WE’RE IN ARGENTINA!!!!!!
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Arriving in a new country is both thrilling and terrifying. You suddenly have a new currency to contend with, so you frantically hit Google to figure out conversions. The local dishes have different names so once again you’re using Google translate to work out the menus. The petrol changes from gallons to liters and you spend ages fumbling in your wallet trying to work out the different notes. Luckily they all drive on the same side of the road here and they all speak Spanish – not that our Spanish is improving too well! We definitely need a lot more work in order to get by.
It makes me wonder how we would ever have gotten by without smart phones! Mine talks for me, tells me where to go, tells me how much things cost, gives suggestions on what to see, connects me to family and friends, takes photos, allows me to work and gives me a platform on which to connect with fellow travelers. My phone really is the most precious item I own. Without it I would never be able to manage a journey of this magnitude. Thank you Samsung!!
MANNEQUINS ON THE ROAD
One of the funniest things I have seen is at places where there are road works. In most places in the world, you will have human beings waving big red flags to warn you of road works and to tell you when to stop and when to go. In some places, these people have been replaced with traffic lights, which direct the traffic. Here in Argentina, they use mannequins. Yes, mannequins!!! All dressed in white coveralls, hard hats and a red flag in their hands.
The first time we saw it was on Ruta 27 in the middle of nowhere, so we could understand their use, but we have subsequently seen mannequins being used at two additional places since being in Argentina. It’s brilliant!
WHAT WE DID IN ARGENTINA
We drove Ruta 27 from Chile to Argentina and our first stop was the Salinas Grande. The 2nd largest salt flats in South America. In fact Ruta 27 passed right through the middle of the Salinas Grande.
We still had our Spanish hitchhiker’s, Alex and Alba, with us, so decided to split the cost of a tour guide. The guide jumped into Thor and off we drove onto the salt flats! First stop was at a big pool, apparently filled with fresh water that came from deep down in the earth. There were a few smaller pools around, each with different hues from the different minerals.
Unlike Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, which was once part of the ocean, the Salinas Grande was created when volcanos erupted and deposited their minerals here. This is a working salt flat with the salt being exported to Uruguay, Chile and surrounding countries. They did pools and then wait for a full year for the salt flowers to grow.
The most fun thing about the salt flats is the ability to take perspective photos – although trust me when I say it is easier said than done! The glare from the sun hitting the white salt means that you can barely see the screen of your phone, so a lot of it is winging it, taking loads of pics and then spending time deleting all the fails. We did manage to get one or two real goodies and are now better prepared for when we get to Uyuni in Bolivia.
Cost: 600 ARS for an hour with a guide
SUSQUES TO PURMAMARCA
Most of our trip on Ruta 27 was on a plateau at 4000m above sea level. And as with life, what goes up, must come down. Oh boy and what a down it was! At the top of the pass, we stopped to look down and before us snaked the steep serpentine road that we needed to take. What I didn’t realise at the time was that what we could see was only about 3km of it, when in fact we had 23km of zigzagging craziness ahead of us!
There were some huge trucks going down really slowly, so instead of sitting on our brakes, we just pulled over, often, to admire the scenery and let the trucks go on ahead. And what scenery it was!
Purmamarca is surrounded by the Hills of Seven Colours. Every colour of red, brown, green, grey, yellow and white. Each layer made over millennia when different minerals were compacted in layers. The result being these amazing zigzag coloured hills.
Purmamarca is a really tiny town and really touristy, but they’re mostly day trippers. Arriving mid-morning in big buses and leaving early evening. The result is a town that bustles during the day and as soon as the sun sets, there is barely a sole around.
The central square has huge big trees offering a nice shady space to relax in. There is free wifi in the square and a nearby shop played relaxing pan pipe music, which perfectly set the mood. Tai found a group of boys to play soccer with, which then led on to throwing water balloons – lots of fun!
We hiked up to the various viewpoints around the town to get the best views of the hills and visited the cemetery with it plastic flowers in vibrant contrast to the dusty earth.
Tilarca was a necessary stop for us. We had run out of water in Thor and read we could fill up at the petrol station. They also had great showers. We parked at the YPF station and walked into town, but it was siesta time and everything was closed.
