Week 86 - Utopia and Beyond! Ruta 40 Begins.
Updated: Jun 13, 2020
We got up bright and early after a lovely buffet breakfast and set off towards Yala through some amazing forestry. On route we pulled off at a lay-by next to a truly magnificent tree for a short rest. We had been loving the arid regions in Bolivia for a good number of months; however, the lush green forest with flowing rivers was a nice change. While admiring our new green backdrop, another travelling couple pulled up on old school BMW R-80's. After a bit of a chat and some 'ooh-ing' and 'aah-ing' about the amazing tree, we headed back off on the winding road again. Lovely German couple, but sadly can't recall their names!
Some of the sections were very narrow and we were hoping that the driving standards were a little better than Peru where people come screaming around bends on the wrong side of the road. Luckily the drivers seemed not to be too bad and we made it safely to a campsite on the side of the road called 'El Refugio'. It could have been a lovely place to camp, but although only 150 Argentinian pesos per person and including WiFi and hot water, tonnes of kids turned up later in the afternoon and there were several others with super loud music which destroyed the tranquility of the place somewhat.
There was a little restaurant that did some take-away food, so we opted to share a small pizza. It wasn't too, bad but nothing like the amazing home-made pizza's we'd had at Steel-horse hostel in Filandia (Colombia) or the other ones we'd had at Da Vinci restaurant in Cochabamba (Bolivia), or even the 'create-your-own' from ASDA supermarket back in the UK. Pizza was definitely our travelling guilty-pleasure food, but it was rare to find a good one so when we did, we didn't forget. Sometimes we like to stay places for a couple of nights to go out and explore, but we couldn't put up with the swarms of kids who were running so close to the tent that they were catching the guide ropes. Kelvin even had to raise his voice to one kid to stop him hitting a frog with a stick.
We left the campsite early the next morning. We followed the road along and around to the old Ruta 40 and then met the official Ruta 40 down, so we did quite a long loop around it, very beautiful and well worth it. Even though we were on tarmac the pass going up was beautiful, on the way down we were treated to another stunning ride, although this time it was straight forward dirt road which was more preferable, even if it was a tad windy, it had magnificent views for miles over the hillsides.
We did come across one car which was going far too fast as he came around a corner, but luckily he just missed us and no-one ended up going over the edge of quite a steep mountain! We crossed quite a few water crossings on route, especially as we got further down on the Ruta 40, some deeper and longer than others but nothing too crazy fortunately.
We were going to stop on route and camp, but we got to the first option by 1pm, so decided to crack on and then the next camp spot was really not nice and completely open, so we decided to continue on to Utopia, which was a place we'd heard of from some fellow travellers and would guarantee a tranquil camping experience. We stopped in Cachi a little North of Utopia at the side of the road to buy 'Tortilla', an Argentinian street food. It wasn't like Spanish tortilla, instead it was more of a bread-wrap type thing, some of which had cheese in, so I bought one standard and one cheese which were lovely. We'd discovered that most eateries in Argentina only opened at around 8-9pm, much like Spain, and we needed to get to the campsite. As time was getting on we had asked at two hostels in Cachi about prices but it was very expensive, or at least with our travel budget it was, so we pushed on.
We did manage to find Utopia Overland camping before it got dark and it was a really amazing place (GPS -25.36738, -66.23443), about 5km down a dirt track from a small village called Seclantás. We were greeted by Johan, Martina, Tim and Shannon, plus Perma the dog and Raj the cat. It was lovely, basic and chilled out in an idillic location, and after some introductions we set up camp. Johan and Martina were the owners of the camp, and they'd literally just come back from a holiday, and Martina had been in India as well. Tim and Shannon (https://www.planetoverland.com) had been looking after the place for them for a while, so it was their last night and we'd ended up interrupting their 'bon-voyage' meal. Luckily after out Tortillas we weren't too hungry, so we didn't need any more food.
The next day it was time for Cyril's well overdue bath. The poor little mite was almost black from being stuck to the back of my bike on a daily basis. After a good wash and leaving him to dry on a makeshift line, we set off on a 5km or so walk to the local village. We were hoping to get wifi because we'd been in contact with a guy called Martin who lived in Cachi, but unfortunately there was no WiFi in the afternoon's at the community centre and no-one seemed to be able to give us the communal password. Everyone was very friendly, but no one knew the password. The Claro sims we had were useless there and we weren't able to buy a Tigo one (or whatever the other network was), only top up if we'd already bought one in the bigger stores near the city. Sadly not. It wasn't a biggie as it was lovely to have no internet for five days, it was just I'd semi made plans, but couldn't finalise them, so I felt a bit rude.
Failing getting wifi, we got a few bits for dinner from a tiny local shop, which was through a barred window in the street....a challenge as I had to point to everything or try to remember the name of everything I wanted. By the time I'd thought of most things we started walking back and the main village store had opened, so we got a few extra things and a bottle of wine. We started the trek back to the campsite but a local dog followed us back from town and stayed the night. He just wouldn't disappear. Johan and Martina weren't best impressed, and we should have tried to scare the dog away, but I really struggle with throwing stuff at dogs. Luckily Perla, their own dog, seemed to get on with our stray and he was very playful and submissive, which was a relief. He spent the entire night sleeping next to our tent. So strange. That evening, Johan and Martina had made us some beautiful, tasty pizzas. We definitely added them to our short list of amazing pizzas that we'd had on our South American adventure. It was a hard list to get on but they'd really cracked it!
