I leave the
central western Argentina to have a look at the warmth north. I
stick to the good, old Ruta 40 for the first part, but then, I'm
heading for the Bolivian border.
10/1 13. Wake up just before sunrise: It have dropped to 20C, and I pull up the sleeping bag, and get another hour. At eight, it is 30C, at nine it is 40C. I stop several times, right away, but it seems like I haven't missed anything during the night's stint.
I reach the surprisingly small (San Jose de -) Jachal, and continues out of Ruta 150, towards the high pass Ponte del Agua Negro; 4779 meters. Right outside Jachal, I spot several jackals, and one is "talking" a lot towards me. I reach a new line of hills, and start looking for interesting plants.
Most of the cacti are old well-known ones, but a single flower is outstanding. I ought to be able to remember at least its family - but I don't. The hills are covered in five different cacti and fewer spiny bushes. The entire section of mountains is exclusively slate. The large green cacti columns have side branches here, but look the same as yesterday.
A new, larger Opuntia starts to show up, and here are more of the tiny, needle covered "Gollum", which I only saw one of yesterday. As I gain altitude, the cacti disappears, and only thorny bushes sits very fare apart. It have been slate so fare, but now clay takes over. Clay is - if I remember right - just young slate.
Like yesterday, I drive through a valley, and there is a river in the button. This time, it have a more appealing colour, and there are a band of green vegetation along it. At a good viewing point, I make a mug of tea, and catch up on some of last night's missed work. If it haven't been for the flies, I might have done it all.
The landscape is really barren, except from the button of the valley. The clay have been formed to fantastic formations by water - and time. I reach the village Rodeo, which consists of a bunch of huts, made of sunburned clay. On the other side of town, a pampas lightens up the scenery for a short time. I have to deflate the madras once again.
Then I reach a front post to the border. I'm asked, if I intend to go to Chile. I say "no", and then I'm being bounced! Could change my mind and say, I would take the car home, but then they probably spend the rest of their vacant hours of their day, taking it apart. I guess it was some sort of scam, because he look kind of disappointed, when I just say: "OK, I'll turn around". Figure I can see it from the other side anyway.
Back through Jachal and out of the shortcut; Ruta 491. It is a truly amazing road! One lane most of the way, though sealed. Small clay huts scattered around, rocks that look like Swiss cheese, and a 50 meter deep gorge.
I reach a viewing point, displaying an enormous lunar landscape in red and yellow. I have a chat with two youngsters from Buena Aires, doing their country in two months. The speak surprisingly good English, and thought every Argentine did that.
A new "serpentine" cactus with long needles is the only new finding, but the road take the price anyway. I reach Ruta 40 again, and here, some of the tall columns are still flowering. Some are white, some pink. I reach the tiny Guandacol, but here are nothing to see or do, and I head on.
Some rather large sand dunes with Acacias are the next alteration. Then some new Opuntias, which leaves are kind of waved-textured. The large "Gollums" have now pale brown needles instead of black, but it might be same species anyway. The "rocks" are hardened red clay, and here are some amazing formations.
Then I meet a new "Gollum" which I must call "Porcupine": It is covered in thick needles. Despite I make several stops, it tend to be the usual suspects all the way to Villa Union. Another village, but with a twist: It starts with three posh hotels! In the middle of nowhere.
I drive through the rather large, but still clay-ish village, and stop at every hostalje. Either they aren't there, or they won't rent me a bed - strange. The entire village is strange: It is a ghost town. All shops are closed, and I don't see any people of cars at all. It is half pass five, the sun vanished some time ago, and the temperature have gotten down from the 43C to 35C.
I ride back through town once again. They have several - real misplaced - light crosses, all set to 60 seconds. I did pass a scrappy sign to a campsite, but I'll just try the price on the first hotel. I have a lot of work to do, and I need internet too. Sitting in the fly-infested heat won't be cool.
It is brand new, all made up in surprisingly tasteful, light beige tiles. I get a great room for 200 pesos - including breakfast! After a life-saving shower, I catch up with yesterday's photos. Then down town for dinner - if one can call the two small sandwiches that, and I try my luck at the ATM: I win! No excuses, then it is back to work.
