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       WESTERN ARGENTINA 
DIARY part 4    

1/1 2013 - 20/1 2013

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Chile

 After the drier north, I have now reach the hot and humid part. I have left the good, old Ŕuta 40, and headed a bit more east. 

 15/1 13. Start the day with the work I didn't finish last night. This old monastery has a tranquil atmosphere - and a decent internet connection. Giant butterflies and tiny humming birds are visiting the pomegranate; Punica granatum, the hibiscus and some other flowering trees in the yard.

 The park I had planned to visit today, might be out of range: Even in the dry season, it is extreme hard to reach in a 4X4. Whit the last weeks rain, there is most likely no road at all! Instead, I concentrate on the road leading to it, between Coronet Moldes and Juramente. My map shows it as one of the smallest, but the first part is a brand new, real smooth, sealed road. The electric wires have been covers in Bromeliads the last couple of days, and it get worse here.

 It passes some - for the place - rather impressive hotels, then I reach the first of the two large lakes and some impressive mansions. A lot of companies offers some sort of possibility to go on the water - I let them. When I passes the dam to the other lake, the air is touch with some sort of sulphuric hydrogen connection. I have not heard of any hot springs around, but it might just be the green lake it self?

  Every mountain have its special compound. Slate, chalk, granite, sand, clay, gravel - you name it. The first cacti emerges. It is a "white golf ball", but it get up to 20 centimetres high. Then a "almost large candelabra". Wider by branches, but each branch is slimmer than the real big ones.

 Here are numerous Bromeliads, both terrestrial and epiphytic, and some are flowering. Another new plant joins in, and I could have done without! It is an Acacia-like bush, but the spines end in two, and it attach it self real good to skin and cloth. I try to negotiate it, but it actually wins turf!

 A little, bold Opuntia with orange flowers is new and welcome. Same goes for several Euphorbia species, ála Jatropha. A new "serpentine" cactus sits on a big, tall rock, and when I finally get there, there are two other new species on the same, bare rock. A yellow "serpent" and a blue, square one, which probably is the juvenile stage of a semi-large candelabra.

 I reach another, smaller lake, and the smell continues. I find a swarm of honey bees on a branch, and they ignores me. Almost white butterflies pollinate Bromeliads, wasps visits Oxalis and tiny butterflies dances over the road. Numerous birds can be heard, and I spot several. Flue catchers, blackbirds in red, finches, singers, swallows and - others. I can't place the real deep hoot from one bird, but it might be some sort of shoebill.

 It is getting dryer, and the area look real promising for cacti. The first new is a "pencil-Opuntia", then a "cluster of tennis balls" and then, to my big delight; the first wild Chorisia speciosa. It is not flowering, and as with all other forest trees, real hard to get a good picture of! The "serpentines" and "golf balls" are all over the place along with "the flat football". (Real heavy in scientific names, yes?).

 The sealed road ends at a rather small dam, and a tiny track leads on. I hope is is the right one. It is in a bad condition, and many small and rather large rivers are crossing it. Bit scary to cross without checking the debt, but I don't feel for that either. I judge them by the waves.

 I reach a giant wall, which is covered in "tall golf balls" - even that low, I actually can get a photo. The double-spine Acacia is still keeping me away from some promising areas. Then I reach a river, and that means tea - but no chocolate biscuits, because I'm out!

 A new Opuntia, looking like most of them, but growing in huge clusters. An Araliaceae look so wrongly in the dry, red clay, but not only does it have fresh leaves; it have several dark brown, almost black flowers. Another "serpentine cactus" is flowering, and from that, I would guess on Cleistocactus. The flowers never opens, it just self fertilizes.

 A few, rural farms are found along the track, and their goats and humble cows along - or on - the track. Hard to tell what they are eating. Those plants left here are either armoured in needles or spines, poison of just out of reach due to height.

 The other side of the river turns into a 50-100 meter vertical wall, then a green sand dune, and then red clay. A new, skinny Opuntia look like it have bargain for more that it could stand. Every group contains of more dead than living members. Despite that, it manages to grow some beautiful yellow flowers.

