After having seen so much interesting in
the southern Argentina, I now drive up, into
the central part of western Argentina. The path mainly consist of
Rute 40, combined with detours to interesting places - or because I
6/1 13. Great start on the day! Sort the photos from yesterday, tag them, re-size them and delete them! Back to the originals once again. Work till I'm through it all, and then out on the almost empty highway. Two Andean Condors are gaining height, but I'm too late to get a good shot.
I passes many red alters along the road these days. Red flag sits around them, and inside are offerings. Sure look better than the plastic bottles! The area are dominated by sand and on them; bushes. Then I find a perfect mussel shell - petrified. Seem to be the only one around - strange!
I stop time and time again to see what new plants are to be found here. One time, they look a bit like cloves from a distance, but they might be Asteraceae. Another has long spines underneath the flower, which is very effective, at least to my feet.
It is a waste landscape I'm in today. The low hills seems endless, so does the steppe vegetation. Then I discover a single, little group of cacti, my guess is Opuntia megliolii, but I resist digging a bit, to see if they have a swollen root. The next time I stop, some light grey bushes dominates, and there are no cacti to be found.
My only goal for today - except seeing as much as possible - is an archaeological site near Chos Malal. Some paintings are considered important for pre-historic cultures, and the valley it self should be nice. I find the first city, and have an idea of, it should be 56 Km out of a narrow road - I just don't know which one.
The road leads through a fantastic valley with green hills, blue water, green pines and plenty of small farms. On some ridges, basalt colons make impressive walls. Impressive is also the cushions formed plants, which are tiny! I figure the sun will be better, when I return, and stop taking photos and making walks for now.
Two young people, which defiantly are not from around here, looks like they want a lift, and I hope they are going my way. They are psychological students from Buena Aires, and they will like to tag along, part of the way. We passes some four meter tall black and yellow poles along the road: They do get snow here!
We reach another little village; Andacollo, after 60 Km, and I'm alone again. Through town, over the river and out of a even tinier track. After I have driven 110 Km, I reach the first sign: 9 Km to go. I passes a small farm called Colo Michi-Co, but the gate is closed, and it say nothing about any paintings or archaeological stuff.
The road leads through a beautiful valley, but it is now just two tracks with grass in-between. Several landslides make it a bit tricky to navigate, the creek crosses over, and after 25 Km, I'm sure I'm lost. Back passed the farmhouse, and it turns out to be nine Km from the sign. Well, I'm not interested enough to turn back. I have only driven 160 Km to get here...
I drive through the village Varvarco, but here are absolutely nothing! On the way back through "town", I pick-up the local priest, and give him a ride back to Andacollo. I had planned to take some photos, but the sun have gone, and the scenery is too big anyway.
I catch up with some slow cars, and they do kick-up some dust! Actually, the wind can do it by it self. I do a few stops, and get sand-blasted. One stop is at some narrow, black layers of rock, and I find a fossilized snail. Tempting to try and brake it free, but why?
The last bit of the road from Andacollo to Chos Malal is down-hill, and I guess that is good. The fuel needle have stopped mowing some time ago, and I'll hate to use the spare. I make it to Chos Malal, but then I can't find the gas station. It is not along the highway, but tugged away in the back of town!
While I'm there, I decides I'm not going to spend the night at the municipal camp ground - which is shared with the kids playground. Grab a wrap at the gas station and use their Wi-Fi. Then out of town, and north on Rute 40. I planned to try and reach the even smaller El Tril, but is prepared for a night in the car.
A few stops for new plants and a salt lake, but the sun is either behind dark clouds or hills. The wind is strong, and when I meet some enormous white hills, I want to see in sunlight, I find a spot to park for the night. It is almost hidden in the hills, 30 meters from the road. Put my bed in the car, make a mug of coffee (bought a mug in Bariloche) and go through photos and diary, while the wind pushes the car rather violently . The bed make a perfect table for the computer.
