Now it was time to test my “driving on the right-hand side of the road” skills! Driving in Mendoza itself was quite scary – I knew the local rule that says you have to have your lights on at all times (or you get fined) but there seemed to be no rules for deciding right of way at intersections (I later found out that the Priorite-a-droite system as they have in France appears to be the convention used). And as the city is laid out on a grid pattern, there were rather a lot of these!
The intersections that had traffic lights were fine – it was easy to figure out who had right of way, but the rest were another matter entirely! So driving through Mendoza was a painful stop-start journey as at every intersection I reached I had to stop and negotiate who had right of way! Fortunately the traffic is exceptionally light compared to UK traffic, or I’m sure I’d have got rear-ended before I escaped the city.
Eventually I reached Ruta 40 heading northwards out of Mendoza. Argentina’s Ruta 40 is meant to be one of South America’s most scenic routes, and I’d heard rumours that the area north of Mendoza towards San Juan was supposed to be one of the more scenic parts. But initially I was disappointed, flat semi-rural land, with nothing of any real interest at first. Just a school seemingly every 2-3km to cause worry to my newly found confidence on driving in Argentina. But the schools were finished for the day (I’d left Mendoza rather later than intended – after 2pm) so they caused no difficulties.
Further out of Mendoza, the scenery began to improve, and rather surprisingly began to remind me quite strongly of driving in Western Australia. Long straight single-carriage-way roads with variable quality of tarmac surface (although the Ruta 40 never disintegrated quite so far as Australian single-track tarmac/dirt tracks the potholes were much worse!), very flat and arid landscape with low scrub-like bushes poking through yellowey-orange soil, and dry valleys that after heavy rain flood the road sufficiently to stop progress and obviously causes sufficient damage to tarmac that a concrete floodway surface is deemed necessary.
A couple of police checkpoints (including one on the state line between Mendoza state and San Juan state, where the policeman spoke good English – yay!) were no trouble – they only wanted to see my driving licence, but the police blocking of a bridge by a “teatro camping” much later on caused confusion at first. Apparently this week has been some sort of local festival, and this open-air theatre was part of the final celebrations. Only problem was, the police were assuming that everyone was going to it, but I needed to cross that bridge. Fortunately a few international hand-signals and some broken words of Spanish got the answer that this wasn’t a complete diversion of the road, and I could cross the bridge towards Rodeo.
[singlepic id=531 w=320 h=240 float=left]But before that, the scenery on the Ruta 40 became more interesting, if oddly more Australian like. North of San Juan on the Ruta 40 in particular, the landscape turned to desert-like sand with small scrubby bushes and cactus plans, lots of houses that looked very recently abandoned, and an old abandoned railway line that ran for miles parallel to the road.
At (San Jose de) Jachal where the Ruta 150 joins the Ruta 40, the road was again very confusing. A diversion led you around the town, and then you had to turn right to head west towards the Chilean border on Ruta 150. Very confusing when you’re expecting a leftwards turn westwards after heading north for roughly 300km!
But it all worked out ok in the end, and a useful petrol station was found at the junction where the Ruta 150 began properly. Petrol seems cheap here, although I still haven’t entirely got my head round the value of the Argentinian peso – but that is countered by the normal method of payment being cash. My pesos are rapidly being drunk by the car’s petrol needs!
By the time I reach Cuesta del Viento, it’s getting a bit dark, but I can’t help but stop for a picture. I’ve been trying really hard to limit the number and length of photography stops on the way up the Ruta 40 and Ruta 150 as the distance is a bit further than I’d anticipated, and I’d like to avoid arriving in Rodeo after dark if possible. But there are just far too many scenic spots on both Ruta 40 and Ruta 150, especially the pass just east of Rodeo, and Cuesta del Viento itself is the final treat.
Now its just 90mins of searching for the hostel Rancho Lamaral in the dark! Despite finding two signs, the gravel road that turns off Ruta 150 is extremely unobvious. And the locals are again having trouble comprendezing my broken Spanish 🙁 But eventually I find the turning, just east of the YPL tanker station, and opposite the Cabinas tu Esquinas sign. 1km down the dirt road feels like it’s 10km, but soon the well-lit hostel entrance appears and the staff (Marco and Octavio) make me feel very welcome despite my late arrival.