Beguiled, Bogged and Blotto in the Bolivian Boonies

When Kat ended the last blog we had just enjoyed three days at a fun, horsey guest ranch 30 miles south of the city of Salta, Argentina (just off the map to the south).  Our adventure  continued with three days in Salta getting the last blog out, doing laundry, restocking Charlotte’s shelves and exploring the heart of this, while large, very humanly vibrant city.  Notwithstanding it’s a city, we enjoyed our time there immensely (surprise), but were ready to push on into the wilds of southern Bolivia.  We’d read much about the poverty, corruption and desolation that this land-locked country offers, so we planned accordingly with full food, gas and water stores.  As usual, it turned out that reports were exaggerated, and we found Bolivia, like everywhere else we’ve visited, to be friendly, fascinating and full of wondrous sites.  We really only scratched the surface of this rather large country, only covering its southwestern corner, an area containing vast salt flats and endless open desert devoid of human civilization like towns and paved roads.  In other words, our kind of place!  Instead of heading straight into the desert though, we did drive 200 miles out of our way to visit the country’s capital, Sucre.  We wanted to get a taste of the urban side of Bolivia and we couldn’t have picked a better city.  Even every Bolivian tourist we talked to assured us Sucre is their country’s jewel.  Sucre also marked a turning point where we pointed Charlotte southward, once again heading towards our overall goal of reaching the tip of this amazing continent.  Soon enough we were driving on endless salt flats and enjoying ourselves in total isolation - with a bit too much alcohol as the photos will tell!  From the Saltar de Uyuni we bounced 268 miles over the worst washboard roads I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.  But the beauty and desolation of southwestern Bolivia more than made up for the price we paid in rough roads.  This area quickly became yet another highlight of our trip.  We hope you enjoy this blog, resplendent with dust, salt, booze, vast vistas, critters, locals, washboards and did I mention dust?  Oh, and Happy New Year to you all!!!

When Kat ended the last blog we had just enjoyed three days at a fun, horsey guest ranch 30 miles south of the city of Salta, Argentina (just off the map to the south). Our adventure continued with three days in Salta getting the last blog out, doing laundry, restocking Charlotte’s shelves and exploring the heart of this, while large, very humanly vibrant city. Notwithstanding it’s a city, we enjoyed our time there immensely (surprise), but were ready to push on into the wilds of southern Bolivia.
We’d read much about the poverty, corruption and desolation that this land-locked country offers, so we planned accordingly with full food, gas and water stores. As usual, it turned out that reports were exaggerated, and we found Bolivia, like everywhere else we’ve visited, to be friendly, fascinating and full of wondrous sites. We really only scratched the surface of this rather large country, only covering its southwestern corner, an area containing vast salt flats and endless open desert devoid of human civilization like towns and paved roads. In other words, our kind of place! Instead of heading straight into the desert though, we did drive 200 miles out of our way to visit the country’s capital, Sucre. We wanted to get a taste of the urban side of Bolivia and we couldn’t have picked a better city. Even every Bolivian tourist we talked to assured us Sucre is their country’s jewel. Sucre also marked a turning point where we pointed Charlotte southward, once again heading towards our overall goal of reaching the tip of this amazing continent. Soon enough we were driving on endless salt flats and enjoying ourselves in total isolation – with a bit too much alcohol as the photos will tell! From the Saltar de Uyuni we bounced 268 miles over the worst washboard roads I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. But the beauty and desolation of southwestern Bolivia more than made up for the price we paid in rough roads. This area quickly became yet another highlight of our trip.
We hope you enjoy this blog, resplendent with dust, salt, booze, vast vistas, critters, locals, washboards and did I mention dust? Oh, and Happy New Year to you all!!!

Since it’s the holiday season we’ll start off with the best Cabernet Sauvignon we found in Argentina.  The Pietro Marini winery is located in Cafayate, a town we stayed in a week earlier.  We should have taken a tour.  We enjoyed this bottle at the Jovi restaurant in downtown Salta, a landmark which has been serving amazing regional wines and delicious steaks for over 50 years.

Since it’s the holiday season we’ll start off with the best Cabernet Sauvignon we found in Argentina. The Pietro Marini winery is located in Cafayate, a town we stayed in a week earlier. We should have taken a tour. We enjoyed this bottle at the Jovi restaurant in downtown Salta, a landmark which has been serving amazing regional wines and delicious steaks for over 50 years.

Our waiter Roberto has been working at Jovi for 42 years.  He recommended the Cab and served us with an old world hospitality not found much these days.

Our waiter Roberto has been working at Jovi for 42 years. He recommended the Cab and served us with an old world hospitality not found much these days.

Our favorite breakfast spot quickly became Alicia’s which we visited twice.  Isabel was the head honcho in the kitchen and insisted she put on a clean red chief’s jacket before I took her fuzzy picture.  Here she displays freshly made empanadas, minced meat and vegetables wrapped in a pastry crust – delicious!

