Route 40 -

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
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80
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Trip End Dec 29, 2008


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, November 9, 2008

After this all too brief indulgence of luxury it was back to Route 40. (Clive has driven it and truly does now have the T-shirt - see photos). Route 40 is a legend in Argentina much as Route 66 is in the USA. Many Argentines using it as a challenge be it hiking, cycling, or motor biking the whole length.

Here are some facts :
1. It is the longest road in Argentina (over 5000km/3000miles long)
2. It starts at sea level and goes higher than 5000 meters higher.
3. It crosses 18 national parks, 18 major rivers and connects 27 Andes passes.

Route 40 has kilometre markers all along the way which show how far you are from the end of the road and give a reference point for those who live in the wilderness. It is long notorious for its lengthy unpaved stretches (the government had pledged to tarmac it by 2007, but in 2008 our experience is that they have not reached this target, despite all the marketing to say that they "are on track to complete , this task".

Along the way there are signs showing just how many kilometres are left before you reach the end of the road.   Clive posed by some of these with his special Route 40 T-shirt.

As we drive we see some wild desert foxes right by the roadside (not much larger than a domestic cat).  The villages along the road are often just a couple of adobe homes.

One place we stopped to see was a village called Molinos, which was noted for its adobe houses. However we got there and found a lovely church and a beautiful courtyard house of major historic interest which has now been turned into a hotel. As it now the afternoon and siesta time, the whole place was deserted which only added to the charm.

We also stopped at a working finca which had their own private church which housed two 300 year old mummies.

As we travelled along Route 40 the road was mostly just dust and gravel and occasionally just to tarmac. It was always a relief to find the tarmac. The car, black when we started, was so dusty that it was difficult to know what colour it was. In one village a young girl was so impressed by the dust she drew her finger along the length of the car until she came face to face with Clive sitting at the steering wheel eating his lunch.

Sometimes the road was so narrow that the bends on the hills were a leap of faith.

Having thought we had seen every variation of rock and mountains know to man, we entered the landscape where The Empire Strikes Back was filmed.  Clive got creative with the black and white photography and we ended up with a huge number of photos (not all shown here!).

Our final night was spent in Cafayate, which is popular with Argentines and foreign tourists alike mainly I guess, because it is the heart of the wine growing region in the north-west and it is possible to visit the Bodegas (at a price) for some wine tasting. I have to say we were not too struck on this town, everything seemed so overpriced and mediocre compared to the rest of our road trip. However the last day of driving was once again though more stunning scenery with many unusual rock formations.   In the main plaza at Cafayte there seemed to be a gathering of vintage cars, all renovated.  

Eventually on our way back to Salta we begin to pass through some more "normal" scenery and we stopped for lunch in a small town called Colones. Up until now, we seemed to hit every bit of civilisation at "siesta time" but here we stopped in the main square and happened upon a mobile Empanada stall, basically a wood fire oven on wheels. We ordered 6 empanadas de carne which are a bit like mini Cornish pasties and although Clive is Cornish by birth, even he agreed that these were the best he had ever tasted - praise indeed!

Along the way back to Salta we were stopped at one of the ubiquitous police roadblocks. Until now we had been waved through most of them, apart from the one near the salt flats where, unfortunately, I had left some caked salt crystals on the back seat which the policeman asked to see. Fortunately he realised that these we salt and not crack cocaine!

When we were stopped this time Clive wound down the window the policewoman asked (or so Clive thought) if we had any "carne"  ie meat. Clive looked around for any sandwiches containing meat and then started to explain that we did not have any meat with us.  Suddenly it dawned that she was asking to see his "carnet"  ie license/registration. The woman realised our mistake about the same time and, in fits of laughter, waved us on. Lost in translation yet again!!
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