16/11/2018 – 20/11/2018
We crossed the border from Uruguay into Argentina about 10km west of Fray Bentos on Friday 16th November. Crossing the border into Argentina was quite smooth. We drove past about a hundred waiting trucks up to a booth like a road toll booth and handed over our passports. They were stamped out of Uruguay and into Argentina. Then we parked up the car about 5m ahead and Stewart took the Temporary Importation Paper (1 page) for the car into the Auduana office. This was stamped and he was issued with a new one for Argentina. We paid 270 Uruguay Pesos to cross the enormous bridge that spans the Rio Negro and we were in Argentina. All in about 20 minutes. All this can be done with very few words spoken and a lot of sign language from several national police from both countries. As the context is clear (you are trying to leave Uruguay and enter Argentina), following the instructions isn’t as hard as you might imagine. We hope, but doubt that future border crossings will be this smooth!
Next we needed Argentinian Pesos, a re-charge for our Argentinian SIM cards and some gas canisters for our cookers. In Uruguay we found the gas canisters difficult to find and very expensive. The canisters that you can buy in packs of 4 for $7 at Bunnings were between $8-$10 EACH. After about 2 hours in Gualeguaychu, we were all sorted and ready to drive.
We find that as we go from town to town, the credit and debit cards work inconsistently. At home you may be asked for ID in the form of a driver’s licence but we often need to produce our passaporte or passport.
In Argentina there is a maximum ATM withdrawal per transaction. We believe that this is for both the safety of the customer in the case of a ‘mugging’ but also for economic reasons as the Peso isn’t very stable here. The maximum varies a little but the most we have been able to withdraw in one transaction is AP$5,000 which is about $AUD195. As we are trying to collect a reasonable amount of cash before we get into the Patagonia region. This can be quite time consuming as most ATMs only give you AP$2,000 at a time and sometimes the ATM is empty (hence the stockpiling). We knew this would be the situation but it’s surprising how long little things like finding an ATM that will talk to your card and withdrawing cash in multiples of $80 can take in your travel day.
But where are you? We can hear you ask!
Our first few days in Argentina have been focused on heading due west towards the Andes.
On Friday 16th Junin. We travelled 401km to Junin from the border crossing. This route began with a beautiful drive across the wetlands and the delta of two rivers The Rio Uruguay and the Rio Parana. Then across two enormous suspension bridges and finally through fields of mixed grazing (sheep and cows).
We found that our chosen route had many roadworks at major intersections which made for a few interesting U-turns. It was a very wet day but we were again fortunate that the rain cleared before we stopped for the day at a campground at Junin. A few dogs came to visit and a black Labrador took up residence on our door mat.
Saturday 17th Nuevo Galia 404km of mostly straight road. A beautiful drive through more mixed farming land. The birdlife along the waterlogged verges and wetlands was delightful. We saw storks, ducks, flocks of flamingoes, water hens, egrets, kites/hawks (not sure which) and more yet to be identified birds. The country changed to fields of corn, wheat and cattle. We stopped for coffee at La Parilla, a roadside restaurant.
We waited for them to finish mopping the floors and open at 12noon. It was Saturday and they weren’t serving coffee. They only served all you can eat meat for AP$300/person. (AUD$ 12). Naturally we stayed. Within 10 minutes the restaurant was FULL of customers. The meat kept coming and we even managed between the 6 of us to eat our salad. We stayed in a memorable campsite at Nuevo Galia – no servicios (no services) despite the glowing reviews on Google. Lesson for the day was not to believe everything you read on the internet (unless of course its on our blog). Dogs of all shapes and sizes and breeds are becoming the norm at our campsites. They are generally well fed and very passive and obedient. The little Irish Wolfhound was the favourite at this council park and was more welcome than the police who showed up at 11.40pm, hours after we had gone to bed! We gather they were just curious as to who would be camping here. They took some pictures, looked at a couple of our passports, shook hands, said buenos noches and left!
Sunday 18th Malargue another 500kms to the foot of the Andes. This was a lovely drive with a few very lovely interactions with locals. Firstly at a service station at Bowen, where the cars took about 10 minutes each to fill up as the pumps were agonisingly slow. Locals came past and took photos or wanted to talk and practice their English. After locating an ATM which wouldn’t let T & J withdraw money, we took a detour into a town called General Alvear. Whilst the ATM procedures were attended to, Barb and Jen got chatting to family near the cars. We were invited up to their Nonna’s (grandma’s) for lunch. We declined having just eaten but were overwhelmed by this lovely offer. From there the road passed though a major fruit growing region, where a quick stop to purchase some local dried fruit ended up with us receiving gifts of jam, having photos taken and fond hugs and kisses to farewell the new la familia.
Next the road headed towards the snow capped Andes in the distance. We stopped in the Municipal Campground in Malargue. Lovely shady campsites, wifi near the office. And a LOT of dogs barking at night.
Monday, Tuesday 19th-20th in Malargue. Climate here is similar to the end of winter in Alice Springs. Dry, cold nights, warm days, bright blue skies and a bit breezy in the afternoon. Snow capped mountains in the near distance, just 60km away. Brilliant days to wash the sheets and towels. We headed to the Tourism office & discovered two things. Firstly shops are open from 9-1pm then 5-9pm – big siesta time! Secondly it was a public holiday so most of the shops weren’t open at all on Monday.
We stayed 3 nights to enjoy the surrounds and to catch up on communications, journals, photos, errands and rest. It seems that we have the wrong SIM cards for this area of Argentina so our coverage isn’t great and were mainly restricted to Wifi. After an hour in another phone company shop, it seems we can’t change companies as we aren’t Argentinian. In the process, we have managed to render Stewart’s phone out of action and the previously working SIM card isn’t being recognized by his phone. We are lucky that often the campgrounds have WiFi even if it is only near the office. From here were heading south on the Route 40 along the Andes, starting with some dirt road and ‘wild camping’. Its only 2,900 to Ushuaia….