Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

BobQuest Grand Totals

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

Chile to Argentina:

Tolls: CLP$ 18450 (US$36)
Fuel: CLP$ 180417 (US$325)

Subtotal: US$361

Argentina to Uruguay:

Tolls, Argentina: AR$32 (US$4.06)
Fuel, Argentina: AR$2109.06 (US$267.49)

Tolls, Paraguay: PG$5000 (US$1.13)
Fuel, Paraguay: PG$342,000 (US$77.23)

Tolls, Uruguay: UY$275 (US$12.30)
Fuel, Uruguay: UY$1400 (US$62.64)

Subtotal: US$424.85

Uruguay to Chile:

Tolls: UY$325
Fuel: UY$3147

Tolls: AR$64
Fuel: AR$1502

Tolls: CL$2700 (US$8.91)

Subtotal: US$364.51


Grand Total: US$1150.36

Distance driven: 7225.9km

Average distance/day: 722.59km

Other misc items not included: 2 liters motor oil, AR$150 repair on shock mount, +-AR$200 for fuel paid for in cash at one point which I cannot remember if I included in the totals.

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.

Tolls, Argentina: AR$32 (US$4.06)

Fuel, Argentina: AR$2109.06 (US$267.49)

Tolls, Paraguay: PG$5000 (US$1.13)

Fuel, Paraguay: PG$342,000 (US$77.23)

Tolls, Uruguay: UY$275 (US$12.30)

Fuel, Uruguay: UY$1400 (US$62.64)

Total, second half of BobQuest: US$424.85

Total, first half of BobQuest: US$361

Entire total of fuels and tolls, Santiago-Antofagasta-San Pedro de Atacama-Purmamarca-Salta-Asuncion-Salto-Montevideo-Punta del Este: $785.85

…which grossly exceeds the value of all the stuff I am bringing back with me already (unless you count the $50,000.00 Bitcoin t-shirt that’s in one of these boxes). But I knew that before I left.

I hit the road about 8am to head south. Leaving Paraguay was not a big deal, took about the same amount of time (40 minutes) as before to deal with the border crossing. I did get stopped by one police checkpoint on the eastern side of the bridge out of Asuncion, but after looking through my copious amount of papers and repeatedly saying my first name (to which I just nodded and said, “Si.”) he waved me on and wished me a bien viaje.

Then I got stopped again at the first police check in Argentina, they just asked where I was going, I told them Uruguay, and they waved me on. That was the extent of my police stops.

Driving through most of northern Argentina was uneventful. I had though I would pass through Paraguay by way of Encarnacion/Posadas but adding an extra day to my transit time was something I decided against. It’s been a week at this point; it’s time to move on. My body can’t take much more of this gas station food diet.

Most of the fields up here are sitting empty. 9 out of 10 are vacant now, just going overgrown with weeds. Maybe one with a few cows, goats, or sheep, but no commercial production anymore. All of that has gone to Uruguay or Paraguay, thanks to the Kirchner policies that made it nearly impossible to turn a profit in agriculture.

It’s sad, seeing it like this. It has turned into more of a backwards third-world area than Paraguay. And Paraguay has turned into even more of a cleaner, shining beacon of commerce than back when I had visited 2 years ago. From what I can see, Paraguay is the shock absorber of South America. Argentines, Brazilians, and Uruguayans all flock in, to avoid the impossible costs of their former countries. It seems like all of the business owners are foreigners. And it has driven up property costs accordingly. A generic two-bedroom apartment I could have bought 2 years ago in Asuncion for $50,000 is now $150,000. Other costs of living remain ridiculously low, like food and electricity.

Anyways, rolling through rural Argentina is like rolling through a ghost farm.

