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Argentina rocks – traveling South America with a dog and a TukTuk

Feb 11, 2024 | Argentina, Blog, South America

Argentina is huge! (our route)

Looking at the map gives you an idea of how big the country is, but as soon as you are on the ground, the country’s dimensions are even more impressive. There is simply no end to the routes. In principle, it’s always straight ahead.

Here in the southern hemisphere, it takes a while to get used to seeing the sun in the north at midday and not in the south. Even though I know this, my inner compass still finds it strange.

My ability to know which direction to move, i.e., my sense of direction, has almost always been reliable, even when it’s raining or pitch dark. However, here on this southern continent, I still have to concentrate and pay attention to where I’m going, even after many months of travel.

It was time for an oil change, and thanks to Juan, an Argentinian from Buenos Aires whom I had met in the north, I was able to get a suitable oil filter by post in Chilecito, a small town on the Ruta40, and I still had enough oil with me from Chile.

As the prices for nearly everything were still extremely low, I allowed myself the luxury of having the oil changed in a small garage.

Three guys. One worked, and two watched, and in the end, I paid 50 cents for it. How that works out is a total mystery to me. Bananas cost about $1.50, and a kilo of apples cost $1. How can the three of them survive on this low hourly wage?

In Chilecito, I had two stickers printed for my TukTuk. I’m sure the store owner spent a few hours making the stickers, and because I was so impressed with the result, I wanted to give him 5000 pesos instead of 3700 pesos, which is about 3.70 euros, but he refused my tip. Instead, he gave me a T-shirt with Chilecito printed on it and said: “I’m your new fan, take care of yourself.”

We hugged each other and said goodbye, and, as always, I was amazed by the friendliness of the Argentinians.

All the Argentinians were still just great. There was never a negative situation here. Never an aggressive argument on the street, not a loud word, no one was stupid or unfriendly. No driver drove like an idiot; if they did, they were cars with Chilean license plates.

Everyone is chill—a delightfully pleasant atmosphere.

Everything was so easy; the challenge was missing. It was like a Sunday stroll in the park, an often breathtakingly beautiful stroll, but a stroll.

After months of dry landscapes, I yearned for lush forests and perhaps some cultural change. The landscapes, food, architecture, and even people’s behavior was becoming repetitious and no longer particularly exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but many things were too easy for me.

The impressions became increasingly repetitive. Therefore, I tried to drive a little faster than usual to get to Patagonia to experience finally a green landscape again.

Even so, the push south wasn’t without sensational surprises. Elsewhere on the planet, there would be vast parking lots and endless crowds tainting the landscapes before us. Along with parking and entrance fees, instead, Butch and I had it all to ourselves—pure magic.

The freedom is indescribable, and yet there are always fences! It feels like everything is fenced in. Endless stretches.

You can probably make good money selling barbed wire and beef, although there were hardly any cattle to be seen on this part of our journey.

I received a route tip from Lukimog, a family from Cologne who lives around the corner from Babsi, my sandpit friend, whom I met in Chile. However, they warned me that they didn’t know whether the TukTuk could manage the steep route.

I laughed out loud when I saw the tarmac bends and grades and how easy it was to follow their suggestion, making it clear to me once again how much people underestimate the TukTuk! We were always managing to get everywhere I wanted to go!

I was eating empanadas at a small stand when a man approached me and pointed to my flat tire. “Shit, the front tire, that’s not going to be easy,” I said.

The empanada lady kindly showed me the way to the nearest garage. I quickly pumped up the tire and drove the few meters to the tire repair shop. 

The mechanic fixed the tire in short order, and I was happy with my decision not to have done it myself. It would have taken me many hours because even the guys struggled to finish it. 

Again, I only paid 500 pesos, although a small empanada had previously cost 600.

We then camped at the municipal campsite for free. However, I didn’t sleep a wink until 5 a.m. Unfortunately, the whole village was partying that night.

