The Peninsula Valdes

We have been working our way down the east side of the South American continent,  pretty much following the main route to Ushuaia, veering off for a few days here and there. We camped along rivers, on beaches and twice even in a turn out with high enough walls to protect us from the incessant winds of Patagonia. It is still early spring here and there are few tourists at the famous spots like the Valdes Peninsula. This place is famous for the orcas that sometimes beach themselves for a short time to catch a succulent sea lion pup for dinner. Well, we drove there and never saw that, just a few snoring sea lions on the beach. We saw our first penguins, the are nesting right now. At night we camped on a bluff overlooking the bay, a great spot, quite a few right whales were just hanging out right in front of us. But then the wind got stronger and stronger and after we went to bed I could not sleep for hours because the wind was shaking the camper. It was really loud and we used ear plugs, but every time I dozed off I dreamt that we would blow off the edge of the cliff, or that I was dragging anchor with our boat. The next morning I made Günter promise to never camp that close to the edge of a cliff ever again.

As we kept driving south we have enjoyed watching penguins and sea lions near our campsites and the winds are not that strong anymore. The coastal roads are breathtaking and worth the extra time it takes to drive them since they are not paved. There are many places to wild camp for the night and each one has its special charm. Some days the pampa is endless and mostly flat, other days it is hilly, with lakes and ponds, flamingos and ducks. We have seen countless guanacos and many rheas. Today we are at a campground in Puerto San Julian, it is a treat to get the laundry done, take long hot showers and find wifi. So I am catching up on some emails and then we will be off again, still headed to Tierra del Fuego. This town is a little dreary, but it has an interesting history. Magellan found this bay in 1520 and waited out the winter here. (He is famous for being the first to circumnavigate the world – his boat anyway.) The thousands of Magellan penguins up and down the coast here were named after him.

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Lots of rheas share the pampa with the guanacos and sheep. Each female lays 20 to 40 or more eggs, amazing.  The male incubates them. The male will use a decoy system and place some eggs outside the nest and sacrifice these to predators, so that they won’t attempt to get inside the nest. The male may use another subordinate male to incubate his eggs, while he looks for another female to start a second nest. The chicks hatch within 36 hours of each other. The females, meanwhile, may move on and mate with other males.

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The Magellan penguins and sea elephants on the Peninsula Valdes are used to visitors and go about their business without being disturbed by us.

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Here our camping spot, there was not a grain of sand anywhere, the cliff was swept clean by strong winds that blow almost all the time.

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Colonia, Uruguay and on to the Argentine Pampas

After we dropped off our camper at Sandra’s near Colonia in Uruguay in March 2016 we flew home for a break. The plan was to return after a few months to drive south to Ushuaia. The standard route for most overlanders. Due to some medical issues we had to stay home much longer and our camper would have overstayed his welcome in Uruguay. So with Sandra’s help we applied for an extension from Aduana in Uruguay which allowed us to keep it stored until the fall of 2017. When we returned to Uruguay a few weeks ago we found out that some overlanders were in trouble for leaving their vehicles in the country and flying home. So after we picked up our camper and said goodbye to Sandra (who – together with husband Enrique –  took great care of the camper and helped us with all issues) we headed for Argentina. When we approached the border we were a little apprehensive, but we breezed right through, got our piece of paper and then we were back in Argentina. The truck had been sitting for  1 1/2 years and we were not surprised when it had some issues, it barely made it up the hill at one point.  We stopped at a gas station and after removing a rat’s nest from inside the air filter and adding some booster to the “old” diesel it ran like a charm again.

So we are off, headed south and getting used to camper life and close quarters. The wet pampas flew by the car window, lush greenery, beautiful birds and cattle as far as you could see. In Sierra de la Ventana we took a break, got our bikes out, dropped the laundry off and stayed for 4 days. Exploring the area on a bicycle or horse is the way to go, we ended up riding for 50 + km one day, through fields and past Estancias, their houses shaded by large trees. Beautiful horses everywhere and of course the beef cattle.

We never saw a car and at one point did not know exactly where we were, having left all electronic devices back at the camper. So we talked to some friendly gauchos who showed us the way.

It is a nice place to hang out in the off-season, a favorite vacation spot for Argentinians,  probably a zoo in summer. We were camped beside the indoor pool and close to the creek in town, on the other side of the creek in the high bank, the burrowing parrots were nesting in caves. I loved sitting in front of the camper watching the parrots working on their nests and carrying on, noisy neighbors they are.

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Buenos Aires seen from Colonia. Unadulterated photo.

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visitor in the camp ground

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El faro in Colonia

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Green parrots in the palms in Colonia.

