Elvis Lives

Joined May 2016
  • Day750

    Not So Good, Not So Bad

    June 5 in Argentina

    This post is named after my favourite tagline from a local restaurant. Needless to say, we didn't eat there!

    A short drive out of Mendoza and up a valley in the impressive Andes we found some lovely thermal pools. We arrived at 7pm after everything was shut so we spent a quiet night camped outside.

    The next day we spent 7 blissful hours soaking in hot bubbly water made all the better as you could bring your own food and drink in. Our friend Tony arrived along with his girlfriend Carol so we all decided to drink a bottle or two of wine and spend another night in the car park!

    The next day we drive through some gorgeous scenery with craggy peaks and turquoise lakes before climbing up to about 3300m to cross the Andes at Frontier Los Liberatores into Chile.

    What a beautiful border crossing this is - the peaks were covered in fresh snow and we had a perfectly sunny day. We had been a little worried about entering Chile as we'd heard tales of overzealous officials pulling everything out of camper and looking for contraband fruit, veg, meat, dairy etc etc, plus that snow chains (bought at great expense) were compulsory. However we ticked the box as having food to declare, gave them a bag with a few old veggies in and after a cursory inspection and stamping of Maya's papers we were on our way down the windiest road in the world (fortunately no chains required)!
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  • Day747

    Dozy In Mendoza

    June 2 in Chile

    We are struggling a bit with the Argentinan lifestyle and how it ties into Overlanding - over the past 2 years we've generally been getting up with the sun and going to bed at 10ish. However here the time zone is skewed towards Buenos Aires so it still pitch black at 8am and really doesn't warm up until 10ish, then by the time we've eaten breakfast and got ourselves going all the shops and businesses are shutting for their 4 hour lunch break... and then the restaurants don't open until 9ish! Anyway the above means we didn't get to San Juan until the extended lunch break so there was nothing for it but to eat a big steak with roquefort sauce and huge tasty caprese milanesa!

    After an uninspiring night in a petrol station (not as bad as it sounds as they are set up for truckers with wifi, toilets, etc and it was reasonably quiet) we finally arrived in Mendoza. Here our luxurious accommodation was a 24-hour car park but it was smack in the centre so it meant we could go out out! Queue a few more parillas and steaks :) We also had boring admin stuff to do - laundry and dog papers to prepare for Chile.

    We decided we'd had enough of carparks and petrol stations so drove just south of the city into the vineyard area and found a lovely hospiaje run by a former overlander who let us park next to the vines but sit inside by the log burner - bliss! We met a fellow traveling Brit, Tony, and spent the next day touring vineyards and breweries on our bikes. Maya was very happy to get a chance to properly stretch her legs and we've been doing a lot of cities, eating and driving - not her favourite activities. Of course staying out much too late so we ended up tipsily riding home in the dark with no lights....

    Unsurprisingly the next day was a bit of a write off and we spent another night around Mendoza, but this time in a nice little campsite with WiFi, electricity and hot showers (what more could you ask for!) before heading back into town the following morning to pick up the stamped dog papers.
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  • Day741

    Valle de Luna

    May 27 in Argentina

    After Cafayate we headed to a small sleepy village to the northwest. There wasn't much going on but we visited a micro brewery and had a nice night in a huge but completely deserted municipal camp ground.
    Next up was a looong drive south to Mendoza, down the iconic Ruta 40 that runs the length of the country tracking the Andes. After a good day's drive we stayed in a lovely community camp ground at Pozo Azul (Green Wells), with a gorgeous red rock canyon.
    After another longish stint we ended up in Chilecito an old mining town which had an incredibly ambitious cable car system built in the early 1900s to link the mines in the Andes to the railway line. Very impressive but now a rusted old relic. The memorable thing about the campsite here was that we had to ask the owner 30mins before we wanted a shower so he could start a wood fire to heat up the water!
    We had a short hop to La Rioja, which was a larger town as we wanted to make sure we had somewhere to watch the Champions League final. Just as we called a cab into town the fancy hostel found the big match on the TV there, as Jo was feeling a little under the weather so we stayed local to watch it.
    Another 4 hour drive and we arrived at the Valle Del Luna regional park. The national park next door costs 4 times as much and offers less, so it wasn't a hard decision which to visit. Its a strange set up as you can only drive through the park, and only in convoy with a guide, but as we got here late in the day there was only 3 cars and we got to see it in the gorgeous late afternoon orange sun. The unusual geogology make up means there's a huge area rich in fossils from across all the epocs and the landscape is pretty epic. One of the most amazing stops was the marbles you can see in the photos - they are not made by erosion but by layers upon layers of sand deposits around an organic embryo, like a dead fly - truly bizarre. We finished the tour just in time for an amazing sunset, and spent the night at a great spot with free WiFi and brand new toilets - better than most camp sites!

