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Anxieties in Argentina! - News - bespk

Anxieties in Argentina!

Posted on Thursday, 28th March 2013 by Eunice

Our journey towards the Chile/Argentine border took us along the side of a lake, through dense forests and lush farmland.  The roadside vegetation becoming ever more lush! The wild fuchsias now joined by giant rhubarb (Gunnera) and bamboo.  We begin a gradual ascent that then becomes steeper before heading downhill to encounter the Chilean border. Despite Guy's dread of border crossings they have got much easier as we have travelled south.  We are given a piece of paper by the border post,  park up and enter the Aduana (customs), where we are stamped out from the country, get the cars papers sorted and get the car inspected.  The main delay is talking to the many interested people, who cannot believe that we have driven this little car all of that distance. 

Here the border posts are sensibly placed near the foot of the mountains; with a no man's land between.  The actual border is at the summit; being marked by both countries respective flags and ‘welcome’ signs. 
In June 2011 the Puyuhue volcano in the Andes erupted; causing devastating damage to the surrounding forests, blocking the road and altering the landscape.  As you drive through this area there are the beginnings of life re-emerging along the roadside. But it is still shocking to see the destruction that nature's forces can inflict on the landscape.  The road is still under repair and our passage over the pass gave the workmen some light entertainment as they waved and wolf whistled at us.

Once we are over the top it is all downhill to Argentina, through their border post and a repeat of the process of official stamps.  It is hard to believe that we have now travelled through 12 countries.  Our heavily stamped passports are evidence of this, but we cannot quite believe that we are nearing the end of this journey.  The guards are polite and courteous; there are no hassles and the procedure is over and done with within half an hour.  Guy remains calm and composed.

As with all border crossings it is surprising the changes that each country displays.  We notice quite rapidly a decline in the quality of the road surface, that the cars here are older and in a poorer state of repair and that the driving is more reckless.  The scenery is just as spectacular as on the other side of the Andes, with azure blue lakes, reflecting the mountain peaks in the distance.  Here the roadside vegetation is wild roses, now covered in rosé hips and broom.  Our journey seems to be mainly downhill as we head towards Bariloche where we plan to stay the night.

As we approach the city the scenery resembles that of the Yorkshire moors only much larger; there is a marked deterioration in the road surface and we encounter our old friend - the tope!  These ones are in disguise and have a vicious kick in them. We drive along the lake and find a hotel with a wonderful uninterrupted view across the water.  Unfortunately in our drive we have managed to break five more spokes and Guy spends some time replacing them with his now proven technique that does not involve having to remove the tyre.  There is even more evidence of Swiss influence here, with many chalet style properties, ski lifts, fondue and chocolate.  We walk into town in the evening to find supper and are fortunate to encounter an amazing steak house, (recommended by Ruth and Charlie; who had been here a few days previously).  The meat is truly delicious and so tender.   Fortunately we had been warned about the portion sizes so decided to share.

The following morning we head south again; seemingly going downhill.   We have about 1200 miles to go to complete our journey.  It hardly seems possible that we are so close to the end, but every mile takes its toll on the car (and us) it creaks and groans on the difficult road surfaces.  We had intended to call in and see Klaus who had very kindly arranged our car insurance for Chile and Argentina. Unfortunately he did not get his email in time to give us the directions and make this possible.   We are however very grateful to him for allowing our car to be part of his fleet and enabling us to travel in this country where insurance is compulsory but you cannot obtain it unless you have an Argentinian address!

We drive through increasingly widening valleys, the scenery changing all the time, with long vistas of distant mountain ranges, vast open plains and enormous skies.  We were aware that the amount of traffic is gradually diminishing as we headed south and often get overtaken by the same car more than once, as we continue at our tortoise pace and the hares stop for food and a break.  Previously in the day a couple had stopped on more than one occasion to try and take a photograph of the car. At the third attempt Guy stopped to talk to them.  They live in Esquel (our destination) and invited us to join them later in the day. He offered us help if we needed it, as he worked for the VW dealership and she works in a hotel.

Then there was the excitement with the white Fiat.  It had already passed us earlier in the day, but as we were driving along a flat open plain in the early afternoon when it came past again, hooted and waved.  Several hundred yards ahead it suddenly veered across the road, spun and ended up facing us on the wrong side of the road, having come to rest with a resounding crunch against the unguarded parapet of a bridge.  We stopped and got out to help, but both lady occupants of the car, although slightly bemused about what had happened were thankfully unhurt.  Despite not being able to open the driver's door and the front bumper being damaged, the car was otherwise okay and drivable. 