Argentina doesn’t have good network coverage. When I think of my cycling trip through Morocco or even West Africa, where the Chinese have developed the network perfectly, it’s a tragedy here in Argentina. 

So, it was all the more surprising when I found the best network in the whole of Argentina at a campsite in the middle of the desert.

The Chinese seem to have a much smaller presence here in Argentina than in Chile; only occasionally did I come across their shops here, and there were no longer any Chinese cars on the roads.

No, Argentina is a Toyota country. Hilux sends its regards.

The landscapes were getting better every day! Incredible rock formations or endless expanses. The mountains accompanied us daily, and the tracks were better than expected.

I had left the Ruta40 a long while back; the smaller tracks offered much more and were not so commercialized.

One evening, I was looking in vain for a flat spot to pitch my tent, so we drove around in a riverbed but couldn’t find a suitable place at its edge. As I’ve mentioned before, never camp in a riverbed!

A few kilometers up the mountain, I found a sensational spot, which only showed how brilliant it was in the morning. The whole Cordillera lay at our feet, and one fantastic rock formation after another lined up in front of us.

Welcome to Argentina. The country simply rocks.

Unfortunately, I still have a problem with the language. So, I was all the more than pleased that I kept meeting travelers with whom I could have a proper conversation. Always having superficial conversations is very unsatisfactory in the long run.

That’s how I met Lenni. A young guy from Germany with whom I spent a whole evening philosophizing about the world.

The next day, Butch and I were standing at a gas station when a man approached me in German. “You’re Heike, aren’t you? Heike Pirngruber, the Pushbikegirl?”

I grinned and said: “Yes, and who are you?”

“Great, my girl-friend Claudia is a big fan of yours. I’m sure she’ll be delighted if I bring you along. Would you like to stay with us tonight?”

“Of course, I would,” so, Butch and I followed after Michel.

Claudia and Michel have been living in Argentina since Covid and bought a house with a garden above Mendoza. Before that, they had been cycling in the Americas and got stuck here during Covid. A cute house in which Michel has built himself a workshop.

We stayed with them for ten days before moving on. In the meantime, they also had a visit from four Austrians who slept in their cars in the parking lot in front of the house.

Funnily enough, they were friends of Roland. The Roland who crossed my path in Upper Franconia in 2013 and was the first to donate to my travels through my blog, to whom I am still very grateful to this day.

Sometimes, the world is that small.

Michel helped me extend my visa by 90 days at the office in Mendoza, which was delayed by a few days because the Zonda, the strong desert storm, felled some of the few existing trees, blocked roads, and paralyzed the electricity and internet.

So, we sat by candlelight at the table in the evening and hoped the house wouldn’t collapse. The storm had been violent, and the clean-up took a few days.

It was the second big Zonda storm in a row. During the previous one, I took shelter behind a wall to protect my tent so we could sleep peacefully.

It storms often, and if I were cycling, I would despair even more; the storms are annoying enough with the TukTuk.

Michel also built us a bed in the TukTuk and a box that I can lock so that not everyone can steal everything. I’m less worried about this in Argentina, although other areas in South America are certainly not as safe.

In the past, I always just left everything in the TukTuk and only took my camera and, of course, my passport, money and Butch. Even hours later, everything was still there.

To repay Michel for everything, we had a day of photography lessons.

Mega grateful for the wonderful time, I drove on a little sadly. In principle, after a more extended break in a beautiful place, it’s always the case that it’s great to be there, but then I realize that everything has been said and it’s time to move on before we get on someone’s nerves.

Once I’m alone again, getting used to not having anyone to talk to is difficult. But it usually only takes a short time, and we are happy to be back on the road.

We spent the first night in our TukTuk bed at another municipal campsite, where we met a Swiss cycling couple, Salome and Dan.

I said hello, and they looked at me with irritation, and at some point, Dan said to me. “Tell me, aren’t you the Pushbikegirl? Heike, It’s great to meet you. Your blog has helped us so much with our