The central square had the usual souvenir stands and we noticed some nice looking restaurants, but it was bad timing and we didn’t get the best out of Tilcara.
I’m not even sure if Leon can be called a town? Just a few houses along the main road. We stopped at the soccer fields, where some intense games were on the go. Spectators had their cooler boxes and camping chairs out amid lots of cheering.
We spent the night here and, in the morning, the rain was coming down and horses stood grazing in the mist. Tai disappeared to “chat” to the horses for about an hour.
Salta is a fairly big city. In the very centre, as with all South American towns, is the main Plaza. The buildings surrounding the plaza where beautiful, a stunning cathedral looking out over the green trees and beautifully preserved colonial buildings. Buskers were doing an Argentine tango and the al fresco restaurants were doing a lively trade. A pedestrian walkway, going South, took us past some fancy shops and then, abruptly, it all ended. The sparkling inner core of the city only lasted about 3 blocks and then everything looked dilapidated, dusty and tired. We definitely didn’t get the feeling that we wanted to stay, but that’s where life is funny, cos it turned out we had to stay for quite a few days!
We did eat our first Argentinian steak at Dona Salta Restaurant and it truly was delicious! Huge and juicy and delicious and oh so cheap! Argentina is also famous for its icecream, with Helado (icecream in Spanish) shops everywhere. Of course we had to do some taste testing and can honestly say they will give Italian gelato a run for its money!
Our best experience in Salta was visiting the MAAM Museum, where the Children of Llullaillaco are exhibited. These are three mummified children that were found on top of the Llullaillaco volcano, placed there as offerings to the God’s.
The children chosen to be sacrificed had to be the most beautiful and the cleverest and it was considered a huge honour. The deaths were peaceful. At such a high altitude – over 6000m – there is little oxygen. The children were given drinks of coco leaves and other herbs which slowed their heart rate and made them gently go to sleep. To accompany them into the new world, they were surrounded with little figurines of earthly things.
These three mummies have been perfectly preserved and are now exhibited one at a time at the MAAM Museum. We got to see the little boy, still so perfectly intact and wrapped in his ceremonial blanket.
The museum had English versions of most of the information, so we were able to read all the history and explanations of the ceremonies.
Cost: 200 ARS for adults – Kids under 12 are free
Having spent the last few weeks in the hot dry desert, we where whooping with delight when we hit green fields and tree covered mountains just north of Salta. And where there is green, there is rain and oh boy did it rain! We woke up to the pitter patter on the roof in the village of Leon and it kept coming all day. Arriving in Salta, we realized we had a problem! The roof was leaking and water was pouring in through the air-conditioner. We strategically placed buckets around and added duct tape to the shopping list for the next day.
A quick trip to the hardware store and up on the roof we climbed. I found the issue and patched it up and thought that was the end of it. The fridge was being temperamental, so to keep it going I plugged Thor into the electricity for the first time. Its quite a palaver with numerous cords and inverters as Thor uses 110 volt and the electricity here is 220volt, but we got it all working nicely. Tai went to open the door and got a huge shock! Hmm.. surely that shouldn’t be happening?
Slowly, we realized all was not well. The water boiler wasn’t working, there was definitely something wrong with the fridge and we really shouldn’t be getting shocks from the door.
While at the campsite, we had met a lovely British couple who were taking their van to be fixed and a Dutch couple who had just come from having their van fixed. Both had gone to the highly recommend Guillermo, so off we set for Guillermo to work his magic!
We ended up spending 2 nights locked inside Guillermo’s garage, along with the British couple, James and Lucy, while our campervan, Thor, was being seen to. The first part of the process was for them to figure out how everything worked, where all the wires went and what wires did what. They rewired the solar and fridge components and replaced an adapter that was a bit faulty, but they couldn’t fix the water boiler, so gave us details of someone who could.
Guillermo and his two friends had spent nearly 2 days working on Thor, but apart from the 300 ARS (R75) for the adapter, Guillermo would not accept any payment! Another one of the angles we need to add to our ever growing list!
The next electrician worked on the van for 2 hours, but couldn’t fix the issue, so sent us to the next person. After 2 hours of work, he also refused payment!
Our third destination was a winner. Edwardo Cruz found the issue. An electrical wire that had been fried by the rain, so he finally managed to get everything working for us.
