Coming out of the Bolivian highlands, we spent a few days warming up and restocking in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, before moving on to Argentina. The touristic little desert town has a calm atmosphere with a lovely plaza and stunning volcanoes surrounding it in the distance. On merely 2400m life is easy. It feels like an oasis surrounded by rough landscape. After the demanding high altitude, 8 days off-road we had spend going through the Salar de Uyuni and Ruta de las Lagunas in Bolivia, entering Chile was quite a culture shock. A rigorous border check, confiscating all fruits and vegetables, seeds and meat products we hadn’t yet consumed, led to a world where highways are all of a sudden perfect and lined with signs and rules. Every piece of nature worth looking at has a fence around it with a ticked booth and laws posted of who and what is allowed to enter. A strange contrast to the raw uninhabited land we’ve experienced so shortly before.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the little break, visiting Valle della Luna and the surroundings of San Pedro, while we were waiting for the high mountain pass to Argentina to open up again. A couple of days of snow had closed down the Paso de Jama border crossing.
The beautiful contrast of the landscape in Valle de la Luna is particularly stunning during sun set.
Big sand dunes meeting harsh cliffs create a confusing optical effect.
We drove through the valley with several other travelers we had met in San Pedro. Jeff’s mud-covered truck who just came back from an excursion to the surrounding geysers, made the whole thing look like a scene out of Mad Max, except that we were driving on perfect roads, with sign posted tourist attractions.
Trying to avoid any more tourist crowds (we’re travelers after all!) we explored some of the roads leading out of San Pedro, to find two beautiful sink holes filled with water. Enough said.
Then we hit the road again…
This is our route through northern Argentina.
Argentina opened up a whole new world. A huge country. Money soft and torn like over-used toilet paper. Great wine, and meat. A slightly forgotten Italian cultural influence resulting in pizza and ravioli everywhere, an all afternoon siesta shutting down the country from one to five pm, and cappuccinos (but in powder form). Gauchos riding their horses proudly alongside the road, hundreds of mulberry trees to harvest and make jam from, ground coffee with sugar already in it, elaborate BBQ stations and pizza ovens in campgrounds, friendly people and mouthwatering empanadas.
Driving the famous Ruta 40, from Salta to Mendoza, was wonderful! In company of the French couple Sidonie, and Vincent in their VW van, our focus was largely on enjoying good food of course. We made mulberry jam, baked chocolate cake and delicious lasagna in their dutch oven, did many many BBQs including vegetarian versions for Vincent, baked pizza, learned to drink Mate tea, and wine-tasted ourselves through the region. All along while enjoying the picturesque landscape with vineyards, adobe haciendas, rough cliffs, blooming cacti, and singing our Argentinian theme song: “chef un petit verre on a soif!”.
Tara was skeptical of Argentina at first. We told her it’s the land of BBQ but she just couldn’t smell anything in the first few hundred kilometers. This is her, before the border in front of a laguna named “Tara”.
We met Barbara and Mark with their MAN truck on the way. Their cheerful company and cosy moving apartment was a welcome refuge for us in the cold evening.
As a truck mechanic, Mark isn’t intimidated checking out an oil leak on the wheel, even on this empty stretch of land.
We are used to curvy mountain roads by now, but Argentina makes them look good.
The colourful mountains of Purmamarca. We gave up on color correction. Rainbow mountains always look wrong.
Our first delicious steak – although it was llama, not beef.
Our first attempts of making asado (including a vegetarian version)…
…and mulberry jam. Yum.
Stunning landscapes between Salta and Molinos made us feel like we landed in the wild west.
Just outside the town of Molinos we visited Finca Colome, a large, fancy Swiss-owned winery. Reservations required.
Sidonie’s pre-birthday desert we indulged in, was so delicious, we had to give her cover so she could lick the plate out in peace and still keep her dignity. That’s how we do fancy!
The finca hosts a fantastic museum of James Turrell — the Californian light and space artist. His works skillfully play with perception and turn every room of the building into a sensory spectacle. The experience is even more enjoyable after a glass of the Finca’s delicious wine.
