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Argentina - El Norte

On 31 October we crossed from Chile to Argentina at Paso Sico. The smooth Chilean road behind us and the bone-rattling wash-board ahead. This was the RN51 heading to Salta. The only respite on this long ,dusty wash-board section were two brief stops to chat with cyclists heading for Chile. I think they were equally glad of the rest. After some hours, the landscape changed and we were travelling through a scenic valley following the Rio Rosario. The mountains on either side were a mix of colours and impressive rock formations.

As we arrived in Salta, we spotted a Volkswagen garage. We stopped and enquired about a service and the much needed new shocks. Not interested is an understatement, so we moved on. Later, whilst out walking, we found a small garage that specialises in Volkswagen vehicles and got a completely different attitude from the VW franchise. These guys couldn't have been more helpful, so we booked an appointment for the following day.

Whilst the van was being serviced, we had a wander around Salta and yes, we visited a few churches. I also managed to buy a fancy new tripod for the camera, so hoping to practice more night photography. Love that you can find things here! It's a novelty! When we collected the van, they showed us the old shocks - you could push them closed with a little finger : - ( So much for being told they had 10,000km left in them in Peru!

Argentina is a big country and we needed to press on a little to guarantee being in the right part of the continent for the year-end. The next week was to involve plenty of driving. Luckily, camping is in the culture and every town seems to have a large municipal campsite.

From Salta we moved through the wine region, without seeing many vineyards for quite some distance. We were on the Ruta 40, which parallels the Andes and is one of the longest, continuous routes in the world - our bit was windy, lumpy, dusty and scenic.

We passed through Cafayate and on to Tucumán, where we visited Casa de Independencia, the restored house where Argentina's declaration of independence took place.

In Córdoba, we wandered the streets and visited the Jesuit College library and church. For me, the main event was the Museo de la Memoria. In the 1970s, whilst Argentina was being ruled by the Generals, over 20,000 people were snatched by a Police Unit (D2), interrogated and executed. Of course the files do not say 'executed'. Often the file note said 'released'. But, to this day, very few of these mainly young,activists have been found. The museum was one of the clandestine interrogation centres. There are the neatly handwritten police files bearing the prisoners' names. On the walls, we saw photos of 100's who had disappeared locally, and in one room hand-made scrapbooks by family members showing the lives of these young people. This was a sad place, but totally worth the visit.

We then visited Alta Gracia, another handsome Jesuit church and the house, now museum, where Che Guevara grew up.

We finally turned west and drove to Maipú, just outside Mendoza, where we stayed for a few days in the beautiful gardens of a vineyard. It was time to get on the bikes and do some wine testing and relax by the pool! People after our own heart, Okan, Donna & Indigo arrived a few days later and we were also joined by Angela and Graham, an English couple heading south.

After a few days relaxing and enjoying company, we continued west towards Chile, stopping overnight in a car park at Los Penitentes, just before the border. Gotta love Argentina and Chile, it's not difficult to find free, safe camping spots.

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