North to Quilmes, ARG

July 3, 2019, Trip: Argentina 2.0
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July 3rd,  2019

After an exciting Tuesday afternoon watching the total eclipse of the sun and another quiet desert night, we set off northward early in the morning.  Now early these days means around 9 am as the sun doesn’t come up before 8:30 (no daylight savings down here) and we have that rule about not driving in the dark.

We drove north along the Ruta 40 (not sure how many times we’ve returned to this road on this journey!) and passed through San Jose de Jachal hoping for hot showers but the water would not warm up at the station we stopped at, so we left.  We continued through on roads we’d been on back in November until we reached Villa Union where we hit new roads making our way to the small city of Chilecito.

The terrain beings to change: we are back in the land of red rocks then cacti.

Before entering the city of Chilecito, Fran saw a propane gas place off the highway so we made a quick U-turn to check it out.  They don’t fill tanks there, just exchange them, but did tell Doug where they thought we could have our tank filled in the city but not until after siesta time at 5 pm (we checked it out but it was a hardware store so we knew they couldn’t help us).

We went into the city and parked outside the Tourist Info office to get some internet (we’d been offline for three days now camped in the wild without even a cell signal for Google Fi) and spent a couple of hours catching up.

The land has flattened out again:

There were no good options for camping with hot showers here in Chilecito and there was still a couple of hours of daylight left, so we pushed on a further 100 km / 60 mi to a hostel/campground called Indigo near a small village called Salicas and it was so worth it!

They have ducks, chickens, geese and turkeys onsite

and a friendly parakeet that visited us the second afternoon:

We put water in the tin can he was pecking at and he gave himself a shower:

When Fran went for an afternoon walk, she discovered a flock of burrowing parrots at the north end of the village:

We were the only guests but the Wi-Fi was fast and the showers were HOT!  We decided to stay two nights since we done nearly 500 km /300 mi of driving to get here.

We left on Friday morning passing the 4000 km mile marker of the Ruta 40 – this road is nearly 5000 km long and shares status of one of the world’s longest roads with Canada’s TransCanada Highway, Australia’s Stuart Highway and Route 66 in the USA.

We made our way to Belén to check out the nearby Incan Ruins.  Upon buying our entry tickets, the lady offered us a bilingual guide and we found him with the help of the bus tour guide that was on site with a large group getting the tour in Spanish.  Alan took us to the various spots on site in mostly English and the tour took about an hour.

The Incas here built their structures differently than the ones in Peru;  instead of interlocking rocks, they used two narrow rock walls with mud in between:

There is a spot here where you can see the Camino del Inco that ran all the way up to Cuzco, Peru!  It was set up similar to the Pony Express trails in the US with way stations every so often (100 km/60 m) so messengers would run in relay with messages.

We then had a stop in mind in the town of Belén where you can watch weaving (mostly ponchos) but it was not open so we began our planned scenic drive along the Ruta 46 to the Ruta 1 enroute to Catamarca.  We had figured it would be all dirt road but the entire Ruta 46 was paved so we didn’t air down until we turned onto the Ruta 1.

This route was way better than Ruta 46:

there was a looonng twisty climbing road with lots of switchbacks called Cuesta La Chilca

That took us up to almost 2000 metres / 6560 feet!  We have not been that high in months! As it was mid afternoon when we began, we hoped to camp for the night once we got down the other side but it was a long distance until we even got down to under 1200 m / 3900 feet and it was getting dark.  We wanted to get lower down so it wouldn’t be so cold – as it turned out it went down to -6C /  21F that night!  During our drive on this dirt/gravel road we could hear a new sound coming from the underside of Tigger.

After completing the Cuesta, we continued to descend until we found a small town with a rundown municipal campground that was empty so we parked there for the night

Saturday after airing the tires back up at a roadside “gomeria”,

we made our way into the good sized city of Catamarca which not does offer a great deal of things to see but does have big grocery stores! 🙂

The pretty pink cathedral:

We walked around the el centro for a bit after shopping and then made our way out of town to a truck stop but didn’t stay as the WiFi sucked.  We moved on about 80 km / 50 mi north of the city to a small community that has a community centre with an outdoor pool (no we didn’t go swimming!) and used the free internet there and spent the night. Doug attempted to fix the loose passenger step (that is what was making the noise we’d heard on the Ruta 1) only to have the bolt break with half stuck inside!  Now we need a welder or something.

Unfortunately, around 12:30, a bunch of young people began to party at the back of community centre (we were parked on the far side) and played loud music until after 3 am; not impressed but it’s hard to complain when it’s free.

Sunday, July 7th, was Fran’s 60th birthday!  The plan was to head into the city of San Miguel de Tucumán and have a nice dinner.  We drove toward the city and stopped for showers at a YPF before the city and then we drove to a closer YPF to the city (that didn’t have showers) with the intent of parking and spending the night there.  We did not like the look of it and had just passed a Shell Station truck stop two minutes earlier, so we retraced our steps and went there.  After filling the gas tank, we asked about parking for the night and he pointed us to the big lot next to the building; told us there were showers and Wi-Fi and we also saw a laundry service (must be for truckers).  Anyway, we got parked and caught a taxi on the highway to go into the city to explore before dinner.

