From the Andes, pampas, the north eastern coast to Buenos Aires.
This section of the trip took us back across the pampa along the Rio Limay, and rio Negor to the coast of Argentina. We passed through the Cities of Nequen on the Rio Negro to the Coastal town of Los Grutas. We then followed ruta 3 north to other small coastal towns of San Antonio Oeste, El Condor, Bahia Blanca, Monte Hermosa. We found a small mountain range in the southern Pampa, and stayed near Sierra de la Ventana. Back to the coast to enjoy the beach towns of Quequen, Mar Del Plata , two nights at Mar Chaquita, then to San Clemente del Tuyu. From San Clamente we drove across the Pampa by passing Buenos Aires to a colonial city of San Antonio de Areco. We finally went to a suburb of Buenos Aires for a Westy BBQ and final repairs on Paco for storage in Uruguay. This was close to 2,000 miles. It took us almost a month.
The following is a brief summary of what we did along this path back to Buenos Aires.
It got warmer as we left the Andes and traveled north and dropped in elevation And we were getting a little more color of fall back into the trees, as we approached Nequen a very large city at the confluence of the Limay and the Nequen rivers that forms the Rio Negro. We began to read of the wineries in the area. So we decided to try to get to them. After making a miscalculation of the distance from Nequen we finally found one of the three that were North of town about 40 miles. We found the Bodega Schroeder, got permission at the gate to visit and drove up to a beautiful new facility, about 5 years old. We were taken to the wine tasting room and there was a huge dinosaur bone embedded in the ground. Low and behold this was discovered as the new building was being constructed and is the reason that the line of wines from this Winery are called Allosaurus. Because of the climate this region is noted for their Cabernet Sav. rather than their Melbeck. We tasted some of their Pino Nor as well and were so impressed with the smooth taste and full body we bought two bottles. Afterwards we drove to a riverside municipal campground that we saw along the way. We weren’t charged to camp, right on the Rio Negro, this is a big clear river. All of the trees along the river were in various stages of fall colors, it was beautiful.
The next mourning we traced our steps back toward another winery and were also impressed with their reserve Pinot Nor. This winery was also rather new looking and didn’t import their wine to the US. We then found out that the Fin Del Mundo Winery was closed on Sunday so we missed out on it. This was also a good wine that we had been buying for a while from the markets.
The highway to the coast was across some rather sparse desert. It was much cooler passing through this time than it was a couple of months ago when we drove through this section to get to Mendoza North western Argentina, to meet back up with Jack and Sharon. We eventually made it to Las Grutas, our destination. A small little beach community that had some grottos along the cliffs on the beach. There were over 19 campgrounds in this place and all but three of them were closed for the season. And so were all of the restaurants in town. There were supposed to be some special birds to see along the coast in the desert here as well as the little grottos. We saw some burrowing parrots, and some other shore birds feeding along the shore flamingos were there as well. That is always a fun bird to see. We were surprised to see so few people and almost all of the stores and shops were closed for the season. This reminded me of Newport Beach, California, when I was a kid, in the winter. DEAD.
Loving the warmer temperatures, we traveled to another little coastal city of San Antonio de Oeste. It was a little larger and had a stable population. We found an American pub with wifi and had a great lunch. Karla finally got some shrimp. I had a typical beef stew.
North again to a place we thought there were supposed to be burrowing Parrots, called Calleta de los Loros (cove of the Parrots). After driving more than 30 miles of dirt road we found the place as the sun sat. We passed many estancias that had rows of wild pig carcasses hanging along the fences in front of the gates, apparently to advertise this year’s hunt. We found a nice little place near a sand dune and parked for the night. As we drove around finding this place I felt the power steering give out and now it was hard to steer. I suspected I had thrown a belt. It rained pretty good that night and we both had second thoughts of being out here in the middle of now where on a gravel road with rain. We woke the next mourning with clearing skys and no puddles. There were no Parrots, we were in a preserve for marine life, not Parrots. I changed the broken fan belt and tightened the others, and we continued across this coastal desert to visit a huge colony of southern sea lions, in another preserve. We observed them from a cliff. This was off season and only had a small portion of the colony there, numbering around 3,000. In season when the moms are giving birth there are 10,000 or more along this protected cliff side beach.
