28. Trucking, Riding & Zipping - Chile & Argentina

May 14, 2011 - San Pedro De Atacama, Chile


We decided not to let our recent travel troubles get on top of us and in the morning we ventured out into the bustling streets of Santiago, in the warm autumn sunshine to take in a few sites.  We had a tourist map of the city and found that our hotel was close to many of the historic buildings in the Chilean capital.  We also found a laundry service so we took all our shampoo soaked clothes and dirty washing to have them cleaned.  Through a little hand gesturing we established that our clothes would be washed and returned to the shop the following day.  They weighed the washing to determine the charges and it only equated to costing us about £3 for 2 kilos of washing, a real bargain!

We then thought we would see some of the landmarks and walking around, our first stop was Plaza de Armas, Santiago Cathedral, the Presidents Palace with its enormous Chilean flag, historic streets, theatre and park. The next day we headed up the hill via an elevator to Cerro Santa Lucia which had panoramic views of the nearby streets and occasionally through the smog you could see the Andes, towering above the capital. That evening we met up with our fellow travellers and went out to dinner to celebrate James’ birthday who was one of the fellow passengers in our group. We went to a nice restaurant where we got to know everyone we would be travelling with.

There were 5 of us ‘newbies’ including Bill from Scotland and Garry & Sue from Oz on the truck along with 14 old hands. The old hands had been travelling for quite a few weeks on the truck already and included Andrew & Rozina, Nicola, Rob, the ‘Chicklets’ (Pip, Amy & Flick) & James (the Brits), Tara from the USA, Craig from Canada, Rik from Holland and Jules, Karen & Neil from Oz. Also on the truck were Ant our driver and Zoe our Group Leader (although she had to leave us for the first two weeks as she had to fly back to the UK for an emergency).

We were also divided into cook groups, so that if we stopped by the side of the road or at a campsite, it was the duty of the cook group to provide a breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of the group.  This also meant buying the food beforehand at a supermarket or local market.  We also were given a specific job to do.  Mine, along with Neil, was to load and unload the back locker of the truck which contained all of the group’s backpacks.  Clare, with Nicola had to sweep the inside of the truck when we reached a town.

The following day was our last day in Santiago so we took a funicular up the mountain to view the statue of Virgin Mary and further impressive views across the city.

The next day it was time to board the truck to start our drive across the Argentinean border to the town of Mendoza.  We drove across the Andes and climbed over 3,500 metres above sea level.  It took three hours to cross over from Chile to Argentina as the border post wasn’t that efficient.  However as the sun was setting we arrived in Mendoza where we would be staying for three nights. 

The region is famous for its Malbec grape which is used to produce the Malbec red.  On the first day we wandered around the town, walking through pretty parks and tree lined streets.  The next day a few of the group arranged to visit a winery and we were picked up from our accommodation and taken to the Lopez winery which was established in 1898.  We had an English speaking guide who took us around the factory and showed us the process of making wine. Afterwards we got to try a couple of the wines before having a very nice four course meal at the restaurant.  We were then transported back to our accommodation having had a couple of glasses of non-alcoholic cocktails!

The next day it was time to leave Mendoza and continue northwards. We drove for a number of hours before stopping at a campsite that overlooked a lake.  We set up our tents under some trees and took advantage of a warm shower, where the water was heated by a wood burning furnace.  It proved to be a very cold night and we were glad of our thick sleeping bags that we had bought in America.  We were up by 6am the following morning and packed away the tent and had breakfast before the sun dawned, as we had another long drive to our next port of call, Estancia Los Potreros which is a working cattle and horse ranch. The ranch has over 600 head of cattle and 150 horses and they also fund a local school in the valley.

We pitched our tents in the garden of the owner of the ranch and got to meet him later in the afternoon.  His name was Kevin and although born in Argentina, he grew up in the UK and even worked in the banking sector in London for a while before returning to Argentina to take over the Estancia along with his English wife who comes from Alton, in Hampshire.

In the evening the hosts threw us a barbecue with lots of food and free wine which was very nice.  As the climate gets cold at night we huddled around the bonfire whilst we waited for the food to be cooked.  It was an enjoyable evening and it was nice to relax.

The next day it was time for our first horse ride and we met our horses that would be carrying us over the next two days.  Both of our horses were Criollo horses which are from Northern Argentina and have short manes.  They also have Peruvian ponies as well.  My horse was called ‘Castanhio’ which is in reference to his chestnut brown colour and Clare’s was called ‘Azillo’.

Antonia who is an Argentine and who has married an Englishmen, lead us on our ride along with three Gauchos to ensure our horses behaved.  Or maybe they were keeping an eye on the riders!

