Wednesday last week, October 12th, after the police shake-down episode, we arrived at the El Palmar National Park which is dedicated to preserving how much of the northern pampas looked, covered in palm trees, before humans started changing things. We stayed there two nights; well worth it for the birds and the ruins of a Jesuit lime burning kiln. Also, somewhat cool to be woken up by vizcacheras scurrying under the truck, they are nocturnal miniature capibaras, and sound somewhat like gremlins.
On Friday we headed north towards the Esteros del Ibera provincial park, which is the goal for the next few days. Stopped along the way in Federacion at a beautiful campground, right on the lake created by the Salto Grande dam. The campground was very relaxing and we stayed there two days to catch our breath a little (and to get our laundry done – we love the lavaderas!)
We left Federacion rather early on Sunday morning and made a lengthy drive to Santo Tome, lengthy in time, not really in miles. With road construction, police stops, towns/villages, plus a mandated maximum speed of 90 mph, we are averaging right around 40 mph. So 6 hours of solid driving only equates to 240 miles, different from the US west where Karen and I could have driven 420 miles in the same amount of time.
We Arrived in Santo Tome around 5 pm, and went looking for the camp site that our Argentinian guide book says should be there. It was – but not exactly. The camp ground was more like a day picnic area where the locals hang out, play with their kids, and the teenagers most likely make out. The day area was also on grounds connected to the Argentinian Navy; the Navy has a station there as right across the river, 300 m, is Brazil.
In another one of the unexpected yet oh so pleasant encounters that we are starting to run across, we met a delightful family at the picnic area: Veronica and Louis, their children Maria, 11, and Maximo, 2.5, plus Veronica’s father Jose. Louis had approached us, with Maria clinging shyly to his leg, and asked if he could take a picture of our truck. That was the start of a lengthy conversation on where to go in the state of Misiones, where they work, go to school , who we are, what’s with the truck, the roof elevates?, etc., etc. Delightful.
We came away with some suggestions of places to visit that we never would have thought of, and great memories of a very warm family. Plus, a spectacular sunrise the next morning.
We got an early start and headed to the Ibera provincial park. We had “found” the park in a book somewhere, and once we did, we read a lot of great things about it and were excited to get there early.
Shouldn’t have said “get there early” out loud though, that was provoking the travel gods overly much.
We were 20 miles outside of Santo Tome, and I was playing with our tire pressure readouts when I noticed something strange. (The truck tires have integrated tire pressure monitors that you can read from the instrument panel on the truck. Being an engineer, and having been indoctrinated by numerous overland blogs on the importance of tires and tire pressure, I had spent a fair amount of time during our commissioning in Canada obsessing about how to achieve the perfect tire pressure. But, as usual, I digress. Back to the story). Our rear passenger side tire was low in pressure, and, even scarier, was losing pressure at a rapid rate. Crap. We needed to pull over, and pull over quickly, before the tire lost enough pressure to where we would ruin it. Luckily in the next 3 minutes a “drive way”, an entrance to a farm and a field, showed up and we were able to pull off the road.
I can now tell you from experience that if, when you jump out of the driver side door of a truck, you hear a hissing sound coming from the rear passenger side tire, you have a big hole in your tire. And we did. When we stopped for gas before leaving Santo Tome, we picked up a large bolt which was embedded in the tire.
First thought is F…. Second thought is: I knew, I knew, I knew we should have practiced changing a tire; and because we didn’t, now we are going to screw this up. (Practicing changing a tire was on our to-do list and was one of the items we did not cross off during our commissioning in Canada. Because we were lazy. And, now that we actually have a flat, because we were stupid).
To assess: we have a seriously flat tire, we’re in the middle of Argentina, on some farmer’s property, a dog has just joined us and is, I kid you not, howling in sympathy, and we don’t know how to change the tire. This is a stressful situation.
But, it all turned out fine. We did manage to change the tire – although some of the lug nuts were tightened to the point where there was some doubt – and we had a mini Adventure. After replacing the tire on the farmer’s field, we drove back to Santo Tome, and went to a Gomeria, which we now know means “place where they fix vehicles and tires”. The folks at the Gomeria couldn’t have been friendlier; they immediately started working on our tire, and within 45 minutes it was fixed. And for 30 pesos (US $7). While we were waiting, we hung out with some folks from the gendarmerie, who were there having the tires on their motorcycles replaced, and the owner of the Gomeria. They were all curious about the casa: what kind of truck, what’s in the camper, how does the roof raise up, etc.
But wait, there’s more.
We re-start our journey towards the Ibera. We know that we have 120 kms, ~ 72 miles, of non-paved road to get there, but many of the roads in Argentina are non-paved, and the road we will be driving appears to belong to the category of major un-paved roads. Whatever that means.
We found out that what his means is that the road can be actually quite bad. We had asked our new friends from the camp site last night about the road and they had said: “No problem, it’s firm”. Or Spanish words to that affect. And: “Your vehicle is beefy and 4×4, no problem”. As it turns out, they were right, but our frame of reference when it comes to roads is very different from theirs.
As we turn off the main highway onto the dirt road, the first sign says: “It is prohibited to take this road after a rain.”. Hhmm. Ominous. But it was a perfectly sunny day and the first 20 miles are decent dirt road and we are motoring along at 30 – 40 mph.
Then it does get rather bad. For the next 50 miles, we are driving at 15 – 20 mph, during very brief 100 yard stretches maybe 30 mph. The pictures do not do this road justice. I would not want to drive a normal car down this road, and I would have been very, very uncomfortable driving our VW camper van down this road. It takes us 3.5 hrs to drive 72 miles.
But. As we were driving down the road, I felt content. Our plan was working. We were headed towards a park that is difficult to get to, and that we had not planned on prior to arriving in Argentina. Check. We were driving down a bad road, but our 4×4 GMC truck was doing what it was designed to do. And what we had bought it to do. Check. We had a fully stocked camper – water, propane (need to write a blog post on propane one of these days), batteries charged – so even if we were to get stuck, we could live comfortably for a few days. Check. We had changed a flat tire earlier in the day and our tools were up to the task. Check. We arrive at the campground in Colonia Carlos Pelegrini and there is a ginormous Swiss overland-designed-to survive-the-apocalypse vehicle parked outside the campground because it can’t drive under the arch that leads into the campground, an arch which our right-sized vehicle has no problem with. Check.
And the campground was/is exquisite. And the park is beautiful. Check.