Our favorite breakfast spot quickly became Alicia’s which we visited twice. Isabel was the head honcho in the kitchen and insisted she put on a clean red chief’s jacket before I took her fuzzy picture. Here she displays freshly made empanadas, minced meat and vegetables wrapped in a pastry crust – delicious!

Lyle the Crocodile?  We spotted this clever sand creation along the sidewalk while strolling around Salta on a Sunday afternoon.

Lyle the Crocodile? We spotted this clever sand creation along the sidewalk while strolling around Salta on a Sunday afternoon.

On the road and heading north to Bolivia we stopped for a peek at the town of Purmamarca, known for its seven color hills which tower over the dusty tourist shops.

On the road and heading north to Bolivia we stopped for a peek at the town of Purmamarca, known for its seven color hills which tower over the dusty tourist shops.

Close to the Bolivian border, following Ruta 9, these “potatoes au gratin” like hills came into view.

Close to the Bolivian border, following Ruta 9, these “potatoes au gratin” like hills came into view.

Finding a dirt road heading towards the hills, we were able to get closer to these amazing geological wonders.

Finding a dirt road heading towards the hills, we were able to get closer to these amazing geological wonders.

…and get checked out by the locals at the same time.

…and get checked out by the locals at the same time.

The whole place was just too cool, so we stopped early for the night and camped with this view.

The whole place was just too cool, so we stopped early for the night and camped with this view.

Before hitting the Ruta 9 again the next morning, I stopped to check our ever present coolant leak and was again watched over by curious locals.

Before hitting the Ruta 9 again the next morning, I stopped to check our ever present coolant leak and was again watched over by curious locals.

For miles along Ruta 9 we ran parallel to an abandoned railroad track and an old telegraph line.  All the poles, made from steel rail tracks placed vertically, sported perfect glass isolators; the kind I know people back home love to collect but can’t find in the American West anymore.

For miles along Ruta 9 we ran parallel to an abandoned railroad track and an old telegraph line. All the poles, made from steel rail tracks placed vertically, sported perfect glass isolators; the kind I know people back home love to collect but can’t find in the American West anymore.

Bienvenidos a Bolivia.  This was the main drag of the border town of Villazon just after going through the usual third world border hassles.  After our efficient, no-nonsense crossing from Chile to Argentina, we just had to laugh at the silly antics of backward country bureaucrats.

Bienvenidos a Bolivia. This was the main drag of the border town of Villazon just after going through the usual third world border hassles. After our efficient, no-nonsense crossing from Chile to Argentina, we just had to laugh at the silly antics of backward country bureaucrats.

Leaving the bustle of Villazon we crossed under this elaborate welcome bridge leading into the desert.  It was the first sign that Bolivia might not be exactly what we expected.

Leaving the bustle of Villazon we crossed under this elaborate welcome bridge leading into the desert. It was the first sign that Bolivia might not be exactly what we expected.

At first chance I added the Bolivia sticker to our collection of now 15 countries we have passed through – and reflected that this is our last sticker for this continent.

At first chance I added the Bolivia sticker to our collection of now 15 countries we have passed through – and reflected that this is our last sticker for this continent.

After a couple of hours of driving and seeing no towns we took a side road around the grimy mining town of Potosí, which took us to the even grimier village of Belén.  Approaching the town revealed the persistent problem of plastic trash in countries with no garbage collection programs.

After a couple of hours of driving and seeing no towns we took a side road around the grimy mining town of Potosí, which took us to the even grimier village of Belén. Approaching the town revealed the persistent problem of plastic trash in countries with no garbage collection programs.

The residents seem oblivious to their trashed environment.

The residents seem oblivious to their trashed environment.

A pots and pans store on the filthy streets of Belén.

A pots and pans store on the filthy streets of Belén.

While most gave our clattering bus a cautious stare, we got a smile out of a few.  Note the braided pigtails and long skirts with sweaters.

While most gave our clattering bus a cautious stare, we got a smile out of a few. Note the braided pigtails and long skirts with sweaters.

These gals had it a little more together with a clean street to sell their fresh fruit on and ice cream to go around!

These gals had it a little more together with a clean street to sell their fresh fruit on and ice cream to go around!

Further on down the road we camped our first night in Bolivia with this incredible view to wake up to.

Further on down the road we camped our first night in Bolivia with this incredible view to wake up to.

 

We had a couple of steaks and some veggies in the fridge that were going a bit “off” to our tender gringo tummies, so Kat wanted to give them to a local.  Her first approach, speaking in Spanish and not carrying the food, was to a woman standing in her front yard.  Upon Kat’s approach the woman turned in terror and ran into her home!  We realized these local natives probably don’t speak any Spanish and without showing the food, didn’t have a clue why we were stopping our big red box with the dead cow head and approaching them.  Kat’s modified second try to this gal and her child, who were walking down the highway, was more successful.  As I pulled off the road, Kat hopped out with steaks and veggies in hand.  The woman grabbed the child and quickly headed to the opposite side of the road.  Kat pursued, food outstretched.  Finally the woman stopped and acknowledged the gift with a shy, fleeting smile, then quickly ushered her child onward and swiftly continued down the road as I tried to sneak this photo.  Kat noted that she appeared quite young, maybe early 20s, but was already missing several teeth.