While I work, I catch up on the Dakar Rally, which must be rather close to here. Peterhanzel is leading, as expected. Then a thunderstorm raises, and I guess I choose right, not taking the campsite. The lightning strikes real close to here, and it is raining cat and dogs!
I get a lot of work done, even the slideshow of Central Western Argentina.
11/1 13. Nice breakfast, and then off to the amassing valley in Parque Nacional Talampaya. It is just about 75 Km down Ruta 76, and there should be cacti-opportunities on the way. Huge clusters of "the porcupine" for a start. Then I have a small problem: The road have gone!
Last night's rain have formed a river in a old riverbed, and it have washed away the road. The old crossing down stream is still useable, but quite muddy. The whole area is real red due to the moist from the rain, and there are pools along the road.
I reach the visitor centre of the park, and I'm I in for a surprise? It is huge, modern, ISO 2000 certified and packed with foreign tourists. Several tours to choose from: Walk, bike, mini bus or truck with seats on the top, and a snag along the way. I go for the later, because I can't go by my self - foot or car.
A hour to kill, and I do a walk-about. First stop is some live-size dinosaurs; replica of bones, found in the area. The I step outside the enclosure, and find some plants and a little, fat agama. Back for a cup of tea behind the car, and then the truck is ready to load 24 exciting tourists.
An enthusiastic guide babbles on - in Spanish - about the age of the rocks, the size of the park and alike. Then we stop for a little group of rheas, which seem use to the truck. Next stop is a narrow gorge, formed by two absolutely vertical clay walls. Despite the layers are horizontal, the forms are vertical - can't really figure how that happened!
I group of bicyclers do the same tour, and I get a good handshake by the two youngsters from Buenos Aires. Strange how people remembers me? Next stop is at some ancient rock carvings. The black oxidised layer have been scratched away, forming the usual men, snake and pray.
While we passes fantastic formations and more vertical walls, we reach the echo valley. I find a new cactus and a few other interesting plants while the rest shouts. I'm not sure what the next stop is about, but I see what looks like a big guinea pig and a strange clay-formation.
Then there are served vine, juice, water, olives, chips, wine gum and a few other things for us. The bicycle riders get to taste the tiny creek, running in the valley. Inside the truck again, and the slight cooled air is actually good. We reach the end of line, some columns named the Monk and the Vase. I find some real big fruits of a bulb, and a succulent.
I doze slightly off, on the way back, but wake up to some rheas. I don't feel like talking with the other tourists, and head straight off. A single stop at a tree with a bunch of parrots in, It look like dwarf macaws, and they are noisy! Then I find a single flowering "porcupine" among loads of them.
I have found a shortcut to Chilecito, and it is a great gravelroad. Smooth and through an astonishing landscape. A Gollum with real paperish needles, and then the giants I'm here fore: Trichocereus terscheckii - I think. The first one is around four meters, but the next is eight or nine! They are quite numerous in the dense bush in rather moist areas, but can also be found on bare, red sandstone or clay.
I am now out of the tourist zone: The houses are small, made of sun burned clay and here are no luxuries at all. I do several walks, and find a lot of terrestrial bromeliads. A new traditional Opuntia, just rather small, and a real flat cactus, almost completely buried. A (now) little column cactus, quite green with slats seems new as well.
After around 200 Km, I'm 20 Km outside Chilecito, but the road is closed! It have not rained here, but I fail to understand what the problem is. It might open at seven (three hours from now) or in seven hours - or seven days? All I'm sure of, is he wants me to turn around. Well, it is only 400 Km the shortest way, and I have a four of hours before dark.
Only problem is I haven gassed for this detour, and it is going to be real close! The first part is quite familiar, and I might forget to save fuel! Then I reach a new area with giants. One even have a new sort of Bromeliads on! The cactus is one meter in diameter and eight or nine metres high with 30 branches in total.
It is still within the park, and the clay formations are still going strong. I finally reach El Chiflon, but it is only four concrete huts and no gas station. Then I make it to the way bigger Patquia, and their gas station. I get 39,5 litres on the 40 litre tank - why was I worried???
I'm out on Ruta 74, and here, I find some new cacti: A three meter "candelabra", a climbing cactus and a long, thin one. The rather dense bush is covered in several forms of Bromeliads, and living hell to penetrate in flip-flops and T-shirt - which does not stop me, ofcause. A new Gollum with dark brushes, a rather pointy little column, Here are new bushes and trees too. One very spiny bush, an small tree with huge seeds in oyster-shaped seed capsules, terrestrial Bromeliads with saw-like leaves (ouch!).
