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!
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.
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.
Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina. Pinch me!
Beautiful local flora.
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.
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.
Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.
Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!
A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.
And a rock camel…if you squint.
And the witch!
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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)…
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.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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 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?
We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!
The walls narrowed…
…and, victory! We found the caves!
This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.
We had to crawl through this one…
…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.
Can you spot me climbing this rock face?
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.
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.
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…
…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 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…
…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!