We had a couple of steaks and some veggies in the fridge that were going a bit “off” to our tender gringo tummies, so Kat wanted to give them to a local. Her first approach, speaking in Spanish and not carrying the food, was to a woman standing in her front yard. Upon Kat’s approach the woman turned in terror and ran into her home! We realized these local natives probably don’t speak any Spanish and without showing the food, didn’t have a clue why we were stopping our big red box with the dead cow head and approaching them. Kat’s modified second try to this gal and her child, who were walking down the highway, was more successful. As I pulled off the road, Kat hopped out with steaks and veggies in hand. The woman grabbed the child and quickly headed to the opposite side of the road. Kat pursued, food outstretched. Finally the woman stopped and acknowledged the gift with a shy, fleeting smile, then quickly ushered her child onward and swiftly continued down the road as I tried to sneak this photo. Kat noted that she appeared quite young, maybe early 20s, but was already missing several teeth.

We arrived in the capital of Sucre with the intention of just checking the city out, restocking supplies and headed for the desert.  But a quick walk around the main square told us this was a place to hang for a while.  Sucre was unlike the Bolivia we had seen so far.

We arrived in the capital of Sucre with the intention of just checking the city out, restocking supplies and headed for the desert. But a quick walk around the main square told us this was a place to hang for a while. Sucre was unlike the Bolivia we had seen so far.

Plaza de Pedro de Anzurez, the oldest part of Sucre, named after the founder of the town.

Plaza de Pedro de Anzurez, the oldest part of Sucre, named after the founder of the town.

A view of the charming city of Sucre as seen from the mirador, the lookout point atop La Recoleta hill and the spot where the capital city was founded in 1538.

A view of the charming city of Sucre as seen from the mirador, the lookout point atop La Recoleta hill and the spot where the capital city was founded in 1538.

Sucre skyline.

Sucre skyline.

The beautiful main square convinced us we needed to stay.  Kat poses with a statue of Bolivia’s namesake, Simon Bolivar.  Note the gorgeous landscaping throughout the square.

The beautiful main square convinced us we needed to stay. Kat poses with a statue of Bolivia’s namesake, Simon Bolivar. Note the gorgeous landscaping throughout the square.

Being Sunday and close to Christmas, lots of local families were out enjoying the unusually beautiful weather in the main square.  Situated at 9,000 ft, the city is not known for its heat, even in the middle of summer.

Being Sunday and close to Christmas, lots of local families were out enjoying the unusually beautiful weather in the main square. Situated at 9,000 ft, the city is not known for its heat, even in the middle of summer.

We want these guys to landscape our yard!

We want these guys to landscape our yard!

“Mom, I’m sick of sitting in the park.  And tell my sister to quit bugging me!”

“Mom, I’m sick of sitting in the park. And tell my sister to quit bugging me!”

Tourists.

Tourists.

Duh! Which way do I go? The crosswalks split in the middle of the street with separate walk/don’t walk signs for each direction.  Walking around had me more confused than driving!

Duh! Which way do I go? The crosswalks split in the middle of the street with separate walk/don’t walk signs for each direction. Walking around had me more confused than driving!

We gave this little street beggar toast with jam and butter in exchange for a big smile.  Wonder where she spent her Christmas?

We gave this little street beggar toast with jam and butter in exchange for a big smile. Wonder where she spent her Christmas?

This prostitute looked to be about 13 years old.

This prostitute looked to be about 13 years old.

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The main open air market was a cornucopia of beautiful fruits, veggies and beautiful, friendly Bolivians eager to serve us…

The main open air market was a cornucopia of beautiful fruits, veggies and beautiful, friendly Bolivians eager to serve us…

…or not.

…or not.

Victoria sold us some fresh chicken and happily de-boned and diced it for us while we told her about our trip.  She wished us safe travels and to go with God and all will be well.

Victoria sold us some fresh chicken and happily de-boned and diced it for us while we told her about our trip. She wished us safe travels and to go with God and all will be well.

Victoria’s competition decided to take siesta a little early.

Victoria’s competition decided to take siesta a little early.

Kat wanted to take every one of these spices with us.

Kat wanted to take every one of these spices with us.

Dog and cat food anyone?

Dog and cat food anyone?

How about some shampoo?  Deodorant?  Shaving cream?

How about some shampoo? Deodorant? Shaving cream?

Think a tie might help my pathetic wardrobe?

Think a tie might help my pathetic wardrobe?

We checked in to the Capital Plaza Hotel, a beautiful old colonial right on the main square – for $55 bucks a night.

We checked in to the Capital Plaza Hotel, a beautiful old colonial right on the main square – for $55 bucks a night.

