During this trip I developed this new excitement when we’re heading to a border to cross to a new country. I was very excited to cross to Argentina -even that the Bolivia-Chile-Argentina crossing was a bit of a shamble (at Paso De Jama) and caught up for the whole day.
NOTE: If you want to cross from Bolivia to Argentina at Paso De Jama; YOU DO HAVE TO CHECK IN TO CHILE (IMMIGRATION AND ADUANA) AT SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA BEFORE HEADED TO THE ARGENTINEAN BORDER.
Northern Argentina is beautiful and quite Southern Bolivia-like in scenery so didn’t look very different but the atmosphere and the people were very different.
We didn’t have much time to spend (still trying to get down to Mendoza -over 2000km by Christmas), it was the 1st of December, and John discovered a major issue that the bushes that hold the driving cab were broken -well, one was lost and the other one was broken so we needed a solution asap.
It’s been probably happening for months and with all those expensive workshops we visited, no one noticed it. But now, we knew it so we had to stick with paved, mainly highways to stay on the safe side and not to put too much strain on to the broken part until we find a solution. For a while John had been feeling that the cab has been slipping downwards and pushing-pulling things to the wrong ways, such as the gear stick and the steering wheel just to mention a couple.
In Jujuy, a bigger city we found an official Mercedes service. There where we had the first shock of the Argentina lunch time. OK, we are not the earliest risers in the morning so didn’t really rush to get to the garage first thing in the morning, but we got there by 11.36 where and when we found out that it is closed for lunch till 4.30 PM!! We missed it by 6 minutes and now we have to wait for 5 hours just to find out if they could at all help or have the parts. So John and I had a fed-up and stressed fight about nothing till it was open again. Turned out that they did have the parts which we bought but said they can’t do the job as they don’t have the capacity to service trucks although they could recommend the Mercedes service in San Miguel de Tucuman (about 450km) where we might have more luck. We headed off but first we wanted to stop in Salta, a city about 100 km south from here for a couple of days to sort a few things.
There we met some quality travellers; the famous pawsontour.com travelling with two woofers, (we heard of them, over a year ago, travelled parallel with them, read their website and I believe we were even friends on facebook but until now we haven’t actually met in person), a sweet Belgian couple and, an unhinged, excellent Polish family with 3 tiny kids (last one was born on the road!) and an awesome South African family with two teenage kids. This campsite was not very relaxing or beautiful in any stretch but was one of those places where we can meet fun people then we don’t want to leave for a few days -despite the extreme heat 35C here, we actually stayed 5 days and got good lessons of how to BBQ Argentinean fillet steak, aka LOMO. A South African surely knows the tricks and secrets about BBQ-ing. So we kept practicing to have the best ASADO (BBQ), pretty much every evening. (after we stuffed our faces with delicious homemade ice-cream at the bakery every day + with free wifi)
All good things come to an end, and eventually we had to leave -the cab problem was still hanging over our heads, plus we had to sort out a vehicle insurance somewhere as we have been driving all this time in Argentina without it. We headed south for another 300-350 kms to Tucuman (through a fantastic 2 days drive on the stunning and epic Gaucho Trail)
Once in Tucuman, we found the recommended Mercedes service where they said they can’t do the job and, once again we were directed to another garage in town. Though were more aware of the siesta time now we still ran in to it. It is almost impossible to avoid the inconvenience of the siesta as it lasts for most of the day.
After a few hours wait we eventually rolled into the garage and they started the work on the cab. They let us stay for the night and said that we will be done by midday the next day. It was our hottest night ever with 36C all night and no breeze. But the next morning they fixed everything, even a small extra job was done too and we were on our way again.
It was great that Burt was fixed and healthy again and we found a very cool place for the night just outside of town by an impressive looking viaduct. John loved it. And surely we had to climb on top of it.
After Tucuman, knowing that everything is good we headed to Mendoza on the “backroads”. Hundreds of kilometres through dense cloud forest, dry hot desert, by lakes and rivers, hot springs, and coloured mountains, by the 22nd of December we arrived in Mendoza where we meet the family who we last saw in Colombia 9 months ago.
We stayed a couple of days in Mendoza to sort out shopping, washing and insurance. The plan for Christmas was to go somewhere nice, not that campground in town. We headed out from the city to a lake where we also met the paws-on-tours guys and we prepared for Christmas. The boys collected the wood supply we will need for the BBQ for the next 2-3 days, we made a Christmas tree and prepared some treats -like apple pie.
The two girls were so excited on Christmas Day. They were up at 7AM and singing, shouting, banging on Burt till we finally got up and got out to have tea and coffee together around the Tree while the girls are handing out presents but most importantly opening them. The weather was wonderful and balmy warm and we were chilling while Steven was taking care of the 6 kilos of meat on the BBQ and opened a few bottles of wine.
On Boxing day Michel and Ursi (and the Paws) headed off early morning, then shortly after we all packed up and moved on together as well. We were heading to San Marcos de los Andes for New Years Eve. As Steve and Gilly said it was a real “chichi” town with cute cafes, bars and restaurants which is a promising place to spend NYE so we had a plan.
On our way we stopped at a couple of national parks, volcanoes and lakes. Once we got the San Marcos we found a very convenient spot for the night and headed out for look-around in town. We (the girls) all dressed up, I even put make up on! And went to book a night somewhere swanky. It started raining, then pouring and we all got soaking wet and cold. We found that all restaurants were closing for the night! The couple of places that didn’t had only a set-menu for ridiculous price and they were all booked up. At the end we found one small delicatessen shop (minutes before closing) we bought the best locally brewed beer, pate, cheese and stuff, we had lomo and veg and decided to have a New Year’s Eve Party at home. Gilly and I threw everything together, while sipping on Argentina’s finest Malbec, while the boys were sipping on the artesian honey beer and while the girls were watching the 3rd movie that evening and we actually had a fantastic time.
From San Marcos, there’s a famous road through lush green hills and mountains, by lakes and rivers. It’s called the 7 Lakes Route and it leads to Bariloche. We took this together stopping at a couple of lakes and rivers just to continue the fun and lomo BBQ’s.
Bariloche is Argentina’s Lake District’s principal city on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by snow peaked mountains. It’s a very handsome looking town with Alpine-style wooden houses, famous for summer, winter, water and outdoor activities, for its chocolate and its home brewed beer.
We stayed two nights here camped by a fast flowing ice cold river just a few km’s out of town. And spent a day walking around in the centre, change money, had a couple of overpriced coffee and tried the highly-priced average chocolate. Though I loved the look of the town especially on the lakefront but the atmosphere wasn’t too special and everything seemed to be set up for visitors with sky high prices and the locals seemed slightly fed up with the tourist flow that only just started in the season.
From here we continued south towards El Bolson, a small hippy town with handcraft/artesian/ organic food market selling homemade cheese and honey, smoked trout, locally brewed beer and delicious things like these.
We stayed in a campground/brewery with the family for the last time -they were heading off the following day while we were planning to stay.
Next, El Bolson…