28
Feb 2013
POSTED BY Sheena
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 9 Comments

Searching for Little Cowboy Gil

In Ecuador I bought a painting.  It was a messy chaotic scene.

In Argentina, a similar style painting would go something like this: a flat sheet of desert surrounded by snowcapped peaks.  Grapes droop from a tangle of vines in one corner.   Stray dogs happily run in packs down the street. In the hills gauchos ride their horses, checking the fence lines and rounding up sheep.

In another corner of the painting, siesta time is taking place.  The streets are desolate and the stores are closed, with the exception of ice cream shops.  People wander, licking their dulce de leche ice cream.  Acquaintances meet in the street, greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek.  The women all have long beautiful hair, reaching the lower vertebrae of their backbone.  Men fashion long hair as well, pulling the tangle of hair high in a bun on top of their heads.  In a grassy field, families cluster around an asado.  The grill is stacked to capacity with ribs, bife de lomo, legs of lamb, and links of blood sausage.  Bottles of Merlot sit like table centerpieces.  Long after the families are gone, smoke rings linger in the air.

Alongside the grassy fields, bushes of orange flowers and stalks of purple dragonflies border the road.  In a tree, red flags and ribbon hang, symbolizing yet another Gauchito Gil shrine.  Down by the river, fishermen’s rods drip with trout.  Mate gourds are cupped in every set of hands.  Staying high on life, they sip their bitter tea from sun up to sun down.

Argentina: it was all rainbows and unicorns.  Culturally, it came as a surprise as it was vastly different from its neighboring countries.  The metamorphosis of culture, facial features, and cuisines that consistently took place from one neighboring country to the next ended abruptly here. Goodbye rice and potatoes.  Hello wine and meat.

A short presentation of Argentina’s cultural uniqueness…

Gauchito Gil, the cowboy saint

I met the most famous saint in all of Argentina for the first time in the desert along the Ruta 40.  The landscape was bare all around, yet under a mature tree, red flags, strips of fabric, and artificial flowers were strewn throughout the tree branches, announcing his presence.  He sat under an arch painted in a matching red.  He wore his hair long, slightly wavy with a matching wispy mustache.  His blue long sleeve was pushed up to his elbows and a red scarf tied around his neck.  He was five inches tall and made of a hard plastic.

While the real Gauchito Gil, a.k.a. Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez, died in 1878, shrines of him number in the thousands.  As the story goes, he was an outlaw who became a symbol of bravery, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.  Today, many people stop at the roadside shrines, giving thanks to Gauchito by leaving offerings such as water bottles, jewelry, car bumpers, and scraps of clothing.  We on the other hand stopped at his shrines, using them as an excuse to stretch our legs and explore the offerings.  Always colorful, always unique and intriguing.

While most shrines were dedicated to Gauchito Gil, there were others.  The next most interesting were shrines for Deolinda Correa who in the 1940s set out into the desert with her infant baby, in search of her husband who was forcibly taken to join the military.  She died in the desert, but as she lay down, dying of thirst, she set her baby to her nipple, who survived until her body was found by gauchos.  The gauchos took in the child, raisings him on the plains driving cattle.  Now, Argentineans leave bottles of water at her alters to “calm her eternal thirst”.

Siesta

Argentineans are serious about siesta time.  Beginning at 1 pm all businesses shut down.  Grocery stores.  Banks.  Retail shops.  Police stations.  All until 5pm, Monday through Friday.  The only exception here (that I noticed anyway) is ice cream shops. Always open.  Always there to serve.  You can only imagine how serious Argentineans are about their time off on the weekends and holidays.

And what is it like in a city where everyone is on siesta?  Runners take over the sidewalks and friends ride down the street on their bikes.  Young crowds sit in the town square and drink mate, and older couples rest on park benches, watching the day go by.  As much as the siesta frustrated us as travelers, we could see its benefits, forcing people to focus on themselves and their relationships;  a generous break from the commercial aspects of the everyday world.

Late night dinners

Dinner starts at 9:30 and many restaurants don’t open their doors until 8:30.  It is not uncommon to finish dinner in the early morning hours.  I wondered for quite some time if it meant that Argentineans woke up late, yet they do not.  They are at work by 8 am, with little breakfast and littler sleep.

