Posts Tagged ‘Andes’

Day 9:

I left Punta Del Este with a carload of crap, which certainly slowed the BobMobile’s acceleration and handling but did not cause it any undue harm. Literally floor to ceiling in back, and taking up a lot of the passenger seat as well. 6 boxes of books and clothes, my old drafting desk (sans top, which had to stay behind; I could have tied it to the roof but didn’t want a wing there with all the wind), power tools, the infamous Expat Usufruct Chair (TM), my clothes, camping gear, a couple boxes of Uruguayan alfajores, 6 bottles of wine, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the wine is the last remaining supply of a 50-liter batch of mead I brewed back in 2008, and I must say after aging 5 years it is truly excellent.

I digress, again.

I headed to BeelzeBob’s for a barbecue and to crash, for an early start. The Usual Suspects were there, along with some new blood, and we had a great time.

Day 10:

In the morning, I packed VikingBob into the passenger seat and headed to Montevideo where we had lunch with SwingdanceBob, then I dropped off all my human cargo and headed out into the Great Beyond. I’d say I left Montevideo around 3pm, and made it to Fray Bentos around 8pm.

Fray Bentos is the site of the Botnia pulp mill, which has been a source of Gran Lucha between Argentina and Uruguay. Mainly because Botnia explored Argentina first and the Kirchnerites wanted too much money and would have raped them out of their business, so they went to Uruguay instead. Then the hippies, funded by the Argentine thug government, protested for years, blockaded the international bridge, and essentially starved many of their own businesses out from lack of transiting tourists (it is/was the main road route between Uruguay and Buenos Aires).

Now it’s open again, and so I went that way.

The young douchebag on the Argentine incoming side did not like me from the get-go, and insisted that the reciprocity-fee sticker in my old passport was expired. “This is valid only for the life of the passport,” he told me.

“No, it is not. Otherwise it would say so. Instead, as you see here, it is valid until 2022. I have had no problems with this so far, entering Argentina twice within the past week, at Paso de Jama and Jose Falcon.”

Seeing I would not budge after we argued back and forth for 15 minutes, he took it in the back office, was told by his superiors that yeah, he was wrong, and then wordlessly did all the stuff he was supposed to do in the first place, taking his dear sweet time, and then not saying a word nor looking me in the eye as he handed me both passports and waved me on. He did not win his Vivo today. The Argies hate to lose.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

Once I was driving through Entre Rios, the bugs were so thick and heavy that I had to stop every couple of hours to clean the windshield because I could not see anything. I managed to get through all the way to Rosario around midnight with no problems, and then came the toll bridge. I had been dreading this moment because during my routine bug-guts-scrapings, I had also been on the lookout for an ATM, which so far, to this point, I had not been able to find. And so I had no Argentine Pesos.

I told the bridge-tender as much, and offered any mix of Uruguayan, Chilean, Paraguayan, US, Canadian, Brazilian, whatever would work. She kept saying no. No credit/debit cards either. She would not accept my offer to wash dishes, either. Eventually she called her boss, and he told her to just wave me through. Much to the thanks of the honking line of drivers behind me.

Finally, AFTER the bridge, in the town of Funes, a suburb of Rosario, I found an ATM and made good use of it. Filling up fuel, I the girl at the station asked me if I speak English. I must still set off GringoDar with my cargo shorts and hiking boots with black socks. And t-shirts with English stuff on them. “Yeah, I speak English.”

She chatted me up for a while as she filled the tank, explaining that she had lived in the ‘States for a few years, and then come back to Argentina. “It’s getting tough for us here. We make the same, but everything else keeps going up. Clothes, food, even shoes are getting hard to afford.” We went back and forth about the Argentine industries, since a lot of that stuff is still made in Argentina, or at least was, and she explained that production from all those Argentine businesses is rolling down and even those local goods are getting expensive. The people still want stuff made in the USA but they can no longer afford it and lots of it has been banned from import. Sad.

I wished her suerte and moved on, determined to close the distance to Santiago to under 1000km. I finally got to about 945 and ran out of steam somewhere a couple hundred km from Cordoba. Slept at an YPF station, uncomfortably, since the seats no longer recline with all the crap in the car. So I did a sort of yoga over the dashboard to stretch my legs out. I had looked for camping spots but found none on the GPS, and neither my Uruguayan nor Chilean sim card would work with the internet here.

Day 11:

That lasted for maybe 4 hours until my body couldn’t take it anymore, and I got headed out again around 8. I tried to fuel up at the same station but they had no gas. From here on in, it seemed that all the stations were out of 1 or more varieties of fuel. Usually it was the cheapest form of gasoline; not sure if that is because they want the markup on the premium gas, or everyone just flies through the cheap gas because that’s all they can afford. Diesel was always in stock. And, interestingly, there were GNC (natural gas) filling stations everywhere for cars that had been converted to run on it.

