Archive for August, 2011

Las Termas de Fiambalá

Posted on August 30, 2011 by 3 Comments

Fiambalá lived up to the hype. It was a holiday weekend and a total scene.

The hot springs are nestled cliff-side at the end of a steep road and are sight to see themselves. A dozen or so waterfall-filled pools rise up the mountain and vary in temperature from 25°C to 45°C.

Because of “La Dia del Niño,” we had to share the springs with a hundred or more mate-sipping parilla-cooking Argentines. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, we failed to capture our fun weekend on film. We were too busy soaking and relaxing.

And, we still haven’t fully embraced a mate habit, but it might happen if we stay much longer.

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To Fiambala

Posted on August 28, 2011 by 2 Comments

Overnight, the river moved closer to us and reminded us about camping riverside when the snow is melting. But, it did make it easier to do the dishes.

We wanted to get an early start, but were sidetracked when a goat herder came wandering through. He kicked up a huge flock of… green parrots? Hundreds of them – totally unexpected and cool sight to see. We followed the flock from tree to tree and listened to them squawk for a while before packing up the bus.

On the road west we spotted several more – four of them raced us for 5 kilometers or more at 30 mph. Speedy desert parrots – who knew?

This entire 220 km route from Conception to Belen is unpaved, which made for two days of fun driving. After Belen, we hit pavement and it was smooth sailing to Fiambala.  It’s not in any of our guidebooks, but we met some other travelers who raved about it. Sounds perfect.

And, we calculated our oil burn at about 1 liter per 6 hours or so. We’ll watch it closely and look for an opportunity to rebuild when it makes sense.

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Tucuman to Andalgala

Posted on August 26, 2011 by 4 Comments

We apparently need to rebuild part of the engine. We’re burning oil and it looks like we need new pistons and rings. It hasn’t been that long since our last piston ring failure – not too sure what to say about that. But, the Andes are tough on an old VW.

Jason talked to Luis, who talked to a friend, Mickey, who offered up some space in his shop for us to do the work ourselves. But, as things tend to go, we wouldn’t be able to get the parts for several more days – with no exact date. And, Mickey had other obligations that would prevent him from keeping his shop open all the time.  There was just no telling how long we could be stuck here if we ripped the engine apart. So, we opted for loading up with oil and taking off and hoping for the best. We’ll keep an eye on it.

On our ride here, we were surprised at the sharp difference in landscapes – from desert to cloud forest to fertile valley. In the city, the streets are lined with loaded orange trees. Outside of town, there were entire trucks filled with lemons.

On our drive out of town, we were in rural villages set in sugar cane fields, with donkeys pulling carts.  Another half hour and we were climbing back up the mountains. In fact, some para-gliders stopped us for a ride back up the mountain to go get their car. Bode is adamant about going paragliding and Jason thinks he’s ready. I’m not sure of the recommended age for a tandem flight, but it’s probably not 6.

The road was full of hairpin turns back and forth up one side of the mountain. Up in the cloud forest, there were mosses and orchids and again, completely different scenery.

Up top, we had to stop for a quick snowball fight. The other side of the mountain had ranches and then turned back to desert. Giant cacti and shrub, and a desert fox or two.

The road down the mountain was absolutely amazing. This route gives La Ruta de Muerte a run for it’s money. Incredible scenery and a spectacularly winding descent.

We had a bizarre run-in at a police checkpoint at the provincial border. We think the cop was either just a goofball or bored and wanted to chat, but the conversation did get weird. Among the questions has asked were if we were brother and sister (yeah, that’s our kid). He even asked our religion. We decided we’d be Catholic for a few minutes and this appeased him enough to let us pass.

Just before dark we pulled into a free municipal park in Andalgala right on the river. It was beautiful from a distance, but it was completely covered in garbage. It was a bit surprising, seeing that we had just commented on how the litter situation had drastically improved since getting to Argentina.

Getting Our Bearings

Posted on August 25, 2011 by 5 Comments

We headed a bit out of our way and up to the sugar cane fields of San Miguel de Tucuman.  We really had no intention of coming this way, but wanted to check a few projects off the bus list.

One the way into town, we couldn’t help but notice the largest retailer in the world has a presence here. Again, haven’t seen one of these since Mexico. The farther south we drive, the more it feels like we’re getting closer to the U.S. instead of farther away.

We pulled in and had a look around. 9 bucks for a quart of oil. 10 bucks for a can of air (to clean the camera sensor.) You gotta do what you gotta do.

Since they had a garage, I went over to talk to the guys and see if they knew where to get some bus parts. They were pretty bored (zero customers) and were eager to help. I learned a new word – rulemanes – by explaining that I was looking for “little balls for the wheels.” They knew what I meant.

They wanted to take a look for themselves and before we knew it, the bus was up on a lift at Wal-Mart in Argentina and we had a crowd. It turned out that one of the guys saw us on the road to Tilcara and also saw us camping there. He said he waved to us on the road and I actually remember him. He also said that he saw us in a magazine, but neither one of us could figure out where it could have been. Weird.

Anyway, after an hour of having 5 guys poke at the bus, they finally agreed that we did need new bearings. At least there was consensus. The problem was, nobody knew where to find them. They were busy doing internet searches on their phones, but then ultimately told us to go to the local VW dealer.

