Week 51: Southbound, via Mendoza to Chile

By themselves on the conveyor
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By themselves on the conveyor

Week 51: Southbound, via Mendoza to Chile

Ruta Nacional 40

With our drive down to Mendoza we conclude a pretty nice feat, and that is having taken on in total some 3750 km of the 5000km long Ruta nacional 40, one of the longest highways in the world within 1 country. Only missing a tip in the north and a loop in the south, we have driven a lot of its paved and unpaved ways, in different directions and it never got boring, so if you are looking for an epic road trip? The RN40 should go on your list.

Our first leg down from Cafayate we try to take as much of a stab at the route as possible, ending at the spot where we veered off the RN40 to the Provincial park of Ischigualastu almost 2,5 months ago. The drive is long and again takes us through valleys and flats, sometimes swirving around riverbends and through canyons, sometimes for 20+ kms in one straight line trying not to fall asleep behind the wheel. As we pull into a town as dusk, the only hotel there is trying to scam us into paying a fortune, so we drive on and find a fantastic motel just in time for a quick dinner in our room and then off to bed.

The next day is about driving back down to Mendoza, this time thus a route we have done before… very much against our normal routine, but there are not that many ways to get there – it is not Rome – and we have some business to take care of, first being to get money! We also have some car work to do, but of course like always we roll into a place to fix things on the weekends and thus there is no such thing as getting any work done on it. So we roam the town a bit, shop once we have cash to fill up our rations and spend time finding a place to stay for the next 3 nights so we can sort out our stuff.

Mendoza – Getting things done

We end up at a really nice house where we can get some things organized, but more importantly spend the Sunday relaxing, doing laundry, taking down the pace and recover some more from the hike/bike/drive days. We spend some more time cooking nice lunches and dinners and make a plan for our final time in south America. The boys create a peanut trail on the terrace and check out the birds that come to feed on them, and build huts from the mattresses and pillows in the room.

On Monday we take the car early into the Hyundai service station for a final check. As we are putting the car up for sale a week later it is important to make sure all is in order, and thankfully the mechanic comes back with good news; everything looks in good shape! We then spend the afternoon doing some final grocery shoppings to haul us over the week of Chile (as Argentina is much cheaper, especially the wine ;-)), and packing up our car again.

Final stop before Chile: Las Cuevas

This is quite literally the final stop before Chile, as we stay 10km from the Chile/Argentina border right in the middle of the Andes mountains. Why? SNOOOWWWWWW!!!! As we drive up into the Andes, we first take a detour towards the Potrerillos lake and dam, which turns out to be quite a looker when we get through the tunnel. Depending on the angle the lake is bright blue or dark black, and there is clearly a lot of development happening to make this a prime tourism spot. But we are drawn towards the mountains that potentially hold the promise of snow, so we drive on.

Last gasoline stop is Uspallata, with no snow in sight, but a massive line of trucks getting ready to cross the border with Chile. We drive by the big traffic jam further up the valley with our fingers and toes crossed, and as we round another corner some 50km later, we get rewarded with a beautiful white blanket. The boys are over the moon at the sight of snow and can’t wait to get into it, so we start the hunt for a rental sled. This turns out more difficult than we expected, so for today we go to our accommodation – a former train station in a field of snow – where the boys spend hours digging and playing in the snow with the 4 resident dogs.

The next day we make good on our promise of sledding, so we drive back a few kilometers to what must be the world’s smallest ski resort – Puquios. Not opening for skiing yet, but ready to sled, they open up the magic carpet lift and adjoining slope for that sole purpose. We get there at 10am, and from that moment Luc and Bo spend hours going up and down, having snowball fights and going absolutely nuts. Mom and dad spend most of that time watching them from the car, as it is too cold outside without our winter gear. It really is a great send off from Argentina, and as we chew down our lunch we bid the slope farewell and make our way to the last border crossing in South America.

Chile once again – But for the last time

The border crossing is another feat, with massive lines with trucks trying to make the passage from one side of the Andes to the other. The actual border lies on the mountain we actually cross through a tunnel . We want tot keep going but the tunnel apparently is blocked when the line of trucks on the other side gets so long it blocks the tunnel. So we wait for a bit until there is more space to keep going. We then try to pass all the trucks that have created one big traffic jam and squeeze our way through inside of the border patrol facilities.

While we do our Covid obligations (nowadays only a vaccination check and if you have medical insurance) and our immigration paperwork we see the next step: The aduana. And again it is a very thorough one to get into Chile. All our bags are put through a x-ray machine, our other luggage is checked for food we are not allowed to bring. We have done this now a dozen times, and every time we think we get it right, but again we need to hand in something – this time it is the honey :-(. With the process taking a long time we are relieved to have lived through our final border crossing in south America, on to the city of Santiago via the zig zags of ‘Los Caracoles’.

Arriving in Santiago takes again ages but we make it to our place for the rest of the week in one piece. We have booked an Airbnb for a week as we were expecting to spend much time selling our car, but we have made an agreement to sell it with a third party, so we have some time to relax. We have enough space to spread out our luggage so we can figure out if we can take everything back to Jerry… Fingers crossed!

Next week: Almost one year, goodbye South America!

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