Finally, The Andes!

Whew! It’s been awhile and we’ve done so much. I left off with us heading to the little city of Tigre outside of Buenos Aires. We’d been there in July and liked it and it is a good place to take the train in to Buenos Aires. When our good friends George & Lois found out we were having trouble getting some of the parts for the Starlink 12V conversion and they just happened to be heading to Buenos Aires on vacation, they up and ordered us the parts. Then told us the day before they were leaving that they had them and could bring them to us! Like we always say, it’s who you know!!!!

Thank you George & Lois!

So while we didn’t get there in time to meet them in person, George & Lois left the parts at a hotel in downtown and we took the train in to get them. Success! We spent the day in the city walking all over. Got a greasy cheeseburger, picked up some things we needed and then went back to the trucks where Jon & Ivan finished the conversion and so now it is done and working. It really is something to have internet everywhere we go no matter how remote. It takes the pressure off having to stop in a town to get internet because of course nowadays even figuring out where we’re going requires it.

The little city of Tigre has a nice main street filled with interesting food shops so we were able to get a dozen jars of natural peanut butter, a bunch of actually edible granola, fresh anchovies, delicious seafood tarts, Ivan got new glasses, we went to the dentist for a cleaning and we got cash out of Western Union. As you know, the Argentine peso continues to fall and the best rate to exchange money is to use a debit card at Western Union. We liked Tigre but this visit there seemed to be a sewage problem there and I believe I can still smell it every time I think of it now.

Diego, Moira & Lucas

While our truck was in Tigre last visit, a couple who is building a truck like ours- Diego & Moira saw it and we have been in touch for a couple of months so it was time to meet in person. They graciously invited us to their brand new house and we spent an afternoon eating, showing our vehicles and getting to know each other. Diego has competed in several Ironman challenges which was really interesting to hear about. I guess that ship has sailed. Also to meet their son Lucas who is 18 but spent the day with us old people looking like he really enjoyed hanging out with us. And a little more on Argentine politics, which still manages to confuse us. Argentina is a wonderful country with a topsy turvy economic picture and the elections coming up in a few days don’t seem like they are going to render a fix.

We decided that we wanted to head to Ushuia via the Ruta 40 rather than the east coast route because we were dying to get to the Andes and begin what we hope will be a long season of hiking. This is why we wanted to come to southern South America, to be in these open spaces. So it’s a long way and we started heading westward, not knowing how slow we’d be at getting to Mendoza. There ended up being lot to do.

Plus Alba Monoplane- it crossed the Atlantic

We stopped in the town of Lujan, home of the largest cathedral in South America perhaps and on the first Saturday in October, throngs of worshippers walk from Buenos Aires to this cathedral to pay tribute to the virgin Lujan. Fortunately, we were there as things were ramping up but got out before the big day. Not being the religious type, we did enjoy touring the cathedral and I was moved by the dogs that are allowed inside to share in the worshipping. They also have a huge Spanish style plaza with a great museum on Transportation that was excellent. I had wanted to type out some of the interesting stories about people who sailed around the world, rode horses from Argentina to New York, built early flying boat aircraft and crossed the Atlantic or pushed a cart the length of Argentina but I am too behind to do it. But I really liked it.

Marcos made the bushings Jon needed for the new shocks. He is also building an unusual plane

In the ongoing quest for things for the truck, the rear shocks were shot (I think we got 2 years out of them) so Jon searched & searched for replacements with a tip from Diego and he was able to find some. So was Ivan. We went and picked those up but they needed metal bushings made to fit. Standing in a parts store, a nice man looked over Jon’s shoulder as he tried to explain what we needed to the clerk and he piped in saying he had a machine shop and could make the bushings. Marcos drove us back to our truck and we drove to his shop later in the day to pick up the beautifully made bushings. The funny thing was, we had just gone to the transportation museum and saw the transatlantic flying boat aircraft and then lo and behold he whips a cover off a smaller version that he’s building himself! So interesting. We now have new rear shocks. We’ll need these for Ruta 40 as it’s a very long dirt road.

While we were in Lujan, Diego & Moira came to visit us one evening and we went out to dinner. Hopefully they’ll finish their build and we can park side by side one day.

We moved to the town of Junin, further west. I saw a glider club there and they said they gave rides and we could camp there. We pulled in early afternoon on a beautiful day and were able to each get a ride a couple of hours later. Everyone was so nice to us and it was such a pretty spot. It was great to get up in the air and hear the quiet rush of wind. I wouldn’t say the aerial scenery was incredible as this part of Argentina is very flat and agricultural but it was a wonderful experience and hey, for $20 you can’t go wrong. We did some light aerobatics tipping sideways and doing a low pass but Jon’s ride was pretty boring as his pilot didn’t do even those things. The next day, Jon asked if he could go up again but actually do some aerobatics. Well wouldn’t you know, he ended up having the ride of a lifetime with the international aerobatics champion for Argentina in 2020. He did loops and rolls and from the ground I could look up and see him falling through the sky. He came back all smiles and while I wanted to ask if I could go up. I wasn’t sure if Martin, the pilot, would really want to head right back up there as it was very kind but not usual for them to take a rookie up there like they did. Anyway, it was a cool experience and a good early birthday present for Jon.

