The whole way down, as we have met and talked to other northbound travelers, everyone raved about the Ruta 40 through Argentina. Ourselves, finally in to Argentina, we were excited to see what all the hype was about. We winded our way through the Altiplano, skipping the cities to the north, until we could meet up with Ruta 40.
Inevitably, as with all things you are eagerly looking forward to, a little glitch has to be thrown in. Ours was in the form a “Closed for Snow” sign sitting right in the middle of the Ruta 40 turnoff. We stopped to discuss our situation with our fellow travelers, Home on the Highway, and as we all longingly stared at the dirt road laid out in front of us we came to the uneducated decision that, “Aaah, there can’t be that much snow up there!”
Luckily sometimes uneducated decisions turn out for the best. I don’t think our tires crunched a piece of snow the whole way over the pass, but that is not to say there wasn’t reason for the road to be closed to regular traffic. There were several hairy river crossings in addition to places where the road had been almost completely washed away and I would find myself drawing in my breath as we tried to squeeze our four tires between the landslide run in to the road and the newly formed crevasse to the other side, as if making myself physically smaller would somehow help us squeeze through.
The payoff for taking this road, besides the excitement, was the amazing scenery and the feeling of having the place all to ourselves. Once we crossed over the mountain pass and started working our way down in to the valley more and more greenery began to appear as well as more brilliantly red rock.
At the end of this closed section of road was where after two days of being in Argentina we came upon our first town, Cachi. In this quaint, cobble-stoned street, town was where we discovered two wonderful things that would come to build our days for the next couple weeks; cheap good food and cheap good wine! After a very long time traveling with a consistent diet of rice and this or rice and that, it was wonderful to find that not only could we afford to eat out, but it was enjoyable to do so.
And so it came to pass that we established a routine as we made our way south. We would wake up, not too early, go for a hike or run and enjoy our beautiful surroundings. Then we would pack up our cars, drive south a couple hours to the nearest town, sit down to a nice table-clothed lunch of giant mouthwatering steaks or homemade pasta dishes or deep dish buttery crusted pizzas and fresh salads, all complemented by a bottle of Torrontes white wine (the best of the region). Afterwards, with our bellies full, we would head off down the road, put a couple more hours under our belt and set up camp at another remarkably beautiful location. In the evenings we would hang out by a camp fire and sip out of our gallon jugs of wine. This is how Northern Argentina so became the Land of Lunch!
The ability to bush camp every night helped us to justify splurging on nice lunches all the time. This came back to bite us one night outside of the town of Cafayate when instead of spending the money to camp in the overcrowded, noisy campgrounds we decided to take the dirt road down adjacent to the campgrounds, cross the small river and camp on it’s banks. We had just settled in for a nice, quiet night of sleep with nothing around to disturb us but the trickling of the creek outside our camper door. This is when the pitter patter began to tap on our roof top. Slowly at first but then harder and harder, until after about a couple hours of fitful rest, waiting for it to stop and knowing that we were pushing luck, parked in a riverbed in the middle of a rainstorm, we made the call to get out.
Jed calls from the camper window, “James, think maybe we should make a run for it”
James’ timely reply of “think that’s probably a good idea” indicates not much sleep was going on in the 4 Runner either.
There’s nothing like throwing together camp in the middle of the night, in the middle of a downpour and four-wheeling it through a river that had risen remarkably fast, all while in your soaking wet underwear. We high-tailed it to higher ground at the beginning of the dirt road where we parked outside of the earlier avoided, noisy campgrounds only to soon find that we were instead going to spend the night in the town’s late night party lot. Not the best night of sleep.
Our favorite campsite, we happened upon after a missed turn. When turning around we noticed a sign for a hot spring and decided to go check it out. At the end of this rugged, washed out, dirt road we found abandoned old bath houses tucked in the red hills. The next morning we first worked up a sweat, scrambling up in to the red cliffs above and then returned to bathe in our private bath houses. Not a bad way to start the day!
The road we had missed the night before, we then caught up with that afternoon. This “shortcut” through the desert ended up taking a day and a half, adding to the weeks it was taking us to reach Mendoza; a trip originally planned to only take us three days from the border. However, when the wine runs like water and the landscape bursts from the ground all around you in rich reds and greens, some plans are just made to broken.