Author Archives: Gio&Bert

Uspallata, at the foot of Mount Aconcagua

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29-30/02/2014

In a cold desert climate where summers have pleasant days and cool nights, and winters are chilly to biting cold, we find Uspallata, a humble little crossroads town on the way to the Chilean border.  A perfect base to do some exploring in the area and at the same time a town with back country character is our first and correct impression as we step off the bus after a two and a half hours ride from Mendoza.

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A very friendly lady at the information point shows us the cheapest overnighting possibilities and camping grounds.  We end up at Cabañas Ranquil Luncay and made the right choise.  A fine mix of bungalows, camping sites, football field, grills for client use and the beautiful surroundings make our heartbeat going faster.  We set up our tent and go for a walk in the town that has maximum ten streets of which all of them have view on the mighty Andes.  The people are openhearted and warmly welcoming us in every shop.  They make time to explain, to ask and have time to be interested in the person they have in front of them.  A being-home feeling starts to get under our skin and just some streets later, when a nice man invites us tasting different Argentinean wines outside his small grocery shop around an old wine barrel, our body get stuffed with both good Uspallata vibrations and the finest wines of the area.

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We buy a wine, half a chicken and vegetables to honour the grill just outside the tent.  As we come back at the campground a young Argentinean couple has put their tent next to ours and will make fire up the grill next to us.  We get in contact, have a nice chat and together we get to the conclusion that we will travel the same direction towards the border.  They invite us in their car and together early in the morning, with our clothes still smelling at the wood-fire-grill, we leave this small town behind us to adventure us in some of the most dramatic scenery in the region: the backdrop of the highest peak out in the Andes.  First stop is Puente Del Inca, where the sedimentation of thermal springs forming a big bridge over the Vacas River is something interesting to see but where the sedimentation on everyday items as shoes, cans, backpacks and bottles are the real mouth opener here.

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The story is that if you would leave any object a month in these waters they would get petrified by the minerals in the water.  Thousands of different objects covered by a yellow ocher stone layer are for sale and each one of them more incredulous.  After that we make a stop at Cerro Aconcagua where we make a beautiful walk along minor lakes reflecting the white sharp shaped notoriety of the Andes to a viewpoint on mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain on the American continent.  It is where we finally get rewarded, after many hikes in the barren high Andes, by the flight of two condors as they glide through the sky stretching their wings till a width of 3,2m.  Another dream that came true and the line “eyewitness the free flight of a wild condor” get crossed on my ‘100 things to see in nature before I die’-list.

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Another few kilometers later we leave the main road and start to ascent a steep dust road trail up into the mountains.  The old car that brought us so far is climbing on its last effort to get till the Cristo Redentor de los Andes statue at 4000MASL on the very border of Argentina and Chile.  After hugging goodbye, the two youngsters with car leave us in front of the Cristo redentor tunnel which is the border with Chile.

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It takes us a while but finally we succeed to hitch-hike a car that will drive us totally till Santiago de Chile, the capital of the sixteenth country of our journey.

Our recommendations:

  • At Cabañas Ranquil Luncay we find a camping ground just 300m out of the center. Each tent has its BBQ and stunning view on the Andes as we unzip the tent door.  We paid 100 for the night
  • Cerro Tunduqueral with remarkable petroglyphs at just 7,8km
  • Bosque de Darwin at Paramillos de Uspallata at 24km with its more than 50 petrified araucarias from the Tertiary age.
  • At some streets from the towncenter you find the Bódevas de barro from the late XVIII
  • Nearby (63km) we find Los Penitentes where sporters in summer will find lots of posibilities for hiking on high altitiude and in winter a cheap ski and snowboard destination.
  • Cerro Aconcagua, a playground for the skilled andinists and alpinists but a true 7000MASL defiance for new and not experienced adventurer
  • Thermal waters and stalactites are brought to another dimensión at Puente del Inca on a 50min drive from Uspallata
  • Find yourself gasping for breath at one of the highest borders of the world while admiring the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes at 4000MASL.
Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Mendoza, wine at altitude and fascinating legends

25-28/02/2014

On the eastern side of the Andes, precisely in the northern-central part of Argentina, travellers driving along ruta nacional 7, the main road connecting Buenos Aires and Santiago (Chile), will bump into Mendoza and probably fall in love with it, as happened to us. Pretty tired of several days hitchhiking the Country, we decide to spend here a few days in order to get some rest and to recharge the batteries.

DSC04798 DSC04800 Immediately, we realize that Mendoza has a lot to offer since it seems to be a common stopover for climbers on their way to Aconcagua or adventurers looking for some rafting, horse riding, hiking and many other outdoor activities of this kind. The city is the capital of Mendoza region, worldwide known for its fine wine production (here Nicola Catena Zapata, considered the pioneer of high-altitude growing, planted the first malbec vineyard at about 1500 above sea level) and astonishing sceneries.

We arrive very late and we spend the first night at Hostal Internacional Mendoza, so excited to have reached our destination and looking forward to exploring every hidden corner of it. The next day we change hostel (Hostal Mendoza Backpackers) ‘cause we meet our old dear friends, Phil and Charlotte, who came here last week and never moved again. This place seems to be a magnet for every traveller that stops here just for a few days and stay longer than expected. So, 4 days pass by quickly, resting, having good time with the other guys in the hostel, playing ping pong, enjoying the great breakfast provided by the guesthouse and wandering around the city. We visit the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno that hosts an interesting exposition of Picasso’s graphic artworks and the many squares Mendoza is full of, we walk around to admire the lively street art decorating buildings and walls, we taste good red wine and go to the cinema where we see “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, not that good, pretty poor in narrative in fact but definitely inspiring for its breathtaking photography of Iceland beautiful and rugged landscapes.

