As you may have read in our last blog we didn't manage to climb the worlds highest volcano Ojos del Salado but it was still an amazing trip. The Dodge pulled through without any major problems despite the freezing temperatures, the lack of road and driving 160km on empty... After rolling back into Fiambala on what must have been only petrol fumes, we spent two more nights at our favourite campground and had a general clean up of our gear. On the final morning another flat battery prevented us from leaving and grovelling to strangers for a jump start was beginning to wear thin. It was time for a new battery in the next big town.
Soon after leaving Fiambala we were back on our old friend the Ruta 40 and we drove contently to the tourist town of Cafayate. We spotted a campground on the edge of town and set up shop with pasta for dinner yet again but this time accompanied by a thick white sauce and some amazing bacon we had found in town. The next morning we traveled north on the main highway and quickly discovered why this route had been recommended to us. The canyonous landscape was amazing and every now and again there was a particularly special valley that you could walk into some of which also had small stalls selling local handmade crafts.
Sticking to our recommended route and hoping to reach Bolivia in a few days we turned off the main highway and wound our way towards Cachi before rejoining the Ruta 40. This part of the 40 was truly stunning and we arrived at 3347m to a huge field of 6m plus Candelabra Cacti in Los Cardones National Park. The road then deteriorated as we drove on a single lane between ancient stone walls and across rivers; this was no place for your typical Argentinian VW Polo. Late in the afternoon we zig zagged up a steep gravel mountainside to a peak of 4900m and were just beginning our descent to the tiny town of San Antonio de los Cobres when Will announced "we have lost power steering". He immediately turned off the engine thinking the fan belt had broken, but it was worse. The tensioner pulley bearing had disintegrated! Hungry and sick of always having car problems I cooked our leftover bacon and instant mash potatoes on the road side in the twilight while Will went in search of our far flung pulley. After finding the pulley and dinner a Ford Territory approached and it was Will to the rescue for the tourists who didn't realise they had a flat tyre nor how to change one. Tyre changed we tried to roll down the hill in the dark, it was fun for a few meters careering along with the door open using the head torch for light. However the loose surface and impending cliff side corners, combined with our lack of power steering and heavy brakes meant we called it quits and spent another cold high altitude night in the car. Turns out more cars passed us that night than would pass us the whole of the next day.
Of the two cars that passed us that day neither were big enough to tow us so we were thankful when a young English speaking couple weekending from Buenos Aires offered us a lift down. Happy yet nervous about leaving the car alone up the mountain we packed an overnight bag and jumped in. After some knuckle whitening driving we arrived in the small town of San Antonio de Los Cobres and for $80US we eventually managed to convince the owner of the fuel station to tow us down in his brand new Hilux. By 8pm we had made it down and were left to it next to the fuel station. Most of the town walked passed and stared at us, the only person to approach us was an old lady trying to sell me toy llamas. The next morning totally disheartened after another failed attempt we headed to the local hotel in search of wifi. Maybe the Internet had the solution... Unfortunately this time it didn't so we moped around over a lunch of burnt fried eggs.
Right as we are standing there eating a Toyota 4runner with Texan plates pulled into the fuel station. I approached the guy and he said he would see what he could do. This was our first introduction to the wonderful couple Brenton and Shannon of Ruined Adventures. We couldn't believe our luck when after one more failed attempt with a tied piece of strip rubber they offered to tow us all the way to Salta, maybe they didn't realise it was 160km away over a 4000m mountain range we wondered? After a few stops, some stream crossings a 90km/hr down hill roll (we were getting good at rolling now) and over four hours later we made it to Salta's municipal campground. Wanting to forget our troubles we took Brenton and Shannon out for dinner and got to know this amazing coupe who had been on the road for 13 months. Their generosity continued well throughout the next day as they drove us around town trying to track down a new pulley and we also finally brought a new battery. Somehow we managed to say that we would cook a curry for dinner, but not to worry the curry was a success accompanied by the best nans Will has ever made! The night continued late under their lights and awning swapping notes on our adventures.
We camped near the border of Paso de Jama (between Chile and Argentina), having to re-enter Chile in order to enter Bolivia's Reserva de Fauna Andina E. Avaroa. The next day we traveled through three different countries! We left Argentina after a minor problem became apparent in our passports… when we entered Argentina originally the customs guy had forgotten to stamp our passports and to add to it the stamp on our car papers had the wrong month but a few phone calls cleared that up and we set foot in Chile for some supplies and gas. We were only planning to be in Chile for a few hours, despite this and for the first time ever all our our bags were x-rayed and our dried fruit and honey were taken! Luckily we argued the point and got it back on our departure for Bolivia. It was time to enter country number three for the trip, after many horror stories we crossed into Bolivia at the nicest customs post yet. We then paid the expensive $22US each to enter the park and camped for a cold windy night overlooking Laguna Verde.
Our time in Bolivia will wait for the next blog but we just want to thank all the wonderful people who have helped us out so far. We hope you realise how much we appreciate it and it makes us determined to help anyone else in any way we can.
See you on the road or maybe the side of it…
Rochelle & Will