    We then took a bit of a detour off the main road and down a small windy side road that wound through more gorgeous scenery, and spent a lazy day cooking stew on a camp fire at a dusty little free camp ground.
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  • Day735

    Wine Country

    May 21 in Argentina

    Cafayate has been raved about by many of the travellers we've met, and is the wine capital of the north. Its not a large town but is surrounded by vineyards, that cover the flat valley floor and hemmed in by steep sides. The soil is predominantly sand which sits on a solid rock base, and the area receives a measly 20mm of rain a year - who would have known this is perfect for growing wine grapes?

    The wine here is quite different to the normal 2-4-1 stuff we all buy at home. It's very full bodied and very strong (14.5%) - if you describe the stuff at home as rounded, then I'd said this has some pretty nobbily corners on it. It's due to the altitude (~1,500m) which causes large temperature differences between day and night (~20°C) so the grapes have thick skins and are extra sweet. You'd be thinking it's easily a 20+ quid (£ for the foreigners) bottle when you'd only pay 5/6 bucks (£3/4) for it.

    We had a great tasting at Porvenir Bodega - a morning visit due to the crazy opening hours I described in the last post, which set us up nicely for the day. Prices are incredible here at around 6 bucks a bottle for a decent tipple and we lugged the inevitable case back to the van. Lunch was a fantastic selection of fresh empanadas, amazing cheeses and delectable dried meats - all washed down with a couple of bottles of course!

    There was also a great microbrewery on the main square but we were a little disappointed we couldn't find the same standard of restaurant as we'd quickly become accustomed to.

    Sam and Don had to head off as they were heading back to Canada for a few months in the(ir) summer. Strange to think we'd met them on a beach in El Salvador exactly a year ago, and we'd really enjoyed travelling with them for the past month or so.

    We did another tasting at a vineyard just out of town, and we could choose the wines from a large selection. This meant we could compare their cheaper and premium ranges, and surprisingly we often preferred the cheaper ones. The tasting was accompanied by a huge bowl of delicious cheese and view across the sun drenched vineyards was gorgeous. Also the $5 tasting was free of you bought a $6 bottle of wine, which obviously didn't need much thinking about, although liked this stuff so much we manged to buy another case!
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  • Day729

    No Salt in Salta (Argentina)

    May 15 in Argentina

    After short hop to the boarder and minimal fuss we were in Argentina, country number 13. Almost immediately you feel like you are back in the modern world, with good roads and clear signage its a big change from the past 18 months - you could even be driving in America.

    We found an entry on the iOverlander app claiming to have the best empanadas (mini cornish pasties) in the country, so obviously we had to stop and we weren't disappointed. A few hours later we were in the city of Salta, staying at a municipal country on the edge of town. It's a bit of a revelation to have multiple camp sites to choose from, let alone municipal ones.

    We spent a few days enjoying the town and its wonderful restaurants. The highlight was definitely Viejo (Old) Jack's for Sam's birthday where the waiter cut our steak with a spoon!! Honourable mention goes to the real ale house where happy hour ran from 7 until 9pm so a decent american style IPA only cost 2 bucks, and they served incredible loaded chips. We even visited Barny Gómez, a legendary bar we got drunk at 13 years ago although frustratingly I couldn't replace my long since disintegrated t-shirt.

