It only took a 2-day journey to cross the Andes but it was quite eventful so I thought it deserved a post.
We awoke in Salta, packed into our Ford Ranger and headed for the Andes. This was a proper car meant for serious driving, a change from our little Chevrolet Classic trying to manoeuvre dirt roads. This car also had 2 child seats so we were pretty stoked (it’s actually unusual for kids in Argentina to be in car seats at all so they are hard to come by). Joaquin our guide was a good fella from Salta, full of fun facts and figures. Did you know that a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey and could be worth as much as 10-15 times that of a horse due to its ability to work? Neither did I. Did you know that Llama manure is pretty much odourless? Neither did I. Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds? Joaquin didn’t tell me that one, it was the little kid on Jerry Maguire but those kind of facts stick with me. Can’t wait to drop the mule stat into conversation when I return home. Anyway we started our trek driving past plenty of horses (cheapskates) into the far north west of Argentina. We cruised past the Cerro de los Siete Colores (hill of 7 colours) and visited the market stalls at each town along the way.
Our next stop was an Incan archaeological site in a little Andean town of Tilcara. It is full of old Incan stone houses and was like one big hide and seek park for the kids. This village is high on a mountain with houses set up in a village the way the Incas used to live. Piper absolutely loved it but was a little confused about where their fridge would have gone. Evie thought it was our accommodation for the night, found her favourite house and settled in, laying down on the dirt floor with her teddy. They didn’t want to leave.
We finally got the kids out of there and headed to Purmamarca for our final night in Argentina before our trip across the Andes the next day. The setting for our accommodation was pretty amazing (not just Piper thought so this time), built in the side of the mountain, adobe style.
Our last meal in Argentina was a little fancy at a quiet restaurant. When I say quiet I mean everyone else there didn’t really talk. We were about as welcome as a group hug in a hospital burns unit. Here we rock up with our two kids and blow their intimate night out of the water starting when Evie belted out a “Do you know dogs eat their own poo?” (thanks uncle Zag) …good meal though.
It was early to bed as Joaquin said we would need to leave at 7am to limit the time spent at the border crossing as it is 4200m above sea level. To put this in perspective Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak is only 2200m. We woke the kids up bright and early and Joaquin decided to let us down like a fat kid on a see saw and turned up at 8:10 having overslept! I had been running through the possibilities of where he was. Had he taken our money and run (or bought a mule), had something happened to him (gaucho gun fight) or had the experienced tour guide of 15 years just slept in? Yep, he just slept in.
Anyway, we soon hit the hairpin bends through the mountains with our first stop at the amazing salt flats of Salinas Grandes at approximately 3500m above sea level. This was one of the most stunning places I have seen. In the middle of nowhere it was a Colombian’s dream, white powder as far as the eye could see…. salt. The girls loved walking across it, tasting it, while obviously Ez loved photographing it.
We continued on and climbed up toward the border. We stopped for lunch on the run (only 18 empanadas this time) and Pipey tucked into her favourite queso (cheese) ones. We finally made it to the border. It took us about 1 hour here, getting our stamps, having our car and luggage checked before we were officially in Chile! The kids (Piper, Evie and I) were pretty excited, mum was excited too. We saw wild vicuna – a relative of the llama whose wool is the most expensive in the world.
After a month in Argentina we were ready for a change and were excited to see what Chile would bring. The short answer was vomit.
As we made it up to the highest point at 4900m, some altitude sickness for Pipey kicked in. The cheese empanadas may not have been the smartest idea as the great rainbow mouth train left its station. We cleaned her up, pumped her full of oxygen and continued on. Thirty minutes later she was as happy as cousin Larry. Of course, this was when Evie needed and emergency bathroom break – Ez had to battle the 200km winds and lack of oxygen at the highest point in our crossing to help her wee on the side of the road. We drove past Bolivia, which was only a couple of hundred metres to the right. It was tempting to hop over the border but we were told border patrol was tighter than Serena Williams undies so gave it a miss.
We completed our journey through strange Mars-like terrain of red hills and salt lakes, over the beautiful snow-capped Andes with 2 kids quiet and asleep in the back seat. We passed the llama and vicuna fest and arrived in San Pedro De Atacama, a small vibrant town in the north of Chile.
The kids were great these couple of days. Two long driving days in the car with early mornings. Ez took 37948 photos so was extremely happy also. We’re looking forward to our time in Chile.
p.s. We now have a new reference point for drives in the car. When we jump into the car the kids ask if the drive is as long as Sumir’s house. That was the 3yr old back in Bariloche which was evidently (if you ask the girls) a long drive. So now we just have to say if it’s shorter or longer than Sumir’s for them to understand!
For more photos from our border crossing check out Erica’s Gallery