October 28th, 2018
We arrived in Mendoza (the capital of the province), which is a fair sized city and found a Walmart to stock up before making our way to a recommended parking lot in the city that allows you to stay overnight in your vehicle and it’s pretty much right downtown. We got parked (the lot is covered with shade “sheets” which we just fit under but this meant our panels did not get much light) in a corner and went out to get some things done and see the city.
Now if you are not a wine person (which as you know, Doug is not) this city doesn’t’ have a great deal to offer. There are no tourist sites, per se, within the city but there are five nice plazas set out in the shape of the FIVE on a dice.
We checked out each one but turns out the one touted as most beautiful was all walled off for renovations and two of the others also had sections walled off for the same reason.
Mendoza is in a desert but back in time, someone had the foresight to plant a lot of trees, mostly sycamores, build aqueducts down most streets and the heat of the desert is not felt so badly. (As we traveled further into the country, we saw this more and more.)
We were able to buy some phone credit for Fran’s new sim card, went to a McDonald’s to get WiFi and set it up and she was good to go. Surprisingly, the night was pretty quiet for being downtown (although it was Sunday) and next morning after attempting a few mostly failed chores, we left the city to go south. We needed a tire rotation and found a place on Argentina’s famous Ruta 40 outside the city to get that done but we also wanted to get Tigger lubed but so far no luck on that point; we’d stop somewhere and rather than sell us the service, they would offer us the grease!
We are now for the first time, east of the Andes; our altitude is under 1,000 m / 300’ and it’s flat.
On the drive we could see many of the Andes snow capped peaks to the west of us peeking through the clouds. The temperatures now reach upon in the high 20’sC / 80F and night time lows are not cold so quite comfortable.
San Carlos was our next stop; it’s a small town and Hotel Rosengarten is run by an ex motorcycle overlander (it was his father’s who was from Austria) and there is a lovely grassy garden area with real pine trees brought from Austria! There is a pool, a bathroom block, internet and power. It’s a little pricey compared to other places but it’s quiet and still below what we deem our max camping price.
Before supper (and after siesta) we went to find a veggie stand to get a couple of things and then stayed in for the night; rain was in the forecast but it never happened.
Next morning, Dario, the owner, took Doug to get some blood work he wanted done at a doctor friend’s clinic and then Doug worked on the Jerry can configuration again by adding some wood under the cans so they fit better.
Doug wanted the diagnosis confirmation on the pit man arms making the thud we were hearing and Dario had a mechanic come to the hotel and it was agreed we’d meet at 3 at a lube place; there we had the lube done and the other mechanic arrived and they worked on diagnosing the thump we were hearing. They were confident it was not the pit man arms and they found that one of the torsion bar mounts was loose but they said it was not serious and to replace the wearing part was not only a huge job but they probably could not find the part. They felt we would have no issues continuing on with this non serious issue. Doug also asked them to look at the air bags; they are capoot so we’ll try and source those when we pass back through Mendoza and then he asked them about oil filters; they did not have one that fit but ordered one that he claims will fit and it will arrive in the morning.
We got back to the hotel around 6 and there was a young couple from Scandinavia there; Michael & Johanna, so we had a happy hour with them outside until it began raining (we actually had a few minutes of hail!) and we moved into Tigger for a while. They are here on a two month vacation and have rented an SUV with a rooftop tent. It rained on and off most of the night and was still raining when we awoke so Tigger got a good wash.
Wednesday morning, we said good to Michael & Johanna and then made our way back to the mechanic; the part was not there (not surprised) so we went to the Doctor’s to get Doug’s test results and then went back to the mechanic; still no part; went to get gas; still no part so we returned to the hotel. We’ll call this afternoon and if it came in we’ll stop by in the morning on the way out of town.
That night an orangey/red rig pulled in with Florida plates; it was John and Mandi, whom we’ve followed on the PanAm FB page for at least three years but had never managed to be in the same place at the same time. After they got settled we had a happy hour with them before a late dinner in Tigger.