Dinner on an upstairs balcony overlooking the main square.

Dinner on an upstairs balcony overlooking the main square.

At night the main square came alive with the Christmas season.  Throughout the month of December, either in Argentina or Bolivia, we have not seen much fanfare about Christmas.  Only now, a few days before the 25th have the decorations come out.  Nowhere in stores do you get the barrage of sell, sell, selling of material stuff, such a welcome relief.  It seems here in Latin America the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating Christ’s birthday, is alive and well.  The Holiday has not become a commercial excuse to buy a bunch of crap.

At night the main square came alive with the Christmas season. Throughout the month of December, either in Argentina or Bolivia, we have not seen much fanfare about Christmas. Only now, a few days before the 25th have the decorations come out. Nowhere in stores do you get the barrage of sell, sell, selling of material stuff, such a welcome relief. It seems here in Latin America the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating Christ’s birthday, is alive and well. The Holiday has not become a commercial excuse to buy a bunch of crap.

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Heading south again, the main traffic towards Uyuni was mostly the four legged kind.

Heading south again, the main traffic towards Uyuni was mostly the four legged kind.

Waking up the morning of Dec 23rd and looking out our kitchen window almost looked like we had a big front lawn.  Where is the white picket fence?

Waking up the morning of Dec 23rd and looking out our kitchen window almost looked like we had a big front lawn. Where is the white picket fence?

Lately we’ve been pretty good about our morning stretches and exercises, thanks to mild temps, no bugs and great hidden camp spots.  Our Mac’s Tie Downs Utility Mat helps too.

Lately we’ve been pretty good about our morning stretches and exercises, thanks to mild temps, no bugs and great hidden camp spots. Our Mac’s Tie Downs Utility Mat helps too.

After carrying around a winch and a ground anchor for just over a year, 21,000 miles and lots of nasty dirt roads, we finally needed them!  Leaving our river bottom camp site I wasn’t paying attention (fiddling with the stereo) and missed applying the VW Syncro four-wheeling creed of “use momentum.”

After carrying around a winch and a ground anchor for just over a year, 21,000 miles and lots of nasty dirt roads, we finally needed them! Leaving our river bottom camp site I wasn’t paying attention (fiddling with the stereo) and missed applying the VW Syncro four-wheeling creed of “use momentum.”

Kat demonstrates the proper technique for setting a Pull Pal winch anchor in soft ground while I control the winch, a technique she has come to master over years of four-wheeling together.

Kat demonstrates the proper technique for setting a Pull Pal winch anchor in soft ground while I control the winch, a technique she has come to master over years of four-wheeling together.

Yes! Its working!  The Pull Pal took hold and our trusty Warn winch, riding dormant for a year, drags poor Charlotte through the muck.

Yes! Its working! The Pull Pal took hold and our trusty Warn winch, riding dormant for a year, drags poor Charlotte through the muck.

The Pull Pal is a life saver when there are no trees, rocks or another vehicle around to anchor your winch to.

The Pull Pal is a life saver when there are no trees, rocks or another vehicle around to anchor your winch to.

Back on dry land once again.

Back on dry land once again.

Dropping down into the town of Uyuni, Bolivia on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the endless salt flats seen in the distance.

Dropping down into the town of Uyuni, Bolivia on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the endless salt flats seen in the distance.

We picked up this grateful miner hitchhiking about ten miles out of town.  We hadn’t seen another car heading our way all morning.  We never did get his name but gathered in local dialect Spanish that he had family in Uyuni and was excited to see them for Christmas.

We picked up this grateful miner hitchhiking about ten miles out of town. We hadn’t seen another car heading our way all morning. We never did get his name but gathered in local dialect Spanish that he had family in Uyuni and was excited to see them for Christmas.

Funky artwork in downtown Uyuni.

Funky artwork in downtown Uyuni.

We took a quick look around town but decided to head straight for the salt flats for some isolated camping before Christmas Eve.  On the edge of the salt lies the Hotel de Sal, a hotel made completely out of salt!  The walls, furniture, beds, wall hangings, staircases – everything is made out of the stuff!  We had to check it out, and although cool, Charlotte looked a lot more appealing.

We took a quick look around town but decided to head straight for the salt flats for some isolated camping before Christmas Eve. On the edge of the salt lies the Hotel de Sal, a hotel made completely out of salt! The walls, furniture, beds, wall hangings, staircases – everything is made out of the stuff! We had to check it out, and although cool, Charlotte looked a lot more appealing.

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On the salt at last!  We’d been looking forward to this part of the world for a long time.  Kat immediately jumped out and played hop-scotch in the bizarre polygon patterns formed in the salt bed.

On the salt at last! We’d been looking forward to this part of the world for a long time. Kat immediately jumped out and played hop-scotch in the bizarre polygon patterns formed in the salt bed.