It is getting late, and the sun disappears behind the mountains at eight. I use the empty road, and speed up. Chilecito. It is a real big village. Nothing fancy, just big. I ask a single time, and find the hostal; Paiman. They only have a room in a dorm for 60 pesos, but I have not seen others, and it look cosy enough with a courtyard.
Up to the huge square and find some dinner, back to fetch some stuff from the car and I ready to start working. A power breakdown stops everything but me - until the screen is packed with insects. It starts raining and a bit of thunder half pass one, and I have not thought that. It have not rained her for half a year. Glad I'm at a hostel. Camping is on a hold for now! It get real late before I'm finish (out of battery).
12/1 13. I've now been on the road for a month, one more to go. Celebrate with four hours of sleep, and realising the cacti garden I'm here to see, is just around the corner - and closed in the weekends. I'll check it out anyway, and behold: I have seen it before! It is the absolutely fantastic garden of Sebastian and Pritricia. If I had thought of that, I would have send them an email.
I drive out of town, and already within the town, the giant Trichocereus terscheckii are numerous. A new "Flat Football" sized cactus starts to be one of the usual for the nest stretch. The day seems to be mainly about different forms of granite. Either as solid rock, fine gravel and everything in-between. A medium size column cactus seems to be rather rare; I only see four of them.
New Bromeliads and some whit-flowering bulbs are among the other new interesting plants. The Opuntias always make me wonder, but I'm pretty sure I actually see two new today. One is really fat and with little needles. The other one is real big and kind of rough. Another possible Opuntia is a little, real spiny and kind of white one.
Then I reach an area with flowering cacti. Both the small, green column, some Opuntias and the serpentine ones have real large flowers, which still are open. Another new cactus is almost round, and it have "nipples" with short needles. Might be a Mammillaria.
Some real noisy parrots are quite common, and fly in groups up to 100 or more. A large "guinea pig" can't decide is it is scared or curious. Lizards have it more easy: They are scared! I passes the swollen river Salado. It is like thick brown paint. The temperature is not going higher than 40C, but I might be up in the heights: The madras is rather hard.
I see two groups of vultures at some road-kills. One is all in black, the other have read heads. Here are al the time hawks and alike. They don't mind the car, as long at it doesn't alter the speed. Near Londers, I find a new, thin and almost black column cactus, and soon after a giant Opuntia with red flowers; Opuntia quimilo. Although it is in the middle of nowhere, I have a feeling of it being brought here by humans.
Here is a archaeological site; El Shincal, and I give it a go. It is a little museum with a few clay pots and other artefacts, and a huge Inca settlement. It dates back to 2-500 AD, and have been partly excavated. The entrance is 5 pesos, and it is worth it!
Back to the cacti chase, and I still find new ones. And the area is absolutely perfect for Bromeliads. They form large steps on the hillsides and covers up to 80´% of the entire hillside. After Belen, a new little Opuntia with red flowers are found in a small area. A new, larger and yellowish form of the serpentine cactus starts here, and a rather large leaved Opuntia too.
The road make several de-tours, and some end in the river! Only 20-30 centimetres of water, but the stream is fast. A good part of the road have been gravel, but nice and smooth. Right after Hualfin, a tanker have had an accident at a corner: The entire truck have fallen over. I meet a giant crane on an other truck, round the next corner, and do think about seeing how they do that.
Glad I didn't, because when I reach the permanent road, it is crowded and I have a hunch. I drop the car, and head for a Range Rover with British plates. Yes, it is the Dakar Rally! Talk some time with one from the British film crew, and walk around in the area. It is now the finishing point: The planned last bit is washed away!
Here are not more than 50 or so viewers, and I blend perfectly with the press people. The cars starts to brake up, and I join them 200 Km towards Tucuman. It is through one little village after the other, and the streets are packed with the locals, cheering.
More and more normal cars mix in, but the racers overtakes them rapidity, although the race is over. When we reach open areas, I'm the only one holding up. I let a racer pass on a winding mountain stretch, but keep up with him to the next village. When we are hold back here, a co-driver ask me: What does it take to shake you? I say: A better car and a better driver, and he laughs.