Then you get past Corrientes, and you are in the land of Gauchito Gil. For those who have never heard of him, including myself, he is a weird sort of Argentine folk hero elevated to religious status. It’s sort of like if Paul Bunyan had the healing powers of Jesus. You can read about it here. There are shrines to him everywhere, bearing red flags, and then at one point in my journey I drove through an entire little village dedicated to his worship. Red buildings on both sides of the road hawking the red flags, effigies, and souvenirs of Gauchito Gil. Strangely, there were also a high number of showers and toilets there. I don’t know what those were for. And at the end of the town, a huge sculpture of Gauchito Gil on a white horse.


It was shortly after Gauchito Gil’s pilgrimage site that the road turned horribly worse and after emerging from a massive pot hole, I noticed some ungodly noise coming from the back of the car. As if something was caught in the wheel and smacking around as I drove. So I stopped and had a look. I didn’t notice anything out of place, so then I checked the luggage to see if maybe something had flown out of place and was simply bouncing around in back against something else. Nothing. So I resumed, and so did the noise. Then I checked another few times, and it kept coming back. Ultimately, while I was rocking the car side to side, I saw the rear left shock absorber floating freely within the wheel well. Gauchito Gil was punishing me for not relieving myself at his shrine village.

It's not supposed to look like this.

It’s not supposed to look like this.

Yes, the Argentine rural roads are so bad that they will break your car. The shock mount was literally sheared off of the frame. Fortunately this is not a fatal injury, so I was able to drive another 30km to the little town of Curuzu Cuatia to find a mechanic to weld it back together for me. I asked around at the gas station, and they told me to head down the road that-a-ways and I would see the mechanic places on the right. So I did, and they were indeed there. One was closed, but the other, fortunately, was open.

I went in and told the guy in charge, “Uh, there’s a problem with my car.”

“You and the entire neighborhood, man,” he joked. So then we went to have a look. “Yeah, I can fix that. But I can’t get to it for another hour or so. Can you wait?”

“I don’t really have much of a choice,” I replied, and he then noticed the Chile plates. He gave me a knowing nod, then I told him I’d head to the gas station, where they had tables to sit and wait and watch the football game, and I’d be back. “How much do you think it will cost?” I asked.

“Eh, about 150 pesos.”

Hmm, well, that would exhaust the very last of my peso supply. I had nearly run out paying for gas before but fortunately I talked logic into the station attendant. After I filled up he told me that they didn’t take cards for payment, despite me seeing two card readers right behind him. After explaining I had no other way, he reluctantly agreed to use the card, and it worked without any problems. I assume that they don’t want to do card transactions because it takes a while for them to get their money, in pesos, and by the time they receive it, it has devalued. It was during this fill-up that I found, days later, well-cooked and smelling quite ripe, one of the suicidal birds from the crossing of the Chaco, wedged firmly headfirst in my radiator. I took a photo but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate to post it here. But I digress…

I returned in an hour and we got to work. It was dark, and I held the flashlight while he welded. All in all it took about 30 minutes to get it finished but now it is as good as new.

I didn’t want to separate myself from my few remaining Argie pesos, seeing as there were a couple hours of Argentina remaining and I did not want to get stuck at a toll booth without proper money again, so I offered him a US$20 bill. He didn’t want to take it, he wanted pesos. “But this is worth, at the official rate, more or less 150 pesos Argentinos, and at the Dollar Blue rate, 200 or more.” He still wanted the Argie pesos, so that’s what I gave him. Weird considering that in Buenos Aires they can’t wait to trade with you, but out here where if they had banjos they would be a-pickin’, they don’t seem to get it.

I got back on the road, and maybe within half an hour the roads widened out to double-lane interstate highway style roads, without opposing traffic, and nice smooth pavement. Ahhhhhhhhh

And, fortunately, no more tolls.

I got to the Uruguay border at Salto around midnight. There was nobody else there. So we all joked around at the immigration/customs counter because nobody knew exactly how to deal with a guy coming in with an American passport, with an Argentine entry fee sticker in an older passport (which has a different passport number than the newer valid one), a Uruguayan cedula, and a Chilean car. For shits and giggles I gave them my Paraguayan cedula and Chilean cedula, to see if that would help. At this point, they said, “Well, so long as you’re not also Russian… are you?” to which I said, “Not yet” and we had a good laugh.

