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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CROSSING THE CONTINENT TO CATCH THE DAKAR



We are planning a mad dash across the South American continent to catch the Dakar in the Andes. This meant that after Christmas Dinner we pulled down our tree, put away the decorations and packed our bags. Boxing Day saw us leave at 6am to fly to Buenos Aires and catch a ferry to Colonia in Uruguay.

GR2 was waiting for us. Her batteries just needed a recharge before we could head off the next day. After stocking up with food, we headed to Fray Bentos to revisit the auto electrician to get a few jobs done. After sleeping overnight outside his workshop we finally got away by midday with our exhaust brake working again. No speedo, but we can manage without that.

Then it’s time to exit Uruguay, enter Argentina and start heading west to Santa Fe and on towards Cordoba. As we leave Santa Fe I tease John about not passing a very slow truck, despite the yellow lines (mostly these are ignored here.) only to be flagged down by a policeman. Oh no! A lot more “no hablar Espanola’s” and showing International Drivers License etc. He tells us to wait and proceeded to give all the cars stopped with us a ticket. When it is our turn he gives us a police brochure of the area and waves us on. Phew!

We decide to bypass Cordoba as we visited on a previous trip, and head to Alta Gracia. We plan to stop to look at the Jesuit Estancia, but sadly it is already siesta time and nothing opens again until after 3pm. So we content ourselves with the exterior and continue onto the Camino de las Cumbres (Highway of the High Peaks) a glorious drive over the mountains south of Cordoba. As we head high into the hills the sky darkens ominously and we head into a hail storm. Once past the storm we pull over for coffee, only to discover condors soaring in the currents above us. Finally back down the mountains to some very lovely villages with sandy rivers and locals sunbathing.

We join the queue for diesel, to get another top up. The last few stations have either had no diesel, expensive diesel or rationed diesel.

The further west we go the hotter it gets. We take a detour into Park National Sierra de las Quiadas. For us it is twice the price as locals, but worth every paseo. Full of glorious red canyons and cliffs, rather like those near Alice Springs. Too early in the day to camp and way too hot, so we continue. At our next coffee stop it is 41 in the shade.

At San Juan we fill up with diesel – no restrictions. It is New Years Eve and the locals are selling fireworks & roses to celebrate. We decide to have a peaceful one and head into a spectacular gorge, camping at 1736m. We are miles from anywhere, but still lots of cars pass us.

We have driven over 1700km before New Year and have made it to the Dakar route. There is time for a detour. We plan to drive over the Paso del Agua Negra over the Andes again towards Chile. This is an amazing drive. The scenery is magic, with mountains of every different hue. We walk up, very breathlessly, to see some ice needles, then drive past even more, stopping to take lots of photos. The pass reached a height of 4770m. We overnighted beside an aqua lake high in the Chilean mountains and returned the next day (causing much confusion at the Argentine border). Again another memorable drive, with lots of fresh snow and many many boulders on the road.

Our last stop before the Dakar was to a little camping area (yes we actually paid to camp $2.50) beside the Jackal River. Here we meet a lovely family group of Argentines who invited us to join them for an Assado (BBQ). A great day had by all.

Adios Amigos.




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