27 N Argentina, Brazil
NORTH ARGENTINA & A BIT OF BRAZIL June 2006
Other Overlanders. Birds & broken bridges.
It was a distance of 2700km from the wineries of Mendoza to the Paraguay border. We travelled through the cities of San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Tucuman, Salta, Resistencia and Formosa. In each city centre the leafy main plaza with cathedral or city hall never ceased to delight. That is also where we found the internet café’s; and once a “gelateria” with 52 flavours of ice cream.
Near San Juan in the “Valley of the moon” lies Ischigualasto Desert Park. Here over millennia, erosion has exposed ancient strata containing fossils. We walked with a guide in the canyons between the weird rock shapes. We saw a model of the ancient Frenguelisaurus Ischigualastensis dinosaur and the fossilised bones of the oldest known predatory dinosaur, the Eoraptor Lunensis, dating from 225 million years ago. Because of the scorching days in summer and the freezing cold winters, palaeontologists can work only two months of the year.
One of the most interesting routes was a 250km stretch from Tucuman to Salta which consisted of a variety of landscapes. After the sugar cane fields, there was a misty mossy forest, then mountain sides with colossal candelabra cacti.
A bonus was a group of horsemen dressed up in “gaucho” finery, passing by. Inca period ruins at Quilmes with an adjacent modern hotel built from local rock, was next. (A dinner there gave Leoné a break from cooking supper).
Then there were vineyards at Cafayate, where we tasted the fruity red Malbec and dry but aromatic white Torrontés cultivars. The last panorama was a long drive in a canyon of amazing red rock formations with a wide river flowing alongside.
At the city of Salta campground, a number of long-haul travellers had congregated. Out of 8, there were 3 vehicles travelling with pets. The one couple had driven from North America. They had to ship around (in stead of proceeding through) Panama because no foreign dogs are allowed into Panama. The Swiss and their vehicle arrived by ship in Argentina. She then returned home to fetch the dog and flew back to BA. At the airport she collected him where he was standing (out of his cage) on the carousel between the bags. A couple with two terriers had paid more for the dogs’ air fares from South Africa than for their own.
Moral of story, if you are travelling: a small pet rock is best!
In Salta we went to a folklore show with some German friends. We were first to arrive at 10 pm. By one o‘clock the restaurant was still full of people, including children of all ages. Now we know why they need that long midday “siesta”.
Asuncion, the capital, sprawls on the banks of the wide Paraguay River. It was a public holiday and we could easily park and admire the attractive public buildings – many painted pink. In the Botanic Garden, where there used to be a campsite, we were told to move to right next to the guard house, “for your own safety”.The next day we were driving on a main road with our side lights on. A policeman stopped us and demanded a fine, because we did not have headlights on. Jan photographed him real close up, and he backed off.
Grubby, chaotic Ciudad del Este is a duty free shopping area on the border with Brazil. We considered joining the heaving, frantic mass of shoppers, traders and frenzied motor cyclists but decided to escape the chaos, to Foz do Iguaçu.
We walked kilometres in the rain forest park to see the scores of spectacular falls on the Argentinean and on the Brazilian side.
Itaipu dam, between Paraguay and Brazil is the largest hydro-electric complex in the world and was interesting to visit.
Truckers’ life; trucker’s wife.
We had been through the Amazon and most of Brazil with our daughters Liesl and Ingrid, who were then 6 and 4, so this time we chose to drive through just a corner of the country.
Dipli felt tiny next to all the colossal trucks on the single lane patched-tar main road. Brazil is so big and huge quantities of goods have to be hauled. Thus there is a very large contingent of truckers permanently on the roads; so we joined their lifestyle. The spacious filling stations/truck stops provided safe overnight parking and usually had clean facilities with showers. A neatly paved truck stop was a good place for Jan to do a service on Dipli. There was always a restaurant/”lanchonette” where you could have snacks, a buffet meal or a “churrasco/rodizeo” – grilled chunks of various meats sliced at your table; as much as you can eat! (The buffet was usually stewed meat, black-beans, cooked kylie, rice, dry manioc/cassava sprinkle, salad, beetroot, spaghetti and rice pudding. Fresh fruit juices were always delicious.)In the province of Mato Grosso (literally: “large forest”) where once forests were, are now cultivated fields to the horizon.
“Da Copa 2006”.
It seemed as if all Brasileiro’s were wearing the yellow with green shirt of the national soccer team. When Brazil was playing a World Cup match in Germany, the streets were totally deserted. Once we were in a hypermarket during a match. The idle cashiers each had their own screens and the rest of the staff members were in front of the big screen TV in the electronics section. When Brazil beat Ghana: 3-1, the police closed the roads and the street parties went on from the morning into the night. When Brazil played France, we were in the jungle. Later, when we asked a young teenager what the result of the match had been, he burst into tears, and uttered: “Francia: um, Brasil: zero”.
Centre of South America.
On the journey so far, we have ‘collected’ the geographic centres of three continents and could now add a fourth. In downtown Cuiabá stands an obelisk marking the point as determined in 1909. We also drove 70km NE to the more recently determined point at Chapada dos Guimarães.
The Pantanal is a vast natural paradise. Seasonal flooding has limited human occupation and provides an enormously rich feeding ground for fauna; concentrating the exotic wildlife in the wetland.
One of the only roads into the area, the Transpantaneira, starts at Poconé. It is a raised dirt road of 150km containing 126 wooden bridges. 16 had broken crosswise planks and big gaps. Jan had to aim carefully to stay on the lengthwise boards. Leoné kept her eyes shut.
The water birds congregated in huge numbers. Jabiru storks were feeding in the swamps or were perched on their big nests in short trees. There were also raptors, gaudy parrots, giant blue macaws, large-billed toucans and colourful butterflies. Small crocodiles (‘jacarés’) basked in the sun next to the ponds and rivers. We saw marsh deer and at dusk it was an unforgettable sight to see many capybaras in family groups gathering on the road. These large (up to 65kg) vegetarian aquatic tailless rodents have a guinea pig-like face and a bulky body with course hair.
At Porto Jofre, the end of the road, we relaxed next to the wide river. The Pantanal is famous for its fishing. Fishermen complained because the piranhas ate their bait or nibbled on what they had caught. However, amongst other species, they did catch piranhas and an Italian angler gave us some fillets to cook. Well garlic’ed they tasted great.