Chile and Argentina

On our first day in Chile, we treated ourselves to three urgent needs: showers, laundry service and the internet. The last travel highlight we had in mind was the Altiplano, so, upon arrival in Chile, we booked the return ship for our Bremach for mid-September right away and planned how we wanted to spend our last few weeks in South America. It was clear that we would only be able to spend a few days in Chile, so we enjoyed the vacation atmosphere in the nice little touristic village of San Pedro de Atacama and were amazed at the comparatively stylishly dressed people there – and even more at the high prices. In nearby Valle de Luna, we looked at some lovely stone and salt formations and then drove on into the mountains again. On the way to Paso de Sico, which leads to Argentina, we drove past the extremely windy Los Flamencos National Park, where volcanoes rise up above deep blue-green lakes. Along the pass, we found ourselves back in the landscape of the Altiplano and marveled at some more remarkable lagoons, rocks and mountains – a true feast for the eyes that  would have been ideal for lingering if only it hadn’t been so cold and windy at over 13,000 ft (4000m)! So we did manage to arrive at the border to Argentina in the evening and spent the night in the remote highlands in front of the only building far and wide, the customs office. What a contrast to the busy, chaotic border crossings in Central America, where we didn’t want to stay a second longer than absolutely necessary!

After more than 125 miles (200km) through the highland desert, we came to the first village, but the ATM was out of order and there wasn’t any exchange office. How good that we always have enough food in the Bremach and can camp in the wilderness. On a diversified drive along the famous Ruta 40 (which extends from the north of Argentina southwards to Patagonia and is the longest street in the world with its over 3,100 miles (5000 km), we surmounted another almost 16,500-foot-high (5000m) pass and spent the night in a magnificent landscape with red rock and gigantic cactus plants – we felt as if we had been transported back to the wild west of the U.S.A. Climatically, we have now left the tropics after spending one year there and have arrived  in the last weeks of winter or the first ones of spring in the southern hemisphere. For us, coming directly out of the icy highlands, the first warm week of the year felt like mid-summer. Very conveniently, we were also in one of the most famous wine areas in Argentina, with good meat on every corner and the camp-sites equipped with enormous barbecue grills. Well-nourished and happy, we spent long evenings outdoors with Natascha and Michi in Cachi and then in Cafayate. What a pleasure after the early evenings in Altiplano, where everyone had to get back into their warm vehicles very quickly! We were quick to agree with other travelers’ statements that it is difficult in Argentina not to empty at least one bottle of wine every evening.

Further southwards along Ruta 40, we visited several bodegas (vineyards), grilled quite a few big sides of meat and ate countless empanadas. We fought our way though a few sandstorms (the föhn wind is called zonda here, and it swirls up everything that isn’t nailed down) and finally reached the hot springs of Fiambala, where we enjoyed a cascade with wonderfully warm pools filled by a warm river whose water is more than 104°F (40°C). What a great spot for the end of our excellent travel time with Natascha and Michi. After about six weeks together, our paths separated there, and they drove back to Chile, while we headed on to Mendoza. Due to a construction zone on Ruta 40, we had to make a detour of almost 200 miles (300km) in order to still be able to continue on a track through the backcountry. This stretch, as well as the northern region of Argentina, was more remote deserted than just about any place else on our entire trip. Along the way, there were two national parks which we decided to leave out because of the high entry fees and the mandatory passage through only in a convoy. The astrophysical telescope in Leoncito National Park, which was the largest in the world until just a few years ago, was a must for us, however. We just happened to meet up with Australians Elisabeth and John again there, who we knew from Cusco and La Paz. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset together with a panorama of the Andes, delicious barbecued steaks, lots of wine and good conversation.

As a last indulgence, we savored the Andean mountain world with the more than 22,830-foot-high (6959m) Aconcagua, the highest mountain on the continent. Its peak was draped in clouds and a storm was raging, but we couldn’t get any nearer than the viewpoint near the pass to Chile, anyway – once more on this trip, we had to say that we simply must return in a few years, either with well-trained, enthusiastic teenagers or alone.

From there on, the road was all downhill, but only topographically, not with our spirits. We bade the Andes a fond farewell and had a lovely drive along a track with great views from Uspallata to Mendoza, where we were greeted heartily by the family of my German-Argentinean friend Irene. We had a delicious noon meal at their place and then, the next day, a typical asado (loads and load of barbecued meat), accompanied by fine wine and a whole lot of tips for sightseeing in and around Mendoza. We didn’t get to do too much of this, however, because our campsite soon filled up with good friends. In addition to Elisabeth and John, we were happily surprised when Natascha and Michi, Bigi and Flo and then also Anke and Wolfgang, who we had met a few days earlier during lunch break, all showed up. We all settled in comfortably, took a look at the very pleasant city and went shopping. Except for wine and beef, food isn’t especially cheap here, but the dollar is worth 40% more on the black-market as the official course, so this gave us a terrific cost-performance ratio. What a contrast Argentina is to the other countries we have traveled through in the past months! It is much more modern; there are no more colorful, animated street markets, but gigantic supermarkets with the familiar world-wide chains. The streets are not filled with tractors or colectivo taxis here, and you have to wait very patiently to manage to get a taxi (except if you call for one by phone). In addition, in the time between noon and 4pm, the stores are all closed for siesta time. Nothing going on just at the time when shopping is the most practical for us since it is noon by the time we are ready to get going and the children have no desire to go walking around town in the late afternoon.

After our lovely visit in Mendoza (heartfelt thanks, once again, to Walter, Armando and their entire family!), we moved to eastwards, in our thoughts, as well. After two long days of driving across the plains – past endless expanses of pastures, fields and sporadic trees – we took a break in the very laid-back and picturesque village of San Antonio de Areco. We really liked the old, lovingly restored buildings, the appealingly designed small shops and the friendliness of the inhabitants. In the Gaucho Museum, we learned about the life of the Argentinean cowboys, who are still in existence in our modern times. In San Antonio itself, it seems as if hardly anyone has to work; you meet people who have lots of time everywhere. We happened to drive by the house of the man I had bought a belt from the day before, and he invited us in for coffee right away. Shortly afterwards, we met another acquaintance from the day before who asked spontaneously if we could take him to the border to Uruguay. This is how we came to drive the entire stretch there that afternoon (but not without quickly loading up the Bremach with some bottles of good Argentinean red wine beforehand) and how the officials requested that we should not spend the night in front of the border, but should drive right across it into Uruguay. So here we are now, two weeks before our trip back Europe, in the seventh and last country of our great trip.

Here are the private photos of our time in Chile and Argentina.

2 Thoughts on “Chile and Argentina

  1. Alles gute euch 4 in den letzten tagen dieser grandiosen zeit. Eine kurze auszeit zuhause zum batterieaufladen, und hura die gams kann das vagabundenleben weitergehen.

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