Tracing the Edge of the Andes

It didn’t take long for hippy Kelly to get restless and crave for mountain Kelly. It also was becoming quite clear that hippy time for completing projects was a bit slower than Kelly time; ultimately, I decided to put my swivel seat idea on hold for now. I had also been “showering” by trying to warm the icy water, that I took from the tap, in my sun shower throughout the day. The weather temperature would usually only get to maybe mid 50s (F), and I’d try to shower in the “heat” of the day. The shower stall was a dark, small, shed structure made out of cinder blocks adjacent to the lavatory. Since my sun shower is gravity fed, I’d hang it from the single nail on the ceiling and then crouch under it to try to get clean in the still quite cold water. I felt a bit like a goblin bathing this way, crouched down in a dark place that could have just as well been a cave, and I realized it really didn’t need to be this way. It had been a wonderful and interesting week at the hippy camp, but it was time to move on, there was more of Argentina to see. I knew it would be my last night while we circled around a fire, sipped wine, and ate homemade pizza, but I didn’t tell them. I prefer to slip away quietly in the mornings instead of saying goodbye, because then it feels more like a “see you later.” I enjoyed my last night with the guys as we chatted and shared stories until midnight, then I simply said goodnight and climbed into Savannah to plan on where to go next.

I decided to drive about 4 hours South of Mendoza to check out Atuel Canyon, which seemed kind of like a mini Lake Powell where a reservoir was dammed and previous canyons were now filled with water. It was not natural, but it looked interesting. Before I left the city, I tried to purchase the mandatory car insurance but was unsuccessful since it was a weekend. I was a bit spooked to drive, because I’ve heard some horror stories of huge fines if you’re caught without insurance (though mostly from Central American countries). But with restlessness winning me over, I decided to chance it and slipped out of the city to the South. I ended up being waved through three different police checkpoints, all while with sweaty palms as I nervously gripped the wheel. I’m not sure why they didn’t bother to stop me and ask me for my documents, but I was sure happy they didn’t. After Mendoza I drove a long, high, cold, foggy stretch Southeast. I had been feeling not so confident or mentally strong in the morning but ready or not it was time to move. Over this high plateau, my music set the perfect mood and the landscape was stunning, and I felt good again.

I arrived at the lake in the early evening as Savannah climbed up the dirt track switchbacks to get to the top of the dam. They were steep, but luckily dry. After another 2 kilometers along the rim of the reservoir, I found the pull-off listed on iOverlander to sleep for the night. The last light of the day threw shadows across the water as a gloomy fog moved in. It was a pretty sweet place to spend my night. I had bought some silicone to seal up places where Savannah is leaking water onto my air box (hope I got the right one), but by the time I parked it was too cold and damp for it to set properly. I had seen that the forecast called for rain that night, so I tarped the front of Sav hoping it would prevent water leaking in. The temperature was dropping when I crawled into my sleeping bag that night.

I woke around 5 AM to what sounded like rain on the roof. Peering out, I could see it was in fact precipitating but it didn’t really feel like rain. The tarp was secure though and I sleepily dove back into bed. Around 7 AM I woke up cold, peeked out and saw about 2 inches of snow covering everything! It looked magical, but I was also a bit concerned that the snow may not stop any time soon and Sav is not very savvy in the snow. I decided to hightail it out from the top of the canyon and made my way back down to town where it was only raining.

There, I gave in to the temptation of a hot shower (first one in over a week) and a warm bed. I booked a studio room in a cute little mountain lodge in the canyon, with covered parking for Savannah to dry out as well. I didn’t do much there but shower (twice), chill, cook up a big meal of pasta, and binge on some Netflix with the wifi.

The next morning Sav and I rolled Southwest to hit HW40, after successfully purchasing some auto insurance. As we were approaching the highway from the canyon, I watched the Andes loom in the distance and proceed to get taller and more magnificent. The sights were unparalleled to anything I had ever seen before, with the steep, snowy mountains stretching endlessly both North and South from my due West heading. Some of the shapes of the summits were so sharp and peculiar that I found myself distracted from the road trying to figure out how they had formed. Cotton candy clouds dotted the sky and made for a stunning drive.

Once I hit the base of the Andes, HW 40 veered South. For the rest of the day, I drove right along the edge of the mountains and even up onto the plateau. I found myself on a dirt stretch of this “highway” when I began to look for a campsite. Savannah rolled at a leisurely 20 mph to avoid too much jarring from the washboard condition of the road, and I took in the scenery. We were now in the land of volcanos. The road had climbed quite a bit before it turned to dirt and now it rolled gently over and through ancient lava flows. Dormant volcanos, with their gaping calderas, were an abrupt shift from the pointy summits of the northern Andes. Though the road was annoying to drive, I enjoyed the excuse to drive slowly and enjoy the sunset among these giants. Some trucks passed, and everyone waved; it feels very friendly in Argentina so far. Just at sunset, I found a pull-off along a black cliff of old lava flow and parked for the night. It was a billion-star view 😉 and cold enough to bust my onesie back out!

I’ve been tying knots in my brain, as I often do when I’m driving for a bit. I can’t help but wonder about the other people who I pass on the road. Most are in pick-up trucks or cars and are likely locals either working or living up here, some are in buses and traveling to somewhere particular and for a specific reason, and some are in vans or motorhomes with perhaps as little of a plan as I have. When I pass other travelers in vans, I wonder what their story is like – why they’re traveling, if they really do have a plan, if they’ve planned for it for a while with someone else or if they’re out there doing it on their own. It’s like a brief glimpse of another “you” passing by, and they may also be wondering what the hell they’re doing driving to the end of the world, or back from it. I’m still trying to wrap my head around driving through Argentina, in Savannah, on my quest to find whatever it is I’m looking for down South.

Sav and I rolled down from the volcanos and got some much-needed gas at the closest “big” town. I stopped at a grocery store to restock on food, which took me four different tries to figure out how to get into the entrance. Stocked up, I continued heading South until dark when I hit Las Lajas (a border town). Without many options, I went for the best one which was parking behind a YPF gas station. I asked about parking for the night and the gas attendant showed me where to park, gave me the password to the (very weak) wifi, and told me there were restrooms and showers. Now dark though, I didn’t want to explore what this gas station shower was like so I opted out of that. Instead, I tried to sleep in Sav next to a semi-truck which ran all night long, apparently the person sleeping in the truck really needed heat? I woke up the next morning cold with my van covered in ice, and still without a plan. I decided to indulge again in an enclosure. Luckily, literally one minute of a drive away, there was a set of cute little yellow houses that were pretty cheap to rent ($20 USD per night). I booked it, drove over, and had another much-needed shower and wifi and made a plan.

I’m in San Martin de los Andes now, and I think Sav and I will take a bit of a break here. There seems to be ample hiking, rafting, and skiing… and potentially a WorkAway. Though, where I’m at now, at a local hostel, it is only $6 per night with wifi and hot showers so I can’t complain. I decided to wait here in Argentina until I know a date for when I need to work in Peru. Since the Argentinian TIP (vehicle import permit) is good for 8 months, it makes the most sense to wait here until I know I have a date to go to Peru. Once I have it, I’ll drive to Chile, probably park at the workaway in Los Muermos with the horses, and then head up to work.

Here in San Martin, I lucked out and snagged some tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival here in town next week! A little taste of home is always welcome and I’m stoked for 3 nights of adventure films (and to hopefully meet some adventure folks!). I also got a glimpse into the hiking scene around here and I am not at all unhappy with where I may be spending a week or so 🙂

Sleep spots, here!

Song I’ve been digging lately, here 🙂

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