ARGENTINA 2017 & 2018
PART 1 ARGENTINA 2017
Having arrived in Buenos Aires awaiting the arrival of our truck/motorhome Our 3 year South America adventure has started. Time flies and after 7 years of travel Covering Africa/South East Asia/Russia Middle East and Stan Countries we left Egypt in Nov 2016 and are now ready for a 3 year South America adventure.
A country situated in South America covering most of the southern portion of the continent. It’s the world’s eighth largest country.
The 70’s was a period of military dictatorship during which thousands of alleged dissidents disappeared, or were murdered. After this period they went through the disastrous Falklands Islands War of 1982, when Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands and claimed it as its own but was defeated by British forces in a short bloody campaign. This led to the fall of the military dictatorship and democratic rule was re-introduced.
Due to Argentina’s production of livestock and cereals, it was once ranked among the world’s wealthiest nations. Much of this agricultural activity is set in the Pampas rich grasslands that were once the domain of nomadic Native Americans, followed by rough-riding gauchos.
Argentina is a largely urban country. Buenos Aires, the national capital, has sprawled across the eastern Pampas with its ring of modern, bustling suburbs. It is among South America’s most cosmopolitan and crowded cities.
Our ship is a few days delayed but we are enjoying the city. Buenos Aires also known as the Paris of the South did not disappoint, the night life is superb, day time markets are lively and interesting, steaks are huge and 500g is considered small. Old worlds blend with new in Buenos Aires, our favourite suburbs so far are Palermo, San Telmo and La Boca. We love the cobblestoned streets lined with adorable cafés and boutiques. The Argentine capital’s French buildings and Spanish nightlife also tell the story of a city with one foot in Latin America and the other in Europe.
Must do sightseeing in Buenos Aires:
The Recoleta Cemetery: This is the cemetery of the rich and famous in Buenos Aires, almost a city unto itself, with rows upon rows of impressive tombs and statues. At this cemetery, you will find the graves of Eva Peron and of many other famous people, including numerous presidents. There are 4591 vaults in this cemetery, all above the ground. Ninety-four of these vaults are National Historical Monuments and are under state protection.
The plaza de Mayo during our visit was heavily fenced. Many buildings representing city landmarks and seats of government are located around Plaza de Mayo. One of the reasons for our visit to the Plaza de Mayo was to see the Madres de La Plaza or Mothers of May Square. These are women whose children have ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. The mothers demanded to know where their children were and began to march around the May Pyramid in the middle of the square wearing white handkerchiefs with their children’s names embroidered on them. The weekly marches started in 1977 and continue every Thursday afternoon. Not many Mothers who started this movement have survived and many of those who are alive face constant health issues because of their age. With their white headscarves, the group has, over the years, become known around the world. We were told more than 30,000 people were kidnapped and murdered during this time by extremist right-wing groups or the military government that seized power in a coup in 1976.
La Boca, quite possibly the biggest mainstream tourist hotspot in Buenos Aires. The colorful Caminito street in the otherwise run down barrio of La Boca has a reputation of being commercial, touristy, tacky, tango rubbish by locals and travel guides alike. Caminito is often translated: little walkway and it is little! At less than 100 meters long it is never going to win any awards. But Buenos Aires claims them already in other areas: The Avenida 9 de Julio for world’s widest street and Avenida Rivadavia for the world’s longest. However, Caminito in my book won the award for the greatest concentration of Japanese tourists per square meter.
TANGO, we loved the many dancers around Buenos Aires in the form of street performers, tango dancers and musicians, tango music coming from bars and restaurants and squares, most memorable at the San Telmo markets. Our visit was during the soccer superclassical at the Stadium La Bombonera where on the day the clash of enemies Boca Juniors and River Plate took place. 85000 people inside the stadium and I think 100000 outside the stadium, River Plata won 3-1.
San Telmo: We preferred this suburb above all others. It has history, beauty, ugliness, life, decay, great food, tango, great restaurants, bars, and live music. It’s not as smart as Palermo, or as plush as Recoleta, but for us it was the best.
We picked up our truck from Zarate. (many thanks Weber Agencies). It supposed to take 2 days for customs clearance, however Francesco organized all in 1 day. (I may add 13 hours all up and 3 trips between Zarate and Campana to different offices). Great company, great service. I should also mention Belgaco shipping and Steven Van Buynderen for following up and ensuring all went well from the European site.