I did make a lot of photos during the day, thinking THIS one will be good, but most are just a blurry mass. The panoramas are too big! It puzzles me: Why was my photos in Namibia that great, and these so dull?
When I tug in, I place my head on the dashboard, and a fantastic star cloud illuminates the sky. Just before I close my eyes, a shooting star passes bye, and I make an obvious wish.
7/1 13. The wind keep me awake most of the night. Most of the time, it feels like I'm driving on a really bad gravelroad. Sometimes, it feels like the car could turn over! Can't really stand upright outside, and pouring up the oatmeal does not work - I could loos the bawl!
To add to the amusement, the other back tire is flat. Hellish job to change it, but I finally succeed, and head on. The plan is fairly simple: Head up Ruta 40 for about 600 Km, and see all the interesting nature on the way, especially cacti.
The white hills are not that interesting this morning, but at least: I know. Some old seabed on the other hand look very interesting, now when it is on an end. The first stop is not a cacti spot, but some other plants lours me to a stop. Spiny, Euphorbia-like, but not.
I have a real good feeling about the next stop: Here are rocks, and the larger vegetation looks right. Right away, I find a new, little interesting cactus, could be Acanthocalycium. It sits right on the limestone or in cracks, and in the open! Most of the time, I find these little ones under bushes, and most of the time, the bushes have large, ferocious thrones.
Same place, I find a new, "finger" Opuntia, way more grey than the one yesterday and almost woolly. Then a little Maihueniopsis-like catch my attention. The thorns are almost flattish, but not quite. Then a non-cacti steals the picture. I could be a Asteraceae but more likely a thistle, but it mimics cacti brilliantly. Bright yellow flowers, and plenty of them.
The Acacias in these area have real large and pointy spikes, and I test a few. A little herb with the nicest hart-shaped leaves could be commercial interesting. The area is mainly clay-like, and there are quite some distance in-between the plants.
As I drive thought the tiny village of Buta Ranguil, I spot a Gumeria, and better sooner than later! Out with my five wheels in prime condition, I do a stop at some black, volcanic rocks. Here, I would have hoped for a new cacti, but I fail to find it. The next stop is for some bushes, sitting way apart in a rough sandy surface. Their flowers are all woolly, and it looks fantastic.
I crosses Rio Colorado, which is a bit disappointing. The plants on the other hand, are more interesting: A very spiny, little Opuntia with smooth bulbs, and one with tiny leaves in-between the spines. The last one are found in huge cushions, where the other one is somewhat smaller. A third one is only a few "fingers" each place, and the spines is significantly smaller.
The landscape changes into a bit greener, and the fine gravel make up the huge hills. A single new plant is amazingly green and fresh, despite it sit in completely dry soil. Could be commercial interesting too. A new type of thistle test my skin, and it fails.
I reach some oasis, but the green have not been spread much in the area. Guess it is only for a short, spring period each year. On a hill, I find another cacti, bit Opuntia-like, but with huge, flat thorns, bit like Tephrocactus articulatus v. papyracanthus, but more dense. The "fingers" have significantly longer thorns here, and it could be another species.
The landscape returns to gravel hills with rocks on, but I wanted more true rock. I get that, when I reach Rio Grande. It have cut itselves down through some black volcanic glass, and on the brinks, I find huge clusters of the "fingers". They are almost all dead now, although they sit protected under some bushes.
A stripes lizard barley move, and I must admit; the 40C do feel a bit warm. Especially the vertical sun is testing me. After Rio Grande, is a huge delta, and here, Pampas roles. Strangely enough, here are hardly any livestock. Bardas Blancas is the village in this oasis, but it is not big! I could have talked my selves into a sandwich, but no shops, as fare as I could see.
MalargŁe is next, and it have all a farmer needs. And a traveller too: I get the largest sandwich I ever have seen. Bit dry and tasteless, but a dash of my ketchup, and I'm happy. The first gas station is out, but the next have. I'm not desperate, but I try no to be that. Outside of town, there are the first ploughed fields I have seen for a long time. Some bare, some with potatoes and other vegetables.
