Half way up – Day 416 (32,563 miles)

Lihue Calel NP is in the La Pampa province of Argentina, as the name suggests it is a kind of grassy, scrubby and a bit rocky landscape and is pretty much in the centre of the country.  We had the place to ourselves, it was free and most unexpectedly had hot showers, very nice.

There were enough Puma warning signs to make us feel a bit wary but obviously when we came to leave and hadn’t seen one we were disappointed!

The more common wildlife sightings were these Tuco tuco, Guinea pig type creatures and…..

Little fat cheeky birds, don’t know the name.  Very inquisitive and in the van before we knew it if we left a door open.  I know it’s hardly as interesting as a puma!

A perfect place for a bit of walking up the rocky hills.  Always a little wary, that rock is pretty much puma coloured.

So, in Bolivia we had seen where Che Guevara died, we may, further down the road pass through Rosaria where he was born and we stopped here in Alta Gracia where he spent 10 years of his childhood.  The house his family lived in is now a Che museum.

You can see why his image is so iconic, he certainly knew how to work the camera and that casual guerilla look.

Fidel Castro visited in 2006, not quite so easy for your average Cuban to make the trip.

John checking for oil leaks!  This is not the actual Norton Che rode as written about in the Motorcycle Diaries that one was left somewhere along the journey in Peru.

You need a beret John.

What would you call a Catholic superhero?  Free bread and wine for the winning entry.

All through Argentina we have seen many roadside memorials and we assumed they were always built by the loved ones of the victims of accidents.  It was puzzling to see some surrounded by piles of plastic bottles.  It turns out that those making reference to Difunta (deceased) Correa are shrines to the unofficial saint of travellers.  It’s a long story but the bottles are to signify a never ending supply of breastmilk!

The example above was quite a small collection, oh well, better a pile at the side of the road than in the ocean.

El Shincal was the most southerly Inca city until they left in 1536 (who knew they were this far south?).  It was connected to the main Inca trail further north by a smaller lesser known part of the trail which is still used by some hikers although not advertised to tourists in a big way.

We spent an hour or so wandering round accompanied by this friendly girl, she joined us at the start of the trail and trotted around just keeping us company.  We expected her to come back to the van with us for a food based tip but at the end of the trail she took a shortcut through the fence as if to say “Bye then, you know the way back”.  She looked pretty healthy and well fed and there were several hungrier dogs that were happy to share our food that evening.

In the 1400’s on their way south to expand their empire in El Shincal the Incas had also formed a small community in a valley that had been inhabited by the Quilmes people for several centuries.  It was a pretty big site with around 5,000 inhabitants.  After the Inca’s had tried to muscle in, then the Spanish came along and moved some of the population to a part of Buenos Aires province which is now also called Quilmes, basically they were used as forced labour.  The Quilmes persisted in trying to regain ownership of the land taken by the Spanish and now have legal recognition as a Aboriginal community.  They run the archeological site, produce and sell crafts and food in the local area.   Some of the best empanadas we’ve had, and we’ve had quite a few!

The view of vines and mountains from our campsite in Cafayate a small town with a great microclimate for winemaking.

From John’s smiling face and flared nostrils you can tell he likes the bouquet of this Torrentes Reserva.  “A Reserva!” I had exclaimed “we can’t afford that, let’s just get a normal bottle at half the price”.  But he stuck to his guns, not much of a white wine drinker John was determined it would be a good one if he was to drink it at all.  He was so right, it was definitely one of the nicest white wines we’ve ever had.

Yes, that’s John buying a 2nd bottle of the lovely Torrentes.

We left Cafayate before the lovely wine blew too big a hole in the budget.  Our journey north towards Salta was via the scenic route called Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas.  Lovely rock formations and miradors.

A nice wild camping spot at the end of the day.

Bye for nowx

Whales and Wales – Day 401 (31,262 miles)

Juanita made a friend!  She enjoyed the company of a rugged Canadian called Butch.

While we enjoyed the company of Bel and James.  Bel and I had been in touch by email a while ago  swapping info regarding RHD vehicle issues in Central America.  We’d had no more contact until they spotted Juanita while we were in Ushuaia (although didn’t know who was driving her) and we managed to meet up a few 100km’s further north.  We were both heading to Peninsula Valdes on the Atlantic coast so spent a fun few days travelling together.

We stopped at the Bosques Petrificados National Monument.  Amazing huge chunks of petrified wood that were formed when the forest was buried by volcanic eruptions about 100 million years ago.  It was so tempting to just bring a teeny weeny piece away.  Very wrong even to think it I know, besides the one ranger who was ticket office, museum guide and security all rolled into one checked all our pockets before we left!