There was a campground/rest area maybe 30 minutes up the road from where I slept in the damned parking lot. BobLuck again.

Around lunchtime, late lunch perhaps, I decided to pull into the little town of LaPaz to refuel the car and my belly. Next to the gas station is the bus station, in which is a little comedor which advertised empanadas. So, I went in. They sold them by the dozen, but they were only AR$35 (about US$5, or US$3 on the black market) so I told them to give me a dozen, half ham-and-cheese, and half carne.

So I waited around for 15 minutes, which was fine because it allowed the blood to flow back into my ass, which is, interestingly, the same amount of time it takes to fill a short order in a roadside Argentine comedor, handed them my order ticket, took the bag, thanked them, and left. The bag was heavy, and I wondered if I would be able to eat a dozen empanadas before I got to the border crossing, but eh, whatever, they were cheap…

So about 30 minutes down the road I decide to open the bag and eat, and inside I find no empanadas; in their place are 5 enormous lomito sandwiches. WTF? Well, I am not going to turn around and go back for $3 worth of incorrect order in my favor, so I ate one and kept on trucking. In my mind, though, is “How do you botch an order like that when I am the only guy in there?” It’s not like there is some guy in LaPaz wondering why he has a bag of a dozen empanadas. Bienvenido a SudAmerica.

So at every place I stopped for gas, I tried to unload the sandwich surplus, and had no takers.

I got to Mendoza in the late afternoon. It had been quite a few years since I was here last, and I had forgotten how beautiful the whole area is. Seemingly endless high plains stretching out to the horizon, where they meet mountain ridges and then the snow-capped Andes beyond. Everything green and sunny and thriving. Life. Industry. Wal-mart. Ahhhh, civilization!

Beautiful Mendoza

Beautiful Mendoza

Past Mendoza and up into the mountains, past beautiful lakes and epic rocky peaks. The road was a pleasure to drive, despite its uphill grind at slower speeds. There wasn’t much traffic to pass, which was nice, and for the most part I had the whole road to myself. I like driving through tunnels. It must be a man thing. There were lots of tunnels, and it was cool. I reached the Chilean border checkpoint shortly before sunset. Sum total I was stopped twice at Argentine police checkpoints, but all they did was look at my drivers license and wave me on.


Up around 3500 meters, near the border, I started to feel the altitude headache creeping in, but I knew it wouldn’t last. However, at that altitude, you get loopy while waiting around at the bureaucrat lines in the border station. I suppose being sort of high on lack of oxygen makes it more tolerable.


The Argentine aduanas were boggled because the doofus at Fray Bentos failed to give me a piece of paper with a stamp in it, and that took them like an hour to muddle through. Also the Chilean folks were baffled by why I would have so many entries and exits in just 2 weeks. Seriously, the pile of stamped papers was ridiculous at this point, the Argentine temporary car import paper literally had no more room for stamps on it. They thought something was up, and my car got extra examination by the dog team. They didn’t open anything but my toolbox, though, which I had bought just last week, to hold all the Free-Floating Trunk Crap (TM), which the dog was fascinated by for some reason. I would have thought it would be obsessed by the alfajores or the 50 metric tons of lomito sandwiches in the front seat, but no. It was well-trained.

The time was made more pleasant, however, by the customs girl who kept asking me absurd humorous questions like, “Are you sure you don’t have a turtle in there?”

I’ve got a turtle in my pocket, baby…

And so the check was completed, I put all my shite back together, organized my mountain of papers, which will just go to the compost heap anyways, and rolled out. They didn’t make me get rid of the fucking lomito sandwiches and wouldn’t take them when I offered.

Bienvenidos a Chile!

Bienvenido a Chile!

Rolling down the pass into Chile, the crew is still working on fixing the road, and it is still closed down to one lane in places. Crazy switchbacks and no guard rails. Nice shiny new concrete, which has got to be a bitch to drive on when it’s wet. Good thing it is dry.

Between here and Santiago is only 100km or so, amazingly close.

I got home around 9:30pm, unpacked the BobMobile in its entirety, and took it back to its parking spot for a nice long rest. I cannot tolerate loose ends and so despite being at the point of complete physical and mental exhaustion, I had to finish unpacking or I could not live with myself. Capitalism!!!

Walking home, it felt nice to move my legs again. All done by 10pm. Climbed in the tub to pressure-wash the patina of road scum off of myself and then hit the sack.

I’ll have the totals up in my next post hopefully, after I go back to the car and gather all the receipts from this run.

My fridge is full of goddamn lomito sandwiches.

The day started with calling the number of Baños Valle de Colina, which, if you look at their site, states that the road is usable, and that the springs are open. But, just to verify, I called them anyways, and asked if they were open.

