In each country we visit we try to give something back, from training staff in a accident and emergency department in Cambodia to sharing meals with homeless people. Ordinarily we do not relate these tales on our web page but this time we can’t resist...
We were driving down a street in Lobos when we came upon a British registered fire engine. On closer inspection Dave discovered that the Simon Snorkel unit was from a town less than 25 miles from where we used to live in Scotland. The towns residents had worked hard to raise the money to purchase the fire engine and it had only arrived the day before. What a coincidence!
The very friendly voluntary firemen were more than a little surprised to discover that not only were we from Scotland but that Dave knew how to operate their new engine, so it was arranged for Dave to spend the following morning showing the firemen how to safely operate the Simon Snorkel unit. The local press made an appearance and one of the firemen videoed the whole event for use as a training video then, with typical Argentine hospitality, we were invited to the station for a superb asado lunch.
It was one of our most unexpected opportunities to help but we were delighted to be able to give something back to this friendly and welcoming town.
We flew to Britain the following day but when we returned to Argentina in February of 2011 we were invited back for a welcome asado, another interview with the local newspaper and another ‘test morning’ on the engine. At the end of the day Dave was presented with a commemorative plaque for ‘services rendered’!
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We spent our time socialising - Buenos Aires friends came to spend the weekend and a invitation to the Rotary Club meeting gave us the opportunity to meet some of the important members of the community who presented us with the club pennant. Another asado (bbq) evening with wonderful friends in Lobos and then a special visit from some Argentine friends we haven’t seen for over a year. We have never eaten so much meat in our lives!!!
Rose went shopping in the local supermarket only for the staff to ask to have their photograph taken with her - she was very bemused by it all. Once again we were overwhelmed and humbled by the friendship of this small community.
Argentine hospitality at it’s best - many thanks to all our friends and the people of Lobos!!
After a 21 day battle involving 50+ phone calls, 20+ emails and 3 formal complaints - LAN released our last piece of luggage from Sao Paulo airport. The amazing thing is that our box was opened in Sao Paulo, it sat opened for 19 days, then it was sent to Buenos Aires, still open, through the airport and all it’s staff and then into a unlocked delivery van to us and not a single item was stolen from it. Nothing. After hearing so many stories of thieves, robbers and bandits in South America we are very proud to tell this story!
Now we can finally start travelling again so we drive to Buenos Aires for a few days of pleasure. We find ourselves really surprised by the city - every time we have been here it has been for business or transit - never tourism. We park Nessie in the Puerto Madero area of the city - a old port area from where the rich can view the city and their dog walkers from their multi storey apartment windows - and what a lovely view it is! We visit the famous Casa Rosada where Eva Peron once stood on the balcony to speak to her public, the Catedral Metropolitana where the body of General Jose de San Martin rests under guard, the Congresso and the nearby stunning Barolo Building.
Friends take us to Palermo for a walk around the gardens and a visit to the market stalls in Plaza Francia where we met a very talented coin seller.
San Telmo’s Sunday market is packed full of tourists but it’s still a great place to see tango, browse antique shops and to hear superb local musicians. La Boca may have a rough reputation but within the ‘safe’ tourist areas there is a colourful and vibrant feel that reminds us of Brasil. We stroll around watching tango and malambo - a Argentine dance that requires speed and ankles of iron!
It comes as a surprise to us at how much we have enjoyed this city. We will be back soon.
Puerto Madero by night and one of the many dog walkers - this boy has 15 dogs!!!
The Cogresso building, the police finding some shade near Casa Rosado and the fabulous Barolo Building.
San Telmo’s Sunday market - antiques, big smiles and carnaval music.
La Boca - Tango, some famous faces and a young Malambo dancer.
After nine days we reluctantly leave the city and drive north west toward Cordoba stopping to sleep in small village plaza’s and on beautiful lake shores along the way. The scenery just gets better and better the further north we drive and we begin to understand why the north of Argentina is a favourite for most overlanders.