BUENOS AIRES TO BORDER BRASIL (The Long Way Round)
Our first stop was Andean Motorhomes in Ricardo Rojas. Very friendly and helpful owners who are in the business of renting out motorhomes. We found a spot next to the workshop and got our truck ready for our next stage of our around the world trip. I may add his mechanic must be the world’s most expensive at 150USD per hour just for labour only. He did a good job though and when we had some further issues the following day 45km out of Zarate he came out to fix it (he forgot a few things……)
After we left Buenos Aires our first stop was Rosario.
Rosario is famous for being the birthplace of Che Guevara, Lionel Messi and the nation’s flag. The apartment where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was born in the central district of the city is now privately owned, so we could not visit his house. In Rosario, a law has passed preventing parents from naming their children after the famous Football star.
Overnight we stayed in Santo Tome just south of Santa Fe in a small park/reserve in a very nice neighbourhood. we visited Santa Fe which lies on the Parana River in the North East of Argentina. (The Parana River and the Uruguay river are besides the Amazon River the 2 most important rivers on the American continent). Its port, modernized for oceangoing vessels, is one of the most inland seaports in the world nearly 400 km from the Atlantic Ocean (Rio de la Plata). The port looks after the import/Export of Bolivia, Paraguay as well as Argentina.
As we travelled further North the landscape became more subtropical with marshes, tall savannas and woodland. Once we arrived in Corrientes we entered a region known as Argentine Mesopotamia, a low-lying subtropical province of plains, channels, lakes, and marshes ascending to slightly higher elevations in the east. A real feature is the expansive Iberá wetlands area (Esteros del Iberá) in the north-central part of the province. The Esteros del Iberia was not in our plan for this trip but due to a collapsed bridge we had to make a 400km detour and crossed this area. Covering 13000sq km, they are the most important wetlands in Argentina and are temporarily or permanently flooded, depending on the location. The Iberá Wetlands are just as rich as the better-known Pantanal in Brazil. About 300 bird species, 85 species of mammals, 45 species of amphibians and 35 species of reptiles are living here, which account for almost one third of the biodiversity of the country. Among the species are the swamp deer, the capybara, the biggest rodent of the world, adults measure 47 inches and weigh 110 pounds; the caiman, the black howler monkey (you can hear him 3 km away who lives in trees), the maned wolf, the pampa deer, the giant anteaters, the yellow anaconda or curiyú (the biggest snake in Argentina) and another snake the yarará, a very venomous and dangerous viper whose size can reach 67 inches. And last but not the least the piranha. This is also the land of the Gaucho’s; they look after the cattle in vast pastures, moving the herds between the ponds and the lagoons seeking for dried lands. We planned to meet up with Atte and Marijke (also world travelers). We spend a great night chatting with them before they drove to Uruguay. The last 2 weeks we spent driving between 3 great rivers: The Parana river, the second longest river after the Amazon River, the Uruguay River and the Upper Parana river. Our final stop in Argentina this trip were the Iguazu Falls. The Iguazu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. This system consists of 275 falls along 2.7 kilometers (1.67 miles) of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 82 meters in height, though the majority are about 64 meters.
The Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish) are a U-shaped, 82-meter-high, 150-meter-wide and 700-meter-long cataract, for us the most impressive of all. Iguazu currently has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world. The water falling over Iguazu in peak flow has a surface area of about 40 Hectares. It is taller than the Niagara Falls and twice as wide. It is considered the most beautiful waterfall in the world, and is mentioned as one of the seven wonders of nature. It is the sixth largest waterfall in the world by mean annual flow rate. (Niagara Falls in North America is fifth on the list). It marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. Two thirds of the falls are within Argentine territory. The other third is in Brazil. For more on Brazil see our Brasil Blog.
Buenos Aires to Laguna Azul
Having left our truck in various parts of the world over the last 9 years it is always good to see the truck in one piece upon your return. After some great info from Cris (owner Andean Motorhomes) we left for the long journey to Ushuaia. But as Cris pointed out it does not have to be that boring as per the many reviews we had seen from overlanders following the N3 south. Before we left Buenos Aires a quick dose of Tango. Everywhere you go in Buenos Aires there are people performing Tango on the street. Living on the beach in Australia we decided to give Mar Del Plata a miss. First stop Azul, here we could fill up our truck mounted LPG tank. Further south we found a great camp spot on I-overlander at Lake Salida. At Viedma we left the N3 and followed route 1 a perfect dirt road following the Camino de la costa a succession of beaches over 150 km in length. First stop was El Condor home to the world’s largest colony of Parrots. Great camp spot on the promenade and with temperatures of 29 degrees in March we did not complain. Next memorial de Malvinas, and Patagonia’s oldest lighthouse (1887) and another night on the beach in Bahia Rosas. Once we hit the N3 again it was south to the remote Patagonia Peninsula Valdez. Depending on the time of year, the peninsula attracts a great number of penguins, sea lions, seals and orcas. Whales can be found in the waters located between the Valdes Peninsula and the Patagonian mainland between May and December. We were told we have a small chance to see an Orca at Punta North? We decided to camp just before the park entrance saving us 495 pesos’ and had a brilliant camp spot looking over the inlet. (MUST GO LOCATION) From all accounts we did not miss anything by not entering the park.
