So where were we……?
After visiting the LANDROVER garage (which is a Ford garage with the Landrover franchise) and dropping off Lodzi, we were not encouraged by the General Managers comments of "we are not used to working on this kind of Landrover". We more or less knew the problem and informed them. 3 days later and all they had done were to take the cover off the gear levers and tell us what we told them!!! They had the cheek to try and charge us an exorbitant amount for 'work' done already!!!! Anyway we ended up taking it to a 4x4 garage that fixed the problem in 3 hours and could not help us enough.
Mendoza is a beautiful, friendly city set at the foot of the Andes and surrounded by vineyards, we have had superb weather since crossing from Chile with crystal clear skies all day and not a drop of rain. We toured Maipu, a suburb of Mendoza where most of the wine is grown. We set out looking for Trapiche, a wine that James and Grant drink in London and found the Bodega (winery) but were dismayed to find they do not do tourist visits. We then spent the rest of the day visiting two other Bodegas, with Kerry getting tipsy on the tastings. The second was most interesting as the winery was a small family owned operation and we met the mother whom was a very competent wine maker which made for interesting conversation.
On our final day in Mendoza we visited another famous Bodega and stocked up on a few more bottles. It has been very interesting learning about all the different wines, the old and the new processes, the different tastes and also the freebie wine tasting.
After 5 days in Mendoza we jumped in the Landy and continued north heading for the National Park - Valle de Luna. We had a four hour guided tour through some of the most amazing eroded landforms. The colours of the sands and the shapes of the valleys and gulleys were breath taking. As per usual the photos do not do justice to being there. That afternoon we drove on to the National Park Talampaya. Here we were permitted to camp and went on a tour the next day. As we spend most of the time in the vehicle anyway we decided on a bike tour through the magnificent canyon. It was excellent fun, although the soft sand was hard going in some places.
Following on from this we decided to head west towards the Chilean border to Reserva National Laguna Brava, a salt lake in the Andes sitting at 4200m above sea level and nestled in between 3 huge volcanoes including the highest in the world at 6882m. Again the scenery was astounding. First we passed through about 20 km of landforms that looked like layers upon layers of sediment stone sitting at 45 degrees. The road was severely eroded and we ended up driving along the river bed a number of times. This then broke out onto open plains where we had to overnight camp in the ranger's station before setting out on the final 80km up into the Andes.
Setting out at 8am we drove for 2.5 hrs through an eroded road that followed the river all the way high into the Andes. Near the top of the mountains at about 4400m we both had headaches from the altitude but persevered. The surrounding landscape was a multitude of coloured sands from black to pink to vivid red. At this point you do not need to follow the road and we diverted off "sand duning". (much to Kerry's increased nervous disposition) At one point we were driving down a dune at about 55 degrees - the 4x4 training coming in handy again as the back was trying to overtake the front. We were able to drive where ever we wanted around the lake but kept away from the shore as we did not know how soft the salt is. On the lake shore we also managed to walk across frozen salt, very cool. The wind was gusting very strong at the top so we were unable spend much time out the vehicle.
Continuing north for the next couple of days we toured Pachamama Museum, a wonderfully designed museum dedicated to the Indigenous people of pre and post Inca domination. The grounds were immaculate and beautifully designed.
We toured Quilmes (also the name of Argentina's most famous beer) where the Indigenous Indians fought off the Spanish invaders by building their homesteads on the side of a mountain and throwing rocks at the soldiers. When they finally ran out of rocks and were conquered, they were punished by having to walk to Buenos Aires, 1000 miles away.
Our next stop was Cafayate, the county of Salta's famous wine region. Once again a superb setting at the base of mountains with rolling vineyards right across the valleys. All the Bodega houses were grandiose mansions in picture perfect settings. We visited a few more wineries and bought another few bottles of wine. You can't help yourself when the top range of wine sells for less than £3 per bottle. The town is very quaint with numerous little bars and cafes lining the town square and a large number of Artesanal (gift) shops selling all interesting local speciality foods and drinks.
That afternoon we continued north towards Salta city, the route taking us through gorges and sand mountains eroded into numerous superb colours and shapes including the 'Amphitheatre', a natural cylindrical arena some 80m high and 20m across and the 'Devils throat' equally as impressive. As we neared Salta the scenery turned distinctly greener and evolved from small subsistence farming through to large commercial tobacco farms. An amusing sight as we passed through was the way they cured tobacco - just by stringing it on a fence beside the road. We arrived in Salta late Sunday evening and spent a couple of days catching up on e-mail and also picking up a few bits and bobs for Lodzi. We also completed our second oil change so were rearing to head off again.
Heading north we started our ascent of Paso de Jama about 200kms north of Salta which passes at a height of about 4950m above sea level. We were finally on the Altiplano, an area covering the NE of Chile, the SW of Bolivia and a small section of the NW of Argentina, here the height of the plateau rests between 3500m and about 5000m excluding all the peaks. We camped our last night about 60kms from the Chile border at a height of 4700m, bad mistake, we also camped hidden in a valley from the wind, second bad mistake. The night temperature dropped to 10 degrees below freezing, everything froze in the car that could possibly freeze. To make matters worse we both had headaches all night from the rapid climb in altitude and no acclimatisation!!! What a long, long night. The icing on the cake was poor Lodzi really struggled to start.
.................Back into Chile Next Page