Desert oases: where wine really flows like water

Argentina’s wine regions are located within the broad valleys and sloping plains of the desert, creating oases ideal conditions for grape cultivation. Our first wine destination was in Cafayate, known for their dry white Torrontes.  Day one was a success, checking off five of the six estancias which offered tastings and were within walking distance from the town square.  As we continued South through Mendoza, the most important wine region in Argentina, vineyards and estancias flooded the outskirts of the city.  And the wine was so incredibly cheap and plentiful.  Between touring wineries, we stopped in at other establishments, such as Simone’s Olive Oil where the owner took us through his variety of olive oils, soaking cubes of bread in bowls of olive oils, tasting the varieties and their different qualities.

As for the wineries, most offered tours of the facilities and explanations of their processes.  For example, what a house wine is and why it is more affordable?  Simply put, wine is made through a period of aging.  With more time, more flavor develops.  During the life of the fermented grapes, portions of the liquid in the vats are drained.  The first round of draining occurs just days after the start of the fermentation process, and this liquid is used to make a house wine.  And as the fermentation time is short, the wine is not fully developed, lacking in the body and color that most people look for in a wine.  This is the difference between most house wines and regular bottles, and explains why we can get house wine with our asado for only a couple of dollars.

Gauchos, Asados and 55 million cattle

In the 1500’s, Spain drastically influenced Argentina’s culture with the importation of cows.  Today, Argentine beef is world famous.   All we ever heard from every traveler who had made it to Argentina before us was “Oh just wait until you get to Argentina!  The beef there is soooo good.  You can get a steak the size of your plate and 4 inches thick!”  Was it really true?  Could it be?

Just a few blocks down from the main square in Cafayate, under the tall trees shading the walkway and beside the red umbrellas, a chalkboard advertised a parrilla completa for two.  Inside the focal point of the restaurant was the massive grill stretched across the length of the restaurant.  Atop were chunks of steak, chicken, chorizo, sausage, and ribs.  We enjoyed a very meaty meal, with coals under our table top grill to keep the food warm and tender.  Argentine meat was insanely good and for the next week, we ate at a parrilla every day, attempting to satisfy our incessant craving for Argentine meat.

More food culture

At a roadside stand a family worked together in an assembly line, scooping a meat filling into the center of sheets of dough, folding them over, and pinching them closed.  In a wood fired ovens, dozens of dough balls went in.  What came out was Argentina’s most famous street food: the empanada.  This became Brad’s favorite food.  It was easy to find.  Every bakery, restaurant, and gas station offered their own version.  My favorite?  Locro soup.   A warm creamy concoction of hominy, squash, spices, and chunks of stewed beef shoulder.  Do yourself a favor and save this recipe for a rainy day.

Smitten for yerba mate

Everywhere we went, people drank mate.  In the park, groups of friends sat in circles sharing a single vessel of yerba mate.  In the stores, employees sipped their mate as tourists browsed their merchandise.  On the bus, commuters poured water from their thermoses into their gourds.  Over and over again.  Argentineans only carry on their daily business if a mate is in hand.

The drinking of yerba mate involves a host and one or more people, beginning with the preparation of the drink.  The host packs the yerba (the herb) into the mate (the vessel used for holding the tea – usually a hollowed out gourd) and once tightly packed, the bombilla (metal filtered straw) is arranged to sit firmly upright in the tea.  Lastly, warm water is poured into the mate and passed to the first participating drinker.  Customs as a participating drinker are to never touch the bombilla with your fingers and to drink all liquid in the mate before passing it back to the host.  And it must always go back to the host.  ‘Thank you’ is only whispered when you’ve had enough and are bowing out of the tea time rotation.

Interestingly, while yerba mate is insanely popular, it isn’t often a part of the tourist experience and it is not served in restaurants due to its tedious preparation process and commonality as a daily ritual.

What does it taste like?  Just try to imagine the incredible tart and bitterness of a liquid produced by stuffing 10 tea bags into a single serving cup.  This stuff is STRONG.  We wanted to love it, but I think you have to have a little Argentina in your blood.

 

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11
Feb 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 24 Comments

A Couple of Rejects

It was a blustery day in 1997. Brad Pitt plodded through the mountains in tattered footwear, his worn out jacket proving no match for the icy wind sweeping down from the slopes of Aconcagua – South America’s highest peak. While the film he was making was called Seven Years in Tibet, he was actually in Argentina, just a few miles outside of the small town of Uspallata. In 1997, actors staged a conflict between peaceful Tibetans and fierce Chinese soldiers bent on taking their land. Little known to Brad Pitt at the time, a similar conflict would take place 15 years later, not far from where the icy Aconcagua winds chilled him to the bone, between peaceful Americans and fierce Chilean border agents bent on taking their food.

