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Córdoba Westward to the Eclipse, ARG


June 17th, 2019

Córdoba is Argentina’s second largest city and is situated almost in the middle of the country between the arid north and the pampas (grasslands).  It is known for its colonial buildings and nightlife and currently has a population of 1.4 million. It was founded in 1573 and was named after Córdoba, Spain.  The National University of Córdoba is the oldest university of the country and the seventh to be inaugurated in Latin America. It was founded in 1613 by the Jesuits. Because of this, Córdoba earned the nickname La Docta (“the learned”).

At the end of the 19th century the process of national industrialization began with the height of the economic agro-exporting model, principally of meats and cereals. This process is associated with the much European immigration, mostly Italians to this country. 

At the beginning of the 20th century the city had 90,000 inhabitants. The city’s look changed considerably following the construction of new avenues, walks and public squares, as well as the installation of an electrified tram system, in 1909. In 1927, the Military Aircraft Manufacturer (FMA) was inaugurated. The facility would become one of the most important in the world after WWII with the arrival of German technical personnel. From 1952, its production began to diversify, to constitute the base of the former Institute Aerotécnico, the state-owned company Aeronautical and Mechanical Industries of the State (IAME). Córdoba was chosen as the site of The Instituto Aerotécnico that later became the Fábrica Militar de Aviones. Lockheed Martin then purchased the FMA in 1995.

we passed through these city gates

 We arrived around two in the afternoon after stopping on the highway at a toll booth where they had free hot showers!  We knew we were probably back in the part of the country with long siestas so we parked outside the mechanic’s place (El Dante) and waited until four, hoping someone would be returning to begin the second part of their work day – turns out today was a holiday in the city so we decided to just wild camp there for the night as it seemed like a quiet street.  About 7 pm, we heard a knock on the door.  It was Jorge from the mechanic’s shop; he’d dropped by the shop and saw us.  He suggested it was not safe to park there and told us to head to near the YPF station; that looked sketchy so we headed to a wild camp on iOverlander where others had stayed only to be told by a resident after being parked there for 15 minutes that it was not safe; that an Italian overlanding couple had been robbed here recently.  He suggested we park by the university where there are police nearby and lots of light and activity.  So we moved again and found a spot for the night.

Tuesday morning we arrived back at El Dante when they opened at eight and they took us immediately.  They have a pretty large group of mechanics here and one young man understood what needed to be done right away (we were getting the new air bags installed) – he was just that way inclined, as air bags on vehicles are rare here.  They removed the old ones and installed the new ones and it all looked quite good.

new one vs old one

We had them check the brake pads while the rear tires were off and all was good as was the front (since Chile, we’ve not been climbing mountains so less wear and tear).  We did notice that the back right tire was somewhat deflated though!  WTH?  So they removed it, aired it up and it slowly leaked again.  One of the older gentlemen took the tire and Doug to a tire repair shop that specialized more in larger tires and they were able to repair.  We had them try and replace the running lights (about half of the lights around the top haven’t functioned in ages but we so rarely drive at night we’ve not been bothered about it) but without success; he said the lights were not getting power so we’d need a specialist. So then we go to leave, and the battery is almost dead!  probably from leaving the lights running trying to get the running lights sorted.  They gave us a fast charge and we left but only got as far as the corner when we realized the emergency brake light was staying on!  The young man came out and in about fifteen minutes had it sorted so then we finally left – it was now around 5 so we went to the main park of the city, by the university,  parked on the street and went for dinner before crashing for the night right where we were parked  – this time no one asked us to move.

Wednesday morning we made our way to a body shop to get the right front quarter panel repaired and the grill that was loose on same side – missing a piece to keep it connected (these issues all date back from 2013 when a deer committed suicide by running into the right front corner of Tigger in southern Utah near the Arizona border and the quarter panel issue was slowly getting worse with the rough driving we’ve been doing).  We found a great recommendation on iOverlander here in Córdoba and got here at 9 am.  Then the fun began.

As Doug was trying to get into the shop (which was quite professional and well kept), he had the manager, Andres directing him into the shop.  There was a Mercedes parked outside the main garage door.  Just as the back of Tigger was passing it, our rig caught the mirror of the car!

Now this was totally Andres’ fault as he was watching it.  He had Doug stop, his buddy came out and held the mirror back while Doug back upped then drove in.  Fran checked the mirror and it was slightly scratched but the guy said it was all good. When she walked back to Tigger while Doug was showing him the two things we wanted done, she noticed the gaping hope.