They approved everything and on I went with yet another stack of papers nobody will ever see or need or check. Crossing the Salto Grande dam, I entered Uruguay and the final few hours of my outward-bound journey. About an hour into this, it started to rain heavily. As in buckets. No visibility, tree branches blowing down into the road, wind throwing the car around, so I found a safe spot to pull off the road where I wouldn’t die, and slept in the car.

The sun woke me up, on Day 8, and I had 2 hours to drive to Montevideo to meet SwingDanceBob for some empanadas. We had a good lunch and good conversation, catching up, and then onward another 2 hours to Punta del Este to crash with MexicanBob. Now I have the fun task of packing up the last of my old stuff, attempting to do the paperwork to renew my gun permits, and then heading back across to Chile, a journey which I hope will only take 2-3 days.

I hit the road at 8am after figuring out how to shower in the tiny bathroom (with a door that opened inward). I didn’t catch any creepy-crawlies. That I can find right now…

I got to the Paraguayan/Argentine border right at 10am, and it took 40 minutes to transit the madhouse. First you go to the Argentine immigration window, then to the Paraguayan immigration window, then to the Paraguayan police window, then they sent me on to the Aduanas window where I sat for 15 minutes while this old guy filled out a form with all my car’s information at 0.0000000001 lines per century, regaling me with tales of his brother-in-law who went to the USA to work as a police officer and then came back to Paraguay after the twin towers were blown up. So since he was a nice guy and it was a pleasant conversation, I forgave his slowness. Then from him to his supervisor, who again asked me the same questions that were already filled out on the form and signed to, told me to watch out because thieves like my model car, and then I was done. At which point I drove through without even a glance in my car or my belongings. So, in theory, if one were to arrive there with papers that looked official, one could probably just breeze past it all without a second look. They only pull over the ones who look “lost” to go and fill out all the papers and stamp this and that.

All told, it took 40 minutes to get through the whole thing.

Bienvenidos a Paraguay!

Bienvenidos a Paraguay! Member of Rotary International!

So, through my first entire portion of Argentina I have not been stopped at any of the police checkpoints. The way between Paraguay and Uruguay is reportedly the worst for this sort of thing, so we shall see.

I got into downtown Asuncion around 11:30, found the mall where I was meeting Ex-UruguayanBob for lunch, and found him. We had a good buffet at the pay-per-kilo in the mall. I am completely unaccustomed to prices here so I was a bit worried at the $31,000 price tag but it turned out to be about US$6.00 for a heaping plate of stuff. We had a good chat, interesting guy.

I had forgotten how cheery and helpful Paraguayans seem to be. The Argentines have become as tragically depressed and hopeless as the Uruguayans. I had also forgotten the bizarre, lawless, border-town vibe you get in Asuncion, the mix of skeezy and high class, trash and bums in the street in front of Gucci (which probably isn’t official Gucci).

The roadside empanadas I ate last night are fighting back, so I am getting additional rest tonight in Asuncion before I hit the road out again in the AM. Last night I didn’t sleep well because, in a not-thinking-well moment, I took half a modafinil to stay awake, about half an hour before I got to Formosa. I was tired as hell, had been on the road 12-13 hours, and the GPS was telling me I would be in Paraguay at 10pm. So, thought I, I can just hammer down and get it done. But then I remembered it was payday and I had to pay my employees, and then I was feeling my physical body fall apart, and it all came crashing down once I reached Formosa and saw the hotel.

So I sort of had to force myself to sleep. Put in earplugs, and moved my alert brain into dream mode. And had some freakishly weird dreams. BUT the bed was severely uncomfortable and the sleep was a sort of conscious-of-your-surroundings dream sleep. Not restful.


