Articles Tagged with: overland

The Drive North – RN3, Argentina

The drive north from Ushuaia, Argentina on RN3 was really just an exercise in keeping ourselves entertained.  3,094 kilometers to Buenos Aires in five days isn’t really that bad, but the straight roads, relentless headwinds, and never changing scenery meant we had to keep busy between gas stations and empty campgrounds.  We spent months driving south along the Andes, so it took some time to get used to flat plains and the epic sunsets through the driver-side window of the truck.

Our road trip Groundhog Day looked a lot like this: wake up at the empty campground (it was off season) or behind the YPF gas station (beside the truck drivers), fill up on fuel and coffee, and settle in for a long drive.  We had some audio books, so we started listening to the longest one we had, Shantaram, and drove north for hours and hours.  When the sun went down we found another campground or gas station and prepared to do the exact same thing the following day.

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The drive north along RN3 to Buenos Aires, Argentina is flat and straight with minimal traffic so Richard was a bit surprised when out of nowhere a red Land Cruiser with Montana plates that read “WEH8MUD” filled the sideview mirror.  Jeff and Monica?  We only knew these two through social media so it was crazy to see them in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

We pulled off the road and finally met with Overland The World… in the middle of nowhere Argentina on RN3. We stopped for a chat, then ate an impromptu lunch together, and before we knew it three whole hours had passed before it was time to part ways.  

Once again we shake our heads at how small this world is. We knew each other through other friends (and the power of the internets) but ended up meeting randomly at the bottom of South America.


Magellanic Penguins

Ah, something else to break up the long day.  Penguins!  We stopped at the Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve in Chubut to see the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America.

You can see thousands of penguins here and many of them will be an arms length away from you, but as the sign below says, don’t pet the penguins.

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Welsh Tea in Gaiman

The province of Chubut is home to the largest Welsh community outside of the UK.  During the 19th century many Welsh families emigrated to Patagonia after British officials attempted to restrict the use of their native language.  In the 1800s Argentina was very welcoming towards immigrants, especially those who agreed to live in the isolated land outside of Buenos Aires.  In 1865 a large group of 150 Welsh people sailed to South America, far from the influencing reach of the English.  The greatest concentration of remaining Welsh people and the hub of their culture can be found in Gaiman.

A large part of the Welsh culture are the tea houses.  Ty Gwyn is one of the oldest in the area so as we rolled into town, road weary and hungry, and knew this would be the most authentic place to stop and experience the “Welsh tea service.”

We were excited for tea and snacks, naively unaware of what was about to come.  A never ending pot of black tea, covered in a knitted cozy of course, was first to arrive.  Our tea with fresh milk was a perfect accompaniment to buttered fresh baked bread, biscuits and jam, and small cheese sandwiches.  This alone satisfied the road hunger and left us rubbing our protruding bellies.


And then a couple of extra plates of desserts arrived.  What is happening?  Cream-filled chocolate cake, lemon tarts, apple pie, raspberry cream pie, blueberry scones, and some sort of Christmas cake finished up service.  We did our best to make our way through this gauntlet of desserts, put the remainder in our ARB fridge, and continued to enjoy those leftover desserts for two more days.

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Burrowing parrots

It became harder and harder to tear us away from RN3 to go and see anything.  As we motored north the pull of Buenos Aires became stronger and stronger.   The burrowing parrots at Balneario El Condor were only a half hour detour, but we were so focused on making progress that we almost didn’t stop here.  We realized that we were being dumb, so a quick u-turn and detour brought us to El Condor and one of  largest colonies of burrowing parrots.

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San Antonio de Areco

This is where shit stuff starts to get real.  After 12 months of travelling through South America it was time to clean out the truck and load it on a boat destined for Florida.  We stopped in the small town of San Antonio de Areco in the pouring rain and had to make a quick accommodation revision when the local campsite was not only closed, but completely flooded as well.  We found an inexpensive and completely empty B&B and started the lengthy process of cleaning out the truck.

