After the New Year celebrations we were ready to hit the road and do some proper “Nelsoning” as much as it is nice to indulge in fancy hotels in both Santiago and in Mendoza we both prefer to be camping in Nelson and exploring some nice roads and pottering along at our own pace. However the New Year holidays in Mendoza are taken quite seriously so both on New Years day and eve all the wineries and restaurants, a key attraction for us to Mendoza were surprisingly shut to customers so we decided to hit the road via a good winery and a nice lunch, Lee has blogged about the wine over in Indulgent Rover and lunch was just as good (better for me as I could join in)
After the wine tasting at Azul, we went to another winery for some excellent steak, as you would expect in Argentina.
It was a lovely setting eating al fresco under the shade of the grapes
After indulging for most of the day we set off down the classic route 40 heading south to eventually cross back into Chile, I had noticed on the map a small canyon just off the main road with a few camp sites along it so we headed there in the hope of a nice riverside campsite and a loop drive off the rather straight and flat section of the main road. We were delighted by the scenery in the Actuel canyon and camped up in a lovely spot by the river happy to make our first proper camp dinner on the faithful Coleman petrol stove and chat with the local folks who were interested in the story of our travels.
The next day we set off up the canyon planning a route around to the main road, all looked normal on the maps but in reality the road quickly deteriorated into a pretty narrow gravel track, as Lee was driving she got her first and rather unexpected experience of off road driving of the trip.
It started out just windy but soon developed a few steep sided twists that had Lee hesitating occasionally but she pressed on to a nice viewpoint over a lake, this lake varies a lot in height depending on the actions of the hydro plant and the island is appropiatly named submarine island as it sinks and rises in the water line.
So we started what should have been an smooth day running down the main road being quite adventurous and feeling like we had headed into the wilds. This theme was to continue for the rest of the day, we headed across the plains and back to the mountians as I had seen a reference to the valley of the brothers (Hermosos) which was just past the fancy ski resort of Las Lenas, according to reports it was a lovely hidden valley only open for six months of the year as the rest of the time it was snowed in – seemed like just the thing for Nelson and Lee agreed to have a look. It did not disappoint the road up to it was rough but spectacular
Once we hit the ridge we were confronted with a steep switchback descent into a lovely hidden valley surrounded by spectacular mountains and containing a lake we were to camp beside, the descent was easy enough for Nelson and I was driving but it had Lee hanging onto the handles and squeaking a bit as she was not used to this type of loose narrow hairpin work in low ratio!
Once into the valley the views of the mountains were really lovely
The camping spot by the lake was idyllic and surprisingly warm nearly 30oC so we needed the awining for shade as we made our dinner
At the end of the day as the sun set on the truck we could reflect on a day of surprises, what had started out as a pretty boring looking drive down route 40 had turned unexpectedly into one of the best off road and mountain drives of the whole trip so far, the altitude is less than Bolivia or Peru but the difference in height of the valley and the mountains was probably greater and so the scenery was just as spectacular and interesting (but a lot warmer and less windy).
As the sun set we could reflect on a great antidote to the four days in hotels as nice as they were, it really feels like we are properly back on the road and overlanding again !
Off to Chile next …..