Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The legendary Route 40 (Ruta 40)

After much deliberation, checking out maps and taking the weather into consideration, we have decided to stay in Chile and go north to Bolivia instead of returning to Argentina and going north. We have loved Argentina. The land, the people, the food and wine and the culture. Buenos Aires, without a doubt is one of the top capital cities in the world. The large cities in Argentina, Cordoba, Bariloche, Mendoza and others are so different yet so enjoyable to visit. The great national parks of the country, Iguaçu, Los Glaciares and Tierra del Fuego to name just a few are incredible. So, why stay in Chile? The main reason was weather, it is now winter and getting unpredictable and that we would, once again be travelling long distances on Route 40 much of which is unpaved. Along with Route 3 on the eastern Atlantic side of Argentina, Route 40 is the other main artery for travel within the country. It also shows the vast diversity of Argentina and because of its diversity it really does deserve something more than just a quick mention. First, it is the longest road in Argentina passing through eleven provinces (states) in the country. Running parallel to the Andes, it is also in certain areas the highest road in the country. It undoubtedly crosses a large part of the most beautiful regions of Argentina, passing through Patagonia, Cuyo, the Central valley and northern Argentina. The road takes you to some of the most important tourist destinations within Argentina and offers the possibility of getting to – get this – a total of 14 National Parks, 26 Reserves and Provincial Parks, 5 “heritage of humanity” sites, 13 ski centers, 18 significant rivers, and countless secondary ones. There are an unprecedented 41 international border crossings along the way, most with neighboring Chile. Yet for all this, much of Route 40 is still only about thirty percent paved with the rest of it being either gravel or dirt and you can drive for miles without seeing another living soul or another vehicle. The wind, which is created from the cold air coming from the glaciers in the Andes, gains momentum as it blows across the pampas and through the valleys and ravines and is phenomenal in its intensity and ferocity. For many miles, the barren, stark landscape, the wind and loneliness of the road are the only companions and it is for this reason, we decided to download some audio books to keep us entertained on these stretches of the journey. Yet, Route 40 possesses a special magic. Travelling this route has taken us close to the land of the dinosaurs, to the world of unique pictographic caves over 9,000 years old and to petrified forests. We have gone from majestic glaciers of amazing beauty and incredible colors to thermal hot springs where the steam and smell of sulphur fills the air. We have passed through lush, subtropical jungle where seemingly everything grows to barren, arid wastelands which appear to be devoid of any living thing through lack of moisture and then by contrast to acres upon acres of grapevines and trees laden with fruit, ripe for making into wines, olive oil and the commercial markets. We have driven for hundreds of miles across the Argentinean pampas with cattle and sheep farms raising the meats for which the country is renowned and we have passed volcanoes one of which, Copahue was still belching steam and ash from its last eruption. We have passed cascading waterfalls, glistening mountain lakes and rushing rivers with world class fishing. And all of this with the glorious backdrop of the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Andes mountain range to our left. I only mention the contrasts since it is these things that help make Ruta 40, one of the legendary, great travel routes on the planet and it embodies the diverse nature of this beautiful country, Argentina.

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