As crazy as it sounds, I went to the VW dealer. Of course, they thought I was an idiot bringing my 40 year-old German combi to their dealership, but they did recommend a parts dealer across town. Okay, I’m an idiot.

“El Rey” on the corner of Las Piedras and Alem is the place. Luis, the owner, was super friendly and promised to help with anything we needed while we were in town. Of course, he didn’t have the bearings either, but had a guy deliver them on motorcycle within 15 minutes.  He also set us up with a mechanic to install them the next morning. We went to find a cheap place to sleep and realized we would be staying in a neighborhood surrounded by rodamientos shops. Another new word for the day. Ironic.

They next morning, I went to meet Hugo. Also, an incredibly nice guy. His guys went to work as we sipped mate and tried to chat for a few hours. The new bearings went in without issue and he promised to help me with the next thing on our list. He hopped in the bus and we drove across town to the D’Mayo brother’s shop. We had a leaking brake servo and these guys knew brake servos. But, it was lunch time. Everything shuts down for 4 hours. We said goodbye to Hugo and he tells me that if I need anything while in town, just call him.

The four hour lunch break is a two sided coin. You can’t get anything done in the middle of the day. On the other hand, you can’t get anything done in the middle of the day. It’s time to go sit at a cafe like everyone else.

The funny thing is that even dinky little convenience stores are set up like cafes. Go buy your soda and if you want to drink it there, they give you an actual glass. How civilized. They even have tables and chairs on the sidewalk. You could sit and watch the world go by, except that there’s nothing happening… you just watch the people at the cafe across the street.

Anyway, 4 hours later I went back to see the D’Mayo brothers and they went to work. They told me that there are probably only 2 or 3 other air-cooled VW’s in town, so finding the right parts to fix the servo could be a problem. While they were under the car, they also discovered that I’ve broken another shock – it’s what I do – I kill shocks. So, I left to walk around town and tried to locate another shock. No luck.

When I returned, one brother rode off on his bike to find a new boot for the servo – the old one was ripped. The other brother started telling me of his love for Kenny Rogers and old Star Trek episodes.  And, he says he’s related to Joe DiMaggio. The family changed some letters in the name to D’Mayo when they moved to Argentina. Makes sense to me.

When the new boot arrived, it didn’t fit, so he rode off to go look for another. I walked off with the shock and went looking for a welder. I found a muffler shop, and since they had every size of pipe and tube imaginable, they could fabricate a new end for the shock – all for free.

By 10pm or so, the bus was back on the street and ready to go.

Now, it doesn’t stall when I hit the brakes… and we’ve got some real brakes now. Head-jerkers. And, there’s no more knocking and grinding bearings from the back wheel.

It was a long day, but mission(s) accomplished. Now, there’s just one item more on the list – and it’s a big one.

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Posted on August 24, 2011 by 3 Comments

After staying far longer than we expected, we finally left Cafayate. Great place. Definitely a  highlight of northern Argentina for us so far.

The town itself and has lots to offer, with plentiful restaurants, bodegas and heladerias around a peaceful town square. But, as usual, the best parts were the experiences and the people we met.

We met a nice family from Arizona who had come down here to find some land, get some cows and chickens, and live their Argentinean dream. More power to ‘em. I found a great butcher – always important, especially when you look under the counter and most of the meat is unidentifiable. We met some nice locals, cool campers,  and hung out with some of those notorious Argentinean hippies. Even our regular camp site dogs were cool – our favorite we named Dye Job. He looked like he had accidentally sat down in some bleach.

But, when the hot sand storms started, we decided it might be time to get moving. The first one was an interesting experience. The second one was an inconvenience. The third one… time to go.

We headed south and stopped to see the ruins at Quilmes. It’s interesting enough for a stop and is in a beautiful setting, but don’t go out of your way.

We kept rolling and eventually decided to stop in Tafi del Valle. A formerly small farming village that seems to be suffocated by modern weekend homes. The huge number of vacation homes here seems comical. Weird and out of place – haven’t seen anything like this since Mexico.

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Nut Whacker

Posted on August 23, 2011 by 3 Comments

The most unfortunately named tool in my bag is also one of the most essential. I rarely use it, but when I need it, nothing else will do.

Lately, we’ve been hearing all sorts of noises coming from the right-rear side of the car. After we fixed the noise from the loose muffler, we still heard it. After we fixed the noise from the wobbly battery tray, we still heard it. It would come and go, but we eventually isolated it to the wheel bearings.

Pulling the wheel off, slapping in some grasa, and re-tightening it seemed to have bought us some time – multiple times.

But, I think we’ve now reached the end of the game and need new bearings a little more urgently. I just wanted to give credit to the axle nut whacker for helping us get this far.

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Posted on August 20, 2011 by 13 Comments

Have you ever seen one of those giant jugs of booze, and then thought, “Nah, that’s crazy!”

Today, we thought “Perfect!”

The winery that’s bottling this stuff – Hermanos Domingos – is exactly two blocks away from our camp site. We could have walked an extra block to the next winery, but we decided to keep it local.

Drinking 4.65 liters of the stuff is a bit of a test, though. It’s not too bad, but it’s not all that great either.

The price? About 10 bucks. That would work out to about $1.60 USD per bottle. We’ve set the bar even lower (higher?) for Two-Buck Chuck – and the wine is WAY better.

And, for anyone counting… this is our 500th post. If you’ve read them all, then… you deserve an enormous bottle of wine too.

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