Three days before the conflict…

We leave Mendoza and hook West toward the Andes. Scenes of vineyards and cottonwood trees soon give way to low shrubs and dry arroyos. On both sides of the road the hills grow into craggy peaks. An old railroad bed parallels the road, as does the Rio Mendoza, a wide river carrying glacial runoff to the fertile wine region below.

On the roadside we spot a shrine amid a sea of trash. Legend has it that a woman traveling with her infant child died of thirst in the desert, but her child survived by suckling the milk from her dead mother’s breast. In remembrance of the story, travelers are given free rein to throw their plastic bottles on the roadside, where the occasional whipping wind scatters them into the countryside and the Rio Mendoza.

Nine miles later, we coast into the village of Uspallata in a valley surrounded by towering peaks. We find a place near a stream and set up our home. Straight in front of Nacho, high in the towering mountains, forever roams the collective memory of Brad Pitt in his tattered jacket.

Two days before the conflict…

We explore the town – little more than a highway with a few unpaved offshoots that lead to estancias and the surrounding canyons. To protect the village from the harsh winds that come down like frozen avalanches from the Andes, extensive groves of deciduous trees have been planted around the town. The trees make the place seem tranquilo.

References to Tibet are all over the place. The Tibet bar punctuates one corner, while Tibet tours and Tibet markets abound. To someone unaware of the town’s famous recent past, the references would be very confusing indeed.

We hike to the top of a low hill outside of town where we find another shrine, this one devoid of any plastic trash.

In the evening we make a lasagna from scratch in our Dutch oven, watch a local teen flyfishing in our stream, and then retire to bed.

The day before the conflict…

I am awoken in the morning by a gaucho leading a herd of horses across the stream right in front of our camp. Throughout the day, more horses cross the stream. I am again awoken in the night by yet more horses crossing the stream, en masse. I start to wonder what’s up with all of the horses crossing the stream.

The day of the conflict…

We wake up early, have coffee and pancakes, and then tear down camp. We head West and climb farther into the Andes. The terrain looks remarkably similar to the Himalayas. I guess that explains why they chose this place to film Brad Pitt pretending to be a Himalayan mountaineer.

We eventually arrive at Aconcagua and pull over. Our plan is to hike up to the base of the mountain, but one step out the door puts those plans on the backburner; the wind is howling and it’s absolutely freezing. Springtime in the shadow of a 22,841 foot peak isn’t as balmy as we’d thought it would be. A quick walk around a field, a few minutes looking at a natural bridge and we duck inside of a tienda for some hot chocolate while sitting around a wood stove.

Back on the road we approach the Chilean border. With any luck, by nightfall we’ll be wearing fancy turtlenecks and quaffing expensive wine in a seaside restaurant in Viña del Mar. The abandoned train tracks paralleling the road are enclosed in a manmade tunnel of plate steel to protect it from the deep winter snows. The plate steel is rusty, dilapidated and sagging, giving the tracks an unreal scariness. They’re like Marilyn Manson reincarnated as train tracks.

The road approaches an unbelievably steep and towering triumvirate of mountains, seemingly impassible, and I wonder how we’ll get over them. My question is answered when the road dives into a tunnel straight through the biggest mountain. We drive for a few miles in the subterranean tunnel, icicles hanging from the roof, and then we see a sign hanging from the tunnel wall: Bienvenidos a la Republica de Chile. We’ve crossed the Chilean border underground.

Sheena ducks into the back of the van to do our routine of hiding all of the food before getting to the border guard shack. She’s getting pretty good at it by now; she tucks our meat, fruits and vegetables into every nook and cranny, while leaving a few straggling pieces of wilted vegetables in our fruit bowl as decoys for Customs to find and confiscate.

We emerge from the tunnel into an unreal scene of snow-covered mountains sweeping down to the valley where the road and the abandoned train tracks are. A few kilometers more and we arrive at the Chilean border control building. It’s a busy day, so we sit in line for close to an hour before it’s our turn to enter the enormous A-frame drive-through building.

The conflict

We’re waved into vehicle control and find a place to park. We enter the building to get our passports stamped, our importation paperwork taken care of, and we sign an affidavit stating that, under penalty of a $1,000 fine, we aren’t transporting any food. It’s time for our Customs inspection.