Our next objective was to get to the Parrot Colonies at a pueblo called El Condor. This is were the hughest nesting area in the world is for the burrowing parrots. Well, this was the austral winter so we only were able to see a couple of thousand of them come in to roost at night rather than 35,000. A little disappoiinting but still pretty noisy. Found a campground finally, just a short distance from the cliffs which had electricity and a warm shower.
North the next day to Bahia Blanca in a forceful off shore wind that at times brought up huge clouds of sand and dust. Even though we were now on a paved highway. We found a campground at another little beach community of Monte Hermosa. This place was also closed down for the winter. We found a nice grocery store and stocked up. I made a U turn, infront of a city police and got pulled over. Iwas being given a lecture by the Police and he was getting madder as he scolded me for doing something so stupid. I was apologetic, which seemed to make him madder. I was waiting for the bribe, and all of a sudden a very good looking middle aged gentleman stepped up to my window right in front of the officer and began speaking to me in very good English. He asked me where I was from and told us how much he loved California and the United States and on an on. The officer gave up and walked away. Karla and I are convince that this man purposefully thwarted the officer from writing us up. What a nice man. The man told us that the rest of Argentina was much nicer to visit than cities in this province.
We noticed some mountains to the west of us when we drove down to this beautiful beach. We decided to drive up to this little range called the Sierra de la Ventana (the Saw with a window) This was a 3,000 ft range on the eastern edge of the pampa that had a window in one of the small peaks. We found a beautiful municipal camp site at the Villa Ventana. The following mourning we hiked up to a vista point on one of the peaks to look across the pampa to the sea. Boy is this big country.
Here we are in this huge pampa agriculture area in their late fall. So harvest is at its tail end. We saw many teams of harvest machinery along the road, and at various rest stops. These teams of two or more huge harvesting combines, one or more storage trucks to hall the grain, and a pickup with one or more old trailers for the group to bunk and eat. It was a challenge to pass a convoy of these on the two lane highway. They were obviously independent teams that hired out to large farms for harvest only. We saw these teams earlier in the trip, out in the fields stirring up a clouds of dust, cutting soy, and feed corn. These highways now were inundated with large 16 wheelers hauling the grain to various places across the country. It seemed like the harvest teams were on the road also, getting to the smaller spreads to work or just going home. These trucks were also fun to pass when in convoys of two or more. Oh, the irritations of the road warrior, especially with our high powered Westy. We managed quite well, and learned to just roll with it when we got caught up in one of these slow moving convoys.
We finally got back to the coast, after passing many trucks, to a coastal Port of, Necochen and Quequen. As we drove along the highway I noticed a huge lake with signs on it to fish/bird and camp. We pulled in and found out that it was a private lake, and we could camp, fish, and bird watch. The owner was a birdwatcher and was excited to tell me of the birds that were at this little lake. He even gave me his Argentine bird book to use while circling the lake at no charge. It was the early afternoon and the wind was up, the gulls, ducks were in the middle of the lake and the reeds were pretty quiet. Although we did see a new bird, the Great Pampa finch, a lifer.
We decided that we needed to get a little further north before we stopped for the night. I thanked the owner, on the way out and gave him back his bird book. So onto Necochen. We had read of a campground right on the beach at the outlet of a river. We found it an it was closed, to cars. It was a tent only walk in type. So we took a nice drive along the coast and found a beautiful secluded point to park and spent the night on a small cliff overlooking the beach with a shipwreck resting on the rocks. If this had been in season, we would have never done this because of the traffic that no doubt would have been constant. It was also not on a weekend and that helped with the seclusion factor. It was another wonderful night with stars and the sound of the Atlantic ocean wearing on the beach below.
The next day, we continued north along the coastal highway, passing the resort town of Mar Del Plata. We happened to drive through it right during the siesta time between 1-5 pm. The traffic was very slight and we whizzed right through. We drove miles of beaches, huge modern condos, exclusive hotels and Casinos. All the modern conveniences just like coastal California. Our destination that day was to get to a small little pueblo of Mar Chaquita. It is located at the outlet to Argentina’s largest fresh/saltwater marsh. There were some birds that I wanted to try and catch before we left, this place was the last time we would be in this type of habitat. I was looking for some especially hard to find shore birds, the Tawny-throated Dotterel, Rufous-chested Dotterel, and the beautiful South American Painted snipe. We spent two day here in this tranquil little hamlet, camped in the municipal campground, did some birding on the marsh, and found a little french restaurant with wonderful sea food. Karla and I did see over 50 species of birds, even some North American migrants (red knots, and Baird sandpipers, Hudsonian Godwits) getting ready to fly north. No snipes or dotterels, though. Maybe next year when we come back I can pinpoint places that they may be. We hired a boat to take us up into the marsh, but the tides were so low during good birding times that we couldn’t make it as far back as we had hoped. There were thousands of birds and many species enjoying the feast on the exposed shores.