Then we took the obligatory silly photos that everyone takes on the endless horizon.  We’ve seen some very clever examples on the internet (Google Salar de Uyuni - more images if you need more than our two).  There are also some really beautiful ones, taken when the sky and light are just right and there is water on the salt.  These are some of the images I saw years ago that inspired me to want to come to this part of the world.  Check them out.

Then we took the obligatory silly photos that everyone takes on the endless horizon. We’ve seen some very clever examples on the internet (Google Salar de Uyuni – more images if you need more than our two). There are also some really beautiful ones, taken when the sky and light are just right and there is water on the salt. These are some of the images I saw years ago that inspired me to want to come to this part of the world. Check them out.

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Then we got into the beer… La Burra, which we picked up in Argentina, has an 8% alcohol content and, combined with the excitement of reaching the salt flats and no lunch,… well the next few pics will explain.

Then we got into the beer… La Burra, which we picked up in Argentina, has an 8% alcohol content and, combined with the excitement of reaching the salt flats and no lunch,… well the next few pics will explain.

Don’t drink and drive, ha!  You might hit something out here!  After a few large 360s and weaving through some imaginary salt cones (I think they were imaginary), we wisely made camp in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t drink and drive, ha! You might hit something out here! After a few large 360s and weaving through some imaginary salt cones (I think they were imaginary), we wisely made camp in the middle of nowhere.

Then we got into the Tequila!

Then we got into the Tequila!

Yum, yum.  That girl can sure cook a mean pot in the middle of nowhere.

Yum, yum. That girl can sure cook a mean pot in the middle of nowhere.

No comment.

No comment.

They say Tequila makes your clothes fall off, but in our case, it seems to make our arms and legs fly around.

They say Tequila makes your clothes fall off, but in our case, it seems to make our arms and legs fly around.

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…and dance!

…and dance!

…and cuddle!

…and cuddle!

Almost lights out.

Almost lights out.

The next morning… this is almost TMI but we finally used our Sit, Shower, Shave unit from Synergy for its intended purpose instead of just our trash can.  It’s good to be green when you can’t dig a hole.

The next morning… this is almost TMI but we finally used our Sit, Shower, Shave unit from Synergy for its intended purpose instead of just our trash can. It’s good to be green when you can’t dig a hole.

One of us was more green than the other.

One of us was more green than the other.

Charlotte just wanted the salt off of her after 120 miles of driving on the stuff.  We ended up doing a big loop, mostly following the tracks of dozens of tourist filled, guide driven Toyota Land Cruisers.  I swear EVERY old FJ80 in the world has wound up in Uyuni, Bolivia doing duty as 4X4 tour buses.  Although these photos look like we are the only ones around for miles, the truth is by day, these tourist haulers were never very far out of site during our entire time in southwest Bolivia.  Another myth busted as we thought we’d really be “out there.”  At least they disappeared at night, leaving us alone to camp in quiet seclusion.

Charlotte just wanted the salt off of her after 120 miles of driving on the stuff.
We ended up doing a big loop, mostly following the tracks of dozens of tourist filled, guide driven Toyota Land Cruisers. I swear EVERY old FJ80 in the world has wound up in Uyuni, Bolivia doing duty as a 4X4 tour bus. Although these photos look like we are the only ones around for miles, the truth is by day, these tourist haulers were never very far out of site during our entire time in southwest Bolivia. Another myth busted as we thought we’d really be “out there.” At least they disappeared at night, leaving us alone to camp in quiet seclusion.

Back in Uyuni Charlotte got a Christmas present in the form of a partial bath from this happy guy.  He actually gave Kat a big Christmas hug after his work was done.

Back in Uyuni Charlotte got a Christmas present in the form of a partial bath from this happy guy. He actually gave Kat a big Christmas hug after his work was done.

Of course we had to restock our beer supply.  This is one of the cool little walk up stores where you stand at the gated entrance and the proprietor/owner gets you what you want.

Of course we had to restock our beer supply. This is one of the cool little walk up stores where you stand at the gated entrance and the proprietor/owner gets you what you want.

We checked in to the Toñito Hotel for a much needed shower on Christmas Eve.  We had big plans to attend midnight mass in the old town church just to watch the locals, but alas we failed; a combination of lasting hangovers and months of a propensity towards early bedtime hours.

We checked in to the Toñito Hotel for a much needed shower on Christmas Eve. We had big plans to attend midnight mass in the old town church just to watch the locals, but alas we failed; a combination of lasting hangovers and months of a propensity towards early bedtime hours.

This is Chris, an American from Boston who owns the Minuteman Pizza restaurant inside the Toñito Hotel.  He is married to a local gal, Suzi, whose family owns the hotel.  Minuteman is by far the best eating in Uyuni.

This is Chris, an American from Boston who owns the Minuteman Pizza restaurant inside the Toñito Hotel. He is married to a local gal, Suzi, whose family owns the hotel. Minuteman is by far the best eating in Uyuni.

