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”)

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Books we liked: Colombia

“The sound of things falling”  (Juan Gabriel Vasquez) tags: Cocaine, Peace Corps, Love

La otra raya del tigre ,  Pedro Gómez Valderrama,  tags: Geo von Lengerke

(Spanish only)

and of course the books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Books we liked: Peru

“Death in the Andes”  by Mario Vargas Llosa

“Turn right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams

“The Last Days of the Incas” by Kim Macquarrie

 

Posted in 1 Books (we liked) about the different countries., Peru | 2 Comments

Books we liked: Bolivia

“Marching powder” by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden

True story about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison.

“Valley of the Spirits: A Journey Into the Lost Realm of the Aymara”

by Author: Alan L. Kolata

“Mask of the Andes” by John Cleary

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

Northern Argentina

In San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)  we said good-bye to our friends and took off for Argentinian border. A new country again, how different they have all been, and how interesting. The border was the usual “gong show” and again, we had to pay $ 160 each to be able to enter the country. Fruits and veggies, dry beans, fresh eggs and such all are “verboten”. We knew that this time, boiled the eggs and had a big cook off before hitting the border. The drive was beautiful, more canyons and desert. We were dying for some green and drove to Salta. Argentinians love car camping and there are many camp grounds to choose from. Some nice and clean, some not so, some with wifi (usually bad) some with pools (usually empty). We wanted to visit the town of Salta and the Dodge dealer. The truck has been running really well, but an oil change was due. So we headed for the Salta municipal campground and got a good dose of Argentinian campground life.

It was summer vacation time (mid Dec to mid Feb) and the camp ground was full, the pool was huge but empty. A big part of their camping experience is grilling and consuming lots of meat, listening to music from the car stereos, drinking mate and socializing. One has to get used to their timing, the afternoons can be quiet when everybody is napping. They come back to life in the evening, start their fires around 10 pm, cook and eat around midnight and sometimes you can hear them and the music until the wee hours in the morning. We found out the hard way and were laughing when we woke up in the middle of the night and were both groping around the camper trying to find our ear plugs.

In Cachi, a little town in the hills we decided to stay for a while. The climate was mild, the air clean and the sleepy town nice. To get there we drove to through more desert, there had been one of those E Nino downpours a few days before and the desert was blooming, covered in yellow Hieronymiellas that grew between large cardon cactuses. We kept going south, headed for wine country (Mendoza area) and to the high mountains again.

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Lise and Sissi, Cathedral of Salta

 

 

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Salta: Basilica San Francisco

 

 

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Cachi

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Andean Flicker

 

 

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Günter testing the waters

 

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Hieronymiella Aurea

 

 

 

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The Lagunas of Southwestern Bolivia

The ” Lagunas Road” as some people call it, is (actually called “Reserva Eduardi Avaroa”) is on many peoples list, a series of salt lakes in the high desert of western Bolivia, connected by several roads or tracks, the altitude always 4000 m or higher. It is a harsh country, windy and it can get cold at night. There are no towns until you cross the border to Chile, this remoteness makes it a perfect home for flamingos and vicuña. The lakes are very picturesque, due to minerals and algae the reflect in different hues of color and are named accordingly. We drove the western route and spent the first night at Laguna Ganapa. The six of us parked the three vehicles near the edge of the lake and just could not get enough of the flamingos. Early in the morning their quiet chatter woke us up, we went outside with our cup of coffee and sat quietly, so not to interrupt them as they busily searched for food. But what’s that? Wroom wroom, here come the “Adventure Tours”, Landcruisers packed with tourists looking for an adventure. One after the other, originating either in Uyuni or San Pedro the Atacama they start out at 4 am (a lot of km to cover) unload their international clients for a quick photo shoot and then race on to the next site. So suddenly we had a gaggle of Chinese girls posing with the flamingos and “high fiveing” all around us. Luckily it did not seem to faze the birds much, but we broke camp and drove on. Later we talked to a guide as we lounged in a hot spring on the route. He told us that there are around 150 to 200 tour vehicles that drive the circuit Salar/Lagunas and they are very busy all year around. They drive much faster than us, it took us several days for the 450 km route. The road is rough and dusty, places for our campers to spend the night – out of the wind – were hard to come by. So we either huddled behind a rock outcropping or in a canyon.