  Some huge Opuntia quimilo are not flowering here, but they look like they really thrive here. They only have needles on the oldest parts, but they are up to 15 centimetres! I passes an area with dark, red sand, which make the plants excellent motives.

 In a huge tree, next to the river, I find three species of the usual cacti, growing five meters up on a branch! I guess I would not get bonus for doing that in the botanical garden! A new cacti grow in clusters, resembling the "flat football", but smaller.

 I get some descent photos of the Chorisia speciosa from specimens out in the free, but the really fat one, 150 centimetres in diameter, is of cause in thick bushes. I'm a bit lucky with the "almost large candelabra", which have a few members in the open too. Some real huge Opuntias hide in the bushes, and I only get a few photos. They look a bit like Opuntia quimilo, but they do worse, and have stems where the first is a "bush".

 At four, the sun disappears, and the surroundings are more green. I speed up a bit - from an average of 20Km/t, and reach the larger Ruta 34/9 half an hour later. Just as I enters it, the rain start pouring down. It lasts for 50 Km, but then, the sun is back. The old road lies parallel, and here are some huge, stone arch-bridges. The area turns into farm land, cane being the main crop. A few big factories before Perico, but mainly farms. The road reminds me of a common, Danish countryside road.

 I planned to sleep in the rather big city; San Pedro, but a tour up and down the main street reveals no opportunities at all. Back to the main road, hoping the smaller towns might have a spare bed. Else, it is the car once again. Just outside a small village, a sign praises Hotel Victoria, and there are even a distance and a minimal map. I drive right to it, and get a room for 80 pesos - depressing much like the one I paid 550 pesos for, some days ago.

 Back over the main road to find an ATM. I get several suggestions when I ask, and finally, I find it. It even let me redraw money from my account! On the continued search for food, I passes a barber. I could do with less hair in this 40C and 100% humidity, and I turn around.

 I am a bit particular with my hairstyle, and not having a common languish, make it harder - then again, I don't have that with my barber at home! He get the general idea, and removes a lot. It is not exactly as I wanted it, but I know from experience - like any other kind of game: Quit while you are ahead!

 Most eating places are still closed. I completely forgot: The restaurants are most busy between ten and eleven in the evening. They only opens around nine! And I've been lucky with breakfast so fare. Last time, it was just a cup of coffee and if I was lucky: A biscuit or two. In Denmark, we learn breakfast is the most important meal, and you should not eat within 4-5 hours before bedtime. Guess it is the other way around here!

 At a food marked, I find some preparing for later, and get five enchiladas. Then it is straight home to work. I arrange it all on the balcony, but when it gets dark, I'm sitting in a waterfall of insects from the necessarily lamp above my head. The temperature have dropped - to 35C, humidity in max, breeze absent. While I still sit out there, a "Camel-bus" passes. I have only seen them on Cuba before. 

 16/1 13. There are apparently no breakfast - or it is too late for me. I continues a bit more up Ruta 34, and when I passes a picnic spot, I prepare my own breakfast. Besides from a couple of tiny temples, the area is dominated by trash. It seems to me, the amount of trash in the wild is raising, the further I get north.

 The road for the park is well marked, and after nine kilometres, I reach it. The tour have been rather pristine forest, along a brown river. At the rangers hut, two rangers greet me, and one does speak a bit of English! I get several folders, one in English!

 A good map, showing the 23 Km road and the trails leading out from it, along with a lot other information. One with the mammals and one with the birds. Not sure what the last was about? The ranger tells me, she is free for the day, and would like to guide me. I tell her I rather guide my self - in a nice way.

 Along some of the trails, the trees have numbers, but I did not get that folder. While I drive, I keep an eye out for interesting things. A dear; Mazama americana crosses the road a bit to quick to get its picture taken, but is was amazingly red!

 The road is narrow and serpentine, running between two green walls. Loads of lianas and vines bind it all together, and walking outside the tracks are almost impossible. Now and then, a great view to the river and the green mountains are revealed.

 Here are so many new plant species, but I concentrate on my subject: Cacti and Bromeliads. The first track holds the first cacti: A tiny epiphytic one, round with a few needles. It might be the juvenile stage of the long one, I saw yesterday. Mushrooms, lianas, strange flowers, epiphytic ferns and much, much more.

