24 - 28 May 2012. Filed under category Travel.
The way we drove.

Click to see the full map.

In my previous post, I went on about how nomads are not tourists. However, there is nothing stopping us from ‘taking a break’ from the nomadic life and be a tourist for a while. This is exactly what I did this weekend as I visited Mendoza, the wine region of Argentina.

This trip also shows the importance of making friends wherever you go. I was lucky to befriend Dario while looking for a place to live in Buenos Aires, and he invited me to Mendoza, where he grew up. Having Dario as a guide opened up a side to Mendoza that few other tourists would see.

Day 1: Driving to Mendoza

We drove to Mendoza. It is a 1.1 Mega Metre journey one way from Buenos Aires to Mendoza City, and then we spent the next few days driving around the region. I’ve never spent quite so much time in a car before. Dario said it was an eight-hour drive; it was eleven. It didn’t matter. Driving through the pampas is beautiful, and if you get bored, you can always entertain yourself by counting dead dogs. You don’t see them much in Buenos Aires, but as soon as you leave the capital, you’ll see stray dogs everywhere, and many of them end up as morbid milestone markers along the roads.

Day 2: Puente del Inca and the Chilean border

The long journey into the Andes.

The long journey into the Andes.

Today it was time to hit the Andes and explore a pearl necklace of sights along the way. The car snaked its way up winding mountain roads and through mesmerizing landscapes. The air was fresh and the spirit high!

There were two main stops for the day. The first was Puente del Inca, but we were twice stopped on our way. The first was at the bridges of Cacheuta, were we were told that the road we wanted to use had been closed for years. Bummer. Our alternative route was also blocked, this time by police telling us that there was a snowstorm coming that night and he wouldn’t let us through without snow chains. So we went and rented some. Problem solved!

Puente del Inca is a natural bridge over a river. It is also a place where sulphur and other minerals have coloured the ground yellow and created strange rock formations. It has been a tourist attraction for many years; Charles Darwin was once here and marvelled at the sight.

The Argentines thought it would be a great idea to build a spa right in the middle of this unique natural phenomenon. Now abandoned, it looks more like a strange prison. (Somehow, it adds to the atmosphere.)

Our other stop for the day lay further into the mountains: the Chilean border. The road follows an old abandoned Victorian railway. The black rock of the mountains with patches of snow and this ghostly remains of a railway creates a creepy yet captivating air of abandonment and loneliness. I recommend listening to Sigur Ros while driving here.

We got as close to the border as we could. I was excited to have crossed the South American continent by car. I mean, sure, there is Chile too, but that size-0 anorectic super-slimmed country barely counts, right?

Driving back, we took an alternative road that went over a mountain as opposed to around it. This was where General San Martin once rode in his liberation of Argentina and Chile. I wouldn’t be surprised if the road we drove along looked no different back in the 1800. I was surprised, however, that our poor car didn’t break down on this terrible road. (If it had, I wonder who of Dario and I would first give in to hunger and eat the other…)

It was late in the day when we began this part of the journey, for good and bad. We broke the ridge during the blue hour, awarding us a wonderfully spooky panoramic view of the land below. However, we had to drive down from there in total darkness along a winding serpentine road, which was more than spooky; it was terrifying!

Day 3: Salentein and San Rafael

We left Mendoza to drive (more car time!) to San Rafael, the city where Dario grew up. Along the way we stopped at Salentein, one of the many (many many) wineries in the Mendoza province. After a sumptuous three-course lunch helped down with as many large glasses of wine, we wobbled into the winery itself for a tour. I barely listened to the guide. I’m an easily excitable photographer, and the winery, with its dark moody rooms, like caves, filled with locked up bottles (like little mini prisons) and wine barrels stretching into the distance, well, it was too much!

In San Rafael, we stayed two nights with Dario’s parents. Hotel rooms are fine, but it is infinitely more interesting to stay in a real house! You learn so much more about the people of a country when you get that close. For example, during the two large family dinners we shared, I learnt that Argentinians eat fantastically well (meat, homemade pizzas [with meat toppings], empanadas [with meat fillings] and stew [guess what was in the stew…]) and that Argentinian kids fight just as much as Swedish ones.

Day 4: The Atuel Canyon

Road 173 runs from San Rafael south-west along the Atual River that cuts into the mountain, forming a canyon of such transcendent beauty that it makes the heart and soul come together in song! We drove through the canyon, along the river, up onto the Valle Grande dam (forming the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen), up over mountain highlands, through yet more mountains with strange rock formations and eventually ended up at Lake Nihuil, a name that surely must have been taken from the Lord of the Rings. I fully expected to see Frodo sneak around these dramatic landscapes, but he must have been hiding.