Before leaving Junin, we took a bike ride around the lake which is so low with all the drought that the shore is hard sand with minerals making for a weird landscape. Locals told us there has been a 3-4 year drought. After a few hours of driving, we pulled off beside a river for the night. The next day was Jon’s birthday and Ivan came over early with his guitar to sing Jon happy birthday. How sweet. It turned out to be an overcast day so we drove a bit to get to Scenic route 9 and the tiny town of El Volcan. We walked the village and got a so-so pasta lunch to warm our bellies then hopped back in the truck to go to Florida Lake for the evening. It has a loop road with several dams that you drive over making it unique and the landscape was pretty. We were glad to be out of the flats and into some textured scenery. I made a cake and Ivan made the paella and we celebrated Jon’s birthday there with great food, wine and company. It was one of those days where everything came together to make a lovely day despite nothing terribly exciting and the vibe was great.

After a run the next morning, we toured the scenic road and ended up in an old mining town called Carolina to walk around. It was cute but didn’t blow us away so we continued to a spot a little further, Piedra Pintada. Set in incredibly beautiful surroundings, it has a big overhanging cave with what was once over 50 cave paintings. But these have long since been destroyed by more modern graffiti which is a shame. But really for us, it was the scenery that drove us nuts and the fact that we were essentially alone there except for the ranchers who owned the land. We spent 2 nights there enjoying the peace. Jon & I took the motorcycle out having last used it in Mexico. There was a perfect lonely road to travel on and I only had to hop off every couple miles to open up a cattle gate. There was no one but us and the cows.

We moved further westward to a national Park Sierra de las Quijadas finishing out scenic Rt 9. What a ride that was down a super steep winding ribbon of mountain road like the kind you see in magazines. The front brakes were acting up sort of sticking around the tight bends. It made the truck shake. That would need looking in to. We stopped in the valley to buy some groceries and get a streetside asado lunch before heading to the park.

Home to the Andean Condor and a smallish but still impressive stand of redstone rock formations, it was nice to see something different and know that it was preserved for people and the birds. Watching them soar and cut through the canyon was cool and they would fly past us close at eye level. They had a few trails you could do on your own and others you needed a guide for, something we find irritating in some respects because we don’t like the feeling of being babysat. The park infrastructure was very basic and they let you camp in a dirt lot outside the gate because there are no other facilities. They apparently use this lot to take fill for the road too because there was a big hole that we had to drive around. When leaving the park the next morning, Jon was trying to exercise the lockers on the 4WD system because it had been so long since we’d used them and they weren’t engaging. He started rolling backward because this could free them up and we totally forgot about the hole. We rolled down into it just far enough that the wheels were slipping trying to get out and of course the rear locker still hadn’t freed itself. Fortunately, the park personnel were close by and Ivan went over and asked them for a tow out. They came minutes later with their 4×4 firetruck and yanked us out in a jiffy with Jon at the wheel providing most of the thrust. And, the rear lockers freed up and helped too! So at least those work now.

It was exciting to make the drive down to Mendoza where we would finally be able to see the Andes Mountains for the first time! Still snowcovered, it feels so exciting to be greeting Spring here and have what will hopefully be a nice long summer to explore southward now. We stayed at a couple of different campgrounds to explore a little. In the suburb of Maipu, we biked to the Tempus Alba winery for a 3 course lunch & tasting, toured a wine museum, did some errands and then headed up into the mountains.

It felt great to be able to hike again. Mendoza is extremely dry and the foothills remind us a lot of Phoenix. We did a long loop hike one day in the hills. On another we parked in the big city park San Martin and I went and got a mammogram while Jon took apart the front brakes again. There was a lot of dust on the drums probably from when we had the shuttle air valve problem and they were dragging. That could cause them to chatter. After a careful cleaning, they seem much better now and Jon has his fingers crossed that they are happy again.

On another day, we booked a couple hours of rafting on the Mendoza River. Given the season it was only 2+ rapids but even so, it was fun to get out on the water and once again, our money goes far here. We even did the zip lines.

We moved up to 9000 feet to Provincial Park Cordon del Plata in Vallecitos. There we spent a couple of days hiking the trails. We felt great at elevation actually and it was fun to hike through the snow for a change. What a difference from a few months ago baking our brains out in Central America! Nights were dead quiet with lots of stars and it’s sweet to wake up looking out the windows at a circle of mountains.

We came downhill to Potrerillos lake to spend a day resting a little and doing a couple of truck projects like changing the oil, then headed back up today on Route 7 toward Santiago, Chile to see Mt. Aconcagua. It was a spectacular day to drive that beautiful road. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in all of the Americas at 22, 831 feet. We could only hike a couple of kilometers in because the trails aren’t open for summer. But we got a really good look at it and all of the other full-on Andes scenery. A great day of sightseeing. We then turned around as we aren’t crossing in to Chile yet.

The truck needs a few things before we can leave Mendoza for the push to Ushuaia. We’ll try to tackle those over the next few days.

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