  Back on the road, I climb slowly from the entrance's 550 meters up to 1650 metres. The environment keep getting more and more humid, and my dream of a dry high plateau remains a dream. But I still find cacti: The long, round ones are back, and several metres long. A few white fruits sits on the bigger ones.

 Another epiphytic leaf cactus seems to start as square, then continue flat. It can have numerous red fruits - but only on the ones, high in the trees. Then follows a terrestrial cacti, which best can be described as a cucumber with tiny needles. It grows in huge clusters on the clayish soil.

 Here are many orchids, but most above 15 metres, and impossible to get a photo of. Too long away, and into the bright sky. I look for huge fallen-over trees, but only a few have fallen lately. As it get eve more humid, giant Bromeliads appears in the trees. Some are around a meter in diameter and massive.

 I walk some part of every open trail, and one starts with a 50% descent. It continues for a kilometre, and end at the river. The sun have gone for now, and it is kind of dark here, under the dense canopy. The return is hard in the 35C and 100% humidity. I stop several times to photo plants, and then I hear something rather big nearby.

 It is a group of monkeys, about cat-size. The folder I got, contain no monkeys at all! On the other hand: The 10 species of birds I have seen clear, is absent in the bird folder too. I find a pair of huge larvae on the track, and guess they could have become large rhinoceros beetles.

 A Begonia catches my eyes with its neon-red flowers. I got a hunch, and poke a finger down along the stalk: Yes, it does have a caudex. The second caudiciformic Begonia I have found, and not known. I hope I will be able to ID them eventually.

 I find familiar plants like Peperomiaceaes, ferns, orchids, Asteraceaes, Begonias, Selaginellas, Solanaceaes - and them I can't remember the family name of, but most are unfamiliar to me. It seems to me, botanical gardens I have visited, have little representation from these regions.

 I reach the back side of the park, but the road and the entire setting continues - so do I. Only change is that here are cows and donkeys on the road. I reach the village San Francisco, which seem to be a cosy place. The houses are scattered over a huge area, leaving plenty of green in between them.

 I try the road further on, but it is pulling together to thunder on the surrounding peaks, and I turn around at a Bromeliad wall. A almost vertical wall, around 100 meter tall, is filled with large, fat Bromeliads. The green mountains seems to continues forever, and I have seen enough.

 I think I will support the community, and buy something to eat. They only offers something I have no clue to what is, and I go for two. It is some sort of grained corn, wrapped in its own leaves and boiled. Rather sweet and some taste to it. Not bad for 10 pesos.

 I only make one serious stop on the way back. A narrow gorge with a white river in the bottom, offers some absolutely astonishing motives - although they are hard to capture, due to the contrasts. It is ten meter wide and 30-50 deep. The forest is visible on both sides, and the whitish limestone/marble lightens up in the middle.

 Next to it, is a wooden bridge, overgrown with all sort of vegetation. The rain catch up with me, and I find the exit, 30 Km down the canyon. Just before I continues up Ruta 34, I check the map. There are absolutely no connections to west from here, unless you go several hundreds kilometres into Bolivia.

 I have to go down south again, do a 100 Km U around San Salvador de Jujuy, an head up Ruta 9. I think I find a short cut, parallel with the big road, but I'm not that sure. When it suddenly turns into a Y, I feel a bit lost. It is a real bad sealed road, and it have no signs for its entire 75 Km. The rain is on and off, spiced with some loud thunder.

 I end up in a fairly big city after six, and look for a hotel. Just before I'm out of whatever this town is, there is a hostalje. They got room for me, and I work until I get too hungry. The rain lightens, and I walk back through town. The first four possible restaurants are still closed, and the fifth tells me to be back after nine.

 I find a combines, general store/butcher/baker/vegi store and shop for some sandwiches. Slices of cheese, different sausages, two kind of breads and a little bunch of bananas. 17 pesos, and I have lunch for tomorrow as well. Next store is just opening: A confectionery.  I just have to try their strawberry torte!