Several times, the racers are lead directly through town, while we mortals have to drive partly around. Not fair! I actually get away with following them several times: My car is more dirty than theirs! When we reach Tafi del Valle at eight, I am lead into a blocked road. A hostal I stops outside, seems all right, and there are the only vacant parking spot in town, right outside. I planned to sleep here anyway, because the road to Tucuman should be real nice. 250 pesos, but it is late and it will take forever to get through town.
Later I find out 250 was for a single room, but they only had their exclusive double, and I'm charged 550 pesos! And it is worn down, the toilet door can't close and it is small! It is all to clear, what the neighbours do - and that she likes it. I can hear the music from the square, and it is not my style. I've been hustled. Down town for half a pizza with gorgonzola and an ATM. Then I nick a table and chair from the common room, and start working.
13/1 13. I eat a lot of the included breakfast, but I hardly get even. I study my notes and maps, and it turns out the road I'm here to see, is the last 70 Km of yesterdays tour. I'm going back anyway, and I have to admit: I do not have a clue to, what was along the road at all! I was racing, not touring on that stretch- and it was awesome!
The first part is enormous green hills. The entire valley and the mountain sides around it is one green lawn. Here are a bit of scrub and bushes, but most seem to be reserved from the few horses? I pass the pass, where a lonely lama guards, and four Andean Condors circle to gain height.
Then it turns drier, and the farms are humble. I make a stop where it look promising for cacti. The first I spot, is six meter high, and here are thousands! It is the giant Trichocereus tarijensis var poco. The entire hill is made up of some fantastic rocks. I'm not sure what it actually is, but it look like a strange mix of granite, sandstone and marble.
The giant cacti are not alone. Tugged away under the rocks and bushes hides 6-8 other species. Here are a almost purple Opuntia, a tiny one with flat leaves and red flowers, a finger-formed one with normal needles and one where the finger seems to be hollow, and the needles inside. Some other fingers have loads of needles and dark red flowers.
A tennis ball size cactus hides in the cracks under rocks, showing dark orange flowers, and some giant golden balls are scattered around. A bit out on a deep slope, some golf ball sized and fairly white cacti are found. They have large red flowers. On the vertical drop, some big, silvery Bromeliads form huge clusters. Some other tennis ball sized cacti have longer and thinner needles, but no flowers.
Some old ruins are found on a plateau. They could be 1000 years - or 50, I can't tell. Some other plants are here too, but besides from some of those flowering, I pay little attention: Here are just too much!
I jump around on the rocks for a couple of hours, but the sun only last for half an hour. Never the less, it was a great experience in an awesome nature! While I continue down the pass, I just have to do more stops. The giant Trichocereus tarijensis v. poco are up to 10-11 metres high, but really hard to get good pictures of.
In some areas, they almost look like a forest - until you get close. Then, they seems to step apart! A few lizards, some finches and some beetles fight for attention, but the giant cacti are hard competition. I can already now see, I have to find a place for the night early: I will have loads of photos to sort.
As I reach the planes, new cacti are found. The first is a little Opuntia, where the first have red needles, later they have yellow, and all have yellow flowers. They sit only a few fingers at a time, not in cousins. I find a flowering epiphytic Bromeliad, and I feel the rainy season is coming.
Where I have experience the first rain several times, I'm now several days behind. Some of the creeks and rivers are swollen with rainwater, and it seems like it will start raining every afternoon from three or so. I think that will change, when I return to Chile.
A single beetle really catches my attention. It look like a normal scarab, but where they usually are real slow, this runs like a rocket, waving its front legs in the air. A road kill have its great feast with vultures. Thinking about it, it is only horsed, mules and donkeys that are found in the road side. Considering cows and sheep aren't that smart, I guess someone else are eating them.
