We crossed the border into Argentina at Paso De Jama, a mountain pass between the 2 countries at 4,200 metres. This was our easiest border crossing yet-with all the relevant officials from Chile and Argentina co-located in one building, literally in booths next door to each other. We started with Chilean immigration who stamped us out of the country; then Chilean customs who stamped Ruby out; next was Argentinean immigration who gave us 90 days entry and finally Argentinean customs who gave Ruby 240 days entry! All completed in about 20 minutes!
We spent the first night in Argentina camping outside a small hotel/restaurant in Susques. The following day we set off for Salta. We had heard that the Argentinians were fond of BBQs, however nothing prepared us for the sight and smells of hundreds of BBQs that lined our route! It really is a national sport! There are hundreds of public BBQ grills in parks etc which are surrounded by families. We camped in the municipal campground in Salta and met up again with our lovely friends Roger and Gudrun. We also met Roger and Anita again, who we had last seen in Colombia, from Switzerland and driving a Swiss army truck! This is their third such trip-the first two they did in landys so they have a real soft spot for Ruby. We camped next door to them and had such a good time getting to know them better and finding out they have a love for karaoke!
We spent a couple of days in Salta, wandering around the pretty colonial town and also visiting the museum of high altitude archaeology, which was created after the discovery, in 1999,of 3 mummies of children from the Inca civilisation on the Llullaillaco, the 3rd highest volcano in the world. The mummies are in an exceptional state, preserved by the cold without having undergone the mummification process. According to archaeologists, the children had been buried alive, according to sacrificial ritual. Only one child is exhibited at a time and it is an eerie and interesting sight to see-being so well preserved with their skin, hair, teeth and nails intact.
After Salta, we drove the small town of Cafayate, set amidst many vineyards. We only spent one night here, before the long drive towards Cordoba. We stayed in the area for a few days, visiting the small town of Carlos Paz and staying on a campsite where we had access to our own BBQ grill! Each day we visited the butchers for lovely cuts of steak and the most juicy sausages and burgers, and at night we joined in the national pastime of BBQing them! We wild camped at a fantastic spot in the National Park Quebrada del Condorito, an important place for Andean condors-and we saw a number of these magnificent, huge birds flying, swooping and resting. We arrived here on a Sunday and it is clearly a popular place for local people to visit. The Argentinean people are so friendly and we have had so many welcomes from them. On this occasion, about a dozen approached us whilst we were setting up camp, to introduce themselves and find out where we were from and what we were doing. When they found out that we were from England, they were very excited and one of the men yelled out " hand of God!" (referring to Maradonna`s 1986 goal!) whilst laughing manically!
Following Roasario, we went to San Antonio de Areco, which is famous for its annual gaucho festival -Dia de la Tradicion-which we wanted to see. Gauchos are the cowboys of south America, and work on the many ranches in Argentina. We camped at a lovely campsite just outside of town, and met some lovely Argentineans who invited us to their BBQ the following day. As you can imagine, the chance to go to a proper Argentinean BBQ was very appealing, particularly to Gav who loves meat! The family were great-they owned a ranch near Cordoba and Dad was a real character, walking around in his gaucho hat and in complete control of the BBQ! There was also mum, one of their sons (who spoke great English) and their 2 teenage granddaughters. Dad kept feeding us meat-every time we finished one chunk of meat-he would take the remnants form our plates and replenish it with another chunk. It was absolutely delicious and we must have eaten half a cow between us, which had come from their ranch! We had a brilliant afternoon with them, they were so hospitable and showed us what a real BBQ is like!
That evening-we went to the pena as part of the festival. There we a number of live bands playing folk music and lots of traditional folk dancing which was incredible to watch-they were so graceful. The downside was you couldn`t join in unless you knew what you were doing, there was no way an Englishwoman flailing around would have gone down well, so I had to resist my natural urge to get up and dance and sit and watch! There were many gauchos there in their traditional outfits of tapered trousers, ponchos, berets and canvas shoes.
The following day was the day of the parade around town and the afternoon event of the gauchos showing off their horse riding skills. We woke up that morning to the loudest thunderstorm we had ever heard and torrential rain. It lasted most of the day, which sadly meant that the events were cancelled! We sat undercover on the campsite and played games!
So we are now heading to Uruguay for a couple of weeks before heading back to Argentina and Buenos Aires. First stop in Uruguay-Fray Bentos! Now who has eaten all the pies??!