It is amazing the extent to which people will go to get attention.  The driver of the car was Raine Golab, a lovely vibrant lady who has lived the majority of her life in Argentina, but was born in Scotland.  She was delighted we were English and invited us to stay in her guest flat for the night.  We gratefully accepted and followed her the next 40 miles into town.  It is easy to see why someone from Scotland would want to settle in this area, as it is so similar to the Scottish glens.  Raine is a seasoned traveller and consequently aware of the vital ingredients needed to ease one's journey.  Shortly after we had settled in she had our clothes in the wash and out on the line.   We shared another amazing grilled meat supper  with Raine at a local restaurant,   pumping her for information on her adopted country and getting useful tips for our journey south; where was good to stop, terrain and distances.

We set off for an extremely long day’s driving- 330 miles.  The scenery opened up into large flat plains and glacial valleys.  We continued south on Ruta 40 until it divides at Ruta 26.  From here Ruta 40 has long lengths of unmetalled road (ripia) and with our history of broken spokes Guy was not prepare to risk this.  We therefore headed east on Ruta 26 where we had been advised the road surface was better and that there were more places to stop.  The idea of sleeping in a sheering shed did not appeal to Eunice, although by this stage of the journey it would only add to our rich and varied experiences.  Indeed it might have been preferable to where we finally ended spending the night. 

The only place to stop on our journey was the town of Sarmiento, which looked promising and was beside a lake.  The Lonely Planet guide did not mention any hotels in town, but a B&B 10 kms to the west.  We saw this on our way into town, but a misprint in our book stated that it was to the east of the town lead us to drive past, and 20 kms in the opposite direction.  Realizing our mistake, tired and sore we turned around and headed back, and made our way into town.  After stopping for fuel we found a very helpful tourist office, where the lovely new assistant phoned round several hotels to find us a room.  We had not bargained for a biker's wedding in town and many of the rooms were occupied.  We finally found a room in a hotel with wi-fi access and made our way to find it.  Our first impression was not good and we decided to drive back to the B&B and see if they had a room, only to discover that the English and Dutch owners were out of town until the following day.  A real shame as it would have been lovely.

And so back we went.  The room was probably one of the worst we have encountered and none too clean.  The mattress was some rather soggy foam over tired springs.  There was hot water which was a blessing and it was possible to get dry on the rather threadbare towels.  A pair of disposable slippers from our luxurious stay in Arequipa came in very handy when walking from the bed to the bathroom.  We also had to contend with the noise of the biker's wedding as they toured the streets, blowing their horns and revving their engines.  With every dark cloud there is a silver lining and this turned out to be Simon and Laura, two young vets from London, on a year’s honeymoon touring South America at present and having recently returned from the Antarctic.  They had checked into the same hotel and it seemed we were destined to meet as their attempts to find accommodation had mirrored ours.

We agreed to meet for dinner and at eight o'clock set out in search of food.  Nothing was open, but we did find a bakery and a small grocery store; so purchased fresh bread, juice, ham and cheese for breakfast as this was not provided by the hotel.  By the time we had done this and explored the town a little the chosen restaurant was beginning to open, (now 9pm).  We enjoyed a pleasant time together and the food was okay, although when tired and hungry, anything hot is always welcome.

Guy had been concerned about the car and its security (understandably so) as there was a kind of Wild West lawlessness to Sarmiento.  Having discussed this with our host we put the car on the pavement directly outside the hotel where we were assured it would be safe.    The following morning when we packed up the car he noticed the radiator cap was missing.  This coupled with the fact that the proprietor had decided to inflate the price of the room by 30% overnight.  Not an auspicious start to a day, but thank heavens we had had breakfast!

Fortunately our day’s journey was comparatively short, just over 100 miles, to the South Atlantic coastal city of Commodoro Riverdavia, which sits in the Gulf of Santé Jorge.    As we neared the coastal plain we came across vast oil fields; on the back of which this city is established.  Interestingly, where there is oil; the roads vastly improve! This, much like any coastal city in Chile and Argentina, is approached by large dual carriageways that wind through the industrial outskirts, with parallel service roads off to the side and along the seafront in the centre. The usual waving and hooting, photo taking and at times what appears to be threatening driving. But it’s just people wanting to get their cars as close as possible and chat, greeted our arrival in town. 

As we had no idea where to stay, we stopped by the curb, and were immediately approached by a man, Msuro Machiavelli, who had stopped behind us.  He owns classic cars!  We told him our story, gave him a flier and he invited us to join him, and the president of their classic car club that evening on the seafront in the next small town of Rada Tilly.  He advised on hotels in the town, just around the corner from where we had stopped. 

Having checked in and had a short rest we set off down the coast, missed the turning and were heading off in the direction of tomorrow's route.  Another turn around, this time taking the right road, flying through some treacherous sunken topes, we finally found the promenade. 
We had both thought our command of Spanish was improving, but the Argentinians have a completely different pronunciation to the Spanish we had learnt in Mexico; which makes it more difficult.  We dutifully struggled on, but were at a real disadvantage. 
Lots of interest was shown in our project and many admired the car. Parked alongside was an Argentinian made car; a Torino, (a 3rd generation AMC Rambler replica). An original had been entered in the Nurburgring ‘Le Marathon de la Route’  84 hour race and been placed 4th in 1969.  Then back to Commodoro for dinner.  Despite it being late there was very little open as it was Sunday night.  A good walk around the streets increased our appetite and we ended up eating in the hotel.

