103. Argentina #2 El Bolson

Back in Mexico, a year and a half ago we met a truly wonderful and fascinating couple -a Swiss husband and his beautiful Aztec (Argentinian) wife. They have been married and travelling for over 11 years up and down on the American continents. Back there they invited us to a very special event, an Indian Gathering in Zacatecas, Mexico that was insane and quite magical at the same time.


This time they were back to Argentina for a couple of months visiting her mum in El Bolson. As we were in touch, we knew that they were going to be around when we are so we were in contact with each other to see if we can come and visit them. We thought we would come for a jolly lunch for a couple of hours but we ended up staying for 3 weeks. It was one of the highlights of our journey.

It turned out that Mama’s water tank and its stand was broken and damaged a few months ago leaving her without water every evening, meanwhile the roof of her back house has rotted away and was falling down. The job was too much for the family and mum could not afford hiring someone to do all these so John offered to do the roof and build a new water tank-stand.

John absolutely loved the job, he remade the whole shed with the new roof and built a beautiful new stand for the water tank.


Within these three weeks we had a fantastic time with them. We got to know the rest of the family, the other sisters and their family, even a cousin and some friends came and stayed for a few days. Mama took wonderful care of us with delicious home-grown and homemade food and every day there was a special something to do, make, enjoy or visit. We made trips to El Bolson for on market days, visited a friend who lives in the woods like hobbits, went to a festival with one of the sisters who is just adorable and mad as a hatter, or when the sisters came over we had wonderful dinner together had a few bottles of local beer and stayed up talking till 2AM.


Once the jobs were done, our friend, and son-in-low for Mama and who was trained by the Lakota Indians 30 years ago, set up and performed an ancient Lakota ceremony that lasted one whole day and a whole night, and which wrapped up our stay here so beautifully and was very special. An unforgettable experience.

It took 3 days to say goodbye as we just didn’t want to leave. John kept finding more jobs to do we kept coming up ideas why we should leave this morning. Maybe later, in the afternoon… then “OK, one more dinner, but we are leaving tomorrow”. Then, something else came up… and so on. We even got a beautiful leaving presents from one of the sisters. Eventually the day came, and we really had to say goodbye and move on. It made us all deeply moved when we realised the love and the bond that developed between all of us. We don’t know how the future unfold itself for us but we would like to put our intention out there for coming back and visit our Argentinean family.


Next, Chile…

102. Argentina #1


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.


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…

100. Bolivia

It’s been AaaaaaRges since my last post so I’m just going to jump right into it.


So, Bolivia…. For Johnny’s regret we had to compromise to only visit the south-west part of Bolivia and for only 2-3 weeks as time was rushing us to catch the Brit family for Christmas in Argentina. Which was absolutely fine by me as it involved the Uyuni Salt Flat, the place and a picture of it that instigated this whole Americas travel back in England 3-4 years ago. The Salar was a MUST visit place for me.

Our 3 weeks visit included lots and lots of salt, wind, desert, llamas, vicuñas and alpacas and it lacked in seeing people.

Once we crossed the border at Pisiga Bolivar we headed to the Coipasa saltflat with a little help from the local military laughing boys. One of them jumped in to a jeep and lead us through the first part of the desert, for about an hour to the edge of the Coipasa salt flat where he set our biological compass (i.e. our eyesight) towards a pointy peaked mountain in the distance to follow that for a day or two then once we reached it find and ask someone for further direction.

So we were set free on the salt flat and headed where we were told to. The salt felt wet and mushy and were lots of dugouts, and it was a little scary as all horror stories we heard about being stuck on the salt were flooding back in our minds. Though it was really nice and felt quite spooky with the whiteness and setting sun.

We travelled a couple of days through the arid, epic desert with howling wind and burning sun at around 3000m above sea level. No wonder we didn’t see anyone except alpacas and llamas.


The tire tracks we were following kept disappearing so we were pushing through the sand blindly guessing our direction. We kept it cool as we knew we have enough water and food for a few days, in case we would get lost.

At the end of the second day we found ourselves at the edge of the famous Salar de Uyuni. Where we were welcomed by an impressive looking volcano, Vulcan Tunupa. We spent a couple of nights here and climbed on the top of it where we had the first class view of the Salar.


Salar De Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat with over 12.000 sq km flat, blinding-white surface, sitting at almost 3700m. The mightiest nothingness imaginable. If you stand in the middle, all you can see is the blue sky and white ground with blurred horizon. If the wind wasn’t blowing you could spook-out of the lifelessness of it all. Quite and extraordinary place.

And finally it was the day of the driving through the saltflat. We investigated the conditions of the salt and after asking a few locals in the small village of Coqueza and a couple of guides who were just arrived from the saltflat we decided it’s good to go for us.


We pushed through the entrance -it was covered with water which didn’t look very promising at first but then we were on the track that was leading to Isla Inchuasi which is the more touristy island on the flat. For 15 minutes we stopped and walked around. To me it was somewhat comforting to see other people. I don’t know, maybe the over 10 days drive in remote, otherworldy places, practically without seeing another human being, then driving in the endless whiteness spooked me out a little. So it was nice to see goofy youngsters wearing signature Bolivian colourful woolly hats taking fun photos on the salt.

Then we peeled off and headed into the nowhere on the salt. Boy, sometimes when you have the infinity of parking place, you just don’t know where to park and which angle and direction…. so weird. At the end we managed to just stop the engine and wait where the vehicle ends up stopping and that was our spot for the night.

I imagined this moment before… camping on the saltflat, drinking a cocktail, enjoying the sunset and the stars… So much that I even dug out the horrible cheap rum we bought in Venezuela and fixed an un-drinkable bad BAD rum-hibiscus “cocktail” and took out the camping chairs and forced myself to sit outside to enjoy my awful mix. It was so windy that my chair was moving, me sitting on it! then the glass and bottles were flying all over the place and were freezing our arses off. SO sat inside and watched the stars through the salt-covered windows.


It was still an experience. It was MY saltflat experience and I loved it, even that I didn’t, and it was uncomfortable and cold, and sitting on the salt made our pants wet and stinging the skin. But it was all good. And we took the MUST HAVE “John small BURT BIG” or “me leaning on small Burt” photos. Because this is one of the few places where you can do that and I wasn’t going anywhere till we had some of those!


So after the salt, i think we had enough in the past 10 days-2 weeks of it. So needed a good wash. I don’t know how, but every traveller (been to Uyuni) told us that the town is full of car/truck wash places. We hardly found the one who scheduled us for the next morning coz he was super busy washing real working trucks and cars, so the playful tourists will come last.

We spent the night in the even spookier (John loved it) train cemetery just outside of town.


Burt got a good scrub the next day then we scooted off south towards the national park of the coloured lakes.


Absolutely stunning drive! Reserva Eduardo Avora is a real overlanders playground of ever-changing scenery, colourful hills, rocks, lakes, flamingos, vicuñas, foxes and other high-desert animals. We took it slow, took the desert tracks and took our time to get through it trying to enjoy this tremendous place that certainly did not look or feel like any place on Earth.


In a few days we arrived to our exit of Bolivia. We were ready to warm up in lower elevations and actually, well…. breath properly for the first time in 2 weeks so was looking forward to get to Argentina.

Next, Argentina…