So we ended up staying here overnight so they can repair that too.  The quarter panel was repaired quite nicely:



The back corner damage not so much:

It seems like it will be waterproof but it sure ain’t pretty.  During our stay there, it seemed the back tire was losing air again!  We finally tried to leave the body shop in the late morning and lo and behold, the battery was dead again!  The shop guys gave us a charge and then offered to clean our headlights while it was charging.  We stopped at a recommended “gomeria” (tire repair place) and they patched a third hole in the tire along the tread line like the other two we’ve had repaired.

Then it was onto a motor home place to have our running lights repaired – this was done in just over an hour.

The workman also charged up our battery and cleaned it and in doing so, discovered we had a loose wire, hence the loss of charge recently.

Doug discussed with them removing and replacing the fabric headliner along the walls of his “bedroom”; condensation and water leakage has damaged the fabric and despite dealing with the mold left behind a few times, it’s not improving and the fabric is definitely damaged.  They showed us a fabric they could replace the beige headliner type fabric with and they will do this tomorrow.  In the meantime, our hot water heater is acting up again and we’re not impressed.  We spent the night in behind the motor home place locked within their gates.

Next morning we had to await the person in charge to price out the work.  At first she said we had to wait until next week as it was an 8-9 hour job and they didn’t have time today but then Doug offered that we could do some of the work ourselves (taking stuff down/off and putting it back) so she agreed that it could be done today.  They are not open on Saturdays, so that worked best for us.  By 10:45 we had everything out of the “bedroom”, the blinds off, and the window frames removed.

They began the work around 11 but it was an on again off again process by two workers.  Finally at 5ish they were done and we had to leave as they were closing up shop before we could finish the “post” work.  We paid the bill (which they discounted due to the shorter time spent) and made our way into the city to park on University grounds for another couple of nights.

left side – new headliner

Saturday, after finishing the “bedroom” work, we walked into El Centro to check it out and saw this beautiful church

and strolled around looking at other buildings, Plaza San Martin and a pedestrian mall that was closed by the time we got there after we had lunch at a recommended restaurant, Beto’s.  They  have a “special” where you can try eight different cuts of meat that comes with fries, salad and bread.

first half of the meats with fixings – an empanada was the appie and three more kinds of meat on a similar tray came later

We awoke Sunday morning to heavy fog and decided to get away from the city.  We made our way towards a small town not too far away that seemed to have a good campground.  We stopped for groceries and made our way over there only to learn they wanted to charge 1000 pesos for one night!  We’ve never paid more than 550!

So we left there and made our way to Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito, a place we planned to visit anyway.

We arrived after two and the hike there to the lookout to see condors is said to be 4-5 hours long so it was too late in the day to attempt it as the sun sets around 6 pm these days.  We spent a quiet afternoon in the parking lot and an even quieter, dark night.

Monday, we began the hike about 8:45 am and began to see condors about halfway to the North Balcony lookout.  The trail was in good shape, a lot of flat sections but some climbing and some stairs cut into the rocks.  We did see about four condors enroute.

When we arrived at the North Balcony, the gorge was completely bursting with fog.

so we didn’t see any condors here.

On the way back, about halfway again, we saw more condors.

some type of bird of prey that loved to hang in the wind

We arrived back at Tigger around noon and left the park to make our way a daily 100 km / 60 mi more or less.

At one point down the road we drove past a small gorge and a condor buzzed Tigger; we followed it for a bit before pulling over to watch it play in the wind.

We arrived outside the little town of Nono,

where there is a museum called Museo Rocsen created by a Frenchman who’d worked for the French Embassy back in the 50’s and was an avid collector since boyhood.

He collected his first piece when he was 8 years old – a small roman soldier that was dated at 1000 years old that he found in Niza, France. It’s less than two inches tall.

It is said there are over 60,000 items in the museum – we can believe it!  There are 99 “stations” to explore from

yes that’s a two headed cow
HUGE desert roses!

a Peruvian mummy

It was not even four when we left to drive back into the village to get gas and find a place to wild camp for the night.  The place we had in mind, didn’t seem that great so we drove across the street to the YPF station, which was not a truck stop, and asked if we could park overnight and spent a fairly quiet night there.  There we had some slow on again, off again Wi-Fi.

Tuesday we awoke to COLD!  It had gone down to 5 overnight and the next ten days didn’t look any better so winter is settling in.