Outside that, endless fields of almost green grass are found. Here are absolutely nothing of interest, unless you are a sheep or a sheep farmer. I'm neither, and keep a good speed, until I have to run a batch-job, under one of the few trees. Some huge pumps, all alike, are scatted on the fields.
In the fare end of this hundred kilometre pan, a single salt lake is formed. Then I spot a rhea on a hill, in perfect silhouette. I manages to make quite some photos - all blurry. A bit better luck with a large, fast beetle in the bushes. But I want rocks with cacti!
Over a hill, round a corner, and this looks just right. Even before I reach out on the wild-side, I spot the first large cluster of cacti. Ten centimetres in diameter up to 30 high, could be a Trichocereus . A new Opuntia with round bulbs, a normal Opuntia with thin spines, and one with fat, reddish brown ones.
A round cacti with thin, long and red spines and red flowers could be a Denmoza. A almost succulent plant looks like an Edelweiss, and then a new cactus catches my eyes. Round, curly spines and not that many. Some are 25 centimetres high.
Some ticks seems to have specialized in cacti, and they are all over those with fruits. Another cacti, this time with yellow flowers and "nipples", not ridges. Black short thorns, and not more than six centimetres in diameter. And some new "fingers, with lines and little thorns.
On my way to the other side of the road, I find a new, little Opuntia with flat stems. The other side have the same cacti, and some are up to 60 centimetres high and 20 in diameter. Could be a Denmoza. The sun have gone behind black thunder clouds, and it have been lightning on both sides of the canyon. It is passed seven, and I figure I'll better get back tomorrow, and do the next canyons.
I have found around nine different cacti, not more that 100 metres from the car. Here have never been collectors: All the huge old plants are still here, and there are no holes in the ground. Many can even be seen from the road! I celebrate with the other half of the giant sandwich and pay attention to the surroundings. Just around the corner, a "tourist park" is found. That might explain the strange fence, which was particular difficult to penetrate?
San Rafael is not fare away, and I might treat my self with a bath. Long before the town, fruit trees and vine fields flacks the road. I passes 40 or more Cabinas offerings, but I just need a shower, not an entire home! I find a campsite in the outskirts of town, and have to pay 65 pesos. It is a dusty place, but just as I have erected my tent, it start to drizzle! The thunder have returned, but it is only a few tears. I prepare the car, just in case. My "posh" tent is only one layer, and I touches both ends.
The car is a mess inside: The partly gravelroads ad their to the symphony, and then some raindrops make it all look grouse! I try to have all my belongings in the back, but I need water, maps and a few cloths. I might even consider cleaning it once, before I return it.
8/1 13. I head back to where I left last evening - or that what I thought. I missed a corner in town, and after 45 Km, there is a sign telling me that. Back through town again, and this time, I find Ruta 40/144. The range of gravel hills I am investigating, is crossed in the short way by the road, but that is enough for me.
The first stop reveals a new Opuntia, which I have to name Gollum - it is kind of ugly and needleless. Another barrow cactus get real long needles, when it reach 25 centimetres. A third form up to 140 centimetre columns with loads of red needles. A single cactus can be described as a purple stick.
An Acacia have the most incredible, green stem, even if it get old. A Gymnocalycium-like cactus have heavy needles, and don't extend a tennis ball. It seems like every little hill have its compound of gravel or rocks, and with it: Its own cactus. I stop every kilometre or so, but eventually, I run out of hills.
Bach through town and out of Ruta 40/143 towards Mendoza. Here, I catch the hills again, and I even find new cacti. Small Opuntias with huge needles and a blue Gymnocalycium-like, with huge needles. A new "Gollum" which this time have large needles and classic Opuntias with pink needles and yellow flowers.
