Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Wine district - Argentina

After crossing the border out of Chile and winding our way down through the Argentinean side of the Andes Mountains, we overnighted at the small town of Upsallata in the Andes foothills.
Mendoza vines

No campsites there so it was another roadside service station.

Moving on the next day, we arrived in Mendoza, one of the premier wine regions of Argentina.

We found a lovely campground called Camping Parque Suizo. There was lots of shade and reasonable facilities, and it was not too far from Mendoza city centre.

Hot but shady Mendoza street
Then we drove in to the city for a look around. Finding a shaded parking spot near the city centre for Vdos, we prepared ourselves to face the 32 degree temperature on foot. 

What a lovely and vibrant city - very attractive, with lots of mature street trees, interesting architecture, modern shops, plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants, and very buzzy.

Ruca Malen brut with kale, brain & broccoli tempura
The following day, we drove one of the wine routes.

Shortly after setting out, we found a delightful bodega called Ruca Malen which offered a rather expensive degustation lunch. What a feast we had. Delightfully thought out and presented food, accompanied by vegetables grown in their own garden, and wine from their own vineyard.

The highlight was a superb piece of beef accompanied by their very yummy Malbec. We also tried Torrontés, a fruity dry white wine specific to Argentina.

Modern architecture in San Juan city
We eventually staggered out to the car park and Vdos to catch some zzzz's before heading back to our camp for a few more nights.

Our next destination was the San Juan wine area north of Mendoza, were the wine was supposed to be almost as good as in the Mendoza region.

After walking around San Juan city centre and enjoying its modern architecture, we popped into the information centre for advice on vineyards and campgrounds.

San Juan-Ullum Dam kayaking
There seemed plenty of campground options, so we explored more of the city centre before looking for a camp. Bad move – when we found those camps, all were well and truly closed. Not happy and getting tired, we crossed town to camps around Dique (Dam) Ullum. On the way, we passed the World Kayaking Championships being held there.

Then as we were near Dique Ullum, we spotted a roadside sign that we followed to Palma la Mer Camping.

San Juan-Ullum lake & Vdos
Driving through the gates we found a very large treed campground right on Lake Ullum and it was open. Excellent – that’ll do us.

Over the following hot days we day-tripped to local bodegas to sample their wines. 

Our gps took us on a wild goose chase for some of the more remote ones, but then we found Bodega Merced Del Estero which was delightful.

San Juan-Del Estero vineyard
The son of the owner gave us a really interesting tour of their boutique winery, while we tasted their rather nice wines.

They produce two wines that we haven't seen in New Zealand, Torrontés which we had sampled in Mendoza and Bonarda, a fruity dry red; but we preferred their Malbec and Merlot.

Time to move on, so we drove north through some lovely small villages. On the way, we stopped at a very small local store in Ullum to get a few basics.

Ullum locals
Then we suddenly found ourselves the centre of attention.

We managed to buy what we needed, amid lots of giggles from the locals. We’re not sure whether they laugh at our bad hair day, or because of our bad Spanish, but it’s always the same in the rural areas, and always fun.

Outside, we were greeted by a group of local men sitting in the shade playing board games. They waved, laughed, and gave us the thumbs up. All so lovely and friendly.

La Ciénaga landscape
Leaving Ullum, we headed north and ended up going on a very narrow winding road through an incredibly beautiful valley of coloured hills, called La Ciénaga.

There were some very tight and narrow bends where we were relieved not to meet oncoming traffic, but the scenery more than made up for the trickiness of the road.

We were headed toward Ischigualasto Triassic Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, it was incredibly windy with sand blowing everywhere.

Desert road to Talampaya Park (UNESCO)
Instead of taking the tour, we walked to the lookout for the view, then drove on to Talampaya Park, another UNESCO site.

Travelling about 38 km on a stunningly red desert road, we arrived to find a nice and well organised campground at the Park entrance. There was power, clean facilities and hot showers. 

But what we didn't understand, was that the showers were only open in the evening.

Marg happened to get up early the next morning and have a shower before the Park warden came and closed them. Leigh wasn't so lucky so had to make do with a Vdos shower.

Talampaya Park (UNESCO) canyon wall
All trips in this park are organised, so we boarded a big 4-wheel drive bus which took us deep into the park.

What stunning scenery, with dark red rocks and towering cliffs that were formed over 60 million years ago. We were able to sit on the top deck of the bus for part of the ride and had a fabulous view of everything.

We also saw some early rock drawings and fossil remains. The trip was amazing.

Scenery-Talampaya to San Blas
Finishing our park trip, we set off northward through more stunning scenery and red mountains, but couldn’t find an overnight camping place close by.

We pushed on, hoping something would turn up. We were on a fairly rural road - no service stations with flash facilities here.

Eventually, too tired to go further, we stopped beside a well-treed park in the very small village of San Blas.

Animals we shared the road with
The park was deserted and quiet initially, however, around 10 pm a group of young people arrived and sat talking and laughing until well after midnight – no alcohol or mucking around - just having a good time. Harmless but noisy.

Next morning, we headed north on Ruta 40 again. We passed through many adobe villages, more unmade roads, stunning desert scenery, and countless animals roaming across the road (foxes, donkeys, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, armadillo - you name it – we’ve dodged it!).

Quilmes ruins, ca 850 AD
We stopped on the way to see the ruins of the Quilmes settlement. The area dates back to 850 AD and was inhabited by the Quilmes people.

After that, we pushed on to the pretty town of Cafayate for another wine experience.

On the way we were stopped at a police check point where we were told that one of our headlights wasn't working and needed to be fixed.

Its mandatory to drive with lights on in both Argentina and Chile. We promised to get it fixed the next day.

Cafayate building
Arriving in Cafayate, we found a pleasant camp close to the town centre, then went in search of the local automotive parts supplier. We found a lovely chappie who fixed our headlight for a ridiculously small fee, then we went on foot, hunting for local bodegas and some wine tasting.

The first bodega we visited wasn't terribly good both in service and wine, but the second one, Nanni Wines was much nicer. There, we tasted a lovely Tannat, a big red wine.

After a few days it was time to move on. Cafayate was as far north as we had time to go so we headed south with about 8 days left before we had to return Vdos.

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