 Home to prepare, with the old ketchup, and it tastes great. The strawberry torte is absolutely perfect! Then there are no excuses; back to work. Finishes at ten, but figures this northern part have gone too long, and divides it. That sounds way more easy than it is! Links have to be changed, pictures have to be deleted. The chosen 650 pictures from the dry north is decimated to 391 - and then down to 250, when I get rite of the cacti! Despite is is not midnight yet, I call it a day.

 16/1 13. It turns out, I'm in the outskirts of San Salvador de Jujuy, and I might as well see their Parque Botanico. It is on the edge of town, where a 1200 long trail leads up and down a mountain side. Despite it is only little pass eight, here are both the cleaning lady and the gardener, and I get a formal introduction to the site - in Spanish.

 First, they have an enclosure with some of the local, tiny dears and some fowls. Then it is a pretty much wild forest, but there are name on quite some of the trees. The sun have not started its job, but incredible many birds have. Singers, finches, starlings, blackbirds, a falcon, fowls and I guess hornbills, besides from some I'm not familiar with.

 Insects are plentiful too. A dragonfly with real short wings and an extreme long body, colourful beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas and all kind of flies. I walk slowly up the track, looking for any interesting plants and animals I can find. Here are orchids, Araliaceaes, cacti and many other familiar plants.

 Besides from some of the known cacti, a new, epiphytic one grown on top of the branches, It is only 3-4 millimetres thick, and have tiny white flowers. The trail end at a viewing platform with a fantastic panorama. At one side, the entire Jujuy can be seen. It is covering all of the fertile valley - not really that smart.

 At the other side, what appears as pristine forest stretches as fare as one can see. Car horns and dogs from one side, numerous bird voices from the other. I return and encounter a large snail on my way back. I find my way out of town - after a while, and head out Ruta 9, towards Bolivia.

 First, it is enormous green hills that dominates the horizon. I stop a few times at ravines, and find some cactus and Bromeliads. At a meadow, incredible many, beautiful flowers are found, and I try to photograph each and everyone of then - knowing I wont publish those pictures. A bit higher, I find a new Opuntia, which is real woolly. Two other small cacti are also new to me.

 The next stop is a bit more dry, and real interesting. Besides from the five new cacti, here are also other strange plants. One of the cacti is just the rather large, dark orange flower. I have to dig down in the vegetation to find its origin. The entire plant is smaller then the flower!

  I walk all the way to the top, then a bit down, the other side. Here, a lush, green valley lies hidden. As I return to the first side of the mountain, a rather angry woman cry out, from way down below. I guess she wants me out of here, and walks down to her. Despite I have crossed no fence, and I have seen no animals, she is concerned about her animals, and I'm defiantly not welcome. I make the excuses I can, and make a quick exit.

 The road continues along this mountain range, and I make stop after stop, always finding new cacti. Then the giant greens cacti starts, and as I get even higher, the woolly ones takes over. The mountains are now more brown/yellow/grey than green, but there are no lack of cacti.

 The villages are real rural. Clay houses, flat roof, no sealing in the streets and everything covered in dust. The countryside is more appealing. I find more cacti than I can make descriptions for, and I'm afraid I might "re-discover" some.

 The half filled air madras is now real hard, and have unfolded it selves. Then I reach a sign: 3780 metres. Almost simultaneous, I passes the sign about the Capricorn. Abra Pampa is the next village, but is is not worth a stop. Lamas begin to be the most common animal on the fields, and the farms are small and made up entirely of clay. The roof is made up by sticks with clay on.

 I reach a enormous high plateau, which is real flat and covered in grass. The border city; La Quiaca is really a dumb. Gray, dusty, trashy, warn down and pigs in the streets. I do a few rounds - mainly because I can't find Ruta 40. It turns out, it starts in a gravel street, somewhat out in the back.

 Gigantic, flat hills with little vegetation. The road just one gravel track, winding its way through, and rivers cross on it. Thousands of lamas, hardly any people and plenty of cacti. A new, large column grow to two metres, and is completely covered in wool - it could be Oreocereus trollii.

 The slate reflects the low sun, and it looks like glass. Talking about low sun: I got to find a place to sleep. The first little village I passed had nothing like that, and I'm counting on Santa Catalina; the most northern village in Argentina. The road have turned real narrow and un-used. Only two sets of tire marks in the last couple of days. But that must mean, there is hole through, right?