I do more stops, and it seems like every time, I find at least one new species of cacti. Around Tolombon, I find several. One is tennis ball sized with short needles, one larger with some really long ones on the top, and then comes a tall football. Looks like the flat one, but up to 60 centimetres high and 30 in diameter, and tend to have a bold spot in the top
Another look a bit like "the golf ball", but it is tennis ball sized and the needles are medium sized, and it have yellow flowers. A new Opuntia is almost all the time a line of five "leaves", laying on the ground. New Bromeliads, and other plants, new soil like bare rocks, find sand, clay, gravel or combinations ensure "entertainment"
That ends, when I reach the vine fields around Cafayate. It is a completely new game. Huge Fincas; vine farms with real posh mansions. The road sides are packed with hitch-hikers, every second house is a hostalje, the camp sites are gigantic, and the streets crowded with tourists. I got a feeling of, many of the backpackers are Argentineans, on some sort of "Spring leave". The city does however not live up to the wealthy farms in its surroundings. It is simple clay with white paint and almost flat roofs.
I spot a small sandwich stand, and get well over half a kilo of fresh bread, fried egg, steak, salad, tomatoes, avocados and other stuff for 15 pesos. They even throw in a large glass of fresh juice! It was only intended as a snack, but I got more than I bargained for, and it was absolutely delicious!
A small stroll along the street reveals a bit of a festival atmosphere. Lots of useless junk and fast craftsmanship. It seems like there actually IS some sort of festival going on, and the central square is packed with locals. Jumping-castles, inflatable plastic animals, music and what ever it takes. I'm not that big a fan, and I sneak off.
The next town have a festival too! Main street is transformed into all kind of entertainments, and when I finally pick Ruta 40 up outside town, it leads to something completely wrong! It turns out I should have left Ruta 40 in Cafayate, and now I'm in San Carlos, not Los Medanos.
There is a shortcut, sawing me for half of the 44 Km, but unfortunately, the river got to it first. Some locals have stopped in front of me, and one strips and walks out. From the waves, I decides: I go back, rental car or not. After he have taken a dive in the thick, brownish sticky stuff, he follows.
The larger road have its problems too. The rivers are in what the Assizes call "dips"; low parts of the road. That way, they road is not washed away - all the time. This road have it nice features as well. Some huge, water-eroded clay mountains in dark red to light yellow display some fantastic figures.
Most of the way, it is not cacti land, but I do find a single, new one: Flat, with thick needles. The traffic is rather intense; people are on their way back to the big city Salta, after the summer weekend. In one place, loads of cars are parked, and I glimpses a huge crack in the mountain. It turns out to be Garganta del Diablo. A long and deep gorge, leading into a vertical wall. The layers are in odd angles, and that add the the weirdness.
I'm ready for a place to crash, but the only hostalje I can find now, is full. I am getting way to close to the giant city Salta and not to mention; the Dakar Rally, and as it starts to rain at six, I'm not going for a camp in the wild. My next target is a national park, but it is fare from any sizable village, and I doubt I'll find a place to sleep there.
The vine is now replaced with tobacco plants, and farming in general, seems to be the trade around here. It is fertile, and not quite as hot - we must be at a reassembly altitude here.
I passes through a descent village; Coronel Moldes, and here is a nice building with Hostalje on. It is the 360 year old La Casona de Moldes Posada Antigua, a former monastery, and it is absolute fabulous! A huge, closed yard with antiquities around, a dining room with the original furniture, rooms with visible tiles and the original clinker on the floor. The wardrobe is ancient, the beds cast iron, the electric installations and bathroom brand new. There is even a nice blue pool in the back yard, where I locked the car in.
Considering yesterdays fiasco, I'm a bit anxious when I ask for the price. But it is only 125 pesos! I immediately decides to stay at least two nights. Here are two national parks in range, but even if there wasn't! I saw a snack bar on the other side of the road, and I run there, when the rain lightens a bit.
The stuffed bread I have had several times, is of cause enchiladas, and I get a few more along with half a litre Fanta for 22 pesos. Just as I get there, the rain really picks up, and it is not cats & dogs, but elephants & hippos. The gutter is filled with a raving, brown river, and I have a hard time talking my self into running home, and start working.
Outside the hostalje a huge caudiciform tree; Chorisia speciosa is flowering with loads of real light cream coloured flowers. I have to get some good pictures tomorrow, in the sun. I try to make some of this fantastic hostalje before it get too dark, figuring it is better without the sun. The power vanish from time to time due to thunder, and at ten, it is out for good. I work to midnight, but then I'm out of power.
14/1 12. The power have not returned, but somehow, I get a how shower. Then I'm of to Parque Nacional Los Cardones, named after the giant cacti. I figure, I better gas before heading out there, but the first two villages are out of fuel. The third have, and I'm ready for adventure.