Whales can be found in the waters located between the Valdes Peninsula and the Patagonian mainland between May and December. Once we arrived in Puerto Madrijn with 29 degrees and blue sky we decided to stay another day at Playa Parana after we visited Reserva Faunistica home to a permanent sea-lion colony. Our first taste of the wind came in Rawson camping on the beach, when at around 7PM the wind came up and in a matter of minutes from a steady force 3 or 4 to a force 8 or 9.
Nearly Impossible to open the door it was time to look for some protection which we found 200 meters down behind the public toilet. Pffff. Cabos Dos Bahias was our next spot, a provincial wild life reserve close to the town of Camarones. Perfect bush camping and close to the nest and caves of thousands of Magellanic penguins.
Our plan was to visit Bahia Bustamante a private sheep farm in Patagonia covering about 210,000 acres right on the waters of the eastern coast. But the weather was against us and we decided to travel south towards Puerto Julian and the Monte Leon National park. Hoping to catch up with the Elephant seals. Another great overnight stop was Monte Leon National Park, previously an enormous sheep ranch, includes twenty-five miles of ocean frontage on the southern Atlantic coast. It harbours vast colonies of birds—including Magellanic penguins—and marine mammals along the coast.
Southern right whales cruise by on their annual migrations. (not during our stay) Unfortunately camping is no longer allowed in the park (signs clearly stated camping) it was unclear to us what the reason was but we were told to move? Locals told us we have now arrived in the real Patagonia the legendary land of wildness, fierce winds, and hardy gauchos, all part of its iconic name. “The word ‘Patagonia’, like Mandalay or Timbuctoo, has lodged itself in our imagination, to the point that we had to visit this part of the world during our around the world adventure. The dry steppe of Argentine Patagonia is a characterized by minimal rainfall (less than 150 millimetres annually), cold, dry winds, and sandy soil.
The Andes Mountains block moisture from flowing west, creating this arid area. The last larger city before the border with Chile was Rio Gallegos one of the windiest places on Earth, with winds reaching 100 km h on a regular basis. The city also has a major Argentine air base it was here from were the Falklands war was fought. Naval and air strikes where launched from here and Rio Grande. Río Gallegos is the centre of sheep trade for the Patagonia region and exports frozen mutton, sheepskins, and leather coats.
The weather had become cold and wet snow was falling, just 60 km to go and we found a magic campsite next to Lagoon Azul. This lagoon was formed on a volcano crater and the water is green not blue as the books told us. Time to cross to Tierra del Fuego
Falkland Islands War 1982
While in Rio Gallegos you can visit the Falkland war museum. We did not as we already spoken to locals re the war and why Argentina lost this war. The answers where clear. According to Argentines if Chile would not have helped England the English would have lost the war with many casualties? Argentina never expected England to go to war but was expecting a diplomatic solution. Terms for the Argentinian surrender proved to be much harsher than originally expected by the Junta, but Argentina accepted them on 14th of June 1982. Argentinean troops withdrew from the islands, leaving them in British hands. The Falklands conflict remains the largest air-naval combat operation between modern forces since the end of the Second World War. Amazing with their naval and air-force bases less than 500 km from the Falklands Islands they could not win. Argentina continues to debate the sovereignty of the Falklands to this day. In 2013, a referendum was held on the Falkland Islands, after which the majority stated that they wish to stay under the British crown.
Tierra Del Fuego 2018 (Argentina)
After South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East, so far border crossings and roads have been perfectly easy and straight forward in South America. The border from Argentina into Chile was no different. We have now arrived in Tierra del Fuego, a natural wonderland that occupies the southernmost region of South America (Argentina and Chile). This windswept archipelago is a mix of flat plains, peatbogs and when getting closer to Ushuaia forest and snow-capped mountains. After shopping in Rio Grande our first stop was Lake Fangano, also known as Lake Kami. The lake is shared with Chile and the word is that Chile is building a road which would allow access from Tolhuin to Porvenir. Having travelled to the most Southern and Northern points in Africa, Australia and Europe we could not resist to visit the most southern point in mainland South America accessible by road (Just past Rio Moat), or as some call it: the end of the world. We camped 110km north east of the island of Cape Horn, the most southern part of South America. The wild rugged land is filled with inlets and panoramic views. A few days earlier via Facebook we got in contact with fellow Aussies Ian and Pen Hunt, who were also enroute to Ushuaia and what better spot to catch up than at the end of the world.