“Yes.” they answered.

OK. So GermanBob (who is visiting me for a couple of days) and I head out in the BobMobile in search of adventure. Just for reference, this place is pretty much almost up into Argentina by way of mostly crap roads used by mining trucks and stupid gringos who should know better than to believe anything a Chileno says.

Once we got onto the rough parts of the road, I pulled out my trusty (untested) set of offroad air pressure reducers/regulators, which you are supposed to be able to just screw onto the valve stems and leave on. They are supposed to let the air out until it is at about 18psi, which is great for sand and loose gravel and snow, and really saves your spinal column on those washboard roads. Note the “supposed to” part. Well, they definitely let the air out. A little too well. The drivers side tires seemed fine but the ones on the passenger side started to make awful noises so we pulled over to see what was going on. Both tires on the passenger side totally flat. WTF. And we’d been running them flat for some time. Great. One is OK, as the BobMobile has a fullsize spare bolted to its ass. But two? Up here in BFE in the Andes mountains?

Score 1 for the “Slime” brand 12-volt air compressor, which saved our asses. The rear flat puffed right back up to an acceptable pressure but the front one was off its bead and would not hold air. So I had to jack it up until it took. Score 1 more for the Slime air compressor. Also score 1 for Pirelli tires, which drove for who knows how many kms on those shite roads without any air in them, on a broken bead, and still inflated again with no apparent permanent damage. Score 1 for BobMobile. The tire deflators go into the shite bin.

We continued our quest for these hot springs, way up past any sign of civilization, until we were plowing through snow drifts and cutting new channels for the tires to drive through. Eventually we got to a point where the drifts are too much for the BobMobile, despite its awesome 4×4 capabilities. We were also at 2400 meters so it was running out of mojo, and could hardly make it up the grade in anything lower than extra-low-first-gear. BobMobile would have to wait behind.

The GPS told us we had 6.5km to go to these springs. I asked GermanBob how long he thought it would take us to hike it. 2.5 hours, ok. It’s 1pm now, we get there, spend some time at the springs, and hike back before we freeze to death…

Keep in mind that since we (gullibly) believed a Chilean, we arrived ill-prepared, in plain shoes (GermanBob in open-vented beach sneakers) and simple sweatshirts. No food, just a couple liters of water. Because we thought that the road was open, and we would be able to drive the whole way. We were not prepared for a 10-mile trek through 10-foot snow drifts and slippery mud. The BobMobile is equipped to ride out the next apocalypse in style, and we considered winching it through the snow, but it wasn’t going to work.

That road there would have been 2 lanes wide. Just to give you sense of scale for the snow drifts. This is what an "open road" looks like in Chile.

That road there would have been 2 lanes wide. Just to give you sense of scale for the snow drifts. This is what an “open road” looks like in Chile.

However we threw caution to the wind, and went anyways. That said, we were evaluating every possible nook and cranny along the way as shelter should we need to seek it after the sun went down. It was nice in the sun but in the shade, that high, you are robbed of every calorie of your heat in mere minutes.

I have acclimated to the higher altitude of Santiago so it was not so horrible for me oxygen-wise but GermanBob has been living at sea level for a while and the lack of air was making things tough. It was probably not smart for us to do such a strenuous hike at such a high altitude, so far from anything, with no cel signal, no food, through snow and slush and mud, 6.5km each way, in beach shoes…

“If we get there and the springs are indeed hot, and we can’t make it back in time, we could just stay in the water overnight and not freeze to death.”

But we went anyways and we kicked ass. All those snowshoe tracks we passed on the way made us a bit jealous. But snowshoes are for pussies!

It took us exactly the 2.5 hours GermanBob estimated in order to get there. The entire complex, if you could call it that, was deserted. Ghost town. Empty, hanging open, Already evacuated for the winter. I guess that’s what “Yes, we’re open,” means when a Chilean is telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

As we crawled up the muddy hill, literally on our hands and knees (exhausted, and probably at least 2500 meters altitude by that point), and reached the first pool, we found it to be cold. NOOO! However the higher we got and the closer to the source, the water was warmer and warmer. The topmost pool at the source was too hot, in fact, but the next one down was just right. Bath water. Awesome. Score.

Not as great as in the photos on the website (I assume that they scrub them out in the summertime to keep the extremophyle bacterial slime from accumulating in them) but that can be overlooked for the uniqueness of our monopoly on the place.

We were only able to enjoy it for about 20 minutes before the sun fell behind the mountain, the mercury started to drop like a stone, and we said, “Shit, we better head out before we get stuck here.” But damn, the only thing that could possibly have made it better is if we had brought beer. Nothing is quite as awesome as having an entire thing like this to yourself…

ExpatBob’s better side.