The day’s journey did not have an auspicious start, no petrol of the desired octane, stuck behind a very slow moving truck on the route out of the town, and more going up the steepest incline.   The roads are deeply rutted by the heavy loads carried on the trucks and it makes driving the Austin very difficult as it impossible to keep it in the grooves.  Then there are the portions of the road where the Tarmac is full of deep trenches, and pot holes.  Indeed it was a relief when we came across unmetalled roads for they made for a more comfortable if not slightly slower passage.  We got stopped at a police check, passing into the province of Santa Cruz, but offers by Eunice to take their pictures with the car seemed to distract them from any official business, and we were away shortly afterwards.

We both have a sense of wanting to get this journey over and reach the end as soon as possible.  This may in part be due to warnings of the flatness and tedium of the scenery that is in front of us.  Initially the road runs along the coast, and adds to the stunning contrast in the landscape, but once we turn inland it is all the same for miles.  There are no trees any more, the land being covered in low growing shrub of a yellow-green shade.  There is of course the excitement of spotting the llama, emu and foxes that feed on the roadside verges, as well as the birds of prey.  We had been warned to be careful of animals and it is easy to see why, for there are many carcasses on the roadside and gory reminders of fatalities on the road, this being despite a marked decrease in traffic density.  We were able to go for long distances without seeing another vehicle. 

The terrain is undulating; and rising and falling in shallow steps.  There are strange circular craters that look like those formed by meteors.  These are often filled with water and make good watering holes for sheep, of which there are thousands, and the other creatures that live in this land.  As we were chugging up a slope the engine started to misfire.  We stopped and pulled to the side of the road, unloaded the car for tools and Guy set about trying to diagnose the cause.  We had fuel, but no sparks, so needed to establish the reason why.  Eventually it was pinned down to an acute failure in the condenser, a first for Guy.

In the meantime, as Guy prefers to work alone there was little that Eunice could do, apart from be on hand to pass the odd item.  There were no cars in sight and she got to contemplating where they might camp for the night if necessary.  (Ironically we were parked just beside an SOS sign!)  Then over the horizon came a flatbed recovery truck, its orange lights flashing, but drove straight past us.  Wishful thinking gone to waste she thought; but no, 500 yards up the road it stopped and reversed back.  Antonio Sosa to the rescue! He watched for a while, helped to mend a broken fuse, offered to take us to the next town, some 50 miles ahead and waited whilst Guy carried out his repairs.  Thankfully we did not need transporting and departed under our own steam after repacking the car.  Although we know we have been heavily laden for this trip Guy has used every tool that he brought with him for the engine rebuild in Los Andes and has spares for just such an eventuality as this, thank heavens!

After 285 miles and having passed only three other areas of population, we finally arrived in the attractive seaside town of Puerto St. Julian, founded by the early seafarers as they travelled towards the end of the world.  They are very proud of their international history and indeed fly the flags of many Nations, including the Union Jack; despite being a base from which the Falkland’s war was fought.    Soon after our arrival we met a man and his son with Down’s syndrome, who was staying with a TV reporter in the town and was keen to get our story told.  The proprietor of the hotel was also keen to inform the local press.  After a walk down to the seafront for an extremely delicious meal, we walked back to the hotel, and went to bed anticipating the morning when we were to meet with the local newspaper and television.

Having a live TV interview in your native tongue is bad enough, but trying to do one in very inadequate Spanish is perhaps humbling. The interviewer was patient and encouraging; enabling Eunice to tell the story.  We tried our best!  It, no doubt, gave the Argentinians something to laugh about!  All this before 10.30; then off we go again, for another long day of trying to cover the miles.  We headed towards the town of Rio Gallegos, the next large town on our route.    The scenery remains pretty much the same, but the land is now much flatter.  There are even fewer cars and more wild life, which is very pleasant.  On the route we are asked to pull off for a photo;  by a family who live in the town to which we are heading.  Lots of chatter and we are invited to go to their Pizzeria for food.  How very kind!  It has been an anxious drive as the ignition warning light has been flickering intermittently and then remained on for the rest of the journey, despite the car seemingly running well. We stop where ever we can get petrol (about every 100miles) and this reduces the effects of long periods of sitting, slightly.  Several very kind people give donations for our cause, for which we are very grateful.

In the early afternoon we arrive at our destination, (245miles) search for a hotel and are stopped by two men in a van painted with fruit and vegetables; wielding a TV camera and microphone for another TV interview!  This and the car gather a big crowd, everyone keen to find out who these strange people are.  It is quite a relief to find a hotel with an underground car park, where the mighty Austin can be hidden away and we can retreat into animosity.  Today is our last day in Argentina, for tomorrow we cross back into the southernmost tip of Chile and our final destination.

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