 It leads to a big pane, which is flooded now. Small rivers crosses the road, cutting their way down into it. Some lakes are on the road, and one is 100 meters long! Just along it, a group of flamingos are foraging. They are real close to the road, but I won't dare stopping, in the 30 centimetre deep water and mud. There are no pattern in the tires any more, and the clayish mud is real greasy. I barely make it through.

 Then a two meter wide river causes a problem. It have been deeper, and the two brinks can cause problems. I usually drive slowly through the rivers and creeks, but this one demands speed to overcome the assent on the back-side. I make it once again, but now it is getting dark - at eight!

 Then I reach the end of the line. A mighty river have removed 40 meters of the road. It have sunken to only 20 metres, but the mud banks it have left is a challenge. And after them, a minimum 50 centimetre deep river is too much. I did walk it, to knee deep!

 I'm around 100 Km into Ruta 40, and I have to return! And I have to go through the river and the flamingo pool once again. I did pass two tinier roads; Ruta 5 and 7. Accordantly to the rusty signs, they might lead to Santa Catalina. Worth trying, if that means I can continue of Ruta 40 tomorrow, and skip the flamingo pool.

 In the dusk, I meet a farmer and 100 of his sheep. Then I catch up with a broken-down pick-up truck. I offers him gasoline and a lift, but I guess he figures he can fix it, and I continues. I actually reach Santa Catalina, which is on Ruta 40 on my map. Then again; I have neither Ruta 5 nor 7.

 It is pitch black, and I end up at the police station, in the end of town. They guards me to a holstal on the central square. I have seen no shops in the village, and the pavement is natural rocks on the square and in front of the little church. I look forward to see this village tomorrow, in sunlight.

 I get a clean room with a bed and a chair for 50 peso. Cook some dinner on the floor, and start working. Somehow, I have taken 500 photos today. Wish I haven't! I am fare from finish when I have to give in at midnight.

 18/1 13. It is raining, and I start to fear, I might be trapped here. It is five degree, there are no heating system, no hot shower, and I'm miserable. Didn't sleep much because I was freezing - and worried, and got early up to continue working. Decides to drive down the police station, and get some info on the quality of the road ahead of me. I might have to turn around, and do the flamingo pool after all?

 The officer in charge can see no problem for me, continuing down Ruta 40, and I'm pleased. The rain is still coming strong, and that will for sure add to the problems on the road. I would have loved to make some sunshine photos of the village, but I even more like to get out of here.

 I find the right road, and within long, I meet the first river. Guess/hope it is because I'm still in the highland swamp, and I will leave it soon. I walk through the cold water, and figure I can get the car through. Same procedure at the next five. They are 10-25 meter wide and 30-40 centimetre deep. The button is made up of head sized rolling stones or loose sand. Worse it the brinks, which can be 75 centimetres high and real steep.

 When I meet river number seven, I'm beaten. I am 25 Km from Santa Catalina, and I am clearly the only one, who have driven this road today - wonder why? I must realise, I have to turn back, and fight my way through the first six rivers once again. The last one would probably be too much a mouth full for even a military truck with tractor tires.

 I meet none on the tour back either, which would have mend, I would have to walk the 25 Km, in the rain, and soaked to the bone, if I got stocked. It is a nerve racketing tour back. The rain is still coming strong, and the rivers have straightens. I would never have dreamed of, a normal car with slicks, could have done it!

 I am very pleased with the car, when we reach Santa Catalina and other people. The road from here have been used by 3-4 trucks and pick-ups, and it is rather smooth. Of cause, rivers still crosses it, but the challenge is the surface. It is clay, and the rain have dissolved it. It feels like driving on yoghurt, spread on a slippery surface. I drive sideways time after time, and stop several times to check, if I have any air in any tire.

 The hills are a challenge them selves. If I drive too slow, I just can't make it. If I drive too fast, I end in the drench. Somehow, I make it to La Quiaca and the sealed road. It will take some time before I endeavour a gravelroad in the rainy season! This entire tour up and out of Ruta 40, have been a giant failure! The road should have been closed! I'm just glad I did get the car out of there.

