Well we are back on the road again, having said our good-byes to Martyn and Kate in Santiago ,but before we left Martyn very kindly helped us sort some new batteries for the truck. We headed to the Chilean/Argentina border but arrived just five minutes too late in the evening, as the border post had just closed, (9am – 9pm)but guess what, we were the first in the queue the next morning, yes we slept overnight at the customs, if you can’t beat them join them! We had used this border crossing (Cristo Redentor) only about 7 or 8 weeks earlier and wow what a change , snow all around and really cold, but still beautiful.
We were heading towards Salta, which was approximately 1000 kms, passing and stopping at many beautiful places along the way. We had loads of fruit and veg checks,some allowing us to eat the last of our fruit before crossing, plus passports, but at one particular check we met 4 friendly police who also had a Unimog, so happy days. A little newer than ours I might add !
In relation to the Fruit and Veg checks it is not permitted to transport fruit or vegetables across provincial borders in Argentina. Also along this route we had a few minor repair jobs to be done like fixing our hot water in the shower, changed our air and diesel filters , changed the engine oil, and also we noticed a voltage difference between the front of the truck and the back, which happened when we got our new batteries put in, so each day we had our tools out, the joys of travelling, you see its not all sunshine!
One evening, while looking for a place to park up for the night we spotted another overland truck parked up a hundred metres off the road by a cliff. We thought we would just pop over to say hello, and ended up staying beside them for the night and sharing stories over coffee late into the night. Simon and Angelika have a really nice unique truck, a Bucher which is a Swiss 4×4 truck, with portal axles but a very unique suspension system, including inboard disk brakes. They are on their way to Alaska, but we hope to bump into them again on our way through Bolivia.
For those of you that saw the video of the high Argentina pass, well despite it being so narrow in places and a little dangerous, it really was quite spectacular. We parked over night along this pass, and the views from both sides of the truck were stunning. Not so sure that either one of us want to do one like it in the near future , but I guess you never say never. I know for sure that I shut my eyes at one point, even though I was using the video camera, thinking if I don’t look , all will be okay, I think Merv did the same. We met nobody else along that pass, wonder why, but despite everything the scenery was worth it, and even though it was very rough not a cup, plate or pot was broken. I never thought I would hear Merv saying, “gosh I wouldn’t mind a bit of tarmac”!
We visited Museo Pachamama. We found this to be a unique museum because it was well-funded and had fantastic exhibits, whereas some places we have visited have been small and tired looking. It had two geology / anthropology rooms , and there was another room where tapestries, paintings and sculptures were displayed, both of which were very interesting and well done. What really made the museum was the grounds and buildings which feature huge statues made of different colour stone and representing divinities worshiping Pachamama, accompanied by cacti.
Close to here we also visited one of the most important and best preserved archaeological sites of Argentina,the Quilmes Ruins which are the last vestiges of a city founded by the pre-Incan tribe in the 9th century AD. The population peaked here to about 6,000 in the 17th century and the people had held out for around 150 years against attacks by the better armed Spanish conqueror. The ruins have been excavated and preserved – stone walls, terraces and entire buildings can be seen and you can walk through the entire site.
Our next stop was Cafayate, a very pretty town with the tranquil ambience of a village. It has many vineyards so needless to say we had to sample some of the local vino. The most famous here is the aromatic ‘Torrontes White’ and its success has made the wine Argentina’s most popular after Malbec. Cafayate has very low rainfall , but guess what the night we arrived we had a thunder and lightning storm, so when we spoke to a girl in one of the vineyards the next morning she told us that that was most unusual, normally they can boast that they have 350 days of sunshine, not bad ey. The rain was so bad not even Merv attempted going out to get ice-cream, now that’s saying something!
On leaving Cafayate we drove through the most stunning area called Quebrada de Las Conchas, along route 68, stopping oodles of times for views and photographs and even a spot of shopping. The red-rock and the towering walls of the ravines have to be seen to be believed. Wind and storm showers over the years have led to erosion leaving behind great rock formations, some of which have been given nicknames, for example La Garganta del Diablo (the Devils Throat) and a solitary rock is named El Sapo (the Toad) and Los Medanos (the Dunes) three of many which we stopped at. A really stunning drive indeed.
Salta Gaucho Festival
And so we eventually arrived in Salta ,which lies in a mountainous and strikingly beautiful area of Argentina I must add. After doing the cultural part of the city like visiting Iglesia Catedral, Iglesia San Francisco and Plaza 9 de Julio, we found that we were in time for a big Gaucho Parade through the streets of Salta. The Salta Gaucho Festival is a huge annual event , held each year on the 17th of June and over 2000 gauchos arrive into Salta dressed in their typical attire and spend the night before by campfire , singing and dancing and keeping vigil over Monument Guemes. In short this parade is to celebrate the gauchos under the command of General Guemes , fighting off the spanish and pro-spanish realistas during the Independence wars. As well as the gauchos many more clubs and associations took part in the parade as well as many divisions of the Army and Police. A wonderful experience, I now know what it must be like to be a tourist in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day!