We packed Paco the next mourning after a restful couple of days. Our next destination was to be another protected marsh near the city of San Clemente Del Tuyu. We found this little fishing community and beach town to be quite refreshing, it wasn’t deserted, but the campground we were hoping for was closed. We drove out to the protected marshland. Again looking for anything new that I hadn’t seen. It is much better to hunt for new birds that you know are around. These are called target birds. I had a good book that did give us some good ideas of birds to find and where to go, even though it was out dated some 10 years.(Where to find birds in South America) So we did drive through some great pampa fields and saw a viper on the road. When we walked the trail into the marsh with Karla’s help found a couple of new birds, a spinetail and a rufous-and -black Warbling finch. Any day is a good day when I get a new life bird... We then went into town bought some steaks and looked for another campground. The little gal at the beauty salon we found, while hunting for a campground told us about it and where to turn to get to it. We had a great parrilla that night. In a terrific little privately owned campground called Tres Pinos(three pines).
The next mourning after breakfast and visiting a little with the campground host, we chose to drive a long distance around Buenos Aires. Our objective was to stay at the prettiest little colonial city in the Pampa, San Antonio de Areco. It took us most of the day to drive there, just a little over 200 miles. The roads were good and we made good time, traveling over 60 mph most of the time. Normally we had a hard time averaging 50 mph. We had read from our Lonely Planet, that this was gaucho land. We could find leather goods, hats, panchos, and other local art. We were especially interested in some folk music and dancing. We found out that because of it not being tourist season that the music and dancing were only on Friday and Sat nights on one of the nearby Estancias, reservations only. The city campground was terrific and we decided to shop, visit a couple of Goucho Museums and find a good Parrilla type restaurant and pass on the high priced show. I was even able to bird the little pound next to the campground, with a couple of great ducks, Brazilian duck, and the ringed teal. Karla went shopping and found a beautiful necklace that she treated herself to. We hadn’t really bought any art/gifts the whole trip because of lack of space in Paco. Now that we were going to fly home and return, it got us both in the buying mood. I bought a pancho for myself and a bolo(three balls on three attached ropes for bringing down animals) for a friend. We looked for the typical Mate gourd but never did see one that both of us liked. It was fun shopping, Karla did find some ear rings for the girls.
In the mean time, we had been invited to a party by the Buenos Aires Westfalia club. So during the last few days I had been emailing our host for directions and other specifics to get us there and a place to camp. This was a great connection that had been opened up through Jessie's father in law, Mike Piehl. Mike gave me an e-mail address of a contact in BA, for a good source for a mechanic. Christian who runs a motor home rental business connected us to the Westfalia club, Carlos was to be our host for the party at his home. Carlos had a great mechanic for us to use to solve our problems.
Carlos sent me instructions on how to get to his house. He also invited us to camp in his huge yard. This was great news. We were to arrive on Sat night at his house and the party was Sunday at noon. So we headed out toward Buenos Aires. Our map and Carlos' directions did not match and we had some difficulty sorting out the freeways. We did finally get to his beautiful home. His wife, Allejandra was very gracious and we had a pizza that night for dinner. Carlos was very interested in Paco and got the whole tour, and story of all that I had done to him. He had just transplanted a 1.9 L jetta turbo diesel into his 86’ Westfalia Joker. He spoke some English as did Allejandra and we shared our travel stories with them. They had been to Brazil in January and gave us some information on what to expect. They had no problems and had a wonderful time. That was good to hear.
Paco had developed a small vibration from the trans-axel on the way from Areco to Carlos' home. In the mechanic conversation with Carlos, that vibration and all the other things that I wanted to be looked at were listed. On Monday we would call the mechanic and make an appointment.
