The next leg of our trip after leaving the beautiful sierras of Cordoba was to cross over to the province of San Luis via a scenic route through the mountains (Ruta Provincial 28) on the way to a town called Miña Clavero. It would be our first real test to see if we can cross the Andes with our old Ranger pulling the weight of the camper and all our worldly possessions. It was a bit tough on the truck, but we made the climb going like 10 mph and spewing black smoke! Not sure if that’s good, but things seem to be fine now (I hope?). It was apparent that lightening our load was a priority though if we wanted to be able to cross over to Chile!
As Tomas’s mom Raquel and brother Andres were looking into buying property in a sleepy town called San Francisco del Monte de Oro (longest town name ever!) we decided to meet up with them there. We weren’t sure what the place would be like, but as we drove through we were surprised by the number of beautiful old buildings in disrepair, making it apparent that the now forgotten village was thriving perhaps a hundred years ago. We even saw a number of old adobe structures dotted around peoples farms, all left to erode back into dirt.
We learned that the town is known as the education capital of Argentina as one of the founding fathers (Sarmiento) taught classes for the first time at an old school that still exists today as a museum and historic site. You can see the emphasis on education in the number of newly-built schools around the town and even in the poorer outskirts of the city. As we found out later in our never-ending search for good internet access, the schools all have free high-speed wi-fi, so it’s common to see the local kids that look like they don’t have a penny to their name hanging out in front of the schools at any hour of the day with their laptops.
That’s one cool thing about the town – and the province of San Luis in general – the current governor has really invested in making Wi-Fi available in public squares for free. But the funny thing is, when you ask people if this or that hotel or campground has wi-fi, everyone says “Yes, San Luis has free wi-fi”… as if somehow it’s in the very air you breathe. Not the case unfortunately, and I found myself sitting on the steps of the elementary school a few blocks from our campground checking my email with everyone else – I felt very local!
Another thing that really sticks out about San Francisco del Monte de Oro is the main mode of transportation of it’s inhabitants: horseback. Second and third are motorcycle and bicycle. And in fourth place, walking. You just don’t see very many vehicles around town, giving it a peaceful atmosphere. We were at our campsite one afternoon and a neighbor passed walking his horse. He was very friendly and allowed Eva and Coco to pet him. I asked him “What is your horse’s name?” and he just looked at me funny and said, “He has no name, he’s just my horse.” It was a real city-folk meets country-folk moment, but I guess it makes sense if you think about it. I mean, do you name your car?
If I had to summarize our stay I’d have to say it was farm-y. Farm-y because the campground we stayed at (Camping Rio Gomez) we had to share with two horses (and all their poop), a goat, and some of the most gigantic, ugliest pigs I’ve ever seen who stole our little bowl we fed them with and Tomas had to jump the fence and risk his life (not really, but it felt that way) to get our bowl back. But Eva and Coco were thrilled to just hang out among the livestock and play on the rickety, scary playground equipment, which was great because it gave us a chance to repack everything AGAIN and get rid of a few things to make room (bye bye bicycle and giant cooler!). So when Raquel and Andres arrived a couple days later they unfortunately had to fill their car with our unwanted STUFF to take back to Buenos Aires!
Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes again to Raquel and Andres as we continued on our journey; it was great to have them as our first trip visitors! We decided to stop in a town in the mountains called Potrero de los Funes as it was highly recommended and also a friend of a friend lived there. To get there you have to climb a steep mountain pass with plenty of switchbacks but are treated to some incredible views. We stayed at a campground near the lake called Playa Blanca on the recommendation of our local contact, which was very nice but very COLD (below freezing at night!) and quite deserted except for two horses (what is it with campgrounds and two horses?). The town is situated on a natural lake and could be a spectacular spot save for the racetrack that is built around the lake’s perimeter and also serves as the main road to get around town. Basically you have huge concrete barriers and gates cutting the town off from the lake, which to me takes away from the natural beauty of the place. We were told the track was built in 2008, and replaced what used to be a pretty tree-lined street. Such a shame! But I guess if you like car racing you’d probably like it? Well, we didn’t stay long as we were itching to get to Mendoza and start our wine-tasting tour!
Goodbye San Luis and free Wi-Fi, hello to bodegas and the Andes!!!