The amazing thing is that none of these three people could speak English, so Google translate was used for all our conversations. Sometimes I could understand, but a lot of the time the translated English was pure gobbled gook, as the phone misheard what they were saying and added the wrong words. It was rather frustrating, but wonderful Benjamin, the previous owner of Thor, stepped in a few times to chat with them on Whatsapp. Benjamin really saved the day, for which I am very very grateful.
Edwardo had never seen Google Translate and was quite taken with it. On day two, he arrived with his son, Daniel, who was also 12 years old. The first thing he did was make me show Daniel how it worked. Tai and Daniel then had a fun time playing soccer in the park together and chatting using google translate.
TEL: +549 387 591 2972
GPS: S 24°48.382′, W 65°24.983′
EDWARDO CRUZ MECHANIC
TEL: +549 387 403 0230
GPS: S 24°77.6140′, W 65°42.383′
- Between 2pm – 5pm, Argentina shuts down! Doors locked, blinds drawn, not an open shop in sight. Everyone goes home for lunch and supposedly an afternoon siesta.
- ATM withdrawal fees are INSANE! The maximum withdrawal is USD$80 and the fee is USD$9.
- The steaks are huge!
- YPF Petrol stations have the best wifi
WHERE WE STAYED
PURMAMARCA: We wild camped on a quiet street, right next to town, with the most amazing view of the seven coloured hills from our doorway. The police stayed watching the cars here all day long, so we knew it was safe.
GPS: S 23°44.867′, W 65°29.851′
TILCARA: We didn’t stay over night here, but it was a great pitstop and refueling station. The bathrooms are great and have showers for only 30 Pesos. You can fill up your water tank at the Gas filling station on the right. There is a restaurant, but no wifi. Ask the petrol attendant to add 5000Pesos to your credit card and give it to you in cash. Saves a fortune on ATM fees.
GPS: S 23°34.353′, W 65°23.830′
LEON: We stayed on the grass next to the soccer fields. The kids played until about 10pm that night. We woke to horses outside our windows.
GPS: S 24°2.077′, W 65°25.855′
SALTA: XAMENA CAMPING: We stayed at the Xamena Campsite. It is a municipal campsite with an enormous pool. Actually it’s more like a lake! There are BBQ’s and tables and benches everywhere. The bathrooms are fine and water is super hot. It’s not in the best area, but it didn’t stop me from walking into the centre of town a few times. Taxi’s are super cheap and easy to catch outside.
GPS: S 24°48.794′, W 65°25.181′
SALTA: YPF STATION: We wild camped for a night at the YPF petrol station as the municipal campsite didn’t have wifi and this YPF station had the most incredibly brilliant wifi.
GPS: S 24°48.359′, W 65°25.204′
We traveled from Susques to Salta in Argentine, with a little detour up to Tilcara.
Total Distance: 390km
I will be providing our basic travel costs per week, so that you get an indication of what a trip like this entails. Bear in mind that we are budget travelers, so your budget could vary depending on your lifestyle choices. For example, we always opt for the cheapest and often, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and only require very basic accommodation.
For us, the experiences are where it is all at, so we’d rather spend money on activities.
The costs below are for the full 7 days.
The costs below are shown in Argentinian Pesos (R1 = 4 ARS) ($1 USD = 60 ARS).
- Fuel = 5150 ARS
- Taxi = 190 ARS
- Xamena camping = 1 night = 135 ARS
- MAAM Museum = 200 ARS
- Restaurant = 3505 ARS
- Supermarket = 6859 ARS
Van supplies and living
- Laundry = 600 ARS
- Showers = 60 ARS
- Door Hinges = 82 ARS
- Phone Data = 2GB data for 7 days = 145 ARS
TOTAL = 16926 ARS = USD $283 or R4192
WHERE TO NEXT
Ruta 40 is the most famous road in Argentina. It extends from the North right down to the southern tip in Ushuaia. Our plan is to follow Ruta 40 all the way down Argentina. From Salta to Cafayate, there are 2 possible routes. Ruta 40 and Ruta 68. This section of Ruta 40 is unpaved and is pretty bad in some sections, so after much research and many conversations, we will do Salta to Cafayate on Ruta 68 and then continue down on Ruta 40. So the next stop is in the wine making region of Cafayate.