 The rain continues while I head down Ruta 9 again. I remember taking notice of some hostals and a real fancy, large hotel in Huacalera, thinking "It is a pity I'm not going back here". Well, here I am. The fancy one is 480 pesos a night, but the nearby Hostal la Granja is real cosy, and only 150 pesos. I reach it at two, but with the rain pouring down, I don't feel like exploring the legendary fabulous road to Chile; Ruta 52 today.

 I got loads of work to do, and I can spend half a day here. I can even get my laundry done! Just wished they had internet! A well deserved warm shower, and I start working at three. A dinner brake at eight, and feel I should leave the common room at eleven. Decides to have another night here, giving me more time to enjoy Ruta 52 - and get my laundry dried. I just hope it will stop raining!

 19/1 13. It is raining, but at least, I'm not trapped on a short stretch of Ruta 40, in-between two giant rivers, for two or tree months! The plan is to find a gas station with wi-fi, to do some banking, see the great salt planes; Salina Grandes and the first part of Ruta 52 - rain or not. Then head back the the hostal, to spend another evening in the real cosy place.

 A good breakfast - after Argentinean standards, a bit of working, and at nine, I drive out, into the rain. The river, which use to be a few creeks in a delta, is now a real rapid, brown raging river, tearing the brinks along with it. The road is being opened by bulldozers, but large lakes and rocks are still hazards.

 While I turn up Ruta 52; the major border crossing for more than thousand kilometres, there is a hold-up. A tourist in a car like mine have gotten it stuck, in a tiny pool of water. The front is not even up to the axels, and the back on dry land. I fail to see the problem, but a bulldozer spend half an hour dragging it free. After that, he patches the road, and we head on.

 The rain make exploring the surroundings a bit less desirable, but I do a few, short tours out in the drizzle. The road is dominated by heavy tankers, bringing butane to Chile. I make stops, when I meet the "train", and rush back to the car, before the next group passes.

 The road winds it way over several passes, from the 2500 at Ruta 9 over one pass; 4170 metres. Pretty soon, I meet the clouds, and visibility drops uncomfortable much, the hairpin bends and large rocks considered. It seem like the entire area is made up by steep gravel hills with loads of clay in-between. Not really practical in the heavy rain!

 At first, the road passes tiny communities, each with their tiny, humble church. Then it is only scattered farms and as the road assents, hairy giant cactus dominate the panorama. As the rain lightens for a short period, I do a longer walk on an ancient trail. Not that much new flora, but the setting is awesome.

 A simple stone structure marks a pass in 4170 meters height. Strangely enough, it is not at the highest point, but is might be smart after all. The South American tourists have a thing about taking photos of them selves, in front of things (and not the things). Here, there are actually room for their cars and a few, local souvenir saleswomen.

 At one large hillside, I find the usual five Opuntias and three new ones, which at first look appears the same. But their flowers are yellow, pale red and dark red. Their needles and leaves shape are different, when you know it. The hillside is around 50% covered in cacti, and walking around is quite difficult - not that I'm complaining.

 Then I reach Salina Grandes. It stretch from left horizon to right, but it is not white? While I drive closer, it turns out; it is flooded. The road leads right cross it, and I find a few "icebergs" sticking up from the water, and then some huge mountains, scooped up by man. Well, there are another one further out the line.

 Here are still the tall cacti and I find a new, low one too. The gravel is swapped with slate in some areas, clay in others. A new assent, and now, it is real high country, and the largest plants barley reach 30 centimetres. Here are constantly two or three types of Opuntias, in flat cushions. The lamas and wildlife must living by something else, because these fortresses are in-penetrable.

 At three, I reach the cross with Ruta 40. The northern part takes off in the village Susques. It is a tiny place, made up of clay-brick huts, but it is teaming with people. It is Saturday, and a football tournament is on. A somewhat flat, muddy field and a ball, is all it take. 

 I find the trail, and it is a deep, muddy challenge, and I'm glad I didn't make it. Here, it is even more humble and badly maintained. Back through the village - which is a challenge by it self. Steep, slippery alleys, some washed away, leaving the big rocks.