We tried to find a place that allows you to try different mates (the Argentinian beverage) but it was not at the address our Lonely Planet indicated (however the book is 14 years old…..).  We stopped for a cold drink in a café and then later after wandering some more made our way to Il Postino for dinner.

That was also in our guide book and gave high compliments on their Italian food and claiming the best pizza in northern Argentina.  Now after our bad pizza experiences in Buenos Aires, we are somewhat reluctant to try pizza again but it’s Fran’s fave and we asked about the crust (they said thin) and the choices looked tasty.

Since we’ve been doing the long fasting process, we are also trying to cut down eating at night.  So instead of getting large pizzas and bringing left overs back to Tigger, we each opted for a small size and we partook of some Stella (Doug) and Malbec (Fran) for dinner.  The pizza turned out to be quite good.

For dessert we decided to share what they called a “Copa Brownie”  which turned out to be a cross between a brownie and a cookie, with ice cream underneath and lots of icing on top.

We caught a taxi back to the Shell and had a quieter night than we usually have at truck stops – maybe cause it was Sunday…..

Monday we decided again to try and get propane and find someone to fix the side step.  Tuesday is Argentina’s Independence day (hence all the Argentine flags and blue and white in the photos above) and we were told many businesses would close early on Monday for the holiday.  Tucumán is the city where independence was declared, so it’s an especially big celebration and as we hate crowds and the parking issues that go along with them, we wanted to get out of dodge.

We got up early and made our way right to the propane plant we found on iOverlander where some overlanders had had some success getting US tanks filled.  Now we do have adaptors for various countries, but the problem we encounter at times, is they won’t fill fixed tanks; only gas bottles.

Doug parked and went to the gate and young man pointed us to the side of the plant so we drove over there and after some discussion (with a bit of pleading after explaining we had the adaptor and a hose – if a gravity feed was all they could do), he said he could help us.  Normally they just do bottle exchanges with the minimum size being 15 kg so he would charge us for a 15 kg bottle and they would try and fill out tank from one via gravity.

The process was painfully slow!  After 45 minutes we’d only gone from one third of a tank to barely a half tank, when another worker showed and up and he said he could fill it from the truck!  Hallelujah!  We had to drive to a third entrance of the plant, he backed up in front of us and in less than a minute we had 3/4 of a tank  (you are not supposed to fill a propane tank more than 80% we are happy at 3/4).  It was not cheap but it’s done.

Next we carried on down the road through the town of Famailla, where we found a gomeria/mechanic and stopped to see if he could help with our side step.  He said yes, of course, and although it was a slow process as he had to drill out the old bolt etc. he got it down in less than two hours and again we were on our way.

On our way westward we drove through an especially green area – almost like a rain forest: the Reserva de Los Sosas.

The terrain dried back out to semi desert and we stopped in a town that had a park of “menhires”.  Menhires are mysterious ancient carved standing stones.  These were created by the Tafi culture and date between 850BC and 780AD.  For some reason the park was closed today but nothing indicated why, so we viewed them through the entry gate and then walked around the side and took a few snaps from atop the rock wall.

We left town continuing north and at a large pull out with panoramic views, we saw a yellow VW plates that had Uruguayan plates.  Claudio & Noelia, are on their way back to Uruguay after touring much of South America and invited us to stop in and see them when we get to Colonia in their country.  They are the first non Argentinian overlanders we’ve come across since Buenos Aires!

Sidebar:  the first two to three weeks of July are winter break for schools in Argentina so there are many families on vacation with campers and trailers.  We are seeing more and more in the campgrounds.  

We made our way to at what appeared to be a nice campground in the resort town of Tafi de Valle which reminded us of Kamploops or Osoyoos in British Columbia with its semi desert brown landscapes.

Upon arriving at the campground the weather was amazing – mid 20’s C / 70’s F and we loved the warmth.  Flip flops came out and the windows on Tigger were opened to let in fresh air.  Even at this altitude, the overnight forecast was for above freezing and with these temperatures we were happy campers – literally.  We settled and had a quiet afternoon – there was one other camper here when we arrived but not an overlander.  We considered staying here another night when around dinner time, about six Argentinian motor homes/trailers arrived with kids.  They were not really noisy but they did kind of surround our spot and the kids were constantly running around.

We packed up Tuesday morning, as we had decided to leave and made our way climbing once again. This time we went up over 3000 m / 9840′ before descending again to 1800 m /5900 feet.  Our stop today was the Ruinas de Quilmes.  The Quilmes people  came over the Andes from Chile back in the tenth century and built a city here.  At the height of their civilization there were 10,000 inhabitants.  They coexisted and battled with the Incan Empire and were finally brought down by the Spanish in the 16th century after fighting them valiantly for 130 years!  They were forced to leave their home and march to the coast at Buenos Aires where they ones that survived the walk, were forced into slavery.  There was a 15 minute film with English subtitles that gave us the history but no signage on the site itself.  You could take a guided tour but it was longer than we wanted to partake in.

Just outside the rock walls of the site, is a large sandy desert parking area and we were told we could safely park here for the night and that a security guard stayed at the gate all night.    At one point in the afternoon, a llama crossing our parking area and went across the road.

As we sat outside the rig reading and relaxing later in the afternoon, we saw a fox and some birds of prey; later we could hear then see parrots

and finally the fox returned and we managed a snap of him. (that’s him at the top of this page)

We had a very quiet night in the desert.

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