Stocked up with all the water, gas and food we could carry we set off Christmas Day for the “wilds” of southern Bolivia.  Everything we read made it sound like we were really heading into nowhere - and we really were, as the photos show.  However, I think we’ve spent more time further from people in the Nevada deserts than in Bolivia.  Land Cruisers full of tourists with hired driver/guides were everywhere.  We never saw another private vehicle though.  Where ARE all those Overlanders in their fancy 4X4s?

Stocked up with all the water, gas and food we could carry we set off Christmas Day for the “wilds” of southern Bolivia. Everything we read made it sound like we were really heading into nowhere – and we really were, as the photos show. However, I think we’ve spent more time further from people in the Nevada deserts than in Bolivia. Land Cruisers full of tourists with hired driver/guides were everywhere. We never saw another private vehicle though. Where ARE all those Overlanders in their fancy 4X4s?

We passed by these awesome rocks a couple hours out of Uyuni and had to stop and play on them like little kids.

We passed by these awesome rocks a couple hours out of Uyuni and had to stop and play on them like little kids.

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Oh yeah, the road.  Guess we better get going…

Oh yeah, the road. Guess we better get going…

In Villa Alota we passed by yet another school, closed because its summer vacation down here.  Remember back in Columbia our awesome experience “teaching” school for a morning in a remote school house?  We vowed to do more and bought world maps in Ecuador to give out to schools.  Kat’s illness in Peru and our extended stay at home pushed our time frame into summer vacation for schools down here.  Since returning, every potential school we’ve seen has been sans kids.  Bummer.  We decided to ask in this tiny burg of Villa Alota for the school master in hopes of giving a map to him/her for the coming year.  Instead we got a promise from these two boys that the map would get into the right hands.  Well, maybe… at least one young guy in Bolivia might now have a world map on his wall at home.

In Villa Alota we passed by yet another school, closed because its summer vacation down here. Remember back in Columbia our awesome experience “teaching” school for a morning in a remote school house? We vowed to do more and bought world maps in Ecuador to give out to schools. Kat’s illness in Peru and our extended stay at home pushed our time frame into summer vacation for schools down here. Since returning, every potential school we’ve seen has been sans kids. Bummer. We decided to ask in this tiny burg of Villa Alota for the school master in hopes of giving a map to him/her for the coming year. Instead we got a promise from these two boys that the map would get into the right hands. Well, maybe… at least one young guy in Bolivia might now have a world map on his wall at home.

The roads got rougher and the silt began.

The roads got rougher and the silt began.

But there was no shortage of tracks to follow.  At first we thought the famed Dakar race course had run through here leaving all the deep ruts.  However no amount of race traffic we’ve ever seen in Baja or Nevada has left this much destruction.  It soon became apparent that all these tracks were from the tourist laden Land Cruisers whose drivers take their clients anywhere they want.

But there was no shortage of tracks to follow. At first we thought the famed Dakar race course had run through here leaving all the deep ruts. However no amount of race traffic we’ve ever seen in Baja or Nevada has left this much destruction. It soon became apparent that all these tracks were from the tourist laden Land Cruisers whose drivers take their clients anywhere they want.

The Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa will never be the same after we stickered it up with official Charlottamiles stickers.  We’ve been leaving these stickers all over South America, so if one of you ever comes across one take a photo and please let us know.

The Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa will never be the same after we stickered it up with official Charlottamiles stickers. We’ve been leaving these stickers all over South America, so if one of you ever comes across one take a photo and please let us know.

Laguna Cañapa.

Laguna Cañapa.

Way too many fuzzy flamingo shots.  After shooting a million shots these past weeks we realized the anti-shake feature on our little camera got turned off.  Shit, we’re such professional photographers!

Way too many fuzzy flamingo shots. After shooting a million shots these past weeks we realized the anti-shake feature on our little camera got turned off. Shit, we’re such professional photographers!

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Fuzzy vicuñas too.

Fuzzy vicuñas too.

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Dozens of scenic, salt encrusted lakes/lagoons dot the otherwise desolate landscape.

Dozens of scenic, salt encrusted lakes/lagoons dot the otherwise desolate landscape.

The only green things around for hundreds of miles were these crazy, moss-like growths which are called Llareta.  They are a high altitude relative of parsley!  The plant can live up to three thousand years, and its oozing resin is super flammable.  We only saw it in one area where we happened to camp for a night.

The only green things around for hundreds of miles were these crazy, moss-like growths which are called Llareta. They are a high altitude relative of parsley! The plant can live up to three thousand years, and its oozing resin is super flammable. We only saw it in one area where we happened to camp for a night.

Campsites like this make us want to wave our arms and legs around too.  No Tequila needed.

Campsites like this make us want to wave our arms and legs around too. No Tequila needed.

Are we out there yet?

Are we out there yet?

The Stone Tree is a popular photo stop.

The Stone Tree is a popular photo stop.

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Tabletop dancing has always been one of my specialties.  Just ask my Porsche racing buddies.

Tabletop dancing has always been one of my specialties. Just ask my Porsche racing buddies.

