Driving 'The Beast' through South-America
By Isabelle Demaeght, February 21, 2019
Until Puerto Deseado (January 23), we had traveled 17,000 kilometers.
We were driving north along the Atlantic Coast and had a realization: we would cross across (from east to west) Argentina and we would enter a desolate, vast landscape. After 600 kilometers we came back to civilization and found a place to sleep. Not really a comfortable motel, but at least clean... It was our only option because sleeping in our rooftop tent is impossible in some Patagonian winds.
We ended up in our next national park (Alerces) where we enjoyed some views, solitude and nice walks. (And the usual trash throwing and music making Argentines :-)
Through the park we reached the hippie spot El Bolson for the second time this trip. Claudia had mailed us that a lamb would be slaughtered and that there would be several travelers. It was a fun evening with different nationalities around the fire, enjoying a delicious piece of meat.
The next days we thoroughly cleaned the car, and we drove back and forth to El Bolson several times for car parts (among other things). Adriaan had a great time tinkering and fixing everything that had broken down.
We went through some very hot days that I easily endured because I was able to enjoy the cooling of the small river that meanders through Klaus' property. I was enjoying myself in my hammock with my book. ("The Winter Beyond" by Isabel Allende is highly recommended.) We enthusiastically stowed away our winter clothes, hats and thermal underwear. Four days later we had to dig them back up as the night temperature did not rise above 4 degrees and a strong southerly wind was blowing. (Southerly winds are cold, northerly warm - everything is reversed.) We stayed with Klaus and Claudia for 10 days.
On Klaus and Claudia's domain there is neither internet nor cell phone signal and that causes a zen feeling. Back in the civilized world, I usually immediately start looking for a form of communication, I'm willingly hung up on it. Sometimes it seems that the smartphone has only just been introduced here: families at restaurants don't talk to each other, but only look at their screens.
From El Bolson we were supposed to drive about 1500 kilometers due north, to Mendoza. It turned out differently. Normally the gravel roads are quite good: sometimes 80 kilometers per hour (or a bit more, but Adriaan doesn't like to go faster). In the valley of 'Aguas Calientes' (where water, warm enough to burn my feet, runs in a stream over the road) I found a spectacular route nobody travels. It took us over roads as wide as our car to 2000 meters altitude. There this track turned into a path covered with fist-sized and much larger stones. We continued to over 2600 meters, where we spent the night. In some places we are all alone in the great Argentina. The next day Adriaan enjoyed the 30 kilometer challenging 4x4 track in the high mountains and I enjoyed the incredible views. The 100 kilometer difficult gravel road after that became a war of attrition. We only encountered one car and a few gauchos on horseback.
The distances are huge and getting fuel is not always easy. The remote naphtha stations (gasoline is really called 'naphtha' here) charge 15% extra and they must be paid in cash, because there is no GSM / phone / internet for the credit card machines. Which brings us to the next problem: cash. Inflation is about 60% per year; the banks don't like to have large amounts of money in stock because it becomes worth less while sitting in the machine. Many vending machines are empty; some have strict limits of 1000 Pesos (today it is € 22.00) per withdrawal. For foreigners, there is then the usage fee to pay (of 237 Pesos). In short: 90 liters of diesel, which costs about one euro per liter everywhere, can become expensive 'in the middle of nowhere'...
In the civilized world we enjoy good meals in restaurants, like a very nice steak, cooked exactly as I wanted, in Bariloche. Or the 'Asado de Tira' Adriaan always wants to eat: beef ribs sawn in half, with long (breathing) muscle fibers and a rim of fat. Becoming a vegetarian here is impossible (for us). The meat is so delicious.
Finally, we arrived in Mendoza. First on the agenda was the Toyota garage: 'The beast' had to get its major service, and now that the weather is warmer to the north, we encountered cooling problems again. During the last week Adriaan connected the diagnostic equipment to the car's engine, so I could read the cooling water temperature and inform him when it exceeded 110 degrees. In Mendoza we moved into an apartment with air conditioning because the temperature had risen to well over 30 degrees.
Now that we have specialized in wild camping and are finding more and more idyllic, mouse quiet (sleeping) places, the transition to this city is a small shock.
While Adriaan spends the day with his latest "Toyota friends," I take a walk around town. Mendoza lies in the desert but is not dry nor dusty. After the earthquake in 1861 (which killed 5,000 people), this city was redesigned by a French architect. The city looks very beautiful because it consists of several wide avenues with leafy trees on either side. These trees grow because melt-water from the Andes Mountains flows along the avenues through deep channels. The locals also call these channels 'yankee traps' because a careless tourist (like me) easily tumbles into them :-) At the different squares it is teeming with people. People are looking for refreshment, have a chat, read a book or sit there to sell their harvested fruit and vegetables.
In the evening we went ( at the recommendation of my oldest son Laurens) to eat at the restaurant "1884" run by Francis Mallman. Netflix dedicated an episode to this chef in the series "Chef's Table". (That video gives a (very) nice picture of Patagonia.) The food was delicious, the atmosphere around the outdoor fires convivial. A rolled steak
In the area around Mendoza there are very many vineyards. We are going to stay in the Mendoza area for a few more days (not only for the wines - Adriaan is going to try to solve the temperature problem of the Toyota with a local mechanic). We both like the city. Sunday we are invited to 'Estancia Atamisque' for a five course dinner (with wines, that is). At the moment the grapes are being harvested, it is the best time of the year for a visit.
We have traveled 20,000 kilometers in the meantime, even though "The Beast" is hot at times.