All that hard work required sustenance and we found plenty of it in the form of picadas.  All of the local bars, cafes and restaurants served their own version of meat/cheese/bread on a platter.  We sampled these delicious spreads from every restaurant in walking distance.  After 3 days of indulging we were longing for a salad.

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Finally shipping day arrived.  We had contacted K-Line about their RORO (roll on, roll off) service from Buenos Aires to Jacksonville, Florida approximately a month before and had the drop off and shipping date pre-arranged.  Pablo gave us a time and contact person at the dock so all we had to do was show up.

The process in person was ridiculously easy compared to shipping from Colon-Panama.  We unbolted the small and easy to steal parts (just in case!), locked up everything else, signed a couple pieces of paper, handed off our key, grabbed our bags, and gave Little Red a couple of thank you pats on the hood before heading for our Buenos Aires apartment.


So there we go, 48,800km over a total of about 18 months from Vancouver to Ushuaia, Argentina and a drive north along RN3 back up to Buenos Aires.


Ushuaia, The Southernmost City in the World

Upon leaving Puerto Natales we realized that literally within several days we would arrive at the end of the road: Ushuaia, Argentina. Despite this fact, we still had close to 1,000 kilometers to go. A quick boat ride from Punta Delgada across the narrowest section of the Strait of Magellen placed us onto the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, translated into English as “Land of Fire.” The name is derived from a Portuguese explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellen, who was the first European to visit the archipelago in 1520.  He and many other Europeans saw fires on the shores as they passed by ship.  The fires were built by the indigenous inhabitants of the region called the Yaghans, who built the fires in order to keep warm in the frigid environment.

It sounds magical, doesn’t it? The Land of Fire!  Mostly northern Tierra del Fuego was kind of a (Richard wouldn’t let me use the word I wanted to here) place lacking in visual attractiveness . A barren wasteland stood before us with the wind whipping our jackets, hair, and the hats off our heads as we stopped at several border crossings along the way as the archipelago is split between Chile and Argentina. We spotted dozens of oil wells bobbing their steel arms into the ground, while flares lit up the sky.  Petroleum and natural gas extraction fuel (see what I did there?) the economic activity in northern region of the archipelago.

Our first stop was at Parque Pinguino Rey (King Penguin Park) to check out the… wait for it… a King Penguin colony! This would be our first real-life Happy Feet experience. The pinguinos were kind of far away from the viewpoint, which was fine, as we didn’t want to interfere with their peaceful existence. They were chatty little creatures, waving their necks back and forth as if spineless, crowing and cawing loudly. One thing I didn’t realize was that penguins actually lie down on the ground to sleep. Many were lying on their stomachs having a snooze while the tourists hovered behind a wooden fence attempting to zoom in and snap some shots. The babies were really cute, and were easy to spot with their thick, brown coats.

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After getting our fill of penguin watching and our noses running from the cold wind, we jumped back into the truck and continued south. It was late in the season and most of the campsites were shut down, so we spent the night in the parking lot of a nice YPF gas station in Tolhuin. The next morning we stopped by the popular neighbourhood bakery for some hot tea and baked treats. It is common for gas stations and bakeries to have a hot water dispensary (for a price, of course!) available to fill up maté cups while on the road.  Richard made sure to keep a full thermos vacuum insulated bottle at the ready for Nescafe on the go.

As we headed towards Ushuaia the landscape really started to improve. It became lush and green with lakes and wispy clouds. Little did we know that there is actually a pass on the road towards Ushuaia called Paso Garibaldi.  At the summit, bits of snow covered the ground, and the lenga trees changed from rust, copper and burnt orange to green.  A bit of interesting history here: the pass was built in 1956, and three days after the route opened a USA-licensed Jeep became the first successful vehicle to travel from Alaska to Ushuaia.  Cool.

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Before we knew it, we turned a corner on May 10, 2016 and the huge Ushuaia sign popped into our view.  We had seen dozens of photographs of this place, usually with couples and their rigs in front of it, with big grins on their faces.  There wasn’t really any build up for us, but more of a surprise when I saw the sign before expecting it.  Mostly what happened was that I shrieked, “Oh my god! There’s the sign!” and we pulled over to get some photographs.

