Well, it’s been a while… but we had some rain again. A lot actually. Around 4:00am we decided to evacuate the tent as the wind was really blowing hard. We closed the tent and found refuge inside the car! We slept in the back seat for a bit more, but around 6:30am we were wide awake. We decided to drive to the town square a few blocks down the road to get internet access and investigate our next move. We picked up the news that the planned sale in Buenos Aires will not go ahead, so we fired off some e-mails to find other interested people. We got some quick replies and throughout the day we stopped every 45 minutes at petrol stations to check our mail.
The drive today was long… longer than we’ve driven in a long time. We covered 590km crossing towards the east. We stopped in Baradero, which is a nice fishing village. We visited some campings and kept looking as we thought most options were too expensive for too little comfort. We finally found a spot near the river and only went out for pizza.
Driving around in the town, a guy came out to congratulate us on our monumental trip – and wished us good luck. That was a really nice gesture as we had a bit of a rough day dealing with making new plans for selling the car. The guy invited us to look at his guesthouse and see if we wanted to spend the night there, but unfortunately it was too expensive.
We’re starting to understand Argentine Spanish a bit more every day, but when we ordered ‘pollo’, the waiter did not understand us until we pronounced it something like “pojeau”.
On the radio we heard November Rain
That solo’s really long, but it’s a pretty song
We listened to it twice ‘cause the DJ was asleep
With Rodrigo back in top shape and a relaxing night in a proper bed, we started the day fully energised. We decided to continue our drive to Buenos Aires and picked a nice camp site near the ‘Mar Chiquita’ as our destination. That meant a drive of about 400km in total, which we covered in about 6 hours. It was another hot day, with midday temperatures reaching 39° Celsius, so it was good to sit in the car. Everyone now and then we made a small stop for fuel, water or internet.
We pulled up to the quiet town of Miramar on the lake. We found some camping options and finally opted for a lakeside spot. The lake is slowly disappearing and will ultimately become a salt flat – a very big one. We had dinner on the stone table, took some pictures of the car and set up the tent as the wind was picking up. We fried some more noodles and ‘croque monsieur’ before going to bed!
Where do bad folks go when they die
They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly
Go to a lake of fire and fry
See them again ’till the Fourth of July
We spent the night on the municipal campground. Little did we know that behind us a football game was going on (with official referee and everything) until 1:00am. Anyhow we slept quite well knowing that Rodrigo was back in business.
The sun woke us up around 8:00am and after breakfast we drove back to the Toyota dealer to hear about how we could get the part replaced (now it’s being held together with duct tape). He phoned the warehouse in Buenos Aires and confirmed that the part was available. We decided to drive to Buenos Aires and make an appointment there to have it installed. If you’re really interested, we need to replace an ignition coil
In order to make up for the last days, we took Rodrigo to his first car wash in about 3 months. Driving across the salt flats meant that we had a nice mix of dust, salt, dirt, poop, bugs and random things stuck to the car. The car wash crew brought out the ultra powerful pressure washer and extra strong soap. We were somewhat surprised that they used the pressure washer also on the inside of the car doors. Well, it was 38° Celsius today and it did not take long to dry!
With Rodrigo sparkling as never before we hit the road down south. We still have some ground to cover – and we went for a 550km marathon today. Argentina’s roads are in excellent condition – although we did drive through a rough neighbourhood in San Miguel de Tucuman where a junkie came up to the car and asked for god knows what. We kept the windows closed and ignored everything and everyone and took off as soon as the light turned green.
We drove out of the mountains onto the majestic plains of Argentina! Endless views of fields with cows and horses! We looked for a campground but as the road was too littered with dirt in the final kilometers, we turned around and opted for the motel near the petrol station. We had a big burger for dinner (not too many choices on the menu) and slept the sleep of the dead after a long day.
There ain’t no tellin’ who you might meet
A movie star or maybe even a Indian Chief
Working at the car wash
Given Rodrigo’s poor health, we drove slowly to Salta. Thankfully the roads were in excellent condition and mostly down hill! We stopped for fuel and bought an additional hazard triangle. In Argentina you need to have two in your car – not just one. You also need a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit – but we bought that already back in Canada. We actually had 3 police checks in the first 30 kilometers on the road, but they were just interested where we came from, not as in Belgium but just the city we left from.
We arrived at the large Toyota dealership in Salta around 10:00am. The directions that we were given were not so useful, so we had to ask around, but eventually we found it! The security guard knew that we were coming and escorted Rodrigo to the royal parking spot in front of the entrance. Estaban came out to meet us and said he was expecting us. We explained the problem and the vehicle history (including previous maintenance in Costa Rica and Peru) and he said they would get started on it straight away.
They drove Rodrigo in to the big maintenance hall and hooked him up to the computer. We sat in the waiting room until noon and then made our way to the shopping mall for lunch. We had a big meat fest for lunch – we are in Argentina after all! They brought the meat on a mini-barbecue set to our table! The lunch break lasted for 4 hours and we had an ice-cream before heading back to Toyota.
