This area of Argentina has more mountains and gorges than we had ever imagined. It is difficult to choose a route as every route is "gorgeous". So we are just winding our way north through some amazing technicolour scenery. This place is a geologist's paradise.
Our first drive after Mendoza is appropriately named "Route of Snails" winding up the precordilla's. Then we head to the Argentine/Chile border to see the spectacular Andean pass, where there is a tunnel between the 2 countries. We do not cross into Chile (too much food in our fridge), but we drive the old route - Las Cuevas - to the top of the mountains - requiring many switchbacks to climb to a height of nearly 4000m where there is a huge statue "Cristo Redentor" erected by both countries after a border dispute.
We retrace our steps and then continue driving north through a beautiful lush valley full of villages with lots of mudbrick houses, poplars, weeping willows and crops. Then another gorges before we reach San Juan.
Leaving town we see a new bike path with picnic/BBQ stops for the bikes leading all the way to the shrine for Difunta Correa. The story goes that this lady followed her husband during a war and died from dehydration, but when she was found her baby was still alive and breast feeding. This "miracle" has prompted people to visit her shrine and leave mementos in the hope that they will receive a miracle. There is a whole town full of items, including vehicle number plates and models of houses. It is an amazing sight. There are heaps of other roadside shrines also to Difunta Correa (along with thousands of "dead sheds" - memorials to those who have died on the roads.)
Our next drive is through Pk Nat Valle Feritl to Pk Nat Ischiguialasto/Valle de la Luna. To tour the park we go in a vehicle convoy for 3 hours. It is an amazing moonscape and a "gorgeous" red canyon. The final stop is the dinasour museum.
Our next drive takes us through Cueva de Miranda - another range of red hills covered with lush green growth and cacti - again spectacular, although the road is pretty basic. Finally we reach the town of Chilecote, stopping here to see the Museo Cabil Carril - the cable car went 36km into the mountains to collect gold and silver from the mines.
Then it is back to route 40 north. At the little town of Belen we stop for groceries. John heads off to get more cash from the ATM. Disaster!!! The ATM swallows his card and refuses to spit it back out. He hovers over everyone who gets money out of the same ATM.....must have looked very shady!!!, until someone finally helps - he knocks on a door (it is Saturday and the bank is closed) and a lady comes, unlocks the machine and retrieves the card. Phew!!! I really thought we might have to wait until Monday, or cancel our card.
We continue on through lots more vineyards and small towns. Then the very touristy town of Cafayate with some amazing old colonial bogadas (vineyards). sadly they are all closed as it is Sunday. Then we drive through Quebrada (canyon) de Cafayate - more "gorgeous" red rock scenery. This place must be pretty special as there are lots of tourist buses, little artisans stalls, buskers with pan pipes and food being cooked.
Our next gorge is Cuesta del Obispo. Masses of emerald mountains with even more amazing roads. Part way up we stop at local markets and buy cake (of course) and watch kids being taken for rides. The horses are fully kitted out with fancy saddles. This drive tops out at 3457m. At the top there are guancos grazing (oh cattle & horses as well)
Then on through Nat Pk Los Cardones with more amazing technicolour canyons and 1000's of cacti. Just "gorgeous". We follow the route of the Artisans past cottages selling their wares - mainly weaving & pottery. Lots of these mudbrick houses have colonaded fronts - talk about fancy facades!! Lots more villages in this pretty valley - Molinos, Cachi, Payogasta. Then on to yet another mountain range and pass - the Abra del Acay topping at 4900m. Another magic drive on a really bad road - twisting, narrow, lots of fords.....I was very glad we met no oncoming traffic so the narrowest parts. We make sure we ascend to 3828 for the night as we both have mild headaches.
More to come........many more scenic mountains!
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