We spent the morning repairing the back window blind (one of the strings had frayed) – there’s always something, just like when you own a house.

and then drove a whopping 50 km to a wild camp spot with access to hot showers and WiFi outside the city of Villa Dolores where we spent that afternoon and the night.

our towel hanging off the front after hot showers.

We have only about 400 km / 300 mi left to San Juan and there’s not much in between here and there so we did something we’ve never done before on this journey:  returned to a national park we’ve been to before.  Parque Nacional Sierra de Quejadas is a park we visited last November on our one month jaunt into Argentina from Chile to get our visa and TIP renewed.  It was a nice park that was free and had free camping with bathrooms.  We arrived midday, had our late breakfast (since we are still doing the 16 hour fast thing) and then did a bunch of chores.  It’s been quite sunny the past few days but the temperatures have not reflected the warmth of the sun.  It dipped down to -3C / 26F tonight but weirdly it didn’t feel as cold as the night before when it stayed just above freezing.  The daytime temps are reaching 11-15C / 52-60F and if you stand in the sun it’s quite nice but if it’s windy, not so much.

Thursday, we drove the rest of the way into San Juan with two big errands to run: laundry and fill our propane tank (we are down to a third).  We managed to drop off the former at the Walmart mall where there is a laundry service but the latter is causing us issues.  We’ll have to try again tomorrow.  We parked at the YPF station we stayed at last November and settled in for a couple of days.  The city is beginning to receive tourists for the eclipse.  Doug already researched where the path of the eclipse will be and we found a wild camp on iOverlander very close to it.  We’ll head there Sunday or Monday to be sure we get it for the eclipse on Tuesday.  So far the forecast seems set for perfect conditions.

Friday we picked up the laundry and tried again at the propane place that was closed yesterday only to be told they were still closed due to illness in the family (it looked doubtful to us anyway – more of a bottle exchange).  When we returned to spend the night back at the YPF, Fran saw a propane cylinder truck and Doug went out to ask where the plant was in the hopes that we could get a fill there.  Turns out we don’t think he understand the question so we are still looking.   We do have a  small 2.5 kg gas bottle that Mark & Christine had given us before they sold their truck which we could use in a pinch and we do still have our little Coleman BBQ with the 1 litre propane bottles for cooking.  The main thing is trying not to use the furnace when it’s so cold – that takes a good amount of gas.  We do have a small electric heater than we can use if we fire up the gennie.

Saturday, we spent a quiet day at the YPF getting in our exercise and getting some shopping done at a nearby fruit and veg shop and a bakery for bread.

Sunday late morning, we headed out of San Juan north along the Ruta 40 – it’s been a while since we drove this famous highway – back in late March when we visited Bariloche and the 7 Lakes Route.  We drove about 100 km / 60 mi to the spot Doug had worked out and at there is a shrine and Refugio with a trailer and equipment for road work – the pullout is huge.  Today, there was also a police checkpoint (that part was news to us).  We spoke to the cops who said we were welcome to spend a few nights here. We found a spot that was a little sheltered from the wind coming from the south and parked.  After settling, Fran went for a walk down the little road that is blocked by a pile of dirt.  We hoped to be able to track the sun as it lowersto be sure we could see the path of the eclipse on Tuesday.  Sunset is about 6:30 pm now and the sun will be in total eclipse around 5:40 so we wanted to be sure it was not too low in the sky. Unfortunately, today was somewhat cloudy and got worse as the day progressed.  The forecast for Monday and beyond is for total sun so fingers crossed.  Today was cooler than it’s been the past few days (high only 13 C / 55F) but the next couple of days, with all that sun are supposed to warm up to 17-18C / 65F.

So Monday and Tuesday we hung around our wild camping, taking walks and trying to stay warm at night.  It’s quite comfy in the afternoons.

the old rail line
our view

Finally, it was Tuesday, July 2nd, and the big event – the South American Total Solar eclipse.

In the San Juan newspaper

Just before 4:30, we grabbed a couple of beers and our chairs and went across the highway (to get an unobstructed view of the sun – no powerlines) and watched for nearly two hours.

The partial began shortly after we sat down and the full was at about 5:40 for over two minutes.  It was amazing and worth the wait.  It was rather eerie when it turned to dusk. We’d heard about this last October in Chile and planned our route around it.    About 8 other vehicles joined us at our pullout on the highway and everyone seemed to be enjoying it; someone even had “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on repeat!

Until next time….please check the photo galleries for lots more pics!