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We definitely have a great time here, Mendoza is a place so familiar and cosy that makes you feel at home. But everything has to come to an end, we feel like moving. So we take our backpacks and leave to feel the asphalt under our shoes once again. Next stop? Chilean border.

Our recommendations:
Hostal Mendoza Backpackers is really nice with WIFI, shared kitchen, private and shared rooms/bathroom, a huge common room and a sunny terrace, great continental breakfast and a very nice staff (70 ARS per day/person breakfast included).

The first hostel is more expensive, around 110 ARS per person/day, so not really for backpackers.

• Don’t miss Argentinean legends. On our way to Mendoza, after hitchhiking for several hours from San Juan region and surviving the inundation of a river DSC04814 (we find the road interrupted by 2 meters of water and all the people living in the neighbourhoods busy in finding a way to cross it. We eventually manage to do it, jumping in a track taking us on the other side of the stream save and sound), we meet a nice couple who drives us till our destination and makes a little detour just to inform us about one of the most popular myths of the Country: la Difunta Correa. According to what people say, she was a woman whose husband was recruited during the Argentine civil wars, became sick and then abandoned by the Montoneras (partisans). In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda Correa followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province with her baby child. But when her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later with the baby still alive, feeding himself from the deceased woman’s ever-full breast. She was buried in Vallecito, in the Caucete Department of San Juan, where her grave has become a sanctuary visited by thousands of people asking for a miracle.

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Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A page of a hitchhiker’s diary: RN40 the new Route 66

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Crossing the border and leaving Bolivia behind us we enter in a different world with different dimensions.  At La Quiaca, the first village on Argentinean soil, there are signs indicating the distances to diverse Argentinian emblematic cities, the republic’s capital and to Ushuaia, the remotest south point of the country.  Argentina is an enormous country to visit and more than one traveller has spent nights awake figuring out which way to follow.  Well… 5121km is the highest bid on a sign post pointing straight southwards to ‘Tierra del Fuego and  40 is the magic number that will guide you on your quest to get there.  This number contains Scarlet red sunsets reflecting on the surface of small rippling streams, midnight skies spattered with stars and Tyrian purple sunrises over snow topped mountain peaks.  It delivers breath-taking views on glacial lakes at high altitude, endless plane wetlands and deserted dry areas where cactus becomes your religion and every drop of water is a goddess.  40 fusions ancestral, old, modern and futuristic.  40 alternate monumental silence that accompanies a wild barren emptiness with undying machine-driven noise that escorts a steaming metropolis in a sublime way.  Over 5000km of highways, roads and dust tracks are pulled together to connect both outmost ends of Argentina and makes of Ruta Nacional 40 the longest (and if not one of the longest roads) of the world (along with the 3945km U.S. Route 66 and the 2834km long Stuard Highway in Australia).  And the best of all… it is highly hitchhike-able!!!

RN 40

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Partly to make it more attractive for tourists, the road’s itinerary, that runs a staggering 5224km, has been changed over the years.  Till the date RN40 is offering you 14 National parks, 26 National Reserves and Provincial Parks.  The road runs through more than 200 cities and villages in 11 different provinces and transits 5 areas declared world heritage by UNESCO.  It combines 236 bridges helping you over 24 major rivers and an infinite of streamlets and bourns to get to more than 23 salt flats and lakes.  RN40 has connection with 41 international mountain passes to Chile.  Although starting at sea level, the thoroughfare truly breaks records at the lightheaded Abra de Acay, at 4895MASL, as it is the highest point on a national road anywhere in the world!

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While route 66 is a phenomenon and for this became almost a mass tourism destination, this long stretch is still virgin.  It provides infinite range of culture that goes from Inca at the Bolivian border over Diaguita Calchaqui, Kolla, Huarpe-Mapuche and Guarani till even the native Selk’Nam in the remotest north, all of them adapted to the endless variety of Argentina’s climate and landscapes.  RN40 arranges for the explorer an immeasurable fauna and flora of endemic species and they are waiting to be spotted.  The road guides you through the high Andean mountains ranges and low outstretched Patagonian plains both with views that will petrify more than one.  There are bottles of wine anxious to be uncorked and grills with red glowing charcoal waiting at your choice for meat.  And the best of all… there are the Argentineans to be met on the way, conversations ready to be had and experiences to be shared.

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(One of the bizzarest places only findable by hitchhiking: if a car gives you a lift just till the half off the distance and you end up at the godforsaken backcountry …  An empty, taken good care off, pool in the middle of nowhere might be awaiting you.)

Our Recommendations:

  • Plenty of towns and cities to spend the night, as well as plenty campgrounds and open spaces to camp. Organize well the trip as sometimes between two minor settlements might be too much distance to walk (in case you run out of hitchhike-luck). Plenty of food and water and an appetite for adventure are essential.  Large areas of the RN40 have no roadside assistance and no mobile network.
  • Take a public bus to get out of the centre and suburbs of big cities and hitchhike from there on.
  • There are a number of international important sites along this route. Here are some of them: Cueva de los Manos, which contains cave art dating back some 13.000years.  Perito Moreno Glacier at the Los Glaciares National Park.  Take a step back in time and explore the wonderful millennial forest in the Parque Nacional Los Alceres. The Calchaquí Valleys and the multi-coloured Quebrada de Humahuaca in the north.  Wine tasting in wine houses with international fame.
  • The ideal time commitment for most travellers is one to two months. And the best time of the year is from December to March.

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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