The lovely lake around Embalse and Rumipal tempt us to spent several days bush camping on the shore before we drive to Villa Belgrano (a village where the survivors of the Graf Spey settled) to meet up with our friends from Germany/UK - Martin and Lynne. It’s always a real treat to catch up with friends, especially those from the UK, who understand our British humour.
Another lake to the north tempts us to stay for a while - the problem is that we are only driving 40km’s a day before we find somewhere lovely to stay - at this speed we will need a one year visa for Argentina!!! The city of Cordoba is not a favourite with overlanders - we suspect it’s because the campsite is too far from the city centre. It’s a shame that most people bypass the city as we really enjoyed a stroll around the highlights in the centre of town.
It’s just not possible to see everything we want to in this lovely region, so decide to drive in a reasonably direct route and return to this area later to complete our sightseeing. The next few days are spent hopping from lakeshore to village plaza but it’s clear things are going too well. In La Falda the inevitable happens - we get hit by a bus.
It’s the usual story - we are sitting at traffic lights on the outside lane and a bus is next to us on the inside lane - after the lights the inside lane has lots of parked cars on it. We have the right of way but our macho south American bus driver clearly doesn’t care - he pulls out and pushes us into the central reserve. Our wing mirror seemed to fold in on us in slow motion and we held our breathe as we waited for our fiamma sun awning to be ripped off. Suddenly the driver seems to hear our horn and stops squashing us but it took a bit of persuading to get him to stop. I was keen to practise my Spanish on the driver whilst silently cursing the fact that I haven’t studied some of the more ‘colourful’ words of the language.
As we wait for the police to arrive Dave overhears the drivers assistant telling the driver to drive away, so he jumps in front of the bus and clings to it like a starfish surprising everyone - all he needed was a Green Peace T-shirt and I would have been transported back to the 1970’s! If we hadn’t been so shaken and angry it would have been a hilarious scene. When the police arrived they insisted there had been no accident - clearly we had missed the money changing hands between the bus driver and the policeman. We refused to give in and demanded the insurance details from the bus company but we know it’s a waste of time - as we’ve always said - you only buy insurance to stop being bribed by the police for not having any, not so that you can make a claim. It’s almost impossible to get money out of a insurance company in your home country never mind in a foreign one!! Luckily Nessie is a very strong girl and the bus came off much worse than us - the bus driver will have some explaining to do!
Our nerves are soothed by a lovely drive from La Cumbre. Evergreen hills dotted with pampas and remote estancias, waterfalls, condors and the biggest eagle we have ever seen, led us to the beautiful village of Ascochinga and from there to the historical Unesco site of Estancia Santa Catalina - a estate that used slaves from Africa to work it’s one million hectares, originally a Jesuit site it was bought privately many years ago.
It’s a long, hot drive on arrow straight roads to our next top sight - Valle de la Luna - a land of dinosaur remains, crazy rock formations and fabulous red cliffs. We spent the night camping with desert foxes under a heavy blanket of stars - a really special place. It was here that we met the lovely Walter and Dagnar - a Argentine/German couple who are now operating 4x4 adventure tours (see our info page for details).
From here we are full of indecision - we had wanted to drive over the Andes on the 4x4 track of Paso Pircas Negras but this region has had 40 days of rain and the river crossing at the top of the pass if very deep and fast plus the track is full of early snow so the pass has been closed. So - what to do?? There are lots of Andean passes we want to drive but we don’t want to waste diesel by driving over the same pass twice. Our decision is made - we continue north.
We leave the pleasant town of Villa Union behind (many thanks to the friendly staff at the information office) and follow Route 40 north to Chilecito - it’s a great drive - narrow and twisting in places, edged with vibrant red rocks and sheer drops into lush valleys and gorges. Fortunately we meet no other trucks on the corners as part of this section is single track. We spend another peaceful night parked by some old ruins with more desert foxes to share our food. We have deliberately driven past 4x4 routes that we want to explore, leaving them for when we have more time on our visa, and continue to follow Rt40 north stopping at some lovely places along the way.
