23rd December 2003
From Perito Moreno we needed to head back into Chile across the border. Taking the RN40 south towards La Esperanza we took a shortcut onto a rougher gravel road at El Cerrito (about 90km southeast of El Calafate), joining route 7 at Estancia Tapi Aike. We then followed the road west towards the border crossing of Cancha Carrera. The route was very remote and not well signposted and it wasn't long before we realised we had actually passed the Cancha Carrera crossing and would now need to cross at the more southerly crossing near the mining town of Rio Turbio. This latter crossing - Paso Mina Uno/Dorotea - was not such a bad idea anyway, as it was open 24 hours and still brought us closer to Puerto Natales.
Paso Mina was one of the busiest border crossings we had experienced so far but we soon got through the formalities. A couple of border guards asked us about our water carriers on the roof - you are not allowed to take fuel out of Argentina - and I explained that they were for water and were currently empty. They saw "WATER" on the side and seemed satisfied. It was a good job they hadn't looked in the side lockers, where we had one 20 litre jerry can full of diesel and one smaller 10 litre jerry can with petrol.
Once back in Chile, it did not take us long before we arrived at Puerto Natales. We had decided to stay in a hotel or hostal for the night as a small treat but most hotels were either full, really expensive or didn't have parking. Finally we stopped at Nico's Residential, a very friendly family run bed and breakfast. There was no parking but we were assured it was safe to park outside on the street and we were so tired we just settled in and had a quick shower before heading out to get our bearings and drop into Big Foot. Big Foot arrange various outdoor activities in the area from kayaking, to walking and ice climbing. We wanted to get some advice about trekking in Torres del Paine with the limited time we had, whilst fitting in some of their trips.
Unfortunately the Big Foot office was closed so our next task was to get something to eat. We had really been missing Baked Beans and when we read in the guidebook that a restaurant, El Living, run by Jeremy - an English guy, served baked beans and cheese toasties, we couldn't resist. Getting there however was not so easy. Shortly after leaving the Big Foot office, we started being followed by a pack of stray dogs. When we crossed over the road, they crossed over too. It soon became clear that they were actually after Sue, not matter which way she walked they followed - even doubling back on themselves if she tried to lose them. By this time Ed was walking on the other side of the street pretending he did now who this mad dog woman was. Eventually we had to dive into El Living and shut the door before the dogs followed her in much to the amusement of the other diners..
El Living is actually a vegetarian cafe and has some really good veggie food and great cakes. The atmosphere is relaxing and you can exchange books there too. We would definitely recommend it.
Having checked the coast was clear of stray dogs, we returned to Nico's for a good night's sleep, keen on getting up early and chatting to the guys in Big Foot tomorrow.