Pictures are better at describing this trip, so without further ado…

Day 5: Driving back to Buenos Aires

Tired but happy, we returned to Buenos Aires with a couple of parents in the back seat for souvenirs. By the end of this trip, we had driven 3100km or 1926 miles. If you want a map of where we went, you can check out this google map link.

I also shot videos along the way. The edited version is below. Enjoy.


What is your longest car journey?

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  1. This looks like a great trip. I think I am off to Asia in a few months but I need to come back to do South America (and keep my Spanish up)! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Melissa says:

    You have an amazing blog, and although I’ve been (subconsciously) planning to do basically the same thing for a while now, it really took me reading your blog to get the wheels turning. I have read the whole thing and am ready for more!

    As for my longest car journey, I’ll say SO FAR, has been Colorado to Alaska. I’ve made that journey 4 times (2 there, 2 back). And I say so far, because I plan on becoming a full-time RVer in Spring 2013. Not only is it better for my soul (nomadic), but better for the earth too!

    Thanks, Gustav, for the kick in the hiney, keep it coming!


    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Thank you for the kind words and encouragement! I’m excited that my writing has stirred someone into action. That is what I could only dare hope for when I started The Modern Nomad. (Did you really read the whole thing? And if so, did you perhaps use the left/right key to navigate between posts? Yes, you can! I’ve been a busy programmer!)

      As for RVing around, that looks like such an awesome adventure and great way to travel. And the US is the best place for it! If only I could stay in the US for more than 3 months at a time, I’d do it myself.

      1. Craig Brown says:

        You not only gave me the idea of writing my own blog as a platform for all the “Craig” inside me, you actually helped me do it. Thank you!!

        You have an open invitation to circumnavigate Lake Michigan. When guided by a native, it’s a fun trip! I guarantee it will take less than three months, lol…I have a job where I have to show up at a specific time and place (kind of).

        Car trips are my favorite vacation. My longest was approximately 2500 km from Groningen, Netherlands, up through Denmark, over that amazing bridge, up the west coast of Sweden ;-), into Norway along the fjords until we arrived in Trondheim where Norway also gets anorectic…then all the way back. Oh, wait, does the time I moved, by car, from New York to Seattle count?

      2. Craig Brown says:

        Oh, I forgot! This post really made me feel like I went along for the ride. I slipped in a little vicarious vacation there.

  3. Jamie says:

    Mendoza is truly fantastic, and hopefully you’ll get to go back. But yes that anorexic country counts! You should spend time in Chile, especially southern Chile…and northern Chile…and Valparaiso in the middle.

    I’m not even Chilean, I promise.

    Longest drive? New Orleans to New York City in a moving truck. Almost 2100km and I drove the whole way – my friend didn’t help once.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I was a bit overly flippant about Chile, I admit. I guess I sacrificed correctness on the altar of humour. I have heard many good things about Chile and hope I’ll get to verify them one day.

      Thanks for the comment and welcome to The Modern Nomad.

      1. Jamie says:

        Haha, you will have plenty of time to see Chile – no worries, it is clear you were joking! And most people feel that way about this country anyway – but there are some great things to see here, so i have to play the part of tourism promoter when i see even a humourous dismissal.

  4. Johan Persson says:

    A bit of grandure is always good for the soul. And nothing beats a roadtripp if you want to explore the landscape.
    That “spa” looked so inviting. How come you didn’t stay the night. Something that reminds you so clearly of Alcatraz just screams harmony and peace for your soul.
    And probably, almost certainly, guarantees a good nights sleep.
    Bring back some wine for this years kanooing (see earlier post). Not shures that “kanooing” is the wright word but you now what i mean.

    Longest drive soo far.
    Ljungby (Sweden)-
    Oberstdorf (Germany)
    1300km one way.
    My brother in law drove almost all the way. Myself played Nintendo DS lying on down in the backseat.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      A bit of grandure is always good for the soul. Ha ha! That could be my mantra! 🙂 And would you believe that they have closed the spa? Maybe the basement was water damaged…

      (PS. I took the liberty to link to the ‘kanooing’ post.)

      1. Johan Persson says:

        YOU SAID WHAT. THE SPA HAS BEEN CLOSED. Well there’s nothing humorous about waterdamage.
        Glad i could provide you with a mantra.
        Use it with wisdom, Jack Daniels and a hint of lemon.
        And please feel free to link.

  5. Brother Henrik says:

    Grattis Gustav to be shore that you dont translate it in an wrong aqued way like you did with johan i take it in inglish congratulation to your namnsdag Gustav 🙂
    For the moment i am att Swedenrockfestival four days with rock blues mettal about 80 band playing.

  6. Matt says:

    Do you come across any exotic animals on your travels? If you did in further post i havent read that far yet.

What is your longest car journey?

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