I hit the road around 8am after a heaping breakfast of farm-fresh eggs from DutchBob’s chickens. Then it was 2 hours of descent from the mountains into the vast, endless Chaco Argentino. I took a few photos but if you’ve seen Iowa, or Indiana, or Nebraska, well, it’s like that but flatter. Ruta 16 stretched out in an endless straight line. If it were not for portions of the road with car-swallowing pot holes, I would have declared it officially the most boring drive I have done (actually topping the boredom of a drive east-west through Nebraska, or north-south through Indiana). The rest of the highways in Argentina have been really good, but the middle section of Ruta 16 is a mess. I wouldn’t want to drive it at night.

I kept myself amused playing games with the clouds of little white butterflies which felt the need to commit suicide in the road, on the car, in the hungry mouths of the birds who swooped down to eat them, taking their own suicidal risks darting through what little traffic there was.

13 hours of this.

13 hours of this.

Argentine drivers are assholes. You’ll come up behind one who is dawdling about at 80 or 90km/h, and when you go to pass him he will drag race you and force you to stay in the opposing lane longer than you want to be in it. I’d say at least half of them if not more did this to me. Douchebags.

Despite all the warnings about corrupt cops, I have yet to be stopped. Every checkpoint just waved me on through. And I’ve been lead-footing it the whole way.

I got into Formosa around 9pm, so that makes 13 hours on the road, stopping only for fuel, to drop off converted beverages, and to scrub sedimentary layers of bug corpses from the windshield. My wipers are shot; I will need new ones.

The nice hotel here in Formosa was all booked solid, with the same group of Brazilian bikers I have been passing on and off since I was in the Atacama. So I went on to the Hotel Formosa, which, at $26/night, is a steal, but it comes with creepy bathroom, lopsided bed, scratchy ancient sheets with insitutional “FSA HOTEL” stamped on them. I checked for bedbugs and found none. But hey, the toilet flushes, the AC is icy cold, the internet works, and there’s a little tiny tube TV with a few blurry cable channels. It will suffice for an 8-hour power nap. Tomorrow I hit the Paraguay border bright and early, and head into Asuncion to meet some old folks I knew from back in Uruguay.

I left Santiago this morning, getting on the road around 8am. Hopped up on Modafinil, I drove for 12 hours until I couldn’t take it anymore. I hadn’t eaten anything except for a couple of empanadas I bought just outside Santiago.

I forgot to bring my fleece sweater and my thermal underwear, but it seems I will not need them as I sit here at night in San Pedro de Atacama writing this, in shorts and a t-shirt. I also forgot to get cash for the tolls along the way. Lots of cash. You’ll see the total for tolls to the Atacama coming in the next post.

I ran out of Chilean pesos just a few booths into my trip, and I searched in vain for a cash machine at any and all of the roadside gas stations. It seems there are no ATM machines anywhere north of Santiago, at least when you are scraping for toll money. Having no pesos, I had to pay the booth guy in US dollars, at a usurious rate of 420:1 (official is 550:1) but what can you do when you are out of money and they don’t take credit cards? Thieves.

And right after that, guess, what? I found my ATM. Fuckers.

I had planned to stop in La Serena and get myself a good hearty lunch, but I got there in 5 hours and was making good time, so I figured what the heck, keep driving. Something will turn up, right?


The road between La Serena and Copiapo was like a race to see how fast you can get stuck behind the next slow, lumbering truck grinding up the mountain at 40kph. Hours and hours of this. It started to take patience I did not think I had, but I made it through. The landscape past La Serena becomes alien. Seriously, you are running through rocky wasteland that looks like where they filmed Alien and Prometheus.

The sun was getting low in the sky, and I decided to pull in to the beach just north of Caldera. I saw a camping sign and it was time. In Chile, you can camp on the beach and nobody bothers you. What a concept! I set up my tent and slept like a log. All I had to eat all day were those empanadas.