The freedom of having my own set of wheels was well worth the wait. We had an amazing five days full of kind people, few tourists, beautiful national parks, and wide-open roads. But it got off to a rocky start. As a pedestrian, I'd seen many well-behaved cars flagged down by parked police officers. The drivers always seemed unbothered, and the cops looked relaxed. I assumed these were routine license or sobriety checks. And after two hours of driving we'd already gone through several checkpoints. So when we got waved to the side when passing though a fourth checkpoint, I thought nothing of it. But 20 minutes later the officer handed me a $75 ticket for driving without my headlights on - in broad daylight. He was unsympathetic, and handed me “la multa” with a gotcha-gringo smirk. You live, you learn. It turns out cops everywhere are pricks.
Otherwise, it was smooth sailing. With a couple of exceptions, roads were great, accommodations were comfortable, and people were friendly and helpful. We were caught off guard by a constant struggle to find gas and food, but one or both always arrived just in time. THIS was, more or less, our route. I would struggle to list or describe all the highlights, but here are a few:
We visited Parque Provincial Ischigualasto and Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas, which are two of the three parks that together comprise “La Ruta de los Dinosaurios.” Seeing the fossils and a certified, in-context, barely cordoned-off dinosaur footprint were definite highlights.
There were long stretches of empty roads flanked by beautiful rural landscapes of all kinds. Marion and I both wanted to spend more time exploring the remote villages along the way. As a side note, I have to admit some bias here. When I picture small American towns and back-country roads, I think of the NRA, mega-churches, and people that would think the aforementioned dinosaur footprint is “probably about 6,000 years old.” And yet, when abroad, I am enamored by the same rustic escapes I would avoid at home. Why? Dunno.
After checking us into our hostel on night three, the man behind the front desk asked us if we wanted dinner. He suggested we go next door, buy a chicken, a pepper and “nada mas.” Two hours later we were treated to an incredible asado feast, which we enjoyed around a backyard table with the charismatic hostel owner, eight of his friends and two other french travelers.
The last day we drove across the mountains on a one lane gravel and dirt road, and we didn't see a single car for 2 hours between towns. It was as peaceful of a place as I can imagine, and the scenery was stunning, albeit simple.
Marion was a great travel buddy. We used almost exclusively Spanish to communicate, which must have been a strange sight for anyone that could see how poorly we both spoke. But we enjoyed making fun of each other's accents, and generally agreed on the important stuff and travelled at about the same pace.