Lots of stories and info where exchanged. From here we backtracked to the N3 and it was time to explore the world’s most southern ski area and Ushuaia. Ushuaia is located at the Beagle Channel and is known as the world’s Southernmost city. It has a stunning location below the Majestic Martial mountains and is surrounded by lots of nature.
However, the city itself did not appeal to us. Ushuaia is also the starting point for Antarctica Cruises but it being too late in the season it was not possible for us to join one of those cruises. While in Ushuaia it was time to rotate the tyres, visit the tourist information centre and getting ready for the next stop in Tierra Del Fuego National Park.
Despite the general believe that the end of the road is in Tierra Del Fuego National Park it is not! However, it is the end of the N3. South America’s southernmost navigable road is at Rio Moat and around 110KM off the N3. You have to turn left onto the RJC road around 40KM before Ushuaia. It is not signposted. This road continues after around 15km as the RP 33 as described above but as it is not a tourist attraction it has no sign. The next best thing is the sign at the National park Tierra Del Fuego marking the end of the N3 and the 17.848km to Alaska. Alaska here we come! (or as per the song goes we go “North to Alaska”).
Hopefully we will reach Alaska in 6 years from now. It is a must to take pictures of the sign: end of the N3, hence we did of the truck and sign. The Eastern Part of Tierra Del Fuego is dry with cold dark winters and cool windy summers. Snow can fall even in the summer in most areas as well.
Before we left Ushuaia, we saw the finish of 2 Belgian runners who ran all the way from Alaska to Ushuaia, 590 marathons since July 2016 for charity! More info on www.viapanam.today *1. Their achievement is AMAZING and we have lots of respect for them.
We backtracked to just before Rio Grande where we stayed overnight and the following day we followed the RP 8 track to Pass Bella Vista and the small border into Chile.
*1 2 Belgian ultra runners ran 25000 kilometers for a good cause, or the equivalent of 590 marathons, one each day for the last 2 years. An amazing story of hope, persistence and a lot of stupidity. (these are their own words)
FAR SOUTH WEST ARGENTINA 2018
After leaving Torres Del Payne National Park we left Chile at Cerra Castillo; 5 minutes to exit from Chile and 10 minutes to enter Argentina, this was at Paso Rio Don Guillermo. Next stop Calafate, where it was time to replace a car battery, do the washing and fill up our water tanks. Hence time for a camping and the one recommended was El Ninguao. (great choice) El Calafate is situated on the southern border of lake Argentino. The name of the city is the name from a little bush with yellow flowers and dark blue berries that is very common in Patagonia. The city itself is very touristy being an important hub for the Glaciares National Park including the Perito Moreno Glacier. Like in Chile foreign tourists pay twice or 3 times as much as the locals. I have commented already on this during our Africa trips so no further comment except to say I have paid enough foreign aid for the rest of my life. Main reason for visiting El Calafate is the Perito Moreno Glacier. It is one of the few glaciers in the world still growing.
The glacier is around 30Km long and 80 meters high. The glacier stretches all the way to Chile. Other interesting facts we learned. 1. After Antarctica and Greenland the Andes region (Chile and Argentina) have the largest area of Ice in the world. (12500 sq. km in total) 2. This area covers 48 major glaciers and more than 100 smaller glaciers. 3. The Viedma Glacier is the largest glacier in Argentina with 975sq kilometre. 4. The total ice dept of the Perito Moreno glacier is measured at 170meters. Lots of viewing platforms allowing you to get very close to the glacier. If you take the time you will see huge chunks of the Glacier fall off crashing into the water below. Perito Moreno is one of the major tourist attractions in southern Patagonia. Our next stop was El Chalten, a small colourful village in the Northern Part of Glaciares National Park. It is located at the base of Cerre Fitz Roy and Cerre Torre, both very popular among climbers.
