Finally after disagreements with car rental companies (due to their higher prices as promised the day before) in Mendoza we managed to get on the road to San Agustin Argentina. Our plan for the first day was to visit some national parks but after 400 km (250 mi) we realized we were little too optimistic. More about that in the following paragraphs.
Here’s the full schedule for the whole Argentina road trip:
- San Agustin de Valle Fertil
- San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca (with Ischigualasto Provinical Park)
- San Salvador de Jujuy
- San Salvador de Jujuy (with Humahuaca and Purmamarca)
- Salta (with Salinas Grandes)
- Belen (with Cafayate)
- Famatina (with Fiambala)
The first bad surprise struck us just about a hundred kilometers after crossing the city border. As far as the eyesight goes you could see one bored motorcycle patrol officer by the road waving us to stop. It turned out he noticed that our headlights were not fully turned on as required. The reason was that car rental guys told us which position is the correct one but unfortunately it wasn’t the right one for the police officer.
Luckily there was a true-blue Spanish guy in our group. Otherwise I can’t even imagine how the communication would have been when neither of parties didn’t understand each other’s language. So after they had a little discussion in a distance it turned out we had two choices:
- to get a fine maybe not so big and go pay it in the nearest (more than 100 km) police station and spend more than 2 hours for that, or
- to pay 50 USD directly to the officer because he “needs to feed his family etc” and save lots of time.
Since time is essential when traveling then we picked the option number 2 which hopefully helped him to buy something nice for his kids too…
Also note that you will see lots of police (-like) officers during a road trip in Argentina. The reason is that the country is divided into 23 provinces plus one autonomous city (Buenos Aires). All of them have border controls where officials mostly just hang around and inspect bigger trucks. But time to time they also check smaller cars.
Few times one of these smaller cars happened to be ours too. Once they even kind of desperately examined the documents to find at least one little error. Luckily we had all our papers as needed and also no issues with a car. For some the system reminded the soviet times in Estonia back in the 80’s.
I don’t know if this type of actions are very common in the country but I’ve read and heard that it has happened to other as well. If you take a look at the numbers of Argentina’s economy in the last decade then the behavior like this is actually not so exceptional. Specially when you leave the bigger cities then in the suburban areas you could clearly see the difference of living quality. No wonder country-side folks don’t like people who travel in cama-suite buses that they can’t afford as I wrote in the previous post.
Endless bumpy road
The distances in Argentina feel enormous when you are coming from Europe. There can be hundreds of kilometers of straight road with no human settlements. In certain areas the roads like this also go up and down and up and down and so on. Usually the bottom/down parts of the road are made of concrete and the upper parts are made of asphalt. The reason is that so in the flood period the water can distribute more evenly while not destroying the road. This again can be quite annoying when you have to slow down after every hundred meters to pass the bottom part. Or you can just keep the speed constant and enjoy the ride like in the amusement parks:)
The nature by the road is really nice semi-desert which you might not encounter in Europe. The more north you go the more and bigger cactuses tend to appear. So yeah, if you are into cacti then there are plenty of them to take pictures with. Also you will probably see some guanacos who live only in some South American countries. They belong to the same genus as llamas and their appearance is also similar.
Finally I should mention that if you want to have a cool road trip then make sure your vehicle is equipped with an air conditioner. Specially when you are going towards equator (in my case north). The daily temperature can rise up over 30 °C (86 °C) so you can only imagine how’d it be in the car. Also when you are renting a car it’s good to make sure how it works. The button’s location where you can turn it on might not be so obvious, trust me.
San Agustin Argentina
After many photo stops and a long road to San Agustin Argentina we arrived there in the afternoon. Realizing 4 PM is already too late for the national parks and museums (since they’d close soon) we decided to call it a day. Villa San Agustin is a very nice small town in San Juan province and is a good stopping point if you plan to visit Ischigualasto Provinical Park (see the road trip schedule above) or Talampaya National Park. There are also few museums in the town and a nearby lake for water activities.
Eating habits in Argentina
Dropped our bags in a hostel and proceeded to the town center for a dinner. There we first learned about the Argentinians’ eating habits. In larger cities like Buenos Aires and Mendoza you could easily find a place to eat no matter the time. But in smaller towns it’s near impossible to eat out before 8 PM. It’s just the Argentinian way. They eat breakfast in the morning as most people. Then at the lunchtime everybody go home to eat together (siesta). After lunch they return to their jobs/schools and finally, about 10 PM it is dinnertime.
So we practically walked by all the known restaurants and cafes in the town and all of them were closed. Local kids were laughing and looking at us like we’re crazy or something when we asked them for help: “Looking for a place to eat at this time… what’s wrong with you?” Luckily a supermarket (maybe the only one in this town) was open and its prices were a lot better than in bigger cities.
Pretty simple but clean hostel within walking distance from the town center. Because of the low season we were the only quests there and therefore it was really nice and quiet place to be. It has a little kitchen that we used to make ourselves a dinner. Local host also treated us with our first Mate drinking ritual. He explained (in Spanish of course) all the traditions of how to drink mate properly etc. Since mate can have an unusual bitter taste then he had his own smoother mixtures made there too.
One minus about this place was that next morning before leaving we were asked to gather the sheets and bring them to reception ourselves. Not a hard thing to do but still kind of odd for an establishment like this.