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Photos: The Road to Somewhere, Argentina.

Mendoza County, Argentina. Photos from the rest of our drive up towards the Andes from Mendoza:

Around Uspallata

View from the road to Uspallata

Polychrome slope, near Uspallata

Returning to Mendoza

Photos: Argentina’s Road to Nowhere

Somewhere between Mendoza and Uspallata, Argentina. 

Road to Nowhere, Argentina

The drive west out of the city of Mendoza towards the Andes may not be the most exciting ascent. There are no hairpin turns or heart-stopping one and a half lane passes. If you’re looking for that kind of vertigo and motion sickness inducing road trip, head over to the Chilean side of the Andes. (I encourage you to check out a satellite image of the road from Santiago leading up to the Andes. Just looking at it makes me queazy.) What the Argentine side does afford however is a gradual incline with plenty of opportunities for reflection and photographs. The bountiful vineyards around Mendoza, framed by a picture-perfect mountain backdrop, give way to quiet desert plains and then to rich polychrome mounds of earth as you cruise (safely) past wide ravines and through sturdy tunnels. Just as you’re beginning to succumb to a sort of beauty hypnosis, one strange scene jolts you into consciousness. You think to yourself, is that a mirage? Am I still drunk from last night’s Malbec? What is a tropical lake doing in the middle of the desert?  Are those sails? Where the hell am I?

Road to Nowhere, Argentina

Those were the thoughts that came to my mind anyway. Suddenly out of nowhere was this Mediterranean blue lake and there were a handful of windsurfers zigzagging across it and a totally normal road leading down to it…well more precisely down INTO it. Where was it going? Why was it built? What happened? I had no idea, nor did I care. The only thing I was thinking was how I longed to be a genie so I could summon a small sailboat with the crossing of my arms and the nod of my head. Naturally I would then sail around the lake in my sexy midriff-baring genie outfit. It’s not like this place could get any weirder anyway.

Windsurfer, Argentina

The windsurfers’ 4X4

How to Roadtrip Uruguay’s Coast

Friday: Pick up a car in either Montevideo or Punta del Este then follow the poky coastal Route 10 and watch as the surrounding architecture fades from Beverly Hills-esque summer retreats to the kinds of pop-up art shacks you might find at Burning Man. Try to time your arrival to the Laguna Garzón before 6pm so that you can take the free puddle-jumper barge which will ferry you and your car across a thin spit of water. If you miss the boat, prepare for a much longer but equally charming reroute.

Punta del Diablo

In this case, turn around and head back the way you came, taking a right on the Camino Sainz Martinez, a well maintained dirt road. Along the way you’ll pass rust-colored Hereford cattle, fluffy sheep, and flocks of rheas -South America’s smaller ostrich cousin- as well as the stately Estancia Vik, the luxury resort/ranch and presumed owner of said photogenic livestock.

Flock of Rheas

Pick up Route 9 towards Rocha, passing through more sprawling farmland dotted with cattle and their attentive cowboys. Roll down the window and listen for the unmistakable squawk of monk parakeets as they chatter in the trees.

Your destination has minimal facilities so take the opportunity in the town of Rocha to refuel and withdraw cash. Make up time by continuing on Route 9 all the way to Punta del Diablo.

“Stop the Mega Port!” Curiously written in English, Punta del Diablo

Once a small fishing village, today Punta del Diablo is popular with bourgeois bohemian tourists who appreciate the area’s hippie vibes and artisan community. In summer, the tiny community of year-round residents swells when hundreds of vacationers fill up the many rental houses, hostels, and posadas. Book accommodation in advance if you don’t want to be left scrounging for a place to stay at the last minute. The popular El Diablo Tranquilo, has a warm atmosphere and inviting bar that attracts a laid-back backpacker crowd.

For dinner, amble over to the candlelit, driftwood-accented dining room at Posada Rocamar, which serves local wines and dishes like pumpkin ravioli and dulce de leche crêpes.

Dulce de Leche crêpes, Posada Rocamar

Saturday: Take the morning to explore Punta del Diablo’s wild beaches and wilder architecture.

Beach, Punta del Diablo

Sea Anemone, Punta del Diablo

House made out of old containers

Hit the road again, this time heading south on Route 9. Turn off on Route 16 towards Agua Dulces then pick up Route 10. You’ll pass the Laguna de Castillos, which offers ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and birding. When you see a sign for Parque Nacional Cabo Polonio, pull over into the parking lot. The park entrance marks the sole access to Cabo Polonio, a ramshackle beach community cut off from electricity, telephone lines, and the world by miles of protected sand dunes. Cars are not permitted to cross the dunes. There are however, spartan 4X4s (replete with nylon straps for looping your arms to brace yourself for the bumpy ride) that shuttle passengers back and forth from the park entrance to the “town” center.

4X4 dune crossing to Cabo Polonio

Once in the town center, pick up any necessary provisions at the store (the one and only) and make your way along sandy paths to Cabo Polonio Hostel, a cheap and cheerful shack with private and shared dorm style accommodation. Whip up a meal using the communal kitchen and enjoy the quiet that creeps in at this edge of the world.

General Store, Cabo Polonio

Sunday: There aren’t many sites in Cabo Polonio. There are the residences themselves, which range from solid cottages to driftwood shacks. There is the lighthouse. And then there is the thriving community of sea lions that lounge on the rocks by the lighthouse. Remember to bring a handkerchief or scarf to protect your nostrils from the stinging pungency of all those blubbery basking beasts.

Sea Lions, Cabo Polonio

Lounging horse, Cabo Polonio

While waiting for the 4X4 shuttle back to civilization, sample freshly baked beef and corn empanadas at the food stalls in the town center.

Beef and corn empanadas, Cabo Polonio

Once back on the road, break up your return trip to Montevideo by making a pitstop in La Pedrera for a picture-perfect pitcher of beer and a chivito sandwich, a traditional Uruguayan dish of beef, lettuce, mayonnaise, egg, ham, and red peppers on a bun.

Pitcher of Beer, La Pedrera

Chivito Sandwich, La Pedrera

Practical Info:

On the drive: Montevideo is a very easy city to navigate, so getting there and away in your rental car requires little more than making sure you keep the ocean on your right (leaving) or your left (returning). Full disclaimer: we actually took the bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este where we rented our car but then returned it in Montevideo. Once you’re out on the coast, fill up on gas whenever you can, as stations tend to be scarce.

Punta del Diablo: El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel offers private rooms from $28 USD. Telephone: +(598) 4477-2519. Email: staff@eldiablotranquilo.com. Posada Rocamar also has rooms, but it is considerably overpriced for its Spartan furnishings (a bean bag chair? come on). Better just to go there for dinner.

Cabo Polonio: Access to the beachside community is through the national park, where you’ll buy your roundtrip tickets for the 4X4 ride across the dunes. For more information and shuttle times, check out the local tourism site. Bring extra food with you, and don’t forget a flashlight. Cabo Polonio Hostel offers very rustic rooms from $35 USD. Traveler beware: if the idea of socializing with dirty hippie backpacker types wigs you out, this isn’t the place for you. In fact, Cabo Polonio isn’t really the place for you.
The NYTimes Style Magazine recently published an article about Cabo Polonio and its semi-legal status as a squatter haven, and also a poetic video montage of the village entitled Utopia in Motion.
When to go: Late Spring and early Fall offer mild weather and fewer crowds.
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