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We headed through town to the end of the road sign and gasped, “17,848 kilometres to Alaska?! Are you serious!?”  We departed from Vancouver nearly three years earlier and meandered so much that we clocked a grand total of 45,755 kilometres.


Free cookies from strangers for the win!


We hadn’t heard too much about the town of Ushuaia from other travellers other than, “Oh, it isn’t that great.  There’s nothing special about it, just a town at the end of the world.”  Partially due to our low expectations we really enjoyed the town.  The snow-dusted peaks in the background were a surprise, as was the great scenery and street art.

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We popped in for a quick nosh and warm-up at the Ramos Generales Restaurant, enjoying the interesting decor and hot beverages.

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We visited the one-man run post office in Tierra Del Fuego National Park in order to send out some postcards from the ‘end of the world’ and to get our passports stamped.  Well, only my passport was stamped as Richard needed his last remaining page to get back through Chile and into Argentina when we made our final push north.  The old radiators inside the building warmed up our chilly bones due to the cold winds from the Beagle Channel, so we took our time inside picking out cards and smiling at the man running the place.  He had a great mustache.

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By the way, unbeknownst to us, you can obtain a Fin del Mundo stamp for free at the Visitor’s Centre in Ushuaia, but then you won’t get this cool sticker to go with it.


We spent a couple of nights camping in Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, close to a beautiful river.

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It was cold and damp, and we decided to book ourselves into a cheap hostel for a couple of nights to keep the blood flowing and maintain our motivation for life in general.  We skipped the popular celebratory lobster dinner and lugged our gear into the French-run La Posta Hostel and it was worth every penny.  Free breakfast, nice warm dormitory, hot shower with heated floors.  Definitely a nice treat during our last couple of days in Ushuaia.

With our joie de vivre returning, we headed to Laguna Esmerelda for a short but enjoyable and scenic hike.

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Only one direction to go.  With a shipping date set, we had six days to drive 3,094 kilometres to Buenos Aires.  Vamos!


Wining Our Way Through Northern Argentina

After arriving in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile it was time for a legitimate American/Canadian Thanksgiving dinner with Jenine, George, Mallary and Chris, complete with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, veggies, and wine.  We all raised a glass and enjoyed each others’ company, as this would be the last time the six of us would all be together in one place in South America.


The town of San Pedro de Atacama was dry, dusty and packed with tourists.  We spent a couple of days enjoying showers and a real grocery store (Jumbo! I found kale!) before heading once more to the frontera.  Our next destination: Northern Argentina.

Our two day journey to the Argentinian border launched us back into Lagunas Circuit-esque scenery.

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We knew that Chile was very strict about food control at the border, but Argentina took us by surprise.  We spent a good hour or more parked at the aduana building cooking up a big lunch, hoping to use up our fresh fruits and vegetables that would be otherwise confiscated.


Fresh lemons were verboten, but apparently slicing them up and putting them in our water was okay.  My tooth enamel is still feelin’ it!


Salta was our first Argentinian city. It was a shock to drive on well-organized roads with traffic lights, see brand-new car dealerships and big box stores. The temperature increased and so did the humidity. We rolled into our first municipal campground, complete with barbecue pits, hot showers, and local gypsies practicing their slack-lining and making jewellery in the dusty tenting area. The price of the campsite introduced us to Argentinian municipal camping: $4 USD per person per night.


We spent one full day in Salta, discovering its redeeming qualities: the Hipermercado where we picked up groceries, hot empanadas and Salta beer, rich and delicious ice cream (so cheap and delicious that Richard had to get THREE scoops… and subsequently forgot to take a photo), the lush green landscaped main square, and most importantly, the blue dollar market.

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The blue dollar market was created in response to currency controls imposed by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government in 2011, which made it difficult for Argentines to purchase US dollars. At that time dollars were preferred for savings as the peso was highly influenced by inflation. Instead of exchanging money through official channels, Argentines sold their pesos at the “blue-dollar” rate through arbolitos (money exchangers) and/or at cuevas (informal exchanging houses – usually a shop of some sort). While trading in the blue market is technically illegal, it is very much in the open.