    At this point I should probably explain the Argentinan schedule, as its quite unlike anything we've come across. The day starts at 9am as usual, but runs until 12 when everything bar the restaurants shut down. The siesta time lasts until 4 or 5 when the day resumes and continues until 7, 8 or 9. Prime eating time is around 10pm and some bars don't even open until midnight. It's all very strange and we become slightly nocturnal (this is helped by the fact we're on a Buenos Aires timezone so it doesn't get light until 8am) but it's actually a bit of nightmare for overlanding life when you lose the afternoon and it's chilly in the morning so you stay in bed until the sun warms things up. Still Argentina has a lot of things going for it so I think we're going to enjoy our time here.

    Unfortunately I came down with a bad bout of man flu, which laid me low for a few days. When we came to leave Jo even drove for the first time since America, and it was one of the nicest drives we've ever done!
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  • Day726

    Butch & The Kid Country

    May 12 in Bolivia

    From Uyuni it was a gorgeous drive first over the antiplano, then finally (and happily) down through some gorgeous multi coloured mountains, and eventually through winding valleys of dusty red rock. This was made all the better by the fact this road was under construction, so for some of it we were diverted down dry river beds or through undulating twisty roads cut through increbile scenary than normally you would blow past at high speed.

    There wasn't much going on in the sleepy town to Tupiza, and we spent an uneventful night at the seemingly never open train station. The next day we relocated to the yard of a small hotel, and got the bikes out to go explore Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid territory. We'd watched the classic film a few days before, and have to admit we weren't on the edge of our seats during it, but it sure was beautiful dry landscapes they were always galloping around in.

    We cycled up to Canyon Del Inca, which was much harder work than the 6km would indicate as it went from soft to uber-soft under tyre. At the end the canyon quickly tightened to rock scrambling, and we had to stop when I realised Maya was trying to follow me! Still it was yet another glorious day (I don't think we've seen rain all of Bolivia, and beyond) and it was a nice afternoon out on the bikes.
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  • Day723

    The Great White...

    May 9 in Bolivia

    After never having driven in the dark for 2 years we seem to be making a bit of a habit of it, and we got to Uyuni late. It was a dusty and deary place as we remembered from last time! We had friends camping at the train graveyard so we headed there, but in the pitch black and rough ground so it took some finding. It was a bloody cold night, but when I let Maya out for a midnight pee the view of the stars and silhouettes of the trains was amazing.

    We stocked up and headed out onto the Salar (salt flats) with Don and Sam. We were expecting some water when we entered and weren't sure how deep it was, but after a little paddle we went for it and fortunately got out the other side. From there we were faced with a few hundred square miles of flat salt.
    We didn't really have a plan so we found a bit of a track and just followed it. After a hour or two of identical views we figured there wasn't a lot of point driving all the way across, so we pulled over for the night.

    Within a few minutes I'd put my foot through a soft spot, which was more than a little disconcerting, particularly after hearing about some fellow overlanders who managed to sink their rig and had to hike 20 miles for help! After a bit of investigation we found a bunch of these holes with a thin crust over them - they appeared to be small vertical holes through the thick salt (well over a metre) and everything else was pretty solid so and figured the vans would still be there in the morning!

    I had the forethought to take some firewood (very hard to come by on the altiplano) and we had a lovely evening cooking stew on the expanse, accompanied by a few bottles of lovely wine. It was a slightly surreal but highly enjoyable experience.

    We woke to a bright white landscape as far as the eye could see. There wasn't much point exploring as it was all the same so out came the golf clubs and an impromptu game of pitch and putt! We then spent a couple of hours experimenting with some fun photos as the lack of discernable features means your perspective is easily distorted. Obviously most of these activities were done with a beer in hand, and we had a wonderful day just messing about.

    The next morning was more of the same, and after a couple of hours we figured we should probably venture back to civilisation, and ended up back at the train graveyard.
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  • Day719

    Stuck in Sucre!

    May 5 in Bolivia

    It was a long drive from Sajama NP so we found a mirador to spend the night, and in the morning we headed into Potosí. This was once the richest city in the world, but there is a little sign of that now. The famous mountain that is riddled with mines still towers over the town, but after the nerve racking tour last time (with individual miners randomly setting off dynamite with no warning) we decided not to chance our luck again. In fact there wasn't a lot to keep us in the city so we headed along the road towards Sucre.

