Nuevos Amigos & Mucho Vino
Since crossing into Chile, we have been loving the frequent “real” grocery stores. We spent more money on food and cheap wine at the grocery store than we had in weeks in Peru! However, we were ready to hit the road to Argentina. Not wanting any of our precious food taken from us at the border, we made a point to eat all the wonderful goods we had purchased by stuffing our faces for four days straight.
Bellies over-full, we blared the music over the radio as we whizzed up and through the high dessert of Chile. About two miles before the actual border buildings, we spotted the sign that let us know we officially made it to our fourteenth country of the trip…. Argentina!!!
After two hours of waiting in line behind hundreds of bus passengers, we finally had our temporary import permit for the truck and our passports stamped. Now, we were ready for the inspection for food in the truck. We unlocked the back and pulled the drawer open, proudly showing that we had no illegal food in the truck with us. To our surprise, the men only slightly glanced in the back, didn’t look in the fridge at all and sent us on our way. Aw man! I guess we didn’t have to stuff our faces after all!
Not more than ten miles down the road, the scenery dramatically changed from dry desert to a desert filled with red and orange hues and green (yes, green!) shrubs scattered along the ravines. It had been a long time since we had seen real trees and shrubs.
We zigzagged our way East, towards Tilcara when we were forced to a dead stop behind a line of traffic. Not knowing what was going on, Nate got out to investigate. Rains high up in the mountains had caused flooding to the lower lands. A river, which normally ran very slowly under a small bridge, had caused sand and dirt to close up that area and it was running right over the road. After seeing how people were reacting to this big event in Northern Argentina, we were expecting a river crossing of a couple of feet! When it was our turn to cross, we glided over the two inch puddle and continued on our way. Oh Argentinos, if only you saw the river crossing we did in Costa Rica!
First order of business was to either get money from an ATM or (ideally) make change in town. We pulled into our camp spot for the night without enough money to pay a full amount, so found our way to the plaza where we hoped to do some business. Now, for those of you who don’t know, there is a black market in Argentina in which you can exchange your US dollars for a 50% markup over the national exchange rate. That’s right! You can make money with your money here! It’s awesome. Although illegal, it is commonly practiced under the term DolarBlue. Street vendors and Casas de Cambio can change money for you. For more info you can read up about it here.
After an hour of looking with no luck, we found an ATM and took out a small amount. We went to bed that night and peacefully slept to the sound of rain pattering on the roof.
The next morning, we were awoken by a bark. Oddly, this bark sounded like it came from directly underneath my head. I jumped out of the truck to find a new friend, who I aptly named Limpy due to, well, how he limped of course. Limpy had taken advantage of the underside of the truck as shelter from the rain and to eat the living daylights out of two bags of trash, which I later picked up after him. He hung out by our truck the whole morning, watching us eat breakfast, do dishes and even change our clothes :-O
We were on a bit of a schedule to get to Salta, the first big city in Northern Argentina, to find insurance so we said farewell to our new friend and hit the road.
We arrived in Salta in the sweltering heat. We heard rumors of a campground with the biggest pool known to mankind (okay, not really, but it was really big!) so we pulled in ready to cool off. Unfortunately for us, the pool was empty and just starting to be refilled when we arrived so we found a perfect spot to park under a nice tree with lots of shade. That night we met a lovely family who camped beside us and we had drinks and chatted them up for about two hours! After taking our picture in front of the truck, posing with their whole family in front of the truck, and exchanging Facebook info, we hit the hay. That is when one of the most miserable nights of non-sleep we had on this trip occurred. Just as we would start to fall asleep, a mosquito would come and dive bomb our ears and wake us up. We would scramble to find our headlamp, kill the beast, and go back to bed. Ten minutes later, same thing. We fought these little SOBs all… night… long.
The next morning, we made ourselves double the dose of coffee to get through the day. While peacefully drinking our coffee, five dogs came running in our direction chasing another dog who they pinned to the ground and started aggressively biting. Our good friends next to us broke up the fight and the one who got beat up, who I immediately named Spot (because of her large spot on her eye, of course! Gosh, I am so original.), came running over to the truck to hide under it. And so, Spot became our second canine friend in Argentina for the next two days.
After coffee and consoling Spot, we headed out on foot to find insurance. Walking alongside the buildings, using their shadows as shelter from the sun, we forced our way downtown. Fast forward fours hours. We had visited six different offices to no avail, Mickey D’s for the second time in a month (yikes!) and ended up in a bar, drink in hand. This whole insurance thing was becoming, well, really friggen annoying. We got online and reached out to fellow overlanders Patagonia or Bust and Vangabonds to get advice. We decided we would walk around for one more hour before giving up entirely. It was then that we happened to pass a Liberty Insurance office! Knowing that this was an insurance company based in the states, we barged in the door and begged for them to sell us insurance. No questions asked, we were able to buy insurance for ‘Truck‘ for Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil! $100 US for 4 months…not bad.
We made our way back to camp where we were surprised with new neighbors who decided they liked our campsite, of the one hundred available there, the best and pitched their tents approximately 8 inches from our truck, and put their stakes underneath the truck. Nate, in a fit of rage (it was a long day), yanked their ropes and stakes out of the ground from under the truck so we could access the passenger door without tripping.
We decided to pitch our own tent for the night to escape the brutal, swarming mosquitoes. To celebrate our day, we ripped open a box of wine and grilled some meat, Argentino style. The next morning, we had an appointment at the insurance office to get ‘Truck’ inspected and receive our temporary insurance paper then we could be on our way!