Outside in the freezing air I scour the parking area for an inspector. I’m looking for the most relaxed and unintimidating one, so that if things start going wrong, they might be more easily distracted by shiny objects or random questions. I start going for the young girl whose inspector jacket is slightly too big, but she dodges me at the last minute, leaving me staring at a strict, intimidating-looking man in his thirties. Bollocks! Looks like he works out too.

“Ready for your inspection?” he asks. I take a deep breath and invite him over to Nacho, handing him my signed affidavit. After a cursory walk around the exterior, he asks Sheena to open the sliding door. He steps in and gets to work.

“Do you have any food in here?”

“Food? No sir, we don’t have any food in here,” I respond. I’m trying to look a little surprised by his question, as though the thought of having food inside of a car is completely stupid. My acting does nothing to convince him, so he starts opening things.

Drawer one: no food. Drawer two: no food. Drawer three: no food. Cabinet: completely stuffed with dry food. He slowly turns his head at me and shoots me a disbelieving look. The proverbial Nazi soldier has just found the proverbial stash of hidden Jews under the floorboards.

“I thought you said you didn’t have any food.” This must be very rewarding for him, watching liars like me squirm.

“Oh, right, sure that’s food. But I thought you were talking about things like fruits and vegetables. Is it illegal to cross the border with oatmeal and stuff?”

He slowly turns back and starts emptying the cabinet until every last crumb is out on the counter, and then he goes through it piece by piece.

“You signed the affidavit, right? Did you even read it?” he asks in a slightly insulting tone.

Not knowing how to break it to him that nobody ever reads anything that they sign at a border, I try to be vague. “Not very well, no.”

He begins throwing our food in a pile on the floor. Once he’s created a nice mound he moves on to Sheena’s clothing storage area under the couch. He withdraws her clothing piece by piece until, halfway through, he pulls out a bag of apples. He holds it up, turns to look at me, shakes his head, and throws the apples in the pile. A few shirts later he removes our cucumbers, cilantro, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

The inspector leans back and stretches his shoulders, and then turns his head to look at me. He’s done messing around.

“I will give you one more chance. Just tell me where all of your food is.”

I confidently explain to him that he’s found everything – that we keep all of our food up here in the front area. He definitely doesn’t believe me, and positions himself on the couch, ready to tear our whole world apart. He reaches his arm into Sheena’s sleeping bag and slowly withdraws a huge head of cabbage, and then gives me the stink eye.

“Do you always keep your cabbage in your sleeping bag?” he hisses. He lets out a disappointing sigh and starts getting rough. He claws at our belongings and throws them at me, and tells me he will remove everything from the van.

Within a few minutes, most of our belongings are on the ground in the parking lot and the pile of food on the floor has grown to include all of our meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, backpacking food, honey, and anything not in its original packaging. There’s over $200 worth of food on the ground, and he’s spilling it everywhere. Finally he looks behind a curtain and finds the carton of eggs.

“Are these eggs hard boiled or raw?” he asks.

“Raw,” Sheena says. We’re done lying; we’ve lost the battle.

Not satisfied with our too-little-too-late honesty, the inspector removes two eggs from the carton, holds them over Sheena’s pillow, and smashes them against each other. The eggs explode all over her pillow and the inspector’s hands. He wipes his hands on her pillow and hands it to me. Classy.

Sheena shoots me a furious glance; by now we’re all feeling a bit pissed off. Just like every traveler we’ve met, we always have food in our car. This is our home, after all. And just like every traveler, we always deny having food for the purpose of crossing borders. It’s a formality that no border agent has ever really cared about. This guy, however, deeply cares.

“Wait, stop. Just stop touching our stuff. We don’t want to go to Chile any more. We’re going back to Argentina.”

The inspector looks at me, eyebrows raised. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, just get out of our car.”

He jumps out of the van and asks me to follow him. I follow him to his group of inspector friends, where he informs them that we will be going back to Argentina. One of the women looks surprised and asks why we’re going back.

“We’re going back because you’re stealing all of our food,” I say. I’m still pissed about the eggs, and I’m not doing much to mask my anger. At this, our inspector’s eyes nearly pop out of his head and he charges at me, stopping an inch from my face.

“Did you say STEALING!? You signed the affidavit, right!?”

At this, I realize that in fact he’s right, and that we’re really the bad guys. In our minds we think he’s a jerk because he’s the first border Customs agent we’ve ever met who actually cares about people smuggling food over international lines. We later find out that Chile in general is very serious about crossing borders with food because of their lack of invasive insect species, and their desire to keep it that way.