 A bit further out, the other end of Ruta 40 starts. The first hundred meters is fine, but then a part is missing due to a river. It is not a road in the rainy season! I spotted a restaurant, and it is a fancy place, compared with the village. They have a pretty good wi-fy, and I check emails, do banking and up-loads slideshows. Last thing is time consuming , but I can watch FoxSports covering of the Dakar Rally meanwhile, and try one of their ultimate sandwiches. Let it rain!

 If I had known there was a place like this, way up here, I would have planned to sleep here. Now, I have to do the 190 Km back, and return tomorrow. If it wasn't for the rain and fog, I would have enjoyed it significantly more! The first 100 Km is fine, but then I meet the dense fog and other cars, and that slow me down.

 I'm out of oatmeal, and turn of in the first village. It is a muddy story without a supermarcando involved. The next; Tilcara, is having its annual festival. The muddy streets are packed with people, cars everywhere. I even find four laundries, 15 hotels or alike but nowhere to buy food! Getting out is a hazard as well. One car is stocked in one of the main roads - sitting tight in mud. If I should offer any advises: Have the festival a month before, when it doesn't rain!

 "Home" to work until my spaghetti bolognaise is ready, then more work. Considering the problems the rain have caused me so fare, I guess it would be smart to leave this country before it is washed away. A woman from Buenos Aires just told me, they are receiving way more rain then usual, while Chile is dried out. If that's the way El Nino years works here, I'll go to Chile first thing tomorrow - after breakfast.

 20/1 13. My host only want 350 pesos for two nights, two great meals, several cups of the and coffee and laundry. I give her 450, and feel, I got a good bargain. The weather is unchanged, and after filling the car, I head straight up Ruta 52 to where I left yesterday.

 There are little traffic, but the road it selves create all the challenges I need. More fallen rocks, one falls right out of me, in the other lane - around one cubic meter. A small Fiat have had the entire front removed by an oncoming bus, right net to where a minibus was demolished yesterday. The same river have removed the road, but the bulldozer is on the job.

 When I reach the first pass, it is snowing! Not nice, when you drive a front driven car with real vide slicks! The same "iceberg" in the salty lake, more waterfalls in-between giant cacti, but I can't talk my self into leaving the warm and cosy car.

 The football tournament is still on, and I do a stop at the same restaurant to check emails and upload large photos for the diary. Takes forever, and I postpone the other two slideshows for now. Spend the last pesos on a sandwich and a bag of chocolate biscuits.

 The new part of the road is real boring at first. Enormous, flat gravel hills with next to no vegetation at all. Then some with grass tufts, scatted around. Larger rocks on the road is the only real change, and I could do without. The lama farmers get more and more rare, and the last hundred kilometres to the pass is too barren even for them.

 It is either pure gravel of tufts of the tiny plant I have seen before. In the horizon, snow-topped mountains are showing the altitude. They are around 5500-5900 metres, and apparently with permafrost on the top. Worse is that the road are quite close to their pinnacle. The rain continues, although I am passing through one of the driest places in the world! Huge pools, lakes and rivers are the only alteration from the the gravel.

 I catch up with two large tourist busses, and their 100 Km/t is fine with me, the water and snow considered. I even slow down through a vide river. Then I remember we are getting close to the border, and I'm not that keen on being number 100 in the line. Passes them a few kilometres before the border, and  get to be number six instead. I reach Paso Jama with its 4277 metres

 The personal pass is quick, but the car is a real afflict. They go through the papers numerous times, then stamp them, sign them and read them again. Finally, I aloud to continue. The actually border is five kilometres further on, but only a sign.

 A bit of summing up: I have only taken 4263 photos and driven around 7000 Km in these three weeks. Not much, but I have had adventure enough and sometimes challenges a bit rougher than I barging for. The nature have been awesome, the people so friendly and all in all a great experience. The price have been around 33,350 DKK / €4,470, but only because is was an ad-on to the Chilean tour. Insurance, flight etc. is paid for by the Chilean tour. 

 After having driven through the western Argentina, experiencing great nature, challenges, adventures and much more, I now cross in to Chile again. The photos from the Ultra North are in a slideshow, and the cacti in their own.

 

 

Photos   Diary Part 1  2  3  4