On our way out of town, we stumbled upon a Cummins store where we had hoped to buy an oil filter. None in stock, but we got a pretty cool picture of ‘Truck’ out front reppin’ it all the way from the states! 😉
Our next stop was Cafayate, where we originally only planned to stop over for one night before heading further south. This was the start of wine country in Argentina, and our campground just happened to be within walking/biking distance of several wineries!! We eagerly stopped at the tourist office for a map and made our way to the first bicycle rental place we saw. We grabbed our tandem bike and started walking down the street. Nate got on first, steadied the bike and then I hopped on. We both started to pedal when our front tire rammed into the curb. “Nate!! What are you doing??” He couldn’t steer the thing for the life of him. We tried multiple times after that, zigzagging down the center of the road, to ram into another curb. Defeated, we walked the bike back to the rental place and begged for two singles instead.
The start of the day was just fine. It was about three hours later, several tastings later and the consumption of our very own bottle of Torrontes (Cafayate’s local white wine) later that we decided it would be a good idea to drunkenly go visit a goat farm.
We skidded our trusty rentals in the driveway and immediately joined in on a tour with another couple. These goats had it made. They are given so much individual attention, plenty of space to roam and, when they are being milked, they even get to listen to classical music to soothe them. Don’t get me wrong, we were very interested in learning all about how the goat cheese was made, but we were definitely the two misfit children in the class being left behind because we were too busy playing and taking pictures of the goofy goats.
We ended the day at La Casa de Empanadas. Being two of the most indecisive people in the world, we decided to just go ahead and order one of each empanada they had to offer- 12 in total! Bellies over-full yet again, we dropped off our rentals and made the slow trek back to camp where our third, and most favorite, canine friend was anxiously awaiting our arrival.
Heading out of town on Ruta 40, the road quickly turns back into seemingly never-ending washboard. While we were bumping along, Nate mentioned smelling oil. Thinking nothing of it, we kept on going until we were ready to pull over for lunch. We found a nice little dirt patch and hopped out. Nate looked at me with a sarcastic smile on his face and said, “We blew another shock.” In disbelief, I had to see for myself. Sure enough, shock oil was everywhere! As it turns out, a wire under the hood had been rubbing on the reservoir hose and eventually wore through the casing on the wire. This caused the wire to ground out and melted a hole through the stainless hose, without blowing a fuse…what are the odds?
Bummed about losing our second shock of the trip, we limped the remaining 75 miles into Chilecito in hopes of finding someone who could make a new hose for us. Ordering a new shock was not possible, and definitely not in our budget this time. Once we got to our campground for the night, Nate immediately climbed under the truck and hood to swap shocks. Luckily, we had been lugging around our spare blown set from Baja with us the past 20,000 miles! A half hour later, mud in the eyes, and oil all over, the spare shock was in!
Unfortunately, we had no luck finding a hydraulic shop in Chilecito. We decided to wait until we got to Mendoza, where Nate spotted a hydraulic shop on our trusty map. La Casa de Mangueras, here we come!
The hydraulic shop was able to make us a new hose in a turn around time of just a couple of hours! We brought our new hose back to camp where we proceeded to rebuild the Fox shock that blew in Baja. Less than an hour later, we had a fully rebuilt shock installed and ready for some more washboard roads!
We camped just outside of Mendoza in the pouring rain for three days. Luckily, we had met a couple of new Chileno friends, Tennyson and Christian, who were camped just a few sites down from us. We drank many beers, swapped many stories and spoke more Spanglish than we had in a while, all while huddling under the awning to stay out of the rain.
Since it was Valentine’s Day, we decided to splurge on a hotel room for our last night in Mendoza. Since the weather wasn’t cooperating with us, and nearly all of our clothes were soaked, we were overly excited to have a plush hotel to chill out in!
We had one last order of business to tend to, though. We still hadn’t changed money in Argentina. So, with a pocket full of American dollars, we headed downtown and perked our ears up to listen for the low mumble of the word “cambio” coming from our comrades in the alleyways. We walked up and down the street a few times before we spotted one fellow who looked pretty legit. We followed him down a narrow hallway, up some stairs to a barred door. We hesitantly handed over our wad of cash through the gate in hopes that we would receive pesos in return. The man came back with a stack of Argentine pesos, rolled up with an elastic around them. Our money changer made sure we got a good rate and double checked each individual bill to make sure it was not counterfeit. Good to go, Nate overstuffed his pockets with the pesos and we hit the streets making sure nobody was following.
With all the walking around, we spotted a brewery that served up some of the best beer we have had to date on the trip! We ordered up a couple of appetizers to go with our delicious brews and sat back and enjoyed the unique ambiance while the rain came down in sheets outside.
After a few relaxing days in Mendoza, we were ready to continue our journey. As we were pulling out of the hotel gate, the truck decided that the throttle was going to stick wide open. While the hotel owner was asking millions of questions about our trip, Nate held the brakes as hard as he could while the truck raged full throttle until he could figure out what to do. He was able to shut the truck off and throw it in park. Once again, Nate was back under the hood to find out what was going on. The bumpy roads really do a number on things. All the vibrations caused a fuel line to wiggle itself under the throttle linkage, not allowing it to return to idle. A few zip-ties later and we were once again back on the open road!
We spent our last night before crossing the border back into Chile in the small town of Puente del Inca. There, we were able to hike to the mirador of the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, Cerro Aconcagua.
We camped next to the Puente del Inca, a remarkable, sulfur-stained natural stone bridge which precariously sits above Rio Mendoza. Hearts full of happiness from our new friends, wonderful experiences and our future travels to come, we fell fast asleep in the back of our number one friend who carted our butts all this way, Truck 🙂