The area around El Chalten is rugged and impressive. The 2 major mountains are the Fitzroy at 3405 meters high and the Torre at 3102 meters. The whole area has an amazing landscape. Once we left El Chalten we backtracked 90km to the RN 40 to continue further north, sofar the route 40 described by so many as remote has been grossly overrated. Yes, it is correct that some parts have no cell phone coverage, fuel stations are further apart but nothing a normal vehicle could not cover, yes it has gravel at some stretches and road works but most of the road we did was all paved except a part between Tres Lagos and Gobarnador.
By now our Southern Patagonia part of the trip has nearly come to an end as we are heading for the Chilean fjords. From El Chalten we drove North parallel to the Andes, on the famous route 40 via little backwaters like Tres Lagos, Gobernador Gregores, Bajo Caracoles, Perito Moreno (don’t confuse this with the National Parc Perito Moreno) Route 40 has become some type of national symbol/achievement in Argentina, not sure why as the road is perfect and all but 100km paved. That is the bit we travelled from Don Guillermo border crossing (near Torres Del Payne National Park) till Los Antiguos where we crossed back into Chile. Also confusing is the name of this area is it Patagonia or the province Santa Cruz? Or both?
SOUTHERN PATAGONIA WEATHER
Despite the many negatives we heard re the weather and travelling late in the season we have been lucky, or should we say we picked the right season? (don’t get me wrong it was cold, and we had some big winds at night but overall the weather was kind to us. And according to the local’s March and April are great months to travel without many tourists, as all seem to want to arrive in January/February when the weather is unpredictable and the winds at it strongest) Let’s hope South West Chile will give us the same weather while we are visiting the western Fjords.
NORTHERN PATAGONIA 2018
Crossing from the tiny border post at Futaleufu from Chile back into Argentina took all up 30 minutes. After shopping at the Anonima supermercado in Trevelin plus 30 minutes to find a Claro office to load up our sim card (No Luck), we explored Trevelin. It is a historic town founded during the Welsh immigration wave around 1860. This area is also called the corridor of Patagonian lakes. (El Boston, Villa La Agustura, San Martin de Los Andes and Bariloche). But for us the first stop was Los Alerces National Park. The major feature of this park are the Alerce Forest/Trees. This tree is the second longest living tree in the world. This tree (Alerce) is compared to the Sequoia tree in the USA, however we did not think so. Some of the Alerce trees in Chile are up to 3600 years old. Not willing to spend 100USD for a 2-hour boat trip we must believe the locals that the largest known Alerce tree in Argentina is 57 meters high and 2.3 meters in diameter. The park offers lots of free bush camping in very nice secluded spots. Besides the Alceres tree, clear water lakes, superb scenery and great campsites are the highlights of this park. After 6 days of no internet we made a quick catch up on Emails in the hippie town of El Bolson. In the sixties this was the place where the hippies arrived looking for a relaxed lifestyle. Even today you find the (now) old hippies at the crafts fair on Thursdays and Saturdays. Great place to look for craftworks in wood, stone and ceramics while being entertained by local music. Great beers are another highlight, this area is the producer of hop, fine fruits and cheese. Waking up the next morning to blue sky was something we had not witnessed for the last few weeks, the downside was it was minus 5 degrees overnight. The winding road to San Carlos de Bariloche has great views and many viewpoints.
Mount Tronador is Bariloche’s highest mountain (3534 meters high) and attracts many mountain climbers. Mount Tronador has 7 glaciers but all are melting due to global warming we are told. At Villa Mascardi located on lake Mascardi you can turn off to Pampa Linda and the base of Mount Tronador. San Carlos de Bariloche, known as just Bariloche, is located on the shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake, a picture-perfect setting and a major tourism centre attracting the rich Argentines. The city is full of chocolate shops, restaurants, bars and café’s. We are told Bariloche was also the haven for Nazi war criminals, one was even the director of the German school of Bariloche for many years?! One Argentine writer even claims Hitler and Eva Braun lived here at the Estancia Inalco. This time of the year (autumn) is a beautiful time to visit the area, the trees have beautiful colours and there are very few tourists around. We did the tour of Circuito Chico, took the scooter out for a tour of the city, walked along the shore of Nahuel Huapi, and visited the city centre where we loaded up on the compulsory chocolates. The following day we went up the chairlift to Mount Campario.
The views are extraordinary, you can see the city, the lakes, and the Southern Andes mountains all around you. It has been said that Bariloche has a Swiss like atmosphere. Well based on the prices they charge, and the St Bernard dog at the city square (you can take a picture with the dog as long as you pay) then maybe they are right. But that is as far as I would go.