Still fuming, I tell the agent that my Spanish vocabulary is lacking, and that “stealing” is the only word I know to describe the act of taking away someone else’s property. The agent scribbles “VOID” across my completed importation paperwork, and shoves it in my hand. We retrace our steps through all of the border control processes and get stamped out of Chile.

Once we arrive back at the Argentine side, we have to explain why we’re back so soon from Chile, and why we don’t have properly discharged Chilean import paperwork. When asked whether we’re carrying any food, we look a little surprised and say no. We’re casually waved through, back into good old Argentina.

When evening rolls around, we camp in the same place by the river outside of Uspallata. I drift off to sleep thinking about Tibet and Brad Pitt. It’s almost as if today never happened. A horse crosses the stream outside of our window, and I fall asleep wondering, what’s up with all of these horses?

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04
Feb 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 25 Comments

Sheena in the Sky with Diamonds

It’s late morning and the desert sun is already high overhead.  The dirt crunches under our tires and swirls up behind the van as we head out of town to the East, leaving the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama behind.  We stop on the outskirts of town to surrender our importation paperwork to the Customs office; it’s 165 kilometers to the Argentine border, but nobody’s out there.  This is the last sign of civilization for a very long time.

Once on the highway, I start to feel anxious.  We’re already a smidge under 8,000 feet, but the pavement unfolds before us in an arrow-straight line up a mountain and out of sight.  The lack of switchbacks means the road is steep.  We’re in the middle of nowhere, in the driest desert on Earth, driving into no-man’s land.  There is virtually no traffic.  The combination makes me feel a little uneasy, but I don’t know why.  We’re driving a 28 year old hippie bus with almost 300,000 miles under its wheels.  Why worry?

To our left, Bolivia rises into the sky in a fantastic display of snow-capped volcanoes.  It’s as if someone has placed the Andes on top of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.  The volcanoes ring the northern edge of the Atacama desert, and beyond them is altiplano - the high plains from which the Andes grow – all the way to Colombia.  As we climb eastward  on the highway, it appears as though our trajectory will intersect the rim of volcanoes.  Our GPS shows that we’re within a few kilometers of Bolivia.

It’s desolate, barren, stark land.  Tufts of low grass start to show through the crushed pumice at the roadside; we’re back in the altiplano, and Nacho is feeling the elevation.  As we plod slowly upward, our speed plunges slowly downward.  Every mile robs our engine of precious oxygen, and soon we’re traveling at a walking pace in first gear.  I glance at the GPS: we’re over 15,000 feet.

We catch a semi truck carrying a load of cars to Argentina.  The elevation turns this into a slow motion race – the truck is driving as fast as an elderly person shuffling with a walker.  We’re moving along somewhat faster; whereas he may be traveling at four miles per hour, we’re doing at least six.  In slow motion, we pull out beside him for the long, slow pass.

A minute later, we’ve become level with his window when all of a sudden Nacho dies.  We’ve found the elevation at which our engine can no longer pull enough oxygen from the intake air to cause gasoline to combust.  The truck driver shoots us a confused look, but all we can do is wave and shrug our shoulders as he slowly pulls away from us.  We sit in the oncoming lane with the flashers on until, a lifetime later, the truck finally passes us.  We coast backward and off the side of the road.

Over the next few miles we develop a process for driving in the death zone: when Nacho dies, we pull over and let the engine rest for 10 minutes or so.  Then we fire it up and ease back onto the road while slipping the clutch to get up to speed – about 5 miles per hour.  We do this process repeatedly for the next several miles until we top out at 15,748 feet.  After that the road drops down and levels out around 14,500 and we’re back in business.

Once on the altiplano, things get surreal.  We pass orange sand dunes and salty, deep blue lagoons.  Llamas monitor our slow but steady progress from nearby hillsides.  We pass between dunes and our eyes come to rest on stone megaliths jutting out of the hard earth and into the sky.  We find a dirt track heading toward the megaliths, so we take it.  We’re driving in a bizarre, psychedelic Beatles song.

Just before reaching the first of the stone towers, we stop.  We have a problem.  The stone towers, as it turns out, are on the other side of a fairly vast wash, which sits at the bottom of a fairly vast hill.  To get to the megaliths for the compulsory Nacho-in-action photos, we’ll have to descend the vast hill, cross the vast wash, and climb the other side – a vast embankment.  Given our luck at climbing the mild paved hill earlier in the day, we’re not convinced that we’ll ever make it out alive if we drive down the hill.