In Salta’s city centre Richard, Chris, Mallary and I sauntered casually to an arbolito standing outside a local bank, a well known area populated with blue market dealers.  Blue-market dollar exchangers were easy to distinguish, sporting a fanny-pack type apparatus filled with bills and a calculator in hand.  They preferred crisp brand new US hundred dollar bills and would give you a better rate if you had them.  We negotiated a rate with the man, swapped currencies, counted the money, rejoiced in the excellent rate ($14.30 pesos per USD, as opposed to the going rate of $9 pesos per USD), checked that the bills weren’t fakes, and were on our way.

Several weeks later, with the intention to stabilize the troubled economy, the newly elected government headed by Mauricio Macri removed restrictions on buying and selling dollars.  As a result, the peso was devalued and the blue market for dollars shrunk.  The current market-set rate of the peso (as of April 2016) is $14 pesos per 1 USD.  If you are interested in reading more about the blue dollar market and Argentina’s currency check out this article by the Argentina Independent and this one by The Economist.  During his short time in power thus far Macri is making huge changes regarding Argentina’s economy and it will be interesting to see how this will impact the peso and the lives of its citizens.

As we wandered the central streets of Salta we realized how much things had changed. There were dozens of tables and chairs grouped together near the plaza, European-style. We saw maté cups with metal straws for sale while glancing through store windows. Signs for tango lessons were draped over glass doors. Somehow, through a time warp perhaps, very high platform shoes became fashionable and trendy, filling the shoe stores. The afternoon siesta period and late dinnertime was something we would have to get used to.   Same with the long summer days. Going to sleep ridiculously early had become normal for us, usually to escape the cold or the wind, but also because the sun went down so early. Due to a time change between Bolivia and Chile/Argentina we had gained some hours, and the sun was setting well after 9 pm. We poked our bedheads out of the tent door a bit later and later every morning.

We adopted the Argentinians’ love of asado (barbecue) by using the grill (parrilla) at our campsite to prepare a feast of salad, asparagus, meat, and bread.  In just about any small shop or supermarket you can buy big bags of charcoal (carbón) to fuel your asado experience.

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Our next wanderings south took us through the red-rocked Calchaquíes Valley to the small town of Cafayate, well known for its wine production.

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Richard, Chris, Mallary and I donned our (wrinkled) Sunday best and set off on foot to visit several of Cafayate’s wineries.  A big part of what made this town special was the fact that the wineries were very easily accessible; we could visit several in one day without driving or taking public transportation.  Safety first!

Bodega Nanni was our first (and best!) tasting.  Their wines are organically certified, the tasting room was large and visually pleasing, and the property outside contained a gorgeous and rustic open-windowed restaurant.  Cafayate is famous for its Torrontés grapes, which produce deliciously fruity (think white flowers, roses, and tropical fruits) but surprisingly acidic white wines.  Usually I prefer red, but the Torrontés at Bodega Nanni was tasty.  We took a bottle (or two?) for the road for $4 USD.  The pours were generous and the tasting only set us back a couple of dollars per person.

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Siesta hour was approaching and the wineries were closing so we ordered some empanadas from La Casa de las Empanadas, purchased some ‘discreet’ white solo cups, and took our bottle of Torrontés to the central plaza for a picnic.

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With alcohol pulsing through our veins and tummies full of empanadas we walked in the burning sun to the sprawling Bodega El Esteco for a tasting and tour.

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Founded in 1892 by French immigrants, this bodega (winery) takes advantage of the unique features of the Calchaqui Valley: high elevation (at 5,500 feet it may contain the highest vineyards in the world), broad temperature range (hot days and cool nights), and sandy soil.  It is said that these conditions contribute to the grapes’ bold flavours, colours, and aromas.