While I pass through a village, looking for some air, I'm pulled over by some blue men. They apparently have a scam running, and as they have my driving licence, I have to play my role. They end up with "all" my cash; 300 pesos, and I get my plastic back - I don't ask for a receive. Slightly annoying, but not compared with paying 2500 pesos tomorrow in the bank! I'm driving through a massive, fertile valley with sunflowers, vine and vegetables. Just another transport stretch, although it became a bit expensive.
Tiny Opuntias, football size cactus and other new ones, but the light is fading. A new thunderstorm is building up, and I drive towards Uspallata through a narrow valley. All kind of mountains are lined up along the road. Bright red, yellow, black and brown ones. I have left my old friend: Ruta 40 for Ruta 7.
Here are a lot of tunnels, but they are short. A narrow railroad use to run through the valley as well, but it is abandon. A chocolate river runs rapidly by, and rafting is offered. I stop to study two types of epiphytic bromeliads and a single new green Gymnocalycium-like cactus with red flowers.
On some massive slides of fine gravel, thorny bushed shelters thiny "finger" cacti, and the rocks in the next valley is covered in huge, green cacti. Then some large, up to half a meter tall, white column cacti start dominating. I find a single colony of a little Opuntia with massive brushes of needles.
A tourist trap advertises with sandwiches, and I could do with one, here around eight. I drive right through Uspallata, thinking is was a suburban. An police officer outside ask where I'm going, and send me back - a bit embarrassed. There is a street more, with several fancy hotels, souvenir shops and supermarkandos.
After a few trials, I find oatmeal and cinnamon, which actually is called Canela in Spanish. A place to sleep turns out to be harder. Most places have all taken, a double for 550 pesos or none to talk with me. On top of that, the only bank's ATM won't even give me 500 pesos! I'm down to 500 pesos after the "transport tax".
I ask in a tracking/rafting shop, and the owner have a house nearby. Eight other backpackers create a great atmosphere, but I know I have to get photos sorted. Despite I have tried not to photo any of the cacti nor other plants I have seen in the previous days, I end up with 250 photos to sort, tag and resize.
9/1 13. A real good nights sleep, and I out early. There might have been breakfast, but I rather get out to the awesome gorge or valley near Cerro Aconcaqua. This mountain is, with its 6960 metres, the highest in the western hemisphere. The area is so much like Tibet, the movie "Seven Years in Tibet" actually was filmed here!
Soon after I leave Uspallata, I meet a huge caravan of trucks for custom. This road is a major crossing point to Chile, and there is a furrow inspection, it seems. Can't help thinking how many man-hours would have been saved with a few more officers working, rather than hundreds of truck drivers in line for hours.
Then the hills and then mountains starts. Not much vegetation, and real soon, it is too high for any cactus. Then there are Alpine plants, but mainly the entire scenery are breathtaking! Canyon after canyon and to both sides too. The road follows an old narrow railroad, which seems to have been covered for a better part. Guess is was the way to control the snow?
While the railroad is not active, the river most surely is. Is reach the brinks, and is muddy waters are brownish red. There are several control points, most only for trucks, but I'm pulled over once. He say a lot on Spanish, and then hand me a yellow sign with a number. I'm supposed to stick in the windshield.
I make a lot of stops, just to try an capture the absolutely astonishing scenery. All kind of colours, structure and shapes of mountains. I did plan to do this trip in the early morning, and that is so perfect! The sun is right in my back, illuminating the entire scenery, and it is still fairly clear.
Many white streams join the large Rio Mendoza, resulting in hundreds of meters waterfalls. The road passes through tunnel after tunnel, and crosses the river a few times too. I keep taking photos, still or driving - just can't help my self, although I know they probably won't work. But if!
Then I get as close I can - without walking - to the mighty Aconcaqua. A good part of the top is still covered in snow, but it is kind of hiding behind to lesser mountains, and the magnificence is slightly reduced. I climb a hill, and get some fairly good photos. From here, I spot a large parking area, and a ticket sale. I check it out, but it is only a walk to a no-better spot.
