Category Archives: hosts

Bariloche 11

Lake Days : Bariloche, Argentina

We were welcomed back into Argentina like old friends. We both agreed that the border crossing in the shadow of Volcán Lanín was the easiest and friendliest that we have come across so far. The staff were happy to chat, fixed up some paperwork issues that had been giving us problems and even boiled some hot water for our thermos… having water for a mate break is a big deal to Argentines.

The Lake District of Argentina has been a paradise for wild camping. It seems that we can take any random road alongside a lake and find a perfect spot for the night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHitting the snooze button. Lago Lolog. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA morning at the gym, Lago Lolog.

Bariloche 23 Bariloche 24 Bariloche 25Honey, I’m home. Lago Gutiérrez.

Our good luck didn’t end at the border crossing. We arrived in San Martin de Los Andes and checked our emails to find that Manu and the La Chanchita Bus were also there. Manu has just finished his project and it’s a real beauty. A 1966 Mercedes Bus that was once used as public transport in Buenos Aires, he’s fitted it out as a six berth camper ready to take snow seekers wherever they want to go in the area.

We met up with them at the Chapelco ski resort and followed them back to Bariloche along the amazingly scenic Ruta de Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Drive).

Bariloche 01 Bariloche 02Is it a bus or a cabin?

Bariloche 08 Bariloche 09 Bariloche 10 Bariloche 11In convoy with La Chanchita

Once in Bariloche, Manu welcomed us into his home and showed us around the area. We had a great time throughout the week, hanging out with him and his friend Lu (and his dog Bengoa).

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Manu also knew of a hidden lakeside beach, perfect for a dinner party around the campfire.

Bariloche 19 Bariloche 20 Bariloche 21 Bariloche 22A lesson in asado

We couldn’t have hoped for a better week. All thanks to the kindness and generosity of this one guy. There was only one downside. Argentina didn’t get much snow this winter, so the ski resorts were either completely closed or not worth skiing.

But not to worry. Manu had a plan for that too…

Posted from: Coyhaique, Chile.

PS: for some amazing photos from this week see the La Chanchita facebook page.

Winter in Wine Country: Northern Argentina

Northern Argentina has so much to offer, but we really didn’t make the most of it. As I was slowly recovering from the most disgusting gastro illness of all time, Mark was next on the hit list. We didn’t have much energy for anything, but as always, we had to keep moving. When we weren’t driving, we were in recovery mode.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us about three days to realise we were wearing the same thing.

The north is dotted with some super cute dusty desert towns. They mostly have a charming mix of white colonial style architecture and adobe mud brick buildings. Usually our main reason for visiting civilisation is to sample the region’s local foods (and in this case wine), but with our pathetic appetites, we struggled to get into the swing of things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch in Tilcara – still in my pjs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery town seemed to have a pristine white church

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdobe ruins

Ice-cream imitating wine in Cafayate 

The more we travel, the more I am able to draw comparisons and parallels with other places we’ve been. Sometimes it can be counterproductive, but other times it helps to create a sense of familiarity and comfort in a new place. Northern Argentina reminds me a lot of Utah, in a good way. It has striking rock formations and beautiful coloured desert landscapes, as if burnt by the sun. Oh, and some sweet wild campsites.

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We arrived in Mendoza late on Saturday night. This wasn’t great timing, as lots of places were closed on Sunday and Monday. We still had fun though, exploring the pretty streets and plazas on our bikes. It’s easy to forget that this city is in the middle of the desert.

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Our culinary highlights were dinner at Maria Antonieta and wine tasting at the Vines of Mendoza.