Upon arriving in Bariloche we were warned about petty crime in the city and the many tourists being robbed. Locals told us to remove all electronic gear from the front of the truck to the rear and not to camp in the city, hence the next night we decided to find a camping. $30 per night OUCH you are kidding me! We have everything on board, hot shower, toilet and solar. Please understand “campings” seem to be everywhere. If someone has some grass around the home (or in many cases just gravel) and a spare toilet and shower (hot water not even necessary) they call it a camping.
After a few days is was time to move further north. Our plan was to follow the tourist route from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes, but with so much to see we never got past Villa Angostura that day. BUT, we should have continued that day as the following 3 days the weather turned nasty and cold again. After a couple of days, we decided to leave Villa Angostura to continue to San Martin de Los Andes. The road covers part of Nahuel Huapi National Park and part of the southern section of Lanin National park and passes seven picturesque lakes between Villa de Angostura and San Martin de Los Andes.
As the sun started to come out we could see some wonderful scenery and pristine lakes and thick forest. Enroute we visited Cerro Chapelco a small winter ski resort which boosts 29 downhill runs and is open from June till October. Once we arrived in San Martin de Los Andes we came to the end of the 7 lakes circuit, the weather had cleared hence we kept on moving towards Lanin National park. Volcano Lanin is an ice-clad, cone shaped volcano right on the border of Argentina and Chile.
Lanin is the most eastern volcano of the 3 in the area. Volcano Lanin is dormant for the last 2200 years unlike the Villarrica which erupted in 2015. (this will be covered in the next Chile Blog). We set up camp on the base of the 3737-meter-high volcano and had our coldest night sofar in Argentina with minus 7 Degrees Celsius. The following day we crossed into Chile. We nearly did not as we initially were refused entry by police for having a right-hand drive vehicle. More in our next blog.
We entered Argentina from Chile at the Paso Pino Hachado border post and all was done fast and efficient. Our first stop was Las Lajas before heading to the ski resort of Las Lenas. The road to Las Lenas has amazing views with dramatic mountain peaks. After we arrived in Las Lenas we were allowed to stay overnight in the carpark. Locals tell us Las Lenas receives over 6 meters of snow in an average winter season. Like most ski resorts outside Europe without the snow the village looks very sterile, however the surrounding mountains and the trip to Las Lenas make up for it. Waking up the next morning I realized I had become blind on one eye!! Driving down the mountain with one eye was a bit tricky but we knew something was wrong hence we drove the 400 odd kilometres to Mendoza. Next morning’s doctor’s appointment was followed by an emergency operation the same day. After a one-week rest we returned to the eye specialist and the bad news was I required another operation, but the wound still had to heal hence another week stuck in Mendoza. The second operation went okay and after 5 days we could travel again. But “take care” was the advice and a follow up check the following week.
The good thing it gave us time to do all those things you never do when you travel, as sightseeing, camp fires and happy hours are much more important. Since we sold our business even WIFI or Data is no longer an issue. Who gives a S..t about Facebook and other social media! Everything can wait. Being stuck in Mendoza with WIFI, it was time to start a new hobby.
Making video clips and sorting our photos (All 35000 plus of them). Mendoza is a very touristy town with all facilities, located in the west of Argentina and the centre of the Argentinian wine industry and is not far from the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas (Aconcagua). The city is green (thanks to an artificial irrigation system), wide avenues and lots of greenery gives the city a very nice ambience. To the west the Andes are towering over the city.
The city is easy to navigate around and some of the highlights are Parque San Martin and the Cerro de la Gloria with view point over the city and the Andes Mountains and the Plaza Independencia which is the main square in the city and great place to start exploring downtown Mendoza. The main restaurant strip is on Aristides Villnueva from Av Belgrado to the Parc San Martin. On this corner you find El Patio de Jesus Maria, a great restaurant serving the world famous Argentinian beef Asado from a parrilla grill. Europeans eat around 7.30 PM in a restaurant, In Australia it is more like 6PM. However, Argentinians do not go out till 9 or 10 PM. In fact, in Mendoza most kitchens do not open before 9PM and most people do not arrive till 10PM or later. And on weekends it is not even busy till 11PM. But as they say when in Rome……. Also, important to know are the opening and closing times of the shops. Siesta is a big thing in Mendoza and businesses close between 1 and 5PM then reopen till around 9.30PM. Taxis are cheap and there are plenty of them. All together not a bad place to be stuck. Many thanks to Lalo at Camping Suizo in El Challao for being so helpful during our stay. Thanks to Ian Hunt and Pen for keeping us company for a few days and organizing a BBQ. Thanks to Rene van Olst (Dutch surname but Italian) to come with me to the hospital and do all the translating, Klaas and Sippie to come and check up on us while in Mendoza.