Back at Toyota, Estaban informed us that they could do a temporary fix (to keep driving) by reducing Rodrigo to 7 cylinders and then have a final fix done later. For the final fix, however, a new spark plug is needed which is not on hand in Salta. Tomorrow we’ll go back to hear how we can get the final fix done in Buenos Aires. We drove to our campground with Rodrigo running as smoothly as he did back in Chili. It was a stressful day waiting for news, but we were very impressed with Estaban’s help. And for the record, we didn’t even have to pay a peso yesterday or today. How about that?
Unfortunately our Peruvian alarm seems to have been disabled in this whole process, so we need to figure that out tomorrow as well.
Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight.
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ingite
PS: Yes, we know what this song is about – it’s absolutely hilarious and a personal favourite for singing in the car
Based on our own diagnostic, we suspected something was wrong with one of Rodrigo’s 8 cylinders. The first diagnostic today seemed to confirm that – cylinder #7 was misfiring for some unknown reason. We left the car at the Toyota dealer for more checks – and given the long lunch break (12:30 to 4:30pm) we only got the car back around 9:00pm. For some time the car was completely blocked as well, as our Peruvian alarm went bonkers. Unfortunately the problem with the engine was not fixed yet, as the small dealership in Jujuy did not have the time or the (skilled) resources to work on Rodrigo. They made us an appointment for tomorrow in Salta – about 100km away. If you read this message and want to send your love and best wishes to Rodrigo, please leave us a comment (Patrick needs it for his mood :)).
So – with only 1.000 miles left to Buenos Aires we are currently stranded. We did however have some time to get to know Argentina a bit better! Did you know that you can buy Coca-Cola Life here? It’s Coca-Cola with stevia instead of sugar and you can only get it in Argentina!
Dinner is not served in Argentina until well after 9:00pm, so we were happy to follow the afternoon snack tradition and indulged in the best pie we’ve eaten since leaving Belgium!
Tomorrow we drive to Salta (don’t worry, Rodrigo will make it) and hope for better news! More pictures of sitting in Toyota waiting rooms and eating in shopping malls? Or happy people driving down trouble free down the highway? Only time will tell!
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1000 miles
To fall down at your door
Although we liked Chile very much, it was again time to move over to a new country, the last one in the list: Argentina! We started our journey early in the morning to allow ourselves some time to cross the high mountains. During the first kilometers this huge volcano kept us company on the left side of the road.
Then we were surprised to see something that looked like ice but which were small salt sculptures. Some were really big!
Further down the route we came across salt flats, mountain lakes, mountain roads and other beautiful creations.
Around noon we crossed the last border – which proved to be the easiest border crossing ever (or maybe we are getting good at this?). All facilities were gathered in one building and had ranking numbers informing us which office to go to next. People were also very friendly and helpful. After one hour we were welcomed to Argentina and we could further explore the mountain sights. We also crossed this big salt lake which was very bright for our untrained eyes.
After some more rolling down the hills – we had reached a maximum of 4.700 meters and had to get back down to 2.300 meters – we finally arrived at a small city which hosted a nice camping area. Patrick took the role of master chef and cooked ourselves some very spicy noodles. Unfortunately a small sand storm ruined the second batch of noodles but the first one was enough to ease both our hungry stomachs.
Tomorrow we need to go to the Toyota dealer to have Rodrigo checked out. It seems like we’ve lost a bit of power going up hill and the engine is shaking a bit more then he should. Hopefully it will only take a bit of coughing syrup and nothing major is going on.
A distant motorcade and suddenly there’s joy
The snow and ticker tape blurs all my senses numb
It’s like the finish line where everything just ends
The crack of radios seems close enough to touch
Okay, we were expecting it to be cold – but it was really too cold. By morning, all our water had frozen and our toes were popsicles. We had a rough night due to the altitude unleashing its fury on Marijke. We will spare you all the details, but I can tell you that the little fox did not hang around the car all night. We know altitude sickness is a serious thing – and we had taken precautions by first acclimatising on 2,300 meters. However, we quickly decided to start driving back down around 6:45am as it started getting light outside. We packed the car in -8° Celsius and prayed that Rodrigo’s heating would miraculously start working (so far we only had one setting: ice cold). And yes, in our hour of need the automotive gods smiled down on us. Rodrigo started pumping hot air into the cabin and we slowly drove down the mountain.
Around 9:00am we were back at our previous campground and a more convenient 2,300 meters high. As our bodies had endured quite the altitude sickness package during the night, we decided to keep calm today and hang around the campground to let ourselves settle down. We also looked at our travel planning and our options for selling the car in Buenos Aires. Our current plan is to be in Buenos Aires within 7 days. That should leave us time to take care of business there!
