Better Together

I left off with us traveling with Mark, Liesbet and their dog Maya to Atuel Canyon, in a quiet area of Valle Grande, Argentina just below the small city of San Rafael. There are at least 3 hydropower dams in the canyon and a beautiful road with lots of camping & walking options among colorful rocks and Fall leaves. Its known as a recreation area and there are so many little side canyons that you can explore on foot and we did several of them. It felt good to get the bikes out and take a spin since it had been awhile. It was cold at night but we had really nice weather during the day and even got to sit out for happy hour a couple of times.

We saw a few Andes chinchillas hanging out around the rocks and one of them way up high too! I read that they are native to the Andes at high elevations and they have the densest fur of all mammals that live on land at 20,000 hairs per square centimeter and 50 hairs from each follicle! I could use some of that.

It was really fun to drive slowly along this dirt road stopping to see all the signposted formations & viewpoints. We had some cool campspots too and shared so many nice meals together using what ingredients we had. And we were well stocked with the wine we’d all bought at Giaquinta winery. One thing about these parts is the stores really don’t have a lot of interesting stuff. We still chuckle at the fact that “everybody eats”….. but it sure doesn’t mean there’s much variety in it!

Our final destination together was the city of San Rafael. This small city impressed me because it was ship shape, had a really big park that we could camp in, real city streets with modern looking restaurants and it had a good vibe. We celebrated our 30th anniversary and decided to all go out to dinner for a tomahawk steak. But first, Mark & Liesbet had us over for happy hour and set the mood with a candle, card, snacks and some well wishes. Cute! We even had entertainment as Mark read some test questions from the US Citizenship book. When Liesbet got her citizenship, she had to know 100 questions about US history, politics and core values. Even as citizens, we don’t know all of this stuff!

The tomahawk is a popular steak in Argentina that we don’t often get because they don’t fit on our grill. It’s basically a ribeye with the bone left long. Impressive on the plate, we felt a bit like Fred Flintstone eating it but in the end, after you’ve cut off all the fat it really could have been bigger! It was a fun evening together made special by great friends.

We said a hard goodbye the next morning and rolled off to make some miles toward Mendoza because we were starting to get nervous about all the snow on the pass that we needed to cross to get back to Chile. The pass was already closed and they have been having record breaking snow for this time of year. Given we have flights out June 2 we didn’t want to be too far away when the pass re-opened. Now that Mark & Liesbet are headed south and us north, we will have to figure out how to meet up again.

We drove back to the Valle de Uco and pulled in to a campground inTupengato for 3 nights to watch the weather, do a couple of boat projects and restock wine from our new favorite winery. On the drive over, I got to thinking that maybe the best thing was to change everything around and just leave from Mendoza instead, thereby not having to worry about the pass, which was still shut. So we did this and the pressure was off. Now we worry about other things as we always do whenever we leave, not unlike the boat was. We will worry until we return.

But anyway, that freed us up to head a bit further north to get to sunnier weather and see some new stuff. Following the Argentina side of the Andes, we went first back to Uspallata for a night, then on to Leoncido national park. Uspallata is a picturesque sort of town and it tends to have sun when other areas don’t.

Leoncido NP is an old estancia with some adobe buildings left and an apple orchard and now is a center for astronomy observatories and a few trails. They also have a cute place to camp. The leaves were really pretty, the trails offered incredible views of the high Andes and we had tons of sun. I’m going through hiking withdrawals and it felt good to get to the top of something.

Years ago, we were at Bryce Canyon NP and got to look through several very large telescopes at the planets and constellations from a group of astronomy enthusiasts. Having never forgotten how fun that was, we did 2 tours at one of the observatories- CESCO, in hopes of getting a similar experience. By day you could supposedly look at the sun through filters and then the night sky is really impressive in this very dark part of the world. Well first of all, the entire thing was in Spanish despite it being an international organization. They had told us that for science purposes the staff needed to speak English. The largest telescope was from Yale and they are in the process of building a huge radio telescope in cooperation between China & Argentina. We couldn’t understand the accent of the guide and the sun wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. It reminded me of the red reflex when examining someone’s eyes. Then we did the night tour and I for some reason thought we would be looking through some of the really big telescopes but instead we walked up to a neat platform with a full view of the sky and then 3 little telescopes on it with only one set up. We looked at constellations, one being the Southern Cross and a nebula which was interesting but it wasn’t the right time to see any planets. It was really cool to be out mindfully looking at the bright sky but the actual telescope viewing reminded me of the time we set up my brother’s childhood telescope.

We then headed a little further north to the town of Barreal to an area with beautiful rock formations, another Siete Colores. I like how in Argentina this stuff is just there to go to on your own. There is hardly anyone around and it is so fun to walk around marveling at all the colors.

Starting to think that we needed to make our way to Mendoza, we chose to explore a mountain road that goes over a pass through the Villavicencio Nature Reserve. While probably not the smartest thing we’ve ever done, we climbed up the pass through alpine type scenery to a viewpoint where we spent the night with guanacos as our only neighbors. Then yesterday, we came down the other side toward the valley of Mendoza. It took like 3 hours and was very slow going on a tight road with switchbacks, steep drop-offs and snow & ice in the curves where the sun couldn’t get to. Very beautiful though and no one coming up the road! We had to stop several times to move rocks from small landslides and we were a bit white knuckled hoping we wouldn’t meet an obstacle that would cause us to have to back up. It was all downhill to Mendoza. We stopped at an olive oil factory and bought some right off the press- the whole area smelled like olive oil, very nice! It was a great few days together and we enjoyed the things we saw. We are good company together. Looking forward to more colorful rocks when we start exploring northward.

But for now it is time to head back to the US for a visit. It looks like our Bison camper is on schedule and the pick-up truck that we bought is sitting in FL waiting. We are burdening our families with packages for the parts for the buildout of the interior as well as all the stuff we need for this camper. It is never ending really.

These last few days, we are busy doing maintenance, packing and organizing ourselves. This part we really hate because it’s stressful. But we’re excited to see family & friends and also to take off our hats & jackets for a while!!!!! We want summer!!! With any luck, we will come back to our truck safe & sound and ready to hit the road again and we’re looking forward to meeting back up with Ivan.