The place we did not visit are the Termas de Cacheuta. Doctor orders, he told me under no circumstances water in my eye. But hopefully we can visit after our return to Mendoza next week when we visit the eye specialist once more.
MENDOZA NORTHERN LOOP TO CHILE BORDER
At last after 2 weeks I was given the okay to travel again, but only for 7 days so I need to be back in Mendoza for another check, before continuing to Chile. With in one eye still no vision and the other blurry from the daily drops we worked our way out of Mendoza. As the day progressed and the drops in my left eye dried up the vision got better and better. Except from filling up with diesel we did not visit San Juan, we were on our way to Difunta Correa. WHY? Since we have been travelling around central Argentina we wondered about the many red flagged shrines along the road. Well it has to do with the Difunta Correa the unofficial Saint with roots in the Argentine civil wars. Deolinda Correa was the wife of a soldier who became ill and was left behind. She followed him wherever he went, however she became lost in the desert while trying to find her sick husband and died. Her baby was still alive when found by cattle drivers. Since then the cattle farmers developed a devotion to her which has extended to truck drivers and all other travellers. The hillside where she was laid to rest has become a place of devotion and has hundreds of model houses, red ribbons, car number plates, rims, and thousands of bottles of water all offered to her. Today a small town including a museum, retail arcade, small hotel, many restaurants, a police station and even a health centre have developed around the site to cater for over 600.000 visitors a year. As it became late we decided to stay overnight in the carpark not far from this unofficial Saint. Our next destination was Provincial Parc Ischigualasto, also known as the valley of the moon. We followed a perfect road, the RP 510 through the Valley of Fertile. Upon arriving at the Park gate the big letdown: We were only allowed to drive in convoy with the ranger as the leader; we hate organized tours. We were told 5 stops in 3 hours! Out of the car, a quick talk by the ranger and back into our vehicle. But on the upside a very nice park that reminded us while driving around Wadi El Rayan and the Fayoum Oasis enroute to the Western desert in Egypt. After the last stop the ranger allowed us to travel back to the entrance on our own. Obviously, he noticed we were always late as we made many extra photo stops. This park easy needs one full day to explore. It has many strange clay formations and lots of different layers of minerals and sediments. Despite the need to drive in convoy this place should not be missed. Many different dinosaur fossils are still being found today inside the park. As we camped in the carpark before the park entrance and were allowed to drive back at our own leisure after the fifth stop we never got out of the park till just before dark (6PM).
The following day we continued on the 150 and this is no doubt one of the prettiest drives we have seen so far. From 1500 meters we descended to 800 meters with amazing scenery, over bridges and through several tunnels. Once we arrived in the valley the weather turned grey and cloudy.
Our plan to drive the 491 from Huaco to San Jose de Jachal did not happen as police stopped us as the road was not driveable with our truck! Hence a detour and back to the 150. This road did not disappoint either, we followed the narrow road along the Jachal river and the scenery was the amazing. Just before we arrived in Rodeo we found a great camp spot on Lake/Dam Cuesta Del Viento. Others told us it is a windy place and yes windy it was, in fact it was so windy that we moved to another spot to get some protection. This dam (man-made) is a major wind surfing destination and windspeeds up to 120kilometer per hour are a daily occurrence between December and May we were told. February is the month a major international wind surfing competition is held here. It became a very windy and cold night, and at 9AM it was still minus 6 degrees Celsius. After a visit to the bakery in Rodeo we were off to enjoy the mountains and scenery along the 149. Little did we know that the bad weather we experienced overnight had resulted in snow, hence a very slow decent from around 2600 meters down to 1500 meters. 3 minor accidents we witnessed along the way where cars lost control in the icy conditions. Once we came down towards Calingasta the views looking up the amazing Andes mountain were amazing. Our overnight camp was in Barreal, also called the oasis in the desert of Cuyo. Our campsite was the little picnic area just west of town, another amazing spot overlooking the 6500 meters plus peaks of the Andes including the 6770-meter-high Mount Mercedario. The streets are full of poplars and willows. Another 40-kilometre south is Pampa del Leoncito a plain which is 14 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide. The very white surface makes you feel you are on the moon.