This northern section of Argentina, may be one of the most beautiful parts of the famous routa 40, although difficult to capture in pictures. The landscape is barren and dry, but dotted with lush valleys, lone trees, and small vineyards. Green parrots color the sky, adobe houses seam the street. Some have posh, roman looking pillars out front — a strange combination. The basic earthen habitats often have pizza ovens, solar panels, and seem self-suficient. We love the kind of architecture that uses material found at the site of construction. It feels respectful, and at the same time re-assuring that it doesn’t require too much to build an existence. The integration of architecture into the landscape brings a nice calmness about the land. Despite human habitation, nature still seems one. This stretch of road almost gave us an urge to settle… but only almost.
Many of the Argentinian paper bills are in such bad shape, they are taped together and almost falling apart. While in most other countries, people would simply refuse to except such bills, in Argentina this seems to be the norm. This makes it more apparent what money really is: over-used paper! And for some strange reason, we all agree that it has the value of the number printed onto it.
In Argentina, there is a double currency: the official Argentinian peso, and the unofficial Dollar Blue. Stable currencies (US dollars and euros) are exchanged at a rate much higher than the official exchange rate.
Argentina went through many economical crisis and doesn’t seem to be in great economical and political shape. It feels like a very developed, educated place, with European standards, but many people we’ve talked to seem dissatisfied. Once a land of opportunities and one of the world’s richest countries, this nation has made its people rich and poor many times since. Despite any hardship, many Argentinians are exceptionally friendly and have an inspiring light-heartedness to them.
This joyful spirit may be due to the availability of gazillions of different kinds of mouth-watering empanadas.
Never had so many in our lives!
Las Ruinas de Quilmes — a Pre-Incan civilisation that built their habitats half underground along a hillside. Strolling through the site, it becomes interesting to observe how the negative and positive spaces interplay and difficult to guess if openings are dug out or walls built.
Erdem found a perfect empanada-digestion site.
Finding a nice pizza oven on a camp site made us immediately move into production mode. Delicious! We first baked eggplants and bell peppers which then were turned into a tasty topping.
Traveling with a baking tray seems a strange thing to do, but has proven useful many times.
Occasionally we fry things using both gas plates at once, use it as a serving tray, or to bake pizza in this case.
We love being on the road! Tara usually does too, but sometimes gets tired of looking out the window.
Drinking mate has quickly become a habit and gives reason to some lovely afternoon road side breaks.
A bit further South around Valle Union the weather turned from a wonderful spring-like atmosphere into several days of rain. This caused many rivers to build up and overflow across the streets. One road south was completely blocked, and the other required us to cross several fast flowing streams.
Not a big problem for a truck, but a bit concerning with a VW van. For the biggest crossing we decided to pull them, just to be safe. Tara thought this was a splendid idea and was eager to help.
It is great to encounter so many new animals in each country.
Argentina seems to be teeming with foxes. Some of them are very accustomed to looking through trash cans on campgrounds in search for food.
These Patagonian Mara are extremely interesting rodents, walking/hopping around in pairs. They are monogamous animals that seem to be a mix of bunny and deer. You can call them “beer”.
The last kind of the four Andean camelids (llama, alpaca, vicuña, and…): guanacos. They seem very similar to vicuñas but this species has a dark face.
We are glad we get to travel with our own animal. It is interesting to see our journey through her eyes and get an animal’s perspective on the things we experience. She is a good nature sensor and makes sensory overstimulation very apparent.
Continuing our culinary exploration, this vegetarian lasagna – made in a dutch oven which was carried all the way from Canada – was a particular delight. World class cuisine!
We continued on learning about traditional champagne production at the Champagnera Miguel Mas. We had no idea what an elaborate process it is! One thing we were shown is that sweetening grape concentrate is added in increasing amounts to the original champagne, in order to create the variations from Brut Nature to Demi Sec.
The growing number of vineyards indicated our impending arrival to Mendoza. Nestled in the midst of a significant wine region, the city has a great sophistication in selling their products. It is no wonder one can find stores with separate rooms for each grape, and precious bottles displayed like in a museum.
In Mendoza, our paths separated with Sidonie & Vincent. It was great fun traveling with them! We were together almost every day from Potosi, Bolivia to Mendoza, Argentina. We shared a lot more than what was laid out on the big picnic tables. We will miss them and all the imaginary characters floating around their heads. And the free French coffee in the morning… (Not the one pictured above. But still!)
Overlanding rig spottet in Uspalata.
The pass crossing over to Chile, at Paso Libertadores, was absolutely stunning. We will be zig-zagging our way South between Argentina and Chile, but this may be the last time we see the dwarfing grandeur of the high Andes.