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Both Chile and Argentina have the sweetest street dogs.  Their personalities are incredibly mellow and they love attention.  That, and to chase cars.  Our biggest pack was probably in Cafayate, half a dozen dogs at one time were usually sleeping under the trucks.  Campground life seems pretty legitimate if you are a dog: plenty of people and dog pals around, complete freedom to come and go as you please, and an endless supply of garbage to snack on.  Knowing the Argentinian affection for barbecue, you can bet the dogs are probably getting the occasional carne treat.  Richard and I went for a jog one morning and we had about 7 dogs running with us, of course taking a break here and there to snap at some passing vehicle’s tires.

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We continued south along the infamous Ruta 40.  Is this what Arizona looks like?

The National Route 40 runs from the Bolivian border with Northern Argentina all the way south to Rio Gallegos (think close to Tierra del Fuego), paralleling the Andes.  More than 5,000 kilometres in length, we would constantly hop on and off of the Ruta 40 during our time in Argentina.

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Mendoza was our last sizeable city stop in Northern Argentina.  Located in the foothills at the base of the Andes, the Greater Mendoza region is the largest wine producing area in Latin America.  We explored the city by foot taking in the tree-lined streets, breathing in the exhaust-filled air, and exchanging some more money on the blue market, this time with a guy who definitely looked like a gangster.

The French vehicles in Mendoza caught our eye, especially the older French Peugeots, Citroens, and Renaults.  The economic crisis in the 1980s halted much of their production, but many of the older cars remain on the road throughout the country.

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Our goal in life while in the Mendoza region was to visit a winery for a fancy lunch.  Pan y Oliva seemed like the perfect location, nestled in the middle of the Family Zuccadi vineyard with a luscious organic garden steps away from the restaurant.

While Calafate is know for its Torrontes grapes, the Mendoza region is known for its Malbec.  The grape was first introduced to the region in the mid 19th century by the French, who brought vine cuttings all the way from their homeland  to be planted in Argentinian soil.  Today the main fruit flavours in a glass of Argentinian Malbec are blackberry, plum, and black cherry.  Our favourite was the organic Santa Julia Malbec.

The fancy lunch at Pan y Oliva, including a starter plate of delicious bread, olives, and a garlicky zucchini eggplant dip, main course, dessert, bottle of wine, PLUS another bottle of wine and container of local olive oil para llevar (to-go) put us back $30 USD.  The real question is: Why didn’t we set up our roof top tent in the parking lot and stay for, well, forever?

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A less than 2-minute drive from the restaurant took us to the entrance of the Familia Zuccardi vineyard, which offers tours and tasting.  The tour was excellent, mainly due to our guide who spoke fluent English and provided a wealth of knowledge about the beginnings of the winery and the generations of Zuccardis who have continued the family business of wine production over the years.  We also received a generous tasting, finishing with a strong, sweet fortified wine.  Initially used as a means of preservation, fortified wines are created by adding brandy or liquor during the fermentation process.  Today this technique is used in order to add distinct flavours to the finished product.

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Cool antique olive press.

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Next stop: Parque Nacional El Leoncito.  We pointed our trucks in the direction of the Andes and headed out to find nature once more.

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We took a tour through the Casleo Observatory and learned about the massive telescope inside, which spans three floors!

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That night we gazed through an outdoor telescope and saw planets, nebulas, and big, gorgeous stars that looked like diamonds.


Seven Years in Tibet was filmed in this area of the Mendoza province.  Apparently yaks were imported from Montana to the filming location, complete with individual passports and photos for each.  The production team even recreated the Tibetan city of Lhasa in the Andean foothills.

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We spent our last night in the cute town of Uspallata, before heading towards the Argentina/Chile border the next morning.

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The Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge) is a natural arch formed by a collection of petrified sediment deposits. Charles Darwin visited the site in 1835.  A natural spa hotel was constructed in the 1920’s due to the healing properties of the mineral-rich hot springs water.  The hotel was destroyed by a landslide in 1965, but the ruins of the brick chapel still exist today.


Continuing our scenic drive to the border, we took a quick walk to view Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia, AND the highest point in the Western and Southern hemispheres.  It maxes out at a whopping 22,838 feet.  I think we needed to get closer to really understand its grandeur… it didn’t look THAT high, but still beautiful nonetheless.

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Off we go… Chile awaits.  If it wasn’t so windy, we would have taken the chopper.

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