    We had just set up camp and had a brew on when we got a message warning us of protests in Sucre and that they were blocking all roads in the morning, so we broke the overlanding rule of not driving at night and after a few hours arrived at the only camp spot in town and fortunately we could just about squeeze in. The protests were due to el Presidente Evo Morales deciding to change the ownership of a huge gas field from this state to a neighbouring one - almost definitely due to his fight to remove the presidential term limit - and so we didn't blame the city for taking a stand.

    Its a lovely city full of delicious places to eat and a fantastic food market so we had no problems whiling away a few days, although it was frustrating we couldn't do a tour with Condortrekkers, the sister organisation to the one we volunteered at, or visit the famous dinosaur footprints. In fact we would have happily stayed a few more days but on Sunday we were told it was our best chance of getting out of the city otherwise we could be stuck for another week or more, and we only had about 10 days left on our visa.

    So a convoy of 5 different shaped rigs tried to work our way out of town. Fortunately there was a French couple who spoke really good Spanish at the front, and they got us through 5 major roadblocks via a variety of techniques (bumping over major curbs, buying chicken from a drunk truck owners wife, sweet talking, and bribing with a bottle of wine). In fact the blockaders and the supporting people were not at all aggressive to us and knew that a bunch of gringos caught up in this did little to help their cause, but finding the truck drivers to move their vehicles took some effort and it took us over 2 hours to get 10km out of the city. Our little convoy then group camped on a mirador and it ended up being quite a fun experience.

    The next day we were back in Potosí getting a vet certificate for Maya so we could get papers to 'export' her - bloody ridiculous when we just drove over the border without any questions when we came into the country.
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  • Day714

    Sajama National Park

    April 30 in Bolivia

    On the second attempt we got our jerrycans filled halfway between gringo rate and local rate, and drove across the high altiplano to almost the Chilean border, never dipping below 3,800m. All the time we could see 2 amazing snow covered volcano cones and the beast of Sajama Mountain rising up to 6,500m although it was topped in clouds.

    We parked up by a small river and set up, before noticing the ground didn't drain very well so wisely moved a hundred metres back up the road. We were in a wide plain and in every direction there were awesome peaks. The sunset between the 2 volcanoes was quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. When I let the dog out last thing at night the sky was crystal clear and we could see every peak and possibly the brightest milky way ever.

    The morning was chilly, and we set a new record low inside the van of just under 5c, but we were snug under our duvet, llama blanket (and sleeping bag for the first time). It was still super clear and the whole scene looked really different in the morning light. Fortunately it soon warmed up, thanks to the altitude, and we set off on our bikes to find the geysers. They themselves weren't so impressive, but they fed into a river and we made ourselves an amazing hot tub where we whiled away most of the day.
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  • Day710

    So 13 years ago I spent an anxious day with Phil's brother Ed in La Paz after sending Phil off to cycle down the worlds most dangerous road. As you all know he made it back unscathed (just....)

    Of course he wanted to do it again this time and in a crazy moment (I don't know what came over me) I decided I should give it a go and signed up as well.

    We had to get up and leave our camping place in the longterm parking at the airport at 6:30am to make it into town (keeping Maya in a bag on the buses!). I was very quiet on the drive up to 4700m where we got togged up with full helmet, gloves, elbow and knee pads - I was just hoping I wouldn't need them but also didn't think they would do a lot if I went over the 800m sheer drop...

    Off we whizzed the first part of the ride was on asphalt and I don't think I've ever gone so fast on a bike - it was completely exhilarating and, when we got the chance to stop and look at the scenary it was just spectacular. Having gained confidence on the first bit we then got to the dirt road which is officially the WMDR. It was slower going and very very bumpy but great fun splashing through streams and under waterfalls all with a huge sheer drop off to the left.

    Phil declared it more fun than last time as in the intervening 13 years they have built another asphalt road which all the traffic uses so there is little danger of coming round a corner to come face to face with a truck or bus anymore. It also meant on the flatter part of road towards the bottom we could let Maya out of the support vehicle so she could run along beside us.

    I was pretty pleased with myself for cycling the whole thing (which not all of our group managed) and we rewarded ourselves with a few cold ones and a bit of soaking up some sun by the pool at a very balmy altitude of 1200m.
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