Another stab at the ruta 40
As we pile out of the cosy apartment the next morning we first stop by the laundromat and then on to the office of Antarctica Travels for one more coffee and to meet the team. It has been great talking to them and we hope we will be able to return the favor when they come out to the Netherlands! But then it is on and upwards on the ruta 40, one of the longest roads in the world with almost 5200km, of which we have covered quite a bit already and continue up north. The next stretch is towards Mendoza, which is too long to do in one go, so we do the best we can driving up.
In this part there is a serious lack of gas stations, although with all the borders with Chile closed, the gas tourism is non existent so they should not run out. Nonetheless, the line at the station is very long, it takes us half an hour before it is our turn in Chos Malal. With the next station 350km away we take the hit and fill up. Our gas usage is going much better now that we do not have a heavy headwind, so we can easily do the distance, but it is better safe than sorry. We end the day in Buta Ranquil, a sleepy town where we manage to knock on a door and find a small apartment to stay in at reasonable rates. After a quick dinner we call it a night and get ready for the final leg of our trip up to Mendoza.
Mendoza – Wine country
The road is long, with a 80+km gravel part in between that slows us down, but as we have no punctures or other mishaps this is a hurdle easy to take. Thank goodness we invested in a good car with 4×4, as we drive with much more confidence through the dry scenery. Some 150km from Mendoza the landscape starts to change, and the dust makes way for greens and endless vinyards. This is the main draw to the area; Wine! A quick detour to the Salentein estate (closed :-() to which we have a fondness from our local wine guy, and up the hill to the statue of Christ where we have a nice sweet snack before driving into the city of Mendoza. We count on the temperatures being better here so we find ourselves another campsite and set up our tent. The manager of the camping says it is very cold now – 14 degrees – which we laugh at and happily take over the almost 0 degrees last week!
We will stay in Mendoza 2 full days, and as it is Sunday and we have to celebrate our half way mark – and life in general – we decide to look for a bodega for lunch. We find the small bodega of Argentia, which has a great garden and a delicious looking menu for us to enjoy. While the boys are offered a kids menu they actually want to join us in the tasting, so we decide to opt for 3 menus and share… except for the wine of course ;-). The afternoon is incredible, so relaxing (although that could also be the wine), and after being fully filled up we spend some more time in the sun sweating out the alcohol and getting some tan again after all those weeks in the cold. With so much food we only need a cup of soup and some bread for dinner and happily turn in.
The next day we explore the city, after a lazy breakfast. What stands out for Mendoza are the many parks and squares, some with great playgrounds, others with beautiful fountains and statues. After an earthquake took down most of the city over 150 years ago, the layout of the city is quite ‘modern’ with a squared setup across the whole city. We park the car at the edge of the Parque General San Martin and spend several hours crossing the cities streets. After a well deserved ice cream we make our way back up to the park where Sven puts his running gear on to run back to the campsite. We have done our share of walking so we enjoy the outdoors at the campground before dinner.
Dino time! – Parque Provincial Ischigualasto
While we had planned to make a beeline up north to Salta, it seems the border between Chile and Bolivia is not opening any time soon, which would mean we would have to retrace our steps on this part of the ruta 40 when crossing through Argentina later on in the journey. So we see what we have en route to check out and find one of the most popular provincial parks in Argentina; Ischigualasto. A very special park as it sits in a mountain range which has tilted to the side when it was formed. Through this, it is one of the few places in the world where fossils are literally pushed up from the ground, and all different layers expose themselves nicely horizontally. This means it is a treasure chest full of dino fossils, from both the Triasic as well as the (later) Jurassic period.
There is a campground on site, which is a circle surrounded by high wooden fences, much like what you see in the movie Jurassic Park… thankfully no fear of real dinos coming to see us here. We set up our tent for the evening and enjoy the surroundings, with a stunning sunset to bid us goodnight. The next day we spend the entire day at the park, with a visit to the museum, lots of time digging for our own fossils and as the highlight of the stay a tour through the park. Here the visit is done with a guide in your own car, so you follow with a set of cars and at several stops around the park get an explanation of the geology and fossil findings. Taking the tour at the end of the day ensures some beautiful light over the colorful surroundings, and a fun drive through landscape that go from lunar to Mars in the course of 3+ hours.
On to the Sierras – with Condors!
We take the scenic route through the Valle Fertil to our next destination; Quebrada del Condor. The drive is half gravel but in good shape, so we arrive at this accommodation early in the afternoon, after climbing 25km up to the end of the dirt road. With another dog on site – Dana – we start exploring the surroundings and climb up to the enclosure where two condors are kept in captivity, rescued after getting hurt. The aim is of course to see these magnificent birds in their natural habitat and soaring in the sky, but the enclosure does ensure a close-up from these fantastic animals which is slightly terrifying. Coming back from our climb we dare the boys to take a dip in the freezing pool, which they do (granted, the dare had the benefit of not having to do homework ;-)) and then quickly jump into a hot shower. The dinner is a full plate of biftek with fries, which if course is swallowed whole by all of us.
The next morning we have planned a horseback ride out to what is called the ‘Balcon de los condores’, a spot on the edge of the mountain range where these birds are known to soar and actually get quite close as well. We share a horse with the boys, which Luc regrets very quickly so he also does a part of the walk on the horse by himself like a true gaucho, while mom stretches her legs. The scenery is beautiful, but the highlight truly is being out at the ridge and looking at dozens of condors making their way across, while enjoying a snack provided by the lodge. A fantastic way to experience these epic birds in the surroundings they belong in!
Next week: Cordoba & friends