving across it. We organised our trip to launch from Tupiza with our new friends Laura and Phil. You can read more about organising the trip in our Tupiza post.