Juanita and Butch enjoying the sunset with a life size model of the largest dinasour ever to be discovered.  From the bones found in the town of Trelew (I know, sounds Welsh but is definitely in Argentina) it is estimated the Titanosauras which was a herbivore would have been 22 metres tall.  The model certainly makes an impressive sight on the side of the otherwise quite boring Ruta 3.

We headed on to Peninsula Valdes hoping to see elephant seals and southern right whales.  Our first day was mainly spent seeing very little due to lashing rain and wind.  At one spot we were up on a cliff above a beach and John did see a few elephant seals through the binoculars.  It was so wet I couldn’t be bothered to stand outside and thought I would wait for tomorrow and hopefully better weather.  My risky strategy didn’t pay off!  By the next morning the track leading to the viewing point was so muddy it had been closed off so no chance to see the elephant seals.  We were luckier with the whales and spent a couple of hours watching them in the bay around the time of the afternoon high tide.

We left the peninsula and after a last evening together in Puerto Madryn Butch, Bel and James headed west to Chile. Ciao amigos, until next time.

The only pic we got of a whole whale.

John and I spent a couple more days in Puerto Madryn, taking some nice long walks along the coast, eating some tasty seafood and deciding where to go next.

We were on the east coast, it was warmer than the more mountainous westside of the country.  Sure that’s a bonus after the last few weeks of cold weather but, nothing we’d read about the stretch of coastline from here to Buenos Aires excited us and the middle region was fairly featureless as well.  Oh well, back west to the mountains it is then!


We stopped for some sustenance in the small town of Trevelin, yes another name more Welsh than Argentian.  In 1885 50 Welsh families arrived in the region so there are still many locals with Welsh heritage and customs and the Welsh language is still spoken.

A proper afternoon tea, what a treat!  The number of cakes supplied for one tea defeated us so we ate the squidgy ones and took the apple pie and fruit cake for breakfast the next day.

Our next stop was El Bolson to collect an extension to our vehicle insurance which we had arranged through a German couple based here.  Klaus and Claudia live permantly in Argentina and run a small farm in addition to arranging vehicle insurance for Overlanders.

We camped with them overnight and they arranged for us to borrow a tool that John needed to change the upper ball joints.  We already had the ball joints but previously when we’d enquired about a tool to extract the old ones we had been met by a puzzled look and advised you just bash them off with a hammer.  Not John’s preferred method at all!  In fact when Klaus had rung his mechanic friend to arrange the loan he had been told that yes he had a tool but he had not used it for years as it was easier to bash them off with a hammer!  Unfortunately it wasn’t until the wheel was off that John found out the borrowed tool was actually broken, oh well he had a good look at the ball joints and the chances are they will be fine until we get home.

We only spent a couple of hours chatting with Klaus and Claudia but their story is really interesting, they set off on a 10 month motorbike trip in the early 1980’s and eventually went home 16 years later.  They documented it in a book, Abgefahren by Klaus Schubert and Claudia Metz.  Unfortunately for us it was never translated into English but for any of you who read German we would suggest it’s worth a look.

Back on the road we headed back towards the mountains and lakes and stopped in Bariloche.  It is the start of ski season and a big dump of snow was expected any day, we were staying in the car park of a hostel that that was packed with young skiers many of who just follow the snow between the North and South American ski resorts and pick up work where they can.

There was mucho partying by those young folk when the 30cm of snow fell!

The view from Cerro Catedral mountain.

The big snow fall had resulted in a 30 hour power cut throughout the local area, luckily where we were eating were cooking with gas.  For light we improvised a slightly more modern version of candlelight, mobile phone light diffused by a paper napkin.

We continued north west and planned to take the windy roads around Lagos Siete, we managed around half before reaching a point where the road was closed, the snow had been so heavy that there were trees down in many places.  We never really got to the bottom of it but think this is why we were turned back.

This is the rather spectacular 2624m high Volcan Lanin, had we been able to continue on our planned route we would have got closer so probably better views. Oh well, we were just glad we got to see it at all.

We stopped in El Chocon to see these dinosaur footprints, hard to tell from this photo but we think they were about a metre long.

We’re far enough north now that cooking and eating outside is back on the agenda and it doesn’t get dark until around 7 30pm. Yippee!

Beautifully clear sky and view of the Milky Way that night.

We visited the Ernesto Bachmann Museo which has the skeleton of Giganotosaurus Carolinii, at 13 metres long it’s the biggest carnivorous dinosaur skeleton ever found, even bigger than T Rex.  Yep, Argentina can claim to have all the big ones!

Bye for nowxxx