We are also told this area has the clearest sky in Argentina. From Barreal it is just 110Km south to the N7 which connects Buenos Aires to Santiago in Chile. Time to visit Mount Aconcagua the highest mountain in the Andes and one of the world’s Seven Summits. Not that we are interested in climbing, but it is possible to reach the top without ropes or technical equipment. Mount Aconcagua is the highest Mountain in the world outside the Himalayas.
For us it was back to Mendoza from here as we had another doctor’s appointment hopefully given us the all clear continuing our journey to Chile. The verdict was 50/50. Yes, we can continue travelling, however the vision in my right eye will not return till the next surgery in 6 months’ time.
FAR NORTH WEST ARGENTINA 2018
Coming down the spectacular Jama Pass we arrived in the North West of Argentina. After a bush camp, our first stop was the greatest depression in North West Argentina, the Salinas Grandes, 12000 hectares of salt, 130 km west of Purmamarca. An amazing site, this huge white landscape. Next was Purmamarca, a small touristy village with dirt roads, a cosy plaza and the seven-colour hills. For us this was the most picturesque village in the valley located at the base of Cerro de los 7 Colores. We now entered the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a very pretty valley covered in cactus and colourful sandstone escarpments. This area contains ancient Inca trade routes which have been here for many thousands of years. This 96 kilometers long valley is famous for its colours and sounds. After a few days it was time for shopping hence we drove south to Salta, capital of the Salta province. It is the largest city in the far north west of Argentina with just over 620.000 inhabitants. Salta is also called Salta la Linda (Salta the beautiful).
The city promotes excellent weather, tourism friendly locals and lots of scenery. The city boasts museums, churches, historic buildings, squares, café’s and great nightlife. Our plan to do sightseeing in Salta became a non-event due to poor weather hence the cable car to Cerro San Bernardo was cancelled and we went shopping instead. With no improvements in the weather in the next few days, we tried our luck and left Salta for our planned trip to Cafayate. With low clouds, fog and drizzle it did not take long to decide to turn around and go north towards Bolivia.
Unfortunately, this meant we missed out on the Province of Catamarca a province with great Andes scenery, lots of driving of the beaten tracks, Inca ruins, craters and hot springs. Same for the Taff del Valle and the Valles Calchaquies, low clouds and drizzle. A shame but we felt lucky we visited the Quebrada de Humahuaca and had perfect weather when exploring the Atacama Desert in Chile. Another location we missed out on was the Colome winery Altura Maxima, which is at over 3100 meters the highest winery in the world. We decided to try our luck at Calilegua National Park.
A very different tropical mountain landscape at just under 400 meters in altitude. Our main reason for visiting the park was the presence of the largest predator in South America, the Jaguar but also the Puma. (seeing the jaguar in the Pantanal was one of the highlights for us in South America) The weather was still lousy and cold. Another change of plans; instead of staying overnight we decided for the hot pools just 30km up the road. Termas de Caimancito has 3 pools to choose from with 48 degrees, 42 degrees and 38 degrees C water temperature and we could camp right next to the pools, which made for a perfect afternoon and morning. With rain pelting down we made the decision to leave for our next destination: Bolivia.
For us our Argentina exploring as part of our world tour will come to an end tomorrow once we enter Bolivia. Argentina is a very diverse country, with great mountain scenery in the east, with cold barren and windy Patagonia where the mountains are covered in glaciers and the land is sparsely populated; the area around Bariloche, the area around Mendoza, where the largest mountain in the world is located outside the Himalayas (Mt Aconcagua 6960 meters); Foz de Iguazu an amazing waterfall; Buenos Aires, the tango, San Telmo markets, La Boca and I can go on and on; the Wild life, to be honest nothing compares to Africa, but the Penguins, Llama, Vicuna and Guanacos and Condors, Jaguars and Puma (unfortunately we never saw any), and last but to the least the people of Argentina, like Australia it is a multi -cultural society. Great people, fun loving, friendly, inviting and the best are the weekend BBQ’s. (Asado’s) Not surprising, Argentinians eat more than 85KG of meat per person per year. Argentinians dine late so if you arrive before 10PM you most likely eat on your own. 11PM is a much better time to arrive. A question we have been asked many times: Would you live in Argentina? No, I still think Australia is the best place on earth to live in as an emigrant. Argentina seems to have too many issues, and I would be very concerned if I would be nearing retirement age. I spoke to various emigrants who are unable to return to their birth country due to having kids and /or grandchildren here or do not have the money to return, but would return to Europe, Canada, or the USA if they could.
Would I come back to visit as a tourist? FOR SURE as Argentina has Great People, Great Scenery, Great Food.
Adios Argentina, hasta la próxima
Robert and Clary