A longish day to cover the 600 km to La Rioja. The lush vineyards of Mendoza were left behind and replaced by huge flood plains covered with thick scrubby salt bush – another reminder that Argentina and Australia share the challenge of having such vast areas of non-arable land. A trouble-free run for everyone with the towering rock formations of the Talampaya National Park being the only highlight. A relaxing beer at the tables fronting the town plaza was a good way to end the day although there was a bit of competition from the local motorcyclists doing endless laps around the plaza. All good fun.
Leaving La Rioja the next morning our GPS took us on Route 75, a narrow winding road through the best part of town with beautiful houses and gardens behind big fences gradually replaced by lush green vegetation before we were out of the gorge and back in on the hot, dry plains.
A little further along there was a less successful Garmin moment leaving Santa Maria. As usual there were no directions to the next towns and we worked out that the GPS wanted to take us on the old Route 40 to the west rather than the new high level road. In the confusion of one-way streets and against the advice of helpful locals, Ross decided his back-up GPS loaded with an alternative set of maps had it all sorted and headed bravely into a wet and wide river crossing which quickly turned to thick mud. Woops… Pete wasn’t going to turn down a challenge and called for everyone to get their tow-ropes out to span the 30 metres back to dry land. With a bit of shoving and pushing and a minimum of burning clutch smells, Blue B was released from the quagmire. Having come that far the collective decision was to continue on the old road which turned out to be far more interesting although a bit slower and rougher with many more water crossings. The road wound through a series of run-down villages with mud brick houses right on the edge of the road. Some probably dated back to the time when Route 40 was the main north south route through the western part of Argentina.
Today’s highlight was the remains of Quilmes, a pre-Incan settlement dating back to 1000 AD. Covering around 30 Ha and nestled into the side of the mountain range it was restored in 2008 as an intricate series of dry-stone walls and steep paths leading to lookout posts above the settlement. Its inhabitants survived contact with Incas from 1480 onward but couldn’t survive the Spanish who set siege to the community. In 1667 the remaining 2000 people were deported to Buenos Aires.
Our stopover this evening is at a wine resort “Vinas de Cafayate” on at the base of San Isidro Hill on the edge of town and surrounded by vineyards. Another tough evening..