In the Lonely Planet, I read that there was a petrified forest very close to the canyon walk we did the day before. Since I went to a petrified forest in Argentina with Ole and was pretty amazed by the experience I wanted to show Cees what it was all about and didn’t mind seeing another one myself. It was supposed to be near a shutdown mine which was quite a walk and even though we did find the mine, we never discovered the forest. For the way back, we decided to go off the path and chart our own route which turned out to be pretty challenging but, in the end, we made it back to the car exhausted and thirsty since the temperature had gone up quite a bit.
Back in the car, we set course for San Juan, the capital of the province with the same name. The road from Barreal to San Juan north via the 149 was a beautiful ride but caution was needed as there were lots of rocks on the road. As a reminder, we drove past a car that had probably flipped upside down in a ditch just moments before. Lots of people were helping out already and everybody seemed to be fine physically. When we reached San Juan, the town was nice and quiet, it being Easter, and it took us little time to reach the city center. We checked out some hotels and Cees opted for the more expensive one with a pool, which, granted, was nice since it had reached the high 30’s and a refreshing dive sounded like one of the better plans. After a swim we relaxed a bit since it had been an exhausting day and not that hungry we went for a drink at a nice café called Flores.
Wednesday, San Juan woke up again after the holiday weekend and proved to be a lively little town. We decided to leave the car be for a day and enjoy the pool for one more day before we were going to Mendoza the next day.
With anticipation, we went to Mendoza to see how our loyal orange companion was doing. It turned out things were not so good. The camshaft was worn beyond repair and thus needed replacing. The biggest problem was that it would take at least a week before it could be in Mendoza and the other thing was that it would be pretty expensive. Bummed out, to say the least, we thought about our options. Pushing the van off of a ledge was on the top of the list for a while but in the end, I decided to bite the bullet since money wasn’t worth giving up the dream of continuing the adventure. Since by now, I felt very bad for Cees and his holiday panning out a lot different than anticipated I asked Adrian if driving on with this camshaft for another 4000 kilometers would be an option. He predicted this would be a possibility so we discussed ordering the needed parts which had the time to find their way to Mendoza while Cees and I would head north for a nice trip after which I would put Cees on a plane to Lima somewhere after which I would drive back to Mendoza to have it all fixed. Maybe not the most logical option when looking from the sidelines, but the best one we could think of since we believed we had found a more than decent garage which would be hard to find somewhere along the way.
While Adrian and his team put back together the van for our trip we went looking for an airport from which Cees could fly to Lima before his flight back to the Netherlands on the 20th of April. After considering all our options and available flights we opted for a flight from Antofagasta, Chile very early in the morning on the 19th. This would give us exactly two weeks to explore the north-west of Argentina and the north of Chile. A trip of about 2500 kilometers.
To be able to order the parts Adrian needed a sizeable down payment which was too much to take out of an ATM which was also not the way to go because of the exorbitant fees of Argentinian banks. So, I transferred money to myself using Azimo, which I had done a few times before in Argentina, to pick it up the same day. I received confirmation that the money order was ready for pick up but unfortunately instead of money there were only angry people at the agency since there seemed to be no money and to make matters worse this had been going on for a couple of days already with the agency stating it would be there tomorrow. Ah, the famous latin mañana, mañana. This did put us in a bit of a situation since we couldn’t leave Mendoza before paying for the parts. We hoped for the best and decided to wait until mañana.
The next day the money agency assured me there would be money after 1 pm so I would have to come back after that. When I did there was quite the line of eager people but after a bit of a wait, I did finally have the needed funds to be able to pay Adrian. He, of course, had his lunch break so waiting for him took another 3 hours. When he finally showed up we had a rather dodgy feeling transaction of funds in his parked car, all based on mutual trust since he didn’t feel the need to count it and I didn’t feel like asking for a receipt. With about 3 hours of daylight left Cees and I left Mendoza behind us and headed north. Just outside San Juan, we drove to a recreational area next to a river to make camp for the night. There was a chain in front of the entrance that appeared to be locked but on closer inspection was only fake locked and thus we decided to open it anyway. At about 2 in the morning, we were woken up by two guys with a flashlight ordering us to leave. When I was just leaving the rooftop tent one of the guys came up to the ladder once again and asked me what time we were thinking of leaving the next day. When I answered that we had planned to leave at about 7 he said that if we would be gone by 6:30 we could stay the night, an offer we of course happily accepted.
It was still dark the next morning when we set off and soon the road turned into a gravel road that, at times, became pretty rough because of river beds crossing the road. It started to brighten up the last few kilometers of this challenging route which made things a bit easier and soon we would hit the smooth tarmac of the Ruta 40 again. We stopped for lunch in Chilecito at a nice parillada named El Rancho, a name every town seems to use for at least one grill restaurant. We drove on a bit further north and parked between the road and the river just north of Belén for the night.
Saturday, we drove to Cafayate where we were amazed at the number of tourists and tourist facilities after driving through mostly nothing for the last 1000 kilometers. After sampling some wine ice cream, we went looking for a place to stay for the night. We fueled up just before leaving town and almost immediately afterward the van started to stall and drive like shit. We tried a few solutions and all seemed well although I still don’t really know what the problem had been. Soon after leaving Cafayate we drove through some amazing scenery and after some searching, we found a great spot to camp. The wind was quite fierce but we managed to cook our first dinner in our potjie before turning in.
The next morning the wind had gone and the views were at least as amazing as the day before so we took our time to enjoy them before packing up and driving on. Behind every corner there was a new landscape, each one equally amazing. Suddenly though things changed for the worst and it started to rain while the landscape transformed into a rather boring flat one. This lasted till we had reached the city of Salta, and fortunately, it had stopped raining. After checking into a hostel and parking the car on a secure lot we headed into town. It was mostly quiet since it was a Sunday but there was a nice market going on outside the center near the old train station where we also found a very good and busy restaurant to have lunch. After that, we had some beers and play some cards before we ended yet another week not knowing the next one would be one full of highs, quite literally…