I saw you standing in the corner
On the edge of a burning light
I saw you standing in the corner
Come to me again in the cold, cold night
San Pedro de Atacama is really a small town – with more restaurants and hotels than we’ve seen in a long time. Our campground is a bit run down, but we actually had a good night sleep. It got quite cold in the night, but as from 8:00am the sun hit the tent and not much later we had to get out of the sauna! We had been advised by other people to take the scenic drive up to the geysers of ‘El Tatio‘. It’s a 90km drive through a beautiful setting – although the quality of the roads changed dramatically in the last 30km! The whole drive took us about 3 hours – and Rodrigo was shaken but not stirred along the way!
Although we’re in the desert, every now and then we crossed small streams (some with a bridge, some without) and saw clear water rolling down the hills!
In the lagoons formed by the rivers, all types of exotic creatures could be found. There were plenty of flamingoes looking for food in the peaceful lagoons!
Initially we thought we saw lamas, but we were told later in the day that this animal is a vicuna!
Along the road we were stopped by some guys whose car had broken down. We bought jump start cables back in Canada – and we were happy to put them to good use! Unfortunately, their car could not be revived with Rodrigo’s life blood… it was too little too late! We felt sorry for them but promised to flag a car down to give them a lift down the mountain, as we were heading up. We left them with extremely useful advice that next time they should buy a Toyota 🙂
After 90km of uphill driving, we reached an altitude of 4,300 meter and saw the geysers, mud pools and hot springs. Apparently it’s the third largest geyser field in the world – after Iceland and Yellowstone (thanks Koen 🙂 ). It’s impressive – albeit somewhat dangerous – to see boiling water coming up out of the ground!
The hot spring was completely abandoned and looked very tempting for a guy whose bones were shattered after the rocky ride. Although the reader should note that whereas the water is warm, the thin air is quite cold at 4,300 meters altitude!
We parked Rodrigo outside the ranger station and prepared for a cold night. We were told the temperate could drop down to -5° Celsius, so we loaded all our blankets and towels in the tent. A lone wolf named Zorro patrolled around our car all night, giving us a feeling of security and a real desire to stay inside.
I love you baby like a flower loves the spring
And I love you baby just like Tina loves to sing
And I love you baby like a school boy loves his pet
And I love you baby, river deep mountain high
Breakfast on the road is very often just a coffee and a sandwich from the petrol station. Today it was an mediocre coffee and a cold sandwich. We were stopped by the police on the highway – but it seemed like they just wanted to have a chat. We explained that we were heading for the ‘Mano del Desierto‘ statue but that we would be driving back up north as well. The police officer laughed and said he would not waste his time to go see that statue… it’s not so impressive according to him. We were curious enough however to go and have a look.
We could see the statue from the highway and we drove along the rocky road to get a close-up. We parked Rodrigo right in front of the statue and some friendly Brazilian bikers took our picture. The hand looks like someone has just been swallowed by quicksand and is disappearing forever.
After the pictures we drove back into Antofagasta to pick up our insurance papers and do some grocery shopping (more empanadas!). We took the highway heading back north, contrary to our intentions to keep calm and drive south.
We drove through the Atacama desert again – with long stretches of nothing at all! Slowly but surely we could see the Andes mountains starting to appear in the distance. Along the road we passed by many mines and trucks hauling machinery in and dirt out. The spare wheels that are brought to the mines are escorted by police because they are so big – a lot bigger than our car.
We reached San Pedro de Atacama around 5:00pm. Although it’s really touristy here, it’s really a small town with only a few streets and only hotels. We found a campground – which looks half waste disposal half horse stable. Surely it will be okay for the night – but we’ll probably keep it to one night! There must be other options in this town!
And I started dancing while I gathered eggs
Townfolk clapped, I was only five
he’ll out dance em’ all
“He’s a born hand-jive!”
So it took us 22 days to drive from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn! We stopped at a huge metal monument that marks the line where the sun is right above your head at the summer solstice.
That was about the most adventurous thing we did today, as we still had to figure out the insurance puzzle. We stopped at a car dealer and he made some phone calls to an insurance office down town. We made an appointment there at 3:00pm and after lunch we went over. It took a lot of phone calls – and we had to come back at 4:30pm – but it worked! They had to make a lot of phone calls to head office and they had to be creative putting our details in the computer, but tomorrow morning we can go pick up our insurance policy! Pretty boring though, huh? Again we were impressed with how friendly the people are here – from the taxi driver who told us it was quicker to walk than take a taxi to the car dealer who made all the necessary phone calls.
We drove to the outskirts of the city to a no-frills campground. Although the sun was out, it was quite windy on the beach so we didn’t stay outside for very long.
Tomorrow we will drive a bit further south to a nice statue in the desert and then we need to be back in Antofagasta to pick up our policy. From there we drive into the mountains… so tonight will be our last night by the Pacific Ocean!
As warm as the sun, as silly as fun
As cool as a tree, as scary as the sea
As hot as fire, cold as ice
Sweet as sugar and everything nice