These tough tufts of grass seem to be all the vicuñas live on.

These tough tufts of grass seem to be all the vicuñas live on.

This poor little fox seemed to pose for food.  He was in an area near Laguna Blanca which was particularly heavy with Land Cruiser traffic.

This poor little fox seemed to pose for food. He was in an area near Laguna Blanca which was particularly heavy with Land Cruiser traffic.

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Laguna Colorada is named for its red color which changes hues throughout the day.  We had pretty cloudy skies so while the colors were lacking, the “icebergs” made up of borax, salt and ice (!) were fascinating.  Although it was mid-summer and mid 70s temps during the day, it still dropped below freezing every night.

Laguna Colorada is named for its red color which changes hues throughout the day. We had pretty cloudy skies so while the colors were lacking, the “icebergs” made up of borax, salt and ice (!) were fascinating. Although it was mid-summer and mid 70s temps during the day, it still dropped below freezing every night.

Being in the Andes mountains, all of southern Bolivia is above 12,000 ft which helps the ice stick around too.  We took this shot of our GPS when it hit 16,000 ft, but the highest we saw was 16,200.  I think that’s the highest Charlotte has driven yet.

Being in the Andes mountains, all of southern Bolivia is above 12,000 ft which helps the ice stick around too. We took this shot of our GPS when it hit 16,000 ft, but the highest we saw was 16,200. I think that’s the highest Charlotte has driven yet.

The Termas de Chalviri was about the coolest (hottest?) area we saw.

The Termas de Chalviri was about the coolest (hottest?) area we saw.

The steam rushing out of this hole in the ground must have been 200 degrees and going 100 mph.  Standing next to it really gave you a sense of the power of mother-nature.

The steam rushing out of this hole in the ground must have been 200 degrees and going 100 mph. Standing next to it really gave you a sense of the power of mother-nature.

Watching boiling mud is fascinating.

Watching boiling mud is fascinating.

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Laguna Chalviri.

Laguna Chalviri.

BIG country! Yes, that dot is Charlotte

BIG country! Yes, that dot is Charlotte.

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Not all Toyotas live forever.  We called this overnight spot “Camp Dead Truck.”

Not all Toyotas live forever. We called this overnight spot “Camp Dead Truck.”

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Sometimes you feel so small.

Sometimes you feel so small.

Sure glad Kat is back in form.   Taking a morning run at 15,000ft elevation!

Sure glad Kat is back in form.
Taking a morning run at 15,000ft elevation!

Ho hum, just another pretty mountain!

Ho hum, just another pretty mountain!

On the shores of Laguna Verde after crossing 250+ miles of remote Bolivia.

On the shores of Laguna Verde after crossing 250+ miles of remote Bolivia.

Charlotte ran like a top despite being pounded by endless washboards and slathered in endless silt.  I don’t think we’ll ever get all the dust out of her nooks and crannies.  Oh well, patina. This is the high tech Bolivian exit border with Chile.  The entrance border into Chile is 27 miles down a paved “international” road in San Pedro de Atacama.  And by down we mean down!  We’re at 14,000 ft here but when we hit San Pedro the GPS read 8,000 ft! Stay tuned next time as we make our way a second time down through northern Chile.  We plan to stop at Basecamp and Copiapó to meet up with our Santiago friends, Sebastian, Peter and José and their families who are spending their summer vacation camping at the beach.  A highlight will be watching the famous Dakar Rally Raid pass through the dunes outside Copiapó.  Sebastian and Pete will have their high horsepower jeeps and have arranged for a Razor XP1000 UTV for Kat and me so we can all journey deep into the dunes and chase the race.  WooHoo!  Can’t wait…

Charlotte ran like a top despite being pounded by endless washboards and slathered in endless silt. I don’t think we’ll ever get all the dust out of her nooks and crannies. Oh well, patina.
This is the high tech Bolivian exit border with Chile. The entrance border into Chile is 27 miles down a paved “international” road in San Pedro de Atacama. And by down we mean down! We’re at 14,000 ft here but when we hit San Pedro the GPS read 8,000 ft!
Stay tuned next time as we make our way a second time down through northern Chile. We plan to stop at Basecamp and Copiapó to meet up with our Santiago friends, Sebastian, Peter and José and their families who are spending their summer vacation camping at the beach. A highlight will be watching the famous Dakar Rally Raid pass through the dunes outside Copiapó. Sebastian and Pete will have their high horsepower jeeps and have arranged for a Razor XP1000 UTV for Kat and me so we can all journey deep into the dunes and chase the race. WooHoo! Can’t wait…

Back in the Saddle in Northern Argentina – Red Rocks, Red Wine and 20,000 miles!

Greetings from South America again, finally!

Ned and I have only been reunited with Charlotte and back on the road for two weeks, but so much has happened (including hitting 20,000 miles since embarking a year ago) that it feels like a month.  Our adventures continue to inspire and humble us as we make more wonderful friends and stumble upon some of the earth’s most astonishing scenery.

