Driving 'The Beast' through South-America


By Isabelle Demaeght, March 17, 2019

The invitation to "Estancia Atamisque" on Sunday turned out to be a disguised sales promotion: we saw 'beau-monde' there considering the purchase of a subdivision, a work of art or a horse while enjoying a glass of wine from the Estancia, an appetizer and a grilled piece of meat. For the first time we saw full-size BMWs and even a Porsche Cayenne.

We stayed a few more days in Mendoza and visited some bodegas, including "Salentein". Impressive buildings surrounded by vineyards. We booked an overnight stay there in their well-appointed Posada (a rural hotel). Salentein was founded by the Dutchman Mijndert Pon in the late 90s. And that was also noticeable: at the pool we were surrounded by Dutch people and the posada was currently being run (with a heavy hand) by a nice Dutch person from the Hotel Academy in The Hague.



Piano in the bodega

On Wednesday, Adriaan's 'private' Toyota mechanic Daniel had noticed that a brake pad had disappeared because it was so worn that it could slip out between the brake calliper and the disc. It was no big surprise to me since the car made an infernal dragging noise during the weekend. Because we have been driving with worn out pads for quite some time (only on the inside - the outside was completely fine), the brake discs were no longer usable and had to be ordered in Buenos Aires. Delivery time: 5 working days (plus Carnival).

We decided to make good use of these 10 days and take a tour. Northwards over a small road where even Adriaan got sweaty hands now and then. After the summit of over 3,000 meter we chose a quiet camping spot at a remote lagoon. Adriaan was already asleep when the first bikers arrived around 10 pm. The last bikers arrived at 01:00 AM and their party could start then. They excused themselves the next day and fraternized with ex-biker Adriaan. We stayed another day. But we found other nice places...

Visiting motorcyclists

Through San Juan, we reached the pilgrimage site of Vallecito: where people' saint Difunta (=deceased) Correo is commemorated. The legend goes as follows: A woman named Deolinda lived in San Juan from 1821 to 1841. She married young and had been left alone because her husband was serving a warlord. After a while she went to look for her husband, but she died 40 km from San Juan from exhaustion and thirst. Her baby survived because milk continued to flow from her breast.

Pilgrimage site Vallecito

Difunta Correo

Deolinda has never been sanctified (by the Vatican) because there is no evidence of it but the scenes we saw there were very touching. Pregnant women, young parents with their newborn children, truck drivers, mechanics, residents of new houses, everyone actually goes to the cave on the slope to be with Difunta Correo. (The Vatican built a little church on a second hill. No one was there...)

Our eye catches a woman crawling up the slope on elbows and knees. Everything here is done in silence. People, whose prayers to Difunta Correo have been answered, crawl up out of gratitude. On the way up to the cave, we see hundreds of models of houses, luxury villas, garage businesses, and license plates of cars and trucks, often with the text, "Thank you, Difunta Correo."

Houses for blessing

A passerby once brought a bottle of water and this grew into a tradition: Everyone brings bottles of water (for Deolinda's baby). (Along the roads this sometimes grows into huge mountains - here they are removed after a while). At the bottom of the hill are stalls with the usual gadgets and a little further away families sit together around a barbecue under specially built shelters.

Water bottles

We now better understand all the altars and chapels that we see along the Argentinean roads and where dozens of water bottles are piled up. After some research we now see the difference with the many red chapels/altars surrounded by red flags that were built in honor of Gauchito Gil: a nineteenth-century Robin Hood (who was executed).

Commemoration of Gauchito Gil

After this break we drove even further north to get back into Chile via the pass "Aqua Negro". Adriaan chose this pass because its gradient is a test for the repaired car. (And Daniel's repair is a success: the car now has clean radiators and a working fan. The 4 tonne colossus crawls at 4000 meters to even higher altitudes without a problem). The Argentinean border crossing is about 30 kilometers before the highest point (at 4770 meters); we slept at about 3000 meters, before Chilean customs. We enjoyed a lonely (the border is closed at night), cold, but above all unique night in the Andes.


High mountains

With the Chileans at the border, the check for organic material is brutal this time. Almost all of our food is confiscated, even my favorite box with a kilo of nuts and raisins. For the first time we also have to unfold the tent. When I urge the inspector to take off his shoes if he wants to get into our tent, he hesitates. I don't know if it was my question, or our body odors that surely linger in the tent after six months, that prompted him to abandon his search for bugs inside....

The next day we reached the Pacific Ocean: Adriaan's hunger for "Ostiones vivos" (live scallops) had to be satisfied. On 2 days we ate about 50 of them together, and enjoyed a piece of the Pacific Ocean.

Adriaan and St Jacob

After yet another wonderful night in the mountains, we drove back towards Mendoza on Sunday and decided to stay with Hans, a Belgian wine grower who has had a domain with B&B and camping there for 13 years. We decide to make use of his B&B facilities because we have an early appointment on Monday morning (after we have already bought parts) with Toyota mechanic Daniel. He installs the brake discs and surprises us because he has provided a parting gift. He is such an engaging person that he will probably have a special place among Adriaan's South American-Toyota friends :-)


Another day back into the mountains (also for a brake test) and then a drive over the Pampas towards the Atlantic coast. "Pampa" means plain. It is a monotonous landscape but not as subtropical and barren as we thought. The schools have restarted and we find a lonely campsite in "General Alvear" (that's a name of a town) where they have already drained the pool because it is too cold. It is 28°C...

Meanwhile, news reached us of another Grimaldi ship that had less luck and so the number of people can't even start their dream trip. It brings us back to our happy selves after 200 days and 200,000 km on the odometer of 'The Beast'....