So Thursday morning after showers, we hit the road to go south near the town of San Rafael where the Canyon El Atuel is located; this is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Argentina. We stopped at the local Tourist Info, gassed up, got a few fruits/veggies at a small market, some pastries and bread at a bakery and made our way to the Ruta 173 to drive the 77 km / 47 mi canyon. It was a mostly cloudy day but as the day progressed and we drove westward, it got clearer.
At first it was flat and there was a lot of development including hotels, restaurants and wineries. Then we hit some hills and the only life we saw was many, many tour buses/combies but all headed the other way.
And then we reached the reservoir:
which seemed a little low as you could see it’s “bathtub” ring; it had a couple islands as well.
As we continued the drive we enjoyed seeing the many types of rock walls, formations and the river.
We saw three dams, several empty campgrounds/picnic areas and parks and most of what traffic there was headed east not west like us. The road was paved until about the reservoir then it became dirt/gravel but in good condition.
We decided we’d do the entire road today, camp near the town at the end, El Nihuil, then try and find out about the road to Laguna Diamante which we thought was near the Salinas Diamante nearby. We went to check out some wild camps on the reservoir at the town
but the bugs just swarmed Tigger as we approached the beach so we turned around and went to a mirador parking lot overlooking this end of the Canyon near the “Devil’s Throat”. We had a quiet night there hoping for sunset but it was pretty much non existent that evening.
The view of the lake next morning on the east side:
Friday we realized after checking a better map that Laguna Diamante and the Salinas Diamante are in two totally different places and we’d been told the road to the former was closed (which made sense when we saw how close to the mountains it was which also meant it was up higher) so instead we drove the 30 km /20 mi to the salt flats only to see it was flooded by the recent rain so we didn’t even pass the entry gates.
We then made our way back to Dario’s in San Carlos for one last night and began trying to source air bags with Dario’s help. Unfortunately, we got nowhere so we’ll look in Santiago when we get back, otherwise, we’ll be bringing them back with us from Canada in December.
We had another happy hour with John and Mandi and the next morning arose early to run some errands in Mendoza before continuing north (it’s Saturday so most everything will close early). We were successful on a number of small things at a hardware store, a drugstore, did some laundry and grocery shopping and it was now 2 pm and on a Saturday in Argentina, that means everything closes up until Monday (except big grocery store and the like). At the mall where the supermarket was, a security guard approached us and he invited us for a coffee to chat about our trip. Gustavo is also a volunteer firefighter who likes to travel on his motorbike and told us to call him anytime we might need assistance.
We began the drive northwest up the Ruta 52 to a place known as Villavicencio where back in the day a fancy hotel with hot springs thrived. The hot springs are no longer operating but the hotel remains as a daytime restaurant only and is located in a lovely valley.
The drive began ascending and had lovely views; the road was paved all the way to the hotel so about 51 km / 30 mi. After that it was gravel but the views became even better as we got much higher than the hotel and the valley looked beautiful.
We had a wild camp in mind at 2600 m / 8500’ that we’d found on iOverlander and arrived there with plenty of daylight left. We did air the tires down which smoothed out the ride considering our air bags were pretty much dead and Doug noticed one of the sway bars was undone at the top bolt!
Our “spot” had breathtaking views and our only neighbours were the bakers dozen of guanacos nearby.
The night was cool and windy but otherwise quiet; Doug did not sleep well due to the altitude which surprised us both as we were not that high but maybe we’d spent too much time lower down. We left after breakfast and came upon a large herd of guanacos and then several small ones; we’ve seen well over a hundred in less than 18 hours, all relatively close together.
The drive took us almost back to Uspallata but at the summit of the drive, we came across magnificent views of the Andes once again where a cross had been placed by a Jesuit missionary back in the 17th century.
The views remained in front of us all the way to Uspallata where we got gas and then we followed alongside of them
as we continued north where our destination on this fine sunny Sunday was Parque Nacional EL Leoncito in the San Juan Province.