The first part of the road is through tobacco fields. Then I turn in to Ruta 33, leading into dense sub-tropic rain forest. The threes are heavy with epiphytes and I even spot a flowering orchid. The road do demand some attention though. Rivers are crossing - on top of the road, and rocks up to 100 Kg falls down on it. Some places, the outer lane have gone!
As the road crosses the muddy river, a massive slate wall raises. I find a caudiciformic Begonia, several Bromeliads and three new cacti. A Passifloraceae with fruits and flowers, several ferns, a absolutely beautiful hummingbird, the leaves of terrestrial orchids, a tiny Selaginella and much much more.
Then I reach the territory of the giant Trichocereus terscheckii. Here, they are flowering, but it is kind of hard to get close to those flowers, 5-8 meters up. A new Opuntia, real fat, some large centipedes, flowering Cucurbitaceae and all the way: A breath taking view over the valley, the high mountains and the river.
It is getting dryer, but here are still many epiphytic Bromeliads. The mountains changes into red clay, and the giant cactus multiplies. The towers the green bush underneath, which look a bit strange to me. The sun have gone, and clouds covers the peaks around me.
I reach a highland area with endless green grass covered hills. Each are several kilometres vide and well over a kilometre high. Then follows an Alpine area with low vegetation. Strange plants, I don't know at all! On the other side, frost prone cacti, then Begonias lightens up. Giant terrestrial orchids have fruits, but I fail to find any flowers.
It is almost two before I reach Parque Nacional Los Cardones, named after the giant cacti. The first part is bit of a disappointment. Nothing but endless grass hills. Alpine flora, black fat beetles, strange flowers and bloody goats! Then I reach the back side, and at the first stop, I find several new cacti. Some "ginger topped" Some small brownish ones, and new Opuntia - again.
Some bulbs have started their season, but not even buds yet. The weather is turning to the worse, and light showers come and go. It is all slate, and for once: Easy to climb. A tiny, red Opuntia and lichen in most colours imaginable. Here are still some strange Alpine flora, some Bromeliads and then a beautiful flower: Bright red. Another is a brown flowered Ranunculaceae, and then another new cactus: Small, round and with short needles.
Then I reach the giant plateau. Around 100 square kilometres, flat but with an angle and stuffed with the giant Trichocereus tarijensis var. poco. Seen from a distance, it is a wall of them! They start on the gravel hills, but intensiveness on the plane. The young ones have yellow needles while the old ones are covered in white woolly stuff.
After ten kilometres, I have kind of have seen enough of them, for some time. Reminding me: If I can live my life without EVER hearing music with the leading instrument being accordion, I will be very happy! In those places I can receive radio, 15 canals will be with this horrible instrument, five with ordinarily talk and five with telephone talk. None remotely worth listening to.
On the other side of the high plateau, and small range give home to some other cacti, which I haven't seen before. One looking a bit like a tractor tire. I reach the other end of the park, but the great cacti environment continues. On the other hand: I did not finish yesterdays work, and the rain is catching up. Turn back a four, and drive reasonable fast.
I try desperately to capture the astonishing landscapes, but they are way too big, and the light too low. When I reach the sub-tropic rainforest, the sun appears shortly, and I get another go at the epiphytic cacti. Some are smooth, pencil thick and more than a meter long. Another (which could be a juvenile form) is only five centimetres, and slightly spiny.
Tiny Peperomiaceaes, ferns and Bromeliads make up the most of the mat every tree is covered in. As I reach the lowland, I meet the real rain! .Hazard light on, and 30-40 Km/t is the limited. Some parts of the road is under 30 centimetres of water from a river, crossing the road.
It lightens up as I reach Coronel Moldes, and I run for dinner. They open at eight! A light breakfast and six crackers have made me kind of peckish, and I check my hostalje. She offers enchiladas, and I'm an easy target. Then she show up with half a kilo ox, and I'm convinced.
Two hours after, she have been shopping and cooking, and it is a last chance, before the cat gone missing. Absolutely perfect meat, a sliced and baked potato and a a onion given the same treatment, make up an excellent meal. Two pickled peaches finish up nicely. The photos from this part are in a slide-show, and the cacti in another.
This northern adventure have turned out to be much richer than expected. It will continue in Ultra North.