It really is an amazing area, high desert, salt lakes and high mountains, geysers and hot springs. But what we loved most were the many flamingos – three different kinds – in the lagunas.

One day, in the middle of nowhere, and in an area with very rocky roads, we came upon a group of motor cyclists from Italy, they had three flat tires and two broken air compressors, a sick guy in the support vehicle and one less motorcycle than they started with because Bolivian customs had confiscated one at the border. We helped them out as well as we could and sent them on their way.

When we left Bolivia we crossed into Chile to go to San Pedro de Atacama for supplies, do laundry and take lots of showers to get all the dust off. Driving into San Pedro on a paved road was a real treat. San Pedro was bustling with tourists, young and old, lots of tour operators, nice restaurants, street dogs and ice cream parlors. Heaven for Günter, I now call him “Senor gelato”!

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“The Team”.

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First night at Laguna Canapa.

 

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On to the next laguna.

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A chinchilla

 

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Finding a place to spend the night, out of the wind.

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All snug.

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Laguna Colorda

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Laguna Verde

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Another great camp site out of the wind.

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Hot springs

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Grey breasted seed snipe.

 

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Salt devils

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Happy campers.

 

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What looks like moss covering rocks, is actually a bush with densely packed branches. It is called yareta, high-altitude plants which can live up to 3,000 years.

 

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The Italians with three flat tires.

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Strange potatoes, but so good.

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They scored, we gave them the last coloring book and crayons.

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San Pedro de Atacama helado stop.

Posted in Bolivia | 10 Comments

Salar de Uyuni

New Years 2016

The new year was just around the corner, we – the trio of two Toyota Land Cruisers and one XP Camper – planned to celebrate the coming of the new year on the biggest salt flat in the world : The Salar de Uyuni. In Oruro we needed to fill our fuel tanks, not always easy in Bolivia because not every gas station is allowed to sell to foreigners. Some do, but the price is usually more than double. We went to four gas stations and got sent away, Günter was getting frustrated, the fifth one finally agreed to a cash deal and gave us all the diesel we needed. During that time we lost our friends in city traffic and took off on our own – thinking they would catch up.

We entered the salar from the north, near volcano Tunupa. The drive there was interesting, Aymara villages and quinoa fields, sadly, due to El Nino, they had not received enough rain and the fields looked parched.

Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat, spanning 4086 square miles (10,582 sq. km) in south-western Bolivia. Unlike traditional deserts, which have sand in abundance, the Salar de Uyuni features vast expanses of glistening white salt. The landscape is entirely flat, bar a few small ‘islands’ which only accentuates its surreal beauty. Underneath the cemented 2 to 7 m of salt are large reservoirs of lithium-rich brine. In fact, approximately 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in Salar de Uyuni and thus it’s not surprising that there’s an entire industry devoted to its extraction.

The salt crust is hard so we flew through this white expanse and headed for Pescador island (not Pescado Island where all the tour groups go), a fitting name for fishermen from Alaska. It feels weird to navigate on a lake and looking for an “anchorage” while driving your truck. After some searching we “anchored” off a point, trying to stay out of the wind. Our friends never showed up, the next day Günter climbed the highest peak on the island and looked all around. Just white and more white and no vehicles anywhere. The next island had a better cove and a cave to hike up to, still no sign of our friends with the two Land Cruisers. After spending the second night at Huanacuni island we decided to move on, leave the salt flats and camp at the train grave yard near Uyuni, they would surely come there. Yes, they had been one day behind us all the time and we finally met up again at the train tracks.

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Vulcano Turunga, you can hike up to the left peak.

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The pedal to the metal 🙂

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Driving on salt

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Camping on salt

 

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Salar sunset

 

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View from the top of Pescador Island

 

 

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Blooming cactus on one of the islands, we saw a hummingbird buzz around  as well.

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Caiophora

 

 

 

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we kept trying to take a salar picture….

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….and trying…

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…..and finally got a good shot.

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harvest

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If you venture too close to some of the shoreline, you can get stuck!

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