Sunday was a great time with the Westy club. There were about 10 Westys and 25 people that showed up. Carlos, cooked all the meat and Allejandra and her mother and Carlos' mother helped with the salads and other side dishes. Paco was of great interest and a couple of the club members took pictures of body, engine, wheels, and the tire rack that I had. I found that my 2.2 L fuel injected engine was not in South America and if things went wrong that fixing it would be a problem. The oldest VWs that were their was a 78’ westy, and a 69’ VW bug. There were many different configurations of campers, and pop tops. The Jokers, had double pain windows that were on hinges. The kitchens were all the same as were the beds. The engines were all diesels, except the 78’. One of the members had a early 60’s window Van but he didn’t bring it. It was a good time meeting all the owners and their families, some had young children. A special treat was to reconnect with a Canadian couple with a Syncro that we had met in Guatemala. They were having their Syncro and small trailer shipped back to Canada from Buenos Aires. Their 1.9 L TDI blew up in southern Argentina and rather than replace the engine they had it towed to BA and were shipping it home to Calgary. Christian had invited them also to this event. They had spent almost a year traveling with their two kids, and a Rhodesian ridge back dog. The feast was wonderful and every type of meat was cooked to perfection by Carlos, the Parrillada. Alejandra and the Moms were very attentive and no one went without. After dinner we all went into the house and watched pictures of the Westfalia convention that Christian had just returned from in Germany. Some of the Syncros, and old vans were really fixed up. The new T-5 (the latest Vanagon Model) is so beautiful. It is very sleek looking and is an all wheel drive. awwww so sweet----not -available in the US :(
The following week we contacted Jorge the mechanic he was busy until Wed. So we went for a walking tour of Buenos Aires after we drove Carlos to work. The ride in to Buenos Aires with Carlos, was quite exciting because the vibration got worse and worried all of us. It was about a 60 mile round trip. We got a bus tour of the City and enjoyed walking the streets. Tuesday, I cleaned Paco all up so that the mechanic wouldn’t have to get too dirty working on it. Carlos had a power sprayer that did a terrific job. Tues. afternoon we drove into BA to finish seeing some of the sites. had lunch and bought tickets for the ferry to Uruguay for the weekend. The CV joint was really getting worse and getting louder. Weds we drove to Jorge’s garage and spent the greater part of the mourning replacing the CV joint and adding a water/trap gas filter. Jorge’s garage was great it was filled with BUGS, Vans, and Jettas, as well as a gazillion used parts. The list of things to fix was reduced some and Jorge told me that the idle, the transmission filter change could all be done when we return. So I have a list of parts that I need to bring back with me. What a fun day helping Jorge. Poor Karla fortunately had a good book to keep her occupied.
We spent two more days with Carlos' family. Had another bbq(parrilla) at the house and took the whole family to dinner another night. We had a great time with Carlos and Alejandra and their little 3 year old daughter Victoria. We were so thankful for their hospitality. Friday we said our goodbyes, and caught the ferry to Sacramento de Colonia, Uruguay via the ferry.
We arrived in Uruguay, the last ones on the ferry means the first ones off. We went directly to the customs agent(aduana) and he was anticipating such an on slot of cars that he let me fill out the papers with all my car info and he checked it. I signed it. He signed it. Gave me the original and kept the copy. He told me that I had a year and when I drove out of Uruguay I should return this paper to the Aduana(customs) agent. This took less than 10 minutes, the absolute fastest of any boarder crossing that we had encountered. WOW.
From the ferry we went to meet the owner of the garage we were going to keep Paco. Mr. Delgado eventually remembered us and we made arrangements to leave Paco at 10:00am the following Tues., just a few hours before we were scheduled to board the ferry back to Buenos Aires then the airport for the flight home to Los Angeles, California. So that gave us a couple of days to tour around and camp. We drove up the Rio De La Plata and camped near the confluence of the Parana and the Uruguay rivers to make the beginning of the Plata. We found a rodeo another day and watched Gouchos on foot rope and brand, dehorn and tag cattle. The night before we were to leave Paco we cleaned him up and found some wooden block to set him on. Finally Tuesday came and we set Paco on blocks in the space he was to stay until we return. I disconnected the battery, Karla cardboarded the windows and we kissed the old boy goodbye for now.
The crossing into Argentina, the bus to the airport, and boarding the plane all went smoothly. As did the flight back to the USA.
What an adventure, what a dream to have come true.