Vintage Cape Horn 2013

An epic 6,000 kilometre adventure drive from Buenos Aires to Cape Horn through Argentina and Chile.

Day 11 - Bariloche to Esquel

Frost on the windscreen today but a welcome return to the clear blue skies we'd missed over the last few days. With a horizon dotted with white mountain peaks do you need more of a reason to get out of bed in the morning? If the answer is yes then a quick look today's schedule and map should help you to push the duvet back.

Thoroughly rugged up then we left the Llao Llao and took left turn at the gate, which luckily for us meant the more scenic route. Skirting the lake on a road bordered with trees and yellow blossom we craned to sneak a peak at the lakeside haciendas screened from prying eyes with tall gates and dense vegetation. These looked to be sort of houses which don’t need bathroom curtains.

Today though we were going to be busy. We had a test on a track upon which we could unleash the inner Fangio that lurks in us all. We also had several time controls which meant little time for lingering even though we only had a total distance of 383km to cover.

But first we had to get there and this in itself was a treat as the road rose and fell, swooped and looped against the epic background we’re becoming used to with rivers and rocks. From each corner another piece of the patchwork was revealed.

After 95km a sign announced that we had entered a foot and mouth free zone and a certain Chevy service crew breathed a sigh of relief.

Finally we arrived at the circuit. Karting Lewis, a compact little affair with nothing in the way of a straight line but plenty of curves... tight ones, tighter ones and really tight ones. It was great fun to watch the cars slipping and sliding whilst the driver fought to balance the competing demands of maintaining some forward motion and managing the centrifugal force.

Once done with the track day and back onto the road / gravel we encountered the first water crossing of the Rally just before a Time Control which led to an 8km gravel section. All the things you’d learned on the track now needed to be unlearned on this looser less ‘predictable’ surface.

At the end of another long gravel ‘tranche' almost 14km we found a gathering. Three cars and two sweep wagons. Charles and Nellie Bishop in the Vauxhall, Arthur and Anna Manners with their Oldsmobile and Charles and Nicola Menteth in another Vauxhall.

The Menteth Vauxhall had in fact been worked upon late into the night and we feared that the valve springs which had been replaced had not rectified the problem. Luckily they only needed refuelling and they effected this from an onboard bag. It was the Manners Oldsmobile which was the problem. It had broken its engine mounting bolts and the Bishops had stopped to offer moral support and bemoan the fact that this might cost them a few hours fishing.

Rob Kitchen temporarily lashed the engine to the rest of the car with a ratchet strap and soon had them on their way down into El Maiten where some of the other crews took advantage of an excellent cafe and coffee shop and enjoyed papas fritas and empanadas for lunch.

Then it was decision time. A choice was on offer, the Route Book allowed us either to continue on the tarmac to Esquel without a penalty or take the more interesting but slightly longer gravel route through the Los Alerces National Park. The sign said 'camino sinuoso' and 11 of the crews couldn’t resist it. They turned right towards more of the many lakes which can be found here, and looked forward to enjoying the drive once their tackle had been inspected and disinfected at the Police checkpoint. Fisheries protection is taken very seriously in this part of the world.

Whichever way you approached however our night halt in Esquel was a welcome sight. With a name taken from the Mapuche language to mean with ‘bog’ or 'place of thistles’ it sits at the southern end of La Trochita, the narrow gauge Patagonian Steam Express train runs between Esquel and El Maiten with a top speed of only 30kph.

It's the pits.... All of that gravel and the distances we’ve already driven are taking their toll. As expected Arthur Manners Oldsmobile was under the spanners tonight in the hotel carpark for a more permanent solution to the engine mounting issue. Olaf Pohtoven had punctured his fuel tank today but his Bentley is already back on the road. Paul Merryweather's Classics leading Mercedes was receiving attention for a small hole in the sump and Chuck Lyford has had to have work done on the suspension of his Vintageant class leading Chevrolet.

Tomorrow's another day.

Fred Fangio


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