From Hualfin north the road is surprising - it is clear that the spring snow melt and heavy rain falls turn this region into one big flood plain - we spend the journey crossing countless waterways. It would bankrupt the Argentine government to build bridges over every water runway so all that can be done is for fords to be strengthened for vehicles to drive over, for reinforcements to be built to channel the raging waters and for landslides to be cleared as efficiently as possible. It must be a difficult place to live during the wet season.
Sunset at Rumipal, Salud in Villa Belgrano plus Alta Gracia clock tower and resevoir.
Cafe life in Corboda and the lovely city Cathedral.
The bus that hit us, rush hour in a small village and the lovely Santa Catalina Estancia church.
Are we nearly there yet?
The long straight road is worth the drive for the wonderful sights of Valle de la Luna.
Hoping to not meet a truck on this beautiful route and crossing cool waters in Andolucas.
The scenery is superb - typical Andean coloured hills, indigenous villages and ancient ruins, vineyards, adobe (mudbrick) houses whose gardens are full of peppers drying in the sun. Our burning love affair for Chile has reduced to embers.
A wonderful night spent by the pre Incan ruins of Quilmes is yet another of many memorable bush camping nights, after which we drive into the beautiful wine region of Valles Calchaquies.
Glad to see we are not the only indecisive people in South America - a street sign in Londres. One of many untamed water crossings and peppers drying in the sun.
Superb pre Incan ruins of Quilmes
a lovely vineyard near Cafayate.
We have heard that the drive from Cafayate to Cachi is very nice, so we plan our route this way. Calling this route ‘very nice’ has to be the understatement of the century - it was STUNNING. More wonderful Andean scenery with vibrantly coloured hills, tiny adobe villages and cardon cacti everywhere . The rock formations around Angostura were amazing. We couldn’t imagine anything better but we were wrong - the drive from Cachi to Salta was even better!
But before we could see it we had to get Nessie to start. Since Buenos Aires we have had big problems finding fuel, garages have either had no diesel or they will only sell us 100 Pesos per day - that’s only 28 litres. We found a garage that would sell us as much diesel as we wanted so we filled our tanks, unfortunately it was terrible fuel and Nessie’s diesel/water separator system completely blocked with a waxy debris cutting off the fuel supply! It took some time to figure it out and it was just as I was standing by the roadside waiting to hitch hike to the nearest village to get a mechanic that Dave suddenly worked out the problem.
Nessie was like a racehorse up the high mountain pass to the lovely viewpoints of the snow capped Andes and a deep mist covered valley beyond. Our road plummeted through endless switchbacks with superb views to a valley floor full of cacti and flowers. We followed the valley floor crossing water ways and a narrow bridge to then find ourselves on a single track route with rock overhangs which then led us to a tropical forested valley.
We have driven more than 100,000 miles in the world in some amazing countries and this route is without doubt the most beautiful we have ever driven. Highly recommended.
A tremendous drive from Cafayate to Salta and a joint of meat hanging to dry in a adobe house.
All the overlanders we have met absolutely LOVE Salta so our hopes are high for the city. A handful of city centre buildings barely hold our attention for one afternoon, I don’t know why, but for some reason Salta just does not excite us. We do some essential shopping and get Nessie’s front cab heater repaired on a street corner before we leave after having to make yet another very difficult decision - north or west??? We are like children in a sweet shop - surrounded by goodies and unable to choose!! Ha ha ha
West we go toward the longest Andean Pass we have ever driven. We stop at San Antonio de los Cobres, a little town 170km’s west of Salta, famous for it’s Tren a las Nubes (train to the clouds). Unfortunately the train is famous for all the wrong reasons when we arrive - it has broken down and hundreds of passengers are stranded in this dusty little village which sits at 3775mt’s (12,458 feet)!
Farewell to beautiful North Argentina. We will be sure to visit again!!
One of many street sellers in Salta, our excellent street side mechanics and the inside of Salta’s Cathedral.
Tren a las Nubes, the police photographing Nessie (she’d just been washed and polished) and colourful hills.