Here are, as written before, some interesting Alpine flowers, of which I remember seeing several in Gothenburg Botanical Garden. I only find around fifteen different, but I'm not at home in those plants at all! Actually, only a few let me guess on a family.
A few, season-closed skiing resorts are found, posh ones, looking like those in the Alps. Now, in 30C, they look a bit odd. So does the abandon train stations and the endless shelters for the tracks. The old bridges still remain some sort of dignity though. Along the road, bright red and yellow sticks, same height at the telephone poles indicate the amount of snow they expect.
After around 85 Km, I reach a toll booth. Three pesos, and I can drive into the international tunnel: Cristo Redenfor. I though they would give me a heads-up, before I left the country, but right outside the tunnel, a signs welcomes me the the Chilean Republic - bummer.
I make a discrete U-turn, and flee into the calm darkness of the tunnel once again. I'm at 3185 meters height, and the else rather deflated air madras is hard again. Out of the tunnel, I explain I made a mistake, and he smiles - guess I'm not the first.
Bit harder with the next one. It turns out, I should have had a white "tourist-sign", not the yellow transit one. But then I wouldn't have made to the tunnel. Now he tells me! Strange those fellows can't a single word English. Strange I never pick-up any Spanish... After he have seen my insurance papers, he let me go.
I drive down a bit faster: I have seen the most, and the light is not good this way. I reach the green valley with Uspallata, and try my luck in the bank once more. I even try my MasterCard, but same error: No cash. That means I have to go for a larger city; San Juan, and not the cosy road I have planned through small mountains and hills, packed with cacti.
Just outside of town, I spot a large group of column cacti - on the other side of the river. Today, I can climb the rocks to some large groups of bromeliads. Yesterday, the dark rocks were simply too hot to touch! The hills are packed with a specific type of cluster cacti - almost wall-to-wall.
Then I passes the large, blue lake, which is so more entreating in the sunlight. Right into centre of the large city; Mendoza. Find a parking lot near a bank, and after having consulted my budget, I try my company card after my own have failed. It works! That means my incompetent bank have closed both my private cards!
Out on the street, I get two large hugs from two German girls, I chatted with last night. I fill the car with gas and air, clean the windows, and then I'm ready to leave the 40C hot town. The temperature have slowly been building up the last four or five days, and now, it is actually rather hot to sit in a stopped car, in the sun. Well, the air-con works in this car, and I give it a go.
I'm back at Ruta 40, heading towards San Juan. It is a enormous clay-pan, which seems to be flooded from time to time. Here could be cacti, but I doubt. Just before San Juan, it looks more promising, and I give it a try. Here are some large "Gollums" with long, black needles.
Next stop reveals some "stick-shaped" ones, these are green and rather small. Some barrow cacti with loads of thin, black spines are here too, and it looks like they can grow to one meter. And another one, green with large ribs, but only 30 centimetres high. Some Euphorbias of the Jatropha type have just started flowering.
I drive through San Juan town, to get to the road I originally planed; Ruta 12. New cacti, but then it start getting dark. I have driven that much up north, it actually get dark at nine. Back through town, and I make a stop at a large gas station. They got a nice wrap for dinner and descent Wi-Fi.
I send my bank a polite note, asking them if they would opening my cards, without hawing a too much problems. If they can't do it by mail, I can pop bye in opening hours... Sort other businesses, but forget to upload diary.
I find the right way out of the big town, looking for a bed, but none to be found. It have passed nine, and it is pitch black. I have no idea of which type of landscape I drive through, or if there will be a village ahead. Next "big" city is Jachal, 150 Km north of the again tiny Ruta 40.
Figuring I still got a lot of writing to do, I pull into a field at eleven. Sit and work till I'm mercifully run out of battery. The 250 photos have to wait. I can charge from the car, but I won't risk it while parked remotely like this. Make the bed in the still 30C warm car, and fell right asleep.
From this temperate mid section, I now enters the hot north of western Argentina. More cacti, mountains and adventures lies ahead!