Argentina, the Pampas

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Roseat Spoonbill

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Wood Storks

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Gauchos

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Asking directions after we were not sure anymore about the way home. One of our favorite photos.

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50 km, more than we had planned.

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all alone somewhere in the wet pampas

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“My home is my burrow”

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Taking a break

We are skipping winter in Patagonia and will continue our travels in October 2017. So long.

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Las Leñas and Valle Hermoso

February 2016

Driving through the irrigated vineyards of Mendoza we marveled at the fancy wineries, it felt like we were in California’s Napa Valley.

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Malbec

You can tour the different plush wineries, taste the Malbec and buy a case. After an overnight stop in Manzana Historica and more wineries in the Valle de Uco we had seen enough famous grapes, tasted some good wines, so we headed up to the ski resort Las Leñas. Both of us are skiers and grew up on skis, so names like Las Leñas and Portillo ring a bell. As kids we watched world cup ski races held here on TV.

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Las Leñas in summer is like many ski resorts without snow, not very exciting.

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Las Lenas

We drove on and worked out way up a pass and back down the other side. Valle Hermoso, a pretty valley ringed by mountains and with a small lake was on the other side. At the end of the road there is a steep trail and one can continue over to Chile with mules and horses only. We spent a few nights by a creek, hiked in the valley and enjoyed the solitude in the mountains. Some farmers and some fly fishermen came by, all waved and kept going.

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Valle Hermoso

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Our camping spot by the creek in the Valle Hermoso

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Almost the end of the road

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Rhodophiala (in the Amaryllis family) grow high in the Andes

Life along the creek, we went for long walks every day, watching wildlife and finding flowers.

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Andean goose

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Plant life in the creek

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Andean ibises (black faced)

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He came by every day, rounding up sheep, goats and horses.

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Northern Argentina , south along the Andes

End of January 2016

The eastern slope of the Argentinian Andes is drier than we had expected. However, sophisticated watering systems, some dating back to the indigenous people, allow for irrigating and agriculture.

Slowly we worked our way south. We wanted to visit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 6,961 metres (22,838 ft), and the highest point in the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

In Cafayate we stocked up one more time, coffee had been hard to come by and we love our two cups every morning. Time and again we bought beans or ground coffee that did not make us happy. It tasted weird, we couldn’t figure out why, maybe they were just cheap beans (robusta) usually roasted with sugar. The cup of coffee in the coffee shops tasted great though. Still, mate is what many people drink and coffee is not that important.

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Finally, some decent coffee beans.

 

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Molinos, south of Cachi.

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The countryside on the way to Cafayate is amazing.

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Red pepper tree near Molinos

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Torrontés is a white Argentine wine grape variety, producing fresh, aromatic wines.

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After a long drive from Cafayate we headed up into the mountains and settled down at Los Nascimentos Hot Springs.

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The road ends at the hot springs. We were alone there for three days.

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Bye bye Nascimentos, it was great.

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Not a bad view from this camp site at La Cienaga.

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Here comes the sun na na na

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Heave rain fall in the mountains made for some crazy “baden” crossings.

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Uspallata Pass, 4000 m (13 000 ft)

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“Christ the Redeemer” The 7m-high bronze statue was commissioned from sculptor Mateo Alonso of Buenos Aires and erected here in 1904. There are two plaques at its base. One reads “He is our peace who hath made us one.” The other, placed there in 1937, declares: “Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than Argentines and Chileans break the peace sworn at the feet of Christ the Redeemer.”

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Wildflowers at the base of the mountains near Aconcagua

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Aconcagua

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Aconcagua again

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Uspallata Pass, border to Chile.

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Hot sulphur springs at the Inca Bridge. There was a hotel-spa here years ago, now all you see are the remnants.

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Leoncito National Park has several observatories.

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The only living thing we saw in the pampa were horses.

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Tocota pampa, not a good place to cross after rain storms in the mountains.

 

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CHRISTO DE TOCOTA: This Jesus statue stood there all by itself in the middle of nowhere, we camped at the base and felt protected.

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Books we liked: Nicaragua

“The Jaguar Smile”  by Salman Rushdie

“The country under my skin”  by Gioconda Belli

“Blood of brothers”  by Stephen Kinzer

Posted in Nicaragua | 2 Comments

Books we liked: Ecuador

“Measuring the World” by Daniel Kehlmann (German: “Die Vermessung der Welt”)

“The Queen of Water” Laura Resau

“The Mapmakers Wife” by Robert Whitaker (German: “Die Frau des Kartographen”)

Galapagos:

“My Fathers Island” by Johanna Angermeyer

“Floreana” Margret Wittmer (German: “Postlagernd Floreana”)

Posted in 1 Books (we liked) about the different countries., Ecuador | Leave a comment