We met up with Beto in Mendoza, he’s a VW mechanic and self-proclaimed pirate. After the rough roads in Bolivia, we need to replace the engine mount. After taking a look at the van, Beto recommended that we wait until Santiago where they have more parts. But meanwhile, he toured us around his city, helped us buy some tire chains and car insurance and gave us some other contacts in Chile and Argentina. His wife, Kuki, even treated us to a great home cooked meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFausto, a sweet Brazilian dude, staying with Beto while he works on his engine

Beto introduced us to the art form that is mate drinking. He taught us how to prepare the leaves properly, by shaking out the dust. Then once the hot water is added, spitting out the first bitter mouthfuls. The cup is then passed around the circle, and each person slurps an entire cupful before passing it on. When you’ve had enough you say “Gracias”, but not before (this is the hardest part!).

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We decided that winter here is probably not the best time for wine touring. The countryside was stark and lifeless, but still held a depressing kind of beauty. Blood red berries (probably poisonous!), offered the only splash of colour.

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The hostess at Bressia took one look at us, and said we needed a reservation to do a wine tasting. We had diligently made one the day before, so after giving her a silent “up yours”, settled down for some yummy wine and cheese. We already know Argentina has great reds, but we also really enjoyed their white, Lágrima Canela, a delicious chardonnay blend. After loading the van up with wine, it was time to hit the road again.

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Lately our thoughts have been drifting towards snow covered forests. The forests are still a bit out of reach, but the snow is getting closer. We headed towards the border for Chile, but since the road was closed due to bad weather, we spent the night in the snow-less ski resort of Penitentes.

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Bring on Chile and the snow!!!!

Posted from: Santiago, Chile.

Warm Welcomes : Cochabamba & Sucre, Bolivia

After reading about Bolivia and chatting to some other road trippers, I expected Bolivians to be stand-offish, suspicious and reserved. The people we’ve met however, have been the complete opposite. I am realising more and more just how individual a travelling experience is. We have to take advice with a grain of salt. For us, so much depends on timing, luck and our mind-set at the time.

Our first day in La Paz, we were parked outside a cafe, when a fellow VW enthusiast tracked us down. Juan had soon invited us to visit him in Cochabamba. At the time this wasn’t on our planned route, but the offer was too good to refuse, so when we left La Paz we headed that way.

We had a great couple of days spending time with Juan and his wife, who coincidently is also a Rebecca. They showed us around Cochabamba (and the world’s tallest Jesus), and were extremely helpful and patient as we bumbled along in Spanish. Beccy is an amazing cook and we were treated to more delicious Bolivian home cooking. To top it all off, we camped at their apartment building with access to the hottest showers we’ve had in Bolivia.

Cocha 01Cocha 02 Cocha 04Cocha 13

We followed Juan and his immaculate Westfalia around the city, accomplishing in half a day what would usually take us three. We got the brakes checked, indicators fixed and brand new tires. There is something about VW people, it’s like having family all over the world.

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Returning from lunch in Cochabamba one day, we found a note waiting for us. I guess the van had another fan, as did our matching denim outfits that day. We accepted the invite to meet with Daniel at the pub, he spoke better English than us, and reminded me of some of our friends from home (Canada and Australia) I’ve been missing.

Cocha 08 Cocha 09

Sucre is another amazing destination that wasn’t initially on our to do list. Everyone we’ve met whose been there says “Sucre” in this wistful, dreamy voice. Obviously, we had to check it out. Sucre is very easy on the eyes, with its colonial white buildings and pristine main plaza. This is not the kind of city I expected in Bolivia, but then Bolivia has been proving most of my expectations wrong.

Cocha 10 Cocha 11 The road to Sucre

Sucre 09Sucre 13Sucre 10Sucre 11We camped in the courtyard at Pachamamma Hostal – a great recommendation from Arjan and Leontien

We only spent one full day here, so really weren’t able to explore as much as we would have liked. What we did find though was another couple, Arthur and Yana also traveling in a VW van, and had a great time sharing stories with them. They told us about the Mercardo Central, one of the best markets we’ve been to so far. We spent hours here, eating soup (less than $1 a bowl), snacking on peanut butter cookies, drinking smoothies and loading up on supplies before heading out into the desert.

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So far lady luck has been well and truly on our side, but she has some different plans in store for us next …

Posted from: my sick bed in Uyuni, Bolivia.