Northern Argentina is a grand place for a drive. I went all the way from La Quiaca to Mendoza, plus I got the pleasure of driving, thanks to Roger.
Have I mentioned Roger?
After passing the border from Villazón (Bolivia) to La Quiaca, me and my friend Fabri had been trying to hitch a ride. He’d go to Buenos Aires on his way back home and I’d be going to Mendoza. After several trucks passed us by, suddenly a little white car stopped. A 60-something year old young man was behind the wheel, asking us where were we heading. We answered and he opened the doors. We had a ride!
Roger is from Canada. Ever since he retired he bought himself a round-the-World ticket, and for what I remember he had already been in several countries, from the Middle East to Europe, maybe more. His wife hadn’t retire yet, so it’s all good: she actually prefers hotels and shopping, while Roger likes the great outdoors and doesn’t mind sleeping in dormitories; “you can meet a lot of people in those places!” – well, roger that! He was probably going for the adventure before spending some years around shopping malls and organized and secure tourist excursions.
He had rented the car to drive in Argentina, and was just coming back from Bolivia, where he dropped off another friend he met while travelling. He was also going to Mendoza so I got to spend a couple of days traveling with him. The advantage of this situation comparing to being with a truck driver is that we more or less stop whenever we need/want – we were both tourists. We left Fabricio along the way in San Miguel de Tucumán (I’d meet him afterwards in Bahía Blanca). Later we (and plenty of other drivers) faced a roadblock in Chamical, which lasted more or less an hour since we got there.
At some point we were stopped by a policeman in the middle of nowhere. The only building there was this small house which was probably a sort of “péage“; but there were no toll roads there, we knew that – just probably some controls by the police for security or whatever. Roger opened the window and the policeman started talking. Roger’s Spanish was ok, and he told the officer we were a Canadian and Portuguese. The man asked for our passports, and while handing them back he asked if we were carrying dollars. Well at this point I was handling the conversation. I said no and he then asked if we would be kind enough to help them support the maintenance of the police headquarters there (he pointed at the little house by the road). I told him we were just tourists, said we were sorry but weren’t that interested. He suddenly “spit out” (talked really fast and I couldn’t get everything) a well-studied group of law articles, among which I heard the words “illegal”, “pay”, “otherwise”, something like that – not in that particular order, though. In any case, it was clear: we’d either pay or else/whatever…! So I asked the policeman if he accepted pesos. He said yes. I then asked Roger if he’d be willing to hand the guy one peso to avoid a lot of trouble (by the way, one peso is approximately 0.20 Euros); I took another peso from my own money and handed the officer 2 pesos, while always looking him in the eyes (I did feel like laughing out loud, and I think he knew that, but I though it was better not to). He looked at the coins, and then back at me. “Is this ok?“, I asked. He looked at his hand again, and looked back at us. I repeated the question and he said “yeah, go.” So we managed to pull that one off, luckily or not. Roger was a bit angry with the situation. Oh well, you get this almost everywhere, I’d say.
We stopped to sleep in La Rioja; we were a bit tired (I hadn’t really slept since Bolivia) so we just had dinner, went to check our e-mails and went back to a cheap motel. On the second day Roger let me drive the car for hundreds of kilometres, which was fun! He took over the co-pilot and told me about the Difunta Correa legend. As we drove down in Argentina, we’d be seeing all these memorials by the side of the road: flowers, crosses, bottles of water and other gifts. We ended up deciding to visit Vallecito (map below), where the sanctuary is located (and of enormous importance to truck drivers, gauchos and general folk). So I ended up visiting a new place which I knew nothing about, and of great spiritual importance for most drivers in Chile, Argentina and even Uruguay.
One of the things I recall the most during these two days of driving was the variety of landscapes. Of course we were driving down a great deal of kilometres, but it’s quite impressive anyway. By the end of that second day we arrived to Mendoza. Roger went to the car rental company’s office to return the vehicle, while I was taking care of my own business at the bus terminal. When he came back we had a final chat, and exchanged invitations to our cities if we’d ever visit each other’s. And then we parted ways.
Roger telling us he enjoys taking photos while driving