We have taken almost 700 photos during these two weeks, and have had to cull them down to about 250 “keepers.”  Of those, we had to choose which ones to share on the blog and have had a tough time, since I typically set a 75 photo limit.  We ended up posting 110 of our favorites, so this is a longer than usual blog.  Please just enjoy the photos or follow along as we retell our stories.

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th..  After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems.  Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.   Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th.. After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems. Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.
Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!).   The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!). The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September.  It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items.  First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack.  Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines.  She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.   Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road.  Now where in Santiago would I find those things?  The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store.  I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores!  Was I a happy camper or what??   I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago! In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed.  She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off.   So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat.  He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September. It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items. First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack. Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines. She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.
Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road. Now where in Santiago would I find those things? The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store. I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores! Was I a happy camper or what??
I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago!
In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed. She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off. So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat. He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot.  He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo.  Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot. He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo. Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

Street graffiti.  Puppy love???  Not sure, but…

Street graffiti. Puppy love??? Not sure, but…

The tallest building in South America.  You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

The tallest building in South America. You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

Ned will share this one, of course:  Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars.  As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town.  These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles.  Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country!  Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren.  These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini.  We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

Ned will share this one, of course:
Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars. As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town. These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles. Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country! Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren. These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini. We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.   Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold.  Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country.  This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September).  The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert.  After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.
Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold. Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country. This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September). The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert. After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world.  We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year.  I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!   Note:  Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world. We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year. I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!
Note: Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts.  We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts. We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity!  If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity! If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

This was by far the best border crossing ever.  It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

This was by far the best border crossing ever. It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs.  The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be.  By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs. The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be. By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft.  No immediate plans to climb it.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft. No immediate plans to climb it.

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat.  Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite.  The local dogs were hoping otherwise.  Absolutely delicious!

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat. Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite. The local dogs were hoping otherwise. Absolutely delicious!

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen!  He was pretty happy with the stickers. Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen! He was pretty happy with the stickers.
Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines.  The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints.  On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines. The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints. On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog.  Still no paper, soap or seats.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog. Still no paper, soap or seats.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city.  Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side.  We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there. We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.   In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been encrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city. Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side. We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there.
We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.
In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been incrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

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Not a job for the feint hearted!

Not a job for the feint hearted!

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves.  We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate. Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water.  We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco. Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves. We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate.
Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water. We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco.
Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!! This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!!
This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina.  Pinch me!

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina. Pinch me!

Beautiful local flora.

Beautiful local flora.

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Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display.  We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display. We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

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Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah.  And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah. And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

The friar…

The friar…

And the witch!

And the witch!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.   The night skies have been spectacular, but odd.  I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky.  Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.
The night skies have been spectacular, but odd. I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky. Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt.  The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal.  So why are we are heading north?   Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt. The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal. So why are we are heading north?
Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

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The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40.  Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Feathers)…

The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40. Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Arrows)…

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As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples.  This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples. This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

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In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles.  Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles. Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

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While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi.  It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás.  We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates.  We asked many locals, but few had heard of them.  The Challenge was on! After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river).  It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river.  The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation.  Nice. Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi. It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás. We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates. We asked many locals, but few had heard of them. The Challenge was on!
After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river). It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river. The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation. Nice.
Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!).  At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!). At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured).  We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured). We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon.  We must be on the right track!  Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator - again!  And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash.  The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery.  But it sure was beautiful.  And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon. We must be on the right track! Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator – again! And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash. The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery. But it sure was beautiful. And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue.  Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue. Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo.  But it was beginning to be irrelevant.  What we were seeing was stunning enough!

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo. But it was beginning to be irrelevant. What we were seeing was stunning enough!

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See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably.  We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?).  He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably. We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?). He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful.  I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful. I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

And these are wafers, no?

And these are wafers, no?

But these??!!

But these??!!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

The walls narrowed…

The walls narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and, victory!  We found the caves!

…and, victory! We found the caves!

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This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

We had to crawl through this one…

We had to crawl through this one…

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

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Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

There!

There!

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway.  By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway. By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days.  We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain.  The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns.  The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days. We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain. The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns. The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine.  Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine. Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city.  It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city. It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine!  By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped.  We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine! By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped. We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence.  Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm.  I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time.  And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed.  In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen).  But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee.  I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more.  Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.”  I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar.  It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted. Argentineans also take siesta time seriously.  After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night.  Then the towns and cities come alive. Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition:  “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence. Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm. I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time. And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed. In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen). But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee. I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more. Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.” I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar. It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted.
Argentineans also take siesta time seriously. After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Then the towns and cities come alive.
Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition: “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

…and a fun ride.  Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport.  I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined.  (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!) We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely.  There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests. Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet.  We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!

…and a fun ride. Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport. I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined. (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!)
We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely. There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests.
Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet. We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!