The next morning we walked to the village again with the dog. It was really interesting as we realised how intelligent he was. The previous day on our walk back from the village (we'd actually started out with four dogs with us), we'd come across one house with some quite nasty dogs who chased three of the dogs off, they all ran in different directions. It was only the dog that ended up sleeping by our tent that came back a few minutes. However, when we walked back past the house the next day and met the nasty dogs again, our companion started to limp. I was really worried he'd got something in his paw but I couldn't see anything on inspecting his foot. He continued to limp and the nasty dogs walked around him, sniffed at him and then after about a minute wandered off. Once we were well clear of the house he stopped limping and trotted on ahead. It was amazing, he'd faked a bad paw so that the other dogs would leave him alone. I'd never seen a dog do that but it worked a treat. Amazing!
When we got back to the village we went into a few places and eventually managed to lose the dog. He'd been great to hang out with but it wasn't appropriate to have him following us back again. The shop was open so we got some stuff for snacks and again no-one had WiFi password. Johan had come in to the village a little later on his bike as he was getting stuff for Braai. Yum! We managed to use his phone hotspot sitting in the square to send a message to Martin, and unfortunately he was going to be away while we were available, so we didn't manage to arrange a meet up, but at least we'd made contact.
We wandered the 5km back to the campsite, which meant we'd walked about 22km in the last two days! We chilled out in the field and then later that evening we had an amazing BBQ (Braai), South African / Argentinian style. Johan was from South Africa originally and Martina from Germany, although having spent some time in India she could make one cracking curry and had new supplies since her recent trip!
With curry in mind, the next day we took Kelvin's bike to town with me as pillion, and got some additional supplies for a yummy curry. We also treated ourselves to an ice-cream as it was so hot, and it'd be rude not to partake in the local Argentinian wine, especially as we were in wine country. Once we got back we chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and then in the evening Martina made us the most amazing home-made curry, all from scratch and chapatis to go along with it. They even supplied us with some cider so needless to say we were very happy.
We ended up staying a total of four nights at Utopia and loved every minute, but it was time to crack on and do some more exploring. The next day we left and unfortunately the field had flooded over night as the water had been switched on for the fields and had cascaded down into the camping field. This delayed our start somewhat as we woke up submerged. We were quite proud of our basic $100 Chinese tent that we'd found in Ecuador because the bottom didn't fail and had kept our stuff dry to some extent despite the pool of water underneath us. After everything had dried for a couple of hours in the sun, and some farewell's, we had a beautiful ride to Cafayate. It was super hot and once again I was very glad to have my mesh off-road top with me as I switched to that after not very long.
We arrived in Cafayate and found a place called hostal Suri. They had some lovely cabañas for 650 pesos with a private bathroom, parking, and breakfast etc. Again we stayed four nights as it was quite peaceful, on the edge of the town and it truly was wine country. After we had a much needed shower we went for a wander around town, but most places were closed as things were a lot different here in terms of opening times as I mentioned before and for shops, siesta seemed to be from around 1pm to about 5-6pm. Cafayate was quite a pretty town all-in-all with many wineries dotted around the place.
The next day we had a relaxing morning and made use of the WiFi, with wine tasting at Domingo Hermanos bodega in the afternoon, which worked out at a grand sum of £2.10 total with four wines to taste and cheese! Yum! It was so good and needless to say we bought some wine and cheese after. We'd also been given a tour of their factory from the vineyard, through to all the machinery and finally to the area where they bottled the wine. The tour was in Spanish but I managed to get the majority of it and translate it to Kelvin as best I could.
On the way back, whilst walking down one of the many streets we came across this odd dog and it didn't look angry, but it slowly walked up to me and all of a sudden bit me on the leg. Fortunately it didn't pierce the skin though but it did shake me up a little.
The following day it was so hot and in the afternoon we headed to Bodega El Transito. It was very different to the other wine tasting experience with a very quick tasting and no tour, and a somewhat bland environment. The Domingo Hermanos one had been so much better. At least the fee for the wine tasting was taken off the purchase of the wine so we bought two bottles of nice wine for less than £5!Following that we went for some food and found a cute little restaurant that specialised in Empanadas, aptly named 'Casa de las Empanadas'. I have to say, they made some damn good ones, and although there was a mixture so not all were to our taste, the majority were scrumptious.
For our final day in the area, we took a bike trip to see the red rock scenery and canyons of Ruta national 68, complete with natural amphitheatres. Once again it was stifling hot, but we were greeted with awesome views, and we ever got to explore up some of the dried red river beds, which was cool.
There were plenty of places to stop and take photos on the route, with the main section being between about 40-50km outside of Cafayate. We spent a good few hours stopping, walking, taking photos and exploring before heading back to our Cabaña to try and cool down again. If you're in the area, it's definitely well worth a trip out. We'd only been in Argentina for under two weeks but we'd been lucky enough to have great weather, great roads, amazing scenery and come to learn that the Argentinian's were one friendly bunch.
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