We rode for about an hour and a half and after going up and down a few hills, we reached a waterfall which was pleasant.  We then rode back along a different path to return to the Estancia.  That evening a local guitarist played some typical gaucho songs.  Gaucho’s are the term used for Argentinian riders who work on the ranches and are similar to the American cowboy.  The guitarist was very good and we were clapping along to his songs.  Antonia was also there and she would translate what the songs meant.

The next day we mounted our trusty steeds and headed to the highest point on the estancia with stunning views of the valley below.  After two and a half hours we arrived at a farm and had a go at lassoing a calf.  Only one of our group managed to do it although whilst practising Clare successfully managed to lasso a pole which was very good.

We then rode the horses back to the stables and then walked for half an hour to reach our campsite.  In the evening, the owner Kevin invited us to a wine tasting at his home, which was a nice way o finish our stay at the Estancia.

Next morning it was time to heads north again and we drove all day and reached a campsite by a river called Jesus Maria and pitched camp in between fields of sugar cane.  The mosquitoes were out in force and even with socks on, we were nursing some bites around the ankles the next day.

The following day we continued north stopping at Quilmes Ruins which were indigenous Incan tribe that held out against the invading Spanish for a number of years.  In the afternoon sunshine we arrived at a pretty town called Cafayate which is surrounded by vineyards.  Again, we were camping and set up our tents before heading to the pretty central square to take some photos and enjoy an evening beer at one of the roadside bars.  We then went to a restaurant recommended by our tour leader and this was the first time me and Clare ate llama.  It was delicious!

We left Cafayate early the next morning and headed towards Salta, about 75 kilometers outside of Salta we stopped to do some canopying. Basically this is similar to zip lining and this particular site boasted having the highest wires in South America. We got into all our equipment and set off to climb the mountain to our short first wire. It was short, only about 100 metres, but it was very high and ran along the edge of the mountain. We were told how to sit in our harness, how to use a guiding hand and most importantly how to brake!!

So with hearts in mouths and not daring to look down, one by one we set off along the wire, it was as scary as hell but very exhilarating at the same time. We all made it across safely and landed on some very wobbly legs. The next wire was right next to the last landing point and it was immediately onto the next wire which was about 400 metres long and went from one mountain to another across a very deep ravine which we thought was about 120 metres below us! No turning back now, even more scared and wondering what made us want to do it, we launched ourselves off with very clear instructions to brake when indicated. Easier said than done, as to brake you had to grab hold of the wire with your leather padded gloves and pull yourself up. 

After having completed the second wire, we had a short climb up the mountainside to the next couple of wires that were located on the side of the mountain.  The height wasn’t too high although we were told our descent would be faster so it was important to break as soon as the guide at the landing point indicated to do so.

We carried on having a great time zipping down the lines and our landings were improving all the time.  However, the next two zip wires crossed the valley again and it was an amazing view as we flew across.  The only different factor was a cross wind and we had to make sure we didn’t spin as we went across otherwise the momentum might stop us and we would have to get hauled in by the guides.  Fortunately, everyone criss-crossed the wires safely.

The last wire took us back into the garden of the zip-wiring centre.  Mind you what they didn’t tell us is that we would clip a couple of tops of trees before landing.  Clare unfortunately got clipped which cut her leg a little.  However, Andrew who is in our group is a vet and he administered first aid and the wound was cleaned and Clare was patched up.

It was time then to head into the town of Salta where we would stay in a hotel for two nights.  After camping for six straight nights, it was nice to sleep in a proper bed! Ah bliss!

Over the next two days we explored the town and took a cable car to a high point which gave us good views of the city. 

After our pleasant stay in Salta it was time to leave Argentina and head back into the northern tip of Chile before heading across the Alta Plana into Bolivia.  We arrived late in the sleepy little town of San Pedro de Atacama and having to pitch tents again, we dragged ourselves into a local restaurant and had a selection of pizza amongst the group.  Alas there was no hot water at the campsite so Paul had a brief cold shower before diving into a sleeping bag to get warm.  At this stage we had climbed to around 3,000 metres above sea level and the temperature drops rapidly when the sun goes down.

The next morning we sleepily arose having had our night’s sleep broken by a chorus of barking dogs.   Over a very nice breakfast of scrambled egg on toast the group highlighted the wonderful canine world and what we would do if we met any of these delightful animals.  We packed up the tents and boarded our truck ‘Cindy’ to head towards Bolivia and to an even higher altitude and to continue our adventure!



3. Santiago - Palace of National History
4. Santiago - The Palacio de Gobierno 'La Moneda'
7. Santiago - Chileans Playing Chess in Plaza
8. Santiago - View From Iglesia de Veracruz
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