I get out of Nacho and set out on foot toward another vehicle, far out on the horizon.  They’ll be able to tell me what to do.  Sheena hangs back to read her coming of age princess novel.

Fifteen minutes of walking brings me down the vast hill, across the vast wash, up the vast embankment, and then across a vast plain to where a 4×4 van sits.  I find its driver fiddling with his radio.  His t-shirt has a picture of a handgun, with the English words “point blank” emblazoned across the chest.

I introduce myself to the man and ask him, que tal?  He wastes no time in telling me that I’ll never get out of this place if I go down the vast hill.  I ask him if he thinks I can drive along the vast wash until it crosses the main road, and he wastes no time telling me that I’d be a fool to believe that that’s a good idea.  I thank him and set out across the plain, down the vast embankment, across the vast wash, and back up the vast hill to where Sheena is still reading her coming of age princess novel.

“We’re good, I think.  You know, I think we’ll be fine.  What’s the worst that could happen, right?  I think we’ll make it.  It’s supposed to be an adventure, isn’t it?”  Sheena’s face is the word unamused, personified.  She makes it clear that this is a stupid idea, and that she totally disagrees with this decision.

I pop it in gear and drive down the vast hill.  We cross the vast wash, and then I gun it.  We barely make it up the vast embankment.

For the next hour we explore the stone monuments, taking numerous Nacho-in-action shots.  The rocks are amazing; some force of nature has caused the skin of the rocks to have formed into elevated scales.  While we snap photos and eat a picnic lunch, the 4×4 van leaves, making quick work of the vast hill, and leaving with our hopes of a courtesy tow.

It’s time.  We buckle up and Nacho roars to life with the ferociousness of a lethargic houseplant.  As we approach the vast hill I feel sickly.  The beginning of the hill is uneven and rutted, so we can’t carry much speed into it.  I realize, only now, that this was a stupid idea.  As we start to climb, Sheena unconsciously starts quietly squealing under her breath.  She sounds like the soundtrack to a horror film.

We start out looking good, but halfway up the vast hill it becomes clear that we won’t make it.  Five miles per hour…four…three…two…almost stalling now…

“TURN LEFT!” Sheena shrieks.

“OKAY!” I yank on the steering wheel without thinking, leaving the track behind.  Cutting across the sandy hill, tilted at 30 degrees, we start to pick up speed.  Three miles per hour…four…five…

“TURN RIGHT!” Sheena squeals.   I yank the steering wheel to the right, carving out a switchback in the rocks.  It’s working!  To an experienced offroad driver the sight of our hippie bus slowly slinking through the rocks up this mild hill might be enough to evoke a belly laugh.  A couple more cranks on the wheel and we’re slowly putting away from the vast hill, safe.  I look at the hill in the rearview mirror and think to myself, boo ya, biatch!

I only think it, because to say such things out loud would reveal how childish and pop-culturally outdated my train of thought can be.

For the next hour we glide past more lagoons studded with pink flamingoes and hills dotted with llamas.  The whole thing is all very surreal.  And then out of nowhere, we see it: a sign declaring “Limite Internacional Chile / Argentina“.

We made it!  Arizona to Argentina!  At the time we don’t consider the fact that the end of the continent is still as far away as the distance from Arizona to Nova Scotia.

On the Argentine side of the border we continue to be stricken dumb by the landscape.  We pass more lagoons, flamingoes, and llamas.  We drop into a valley and immediately the landscape turns pancake flat and white.  Beyond us to either side there is nothing but salt for as far as the eye can see.  We can hardly contain Nacho; he bolts off of the road and onto the salt plain for some roadless exploration.

By day’s end the landscape has shifted again.  We descend from the altiplano and into a desert reminiscent of Tucson, Arizona.  How strange it is to find this landscape, so similar to our home state, in Argentina.

We coast into the town of Purmamarca for the evening.  Tourists stroll the streets of what seems like an old Western town in the shadow of colored sandstone hills.  We could just as easily be in Sedona as in northern Argentina.  From the driest place on Earth, to one of the highest passes in South America; salt flats, flamingoes, towering rocks, and desert.  Today the sky was as blue as any sky I’ve ever seen.  It was a perfect road tripping day.  It was a truly epic day.

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