Northern Argentina & Chile - North then South
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Northern Argentina & Chile

Northern Argentina & Chile

Days 503 – 509 –

We crossed the border to Argentina, our last country of the trip. The road turned terrible and we were driving on an awful dusty washboard road, again. We thought we’d taken a break from bad roads after Boliva. Then it was a long border crossing and a few miles later we endured a lengthy police inspection where a seemingly untrained K9 peed on our tires and walked all over our seats with his dirty paws.

Then, our check engine light came on, again. With heavy hearts we pulled into the next little town to run the code for the problem. This time it was a different sensor malfunctioning, but after some internet research it seemed likely due to all the dust we had just endured. Safe enough to continue to the next big city.

We decided to take a hotel in the town after the long day, but it didn’t really improve anything. We had no food because you aren’t allowed to move just about anything but dry goods over the border, but there were no stores that were open, and no restaurants would be open until dinner, which to Argentinians is 9 pm. We finally ended up eating at our hotel restaurant for dinner which was mediocre food but at least we were fed. It was a rough end to a rough day.

So, arriving in Salta the next day was like a vacation from our struggles. Suddenly we were in a clean and beautiful European style city with nice, helpful people, grocery stores with cheap steak and wine, and warm perfect weather. We arrived on the weekend and since we couldn’t get the car looked at until Monday, we spent the next few days eating tasty, cheap empanadas, ice cream, great coffee, medialunas (literally “half moons” or croissants), beer and lots of Argentine wine.

We accidently spent 6 days in Salta, enjoying our time there and the slow pace of life. We did accomplish our chores, although though it was at a slower pace than normal as the city closes down every day between 1 and 6 pm for a mandatory siesta, and everything is closed on Sunday. It was definitely a nice change after the cold of Bolivia and the expense of the one Chilean town we visited. It helped us out (but not the poor Argentines) that the Argentinian peso had just crashed and so the exchange rate was very favorable.

As for the truck, it was just a dirty sensor and no big deal to clean and we were back in business.

Overall we really just liked Salta. The weather was so pleasant after Bolivia, we could wander in shorts. The people we met in customer service jobs were very friendly even though they often couldn’t help us, the food was great, and the cost of living was low. We could get decent bottles of wine for $1, and delicious steaks at the grocery for $0.50 cents, each. We wanted to hang around, rent an apartment for a week, and take a few Spanish lessons. But despite how affordable the city was, we spent hours looking and negotiating, but ultimately couldn’t find an apartment to rent, and the only Spanish school did not answer the bell when they were supposedly open.

Days 510 – 511

After leaving Salta, we loaded up on groceries and headed out to camp for a night in Los Cardones National Park. We found a campsite tucked into a dry wash, surrounded by red canyon walls and cactus.

The landscape suddenly looked a lot like Arizona. An hour or so after we arrived, the wind really picked up, sending little sand tornados through our campsite. We spent a very quiet night and didn’t see another soul. The only somewhat eventful thing that happened is our pressure shower, which we pretty much exclusively use to wash dishes, finally sprung a small leak in the hose after nearly a year and a half of continuous use.

Days 511 – 513

We spent three nights in the tiny dusty desert town of Molinos. We ended up there because we wanted to see the James Turrell Museum nearby, which required a reservation. To our surprise we had to wait three days for an opening. But Molinos turned out to be a nice little stop. We found a cheap and pleasant municipal campground that we had completely to ourselves, not counting the ever-present dogs and cats. We wandered the quiet colonial streets, and sat in the town square to use the free municipal wifi. We bought some steaks at the only butcher in town, during the two morning hours that he was open, and we got some veggies the from another tiny, unmarked shop.

The third day in Molinos we headed to the Colome winery. We had a brief but nice tour of the winery and grounds and enjoyed a sampling of wine on the patio overlooking the vineyards, and chatted with a nice Argentine couple.

Later in the afternoon we had our reservation to see the onsite James Turrell Museum. He is a famous Southern California artist who works with light and space, and this museum held 8 installations of his work. We were not allowed to take photos, so this image borrowed from the internet gives a glimpse of the kinds of works we experienced with just a few other people. Although this looks like a painting, it is actually what it feels like to see it. 

Days 514 – 518

After a long washboard drive over dusty roads, we arrived at the small but not too small town of Cafayate, after passing through Quebradas de las Flechas with its fantastic rock formations.

There wasn’t much to see or do in Cafayate, so we found a campground that had wifi to get some research done. The campground was huge and nearly completely deserted, but the first night a caravan of old people in vans decided to choose the spot right next to us, and the second night two giant buses pulled up and released hundreds of teenagers into the place. So we decided to move to a hotel for the last night. As well, the cool English bicyclists we had met in San Pedro de Atacama were also in Cafayate, so we made plans to get an afternoon dessert with them.

We passed them the next day on the road towards Mendoza, and spent the night at a random, beautiful, free, deserted campground and ate what was now becoming our go-to dinner in Argentina of steak, salad, a baguette and wine.  All in about a $5 dinner.

In the morning we briefly stopped for gas and checked our email, only to find out that Becky’s best friend’s mom, who was like a second mom to her, had taken a turn for the worse with her illness. It was a sad day, not knowing what would happen. But by the time we arrived in San Juan, Becky was able to call her friends and have a sad moment, that a loved one had passed. One of the most difficult things about traveling has been being away while important things happen. We’ve missed weddings, new babies, birthdays, and now, a family death. After searching for flights and methods to get home for the loss, we ultimately decided to just continue on the trip. The next day we passed back over the border to Chile and headed straight for the coast.

Days 519-521

We decided to splurge on a hotel room in Viña del Mar on the coast of Chile. We paid over twice the price for our hotel room as we would have in Argentina, and it still didn’t have hot water until we asked for it. We spent the day walking around the city trying to appreciate the city that was supposed to have the same weather as San Diego. It did feel like San Diego in early Spring, cold with the sun hiding behind the clouds, and we enjoyed seeing it. The next day we took a city bus to the neighboring town of Valparaiso to see some of its famous street art.

After a brief stop in the windy beach town of Navidad, we found a place to camp for free off the coast and out of the wind on the shore of a river in the nearby town of Rapel. In the morning we went to check out the town of Pichilemu, the surfing capital of the country. It was quiet this time of year and we didn’t see too many surfers. It was windy, cold and cloudy, but beautiful and very much worth a stop. We had lunch at the number one spot on Trip Advisor, wanting to try Chilean seafood. It was nice place but the truth is that Chilean ceviche has got nothing on Peruvian ceviche. It turned out to be a pretty expensive lunch but it was nice to have seafood for the first time since coastal Peru. We traveled on, considered and decided against a stop in the Chilean wine region (we’d spent enough time in the much cheaper Argentine wine region) and kept driving until we got back to the main highway, which had a truck stop where we could again, camp for free. We passed a surprisingly pleasant and quiet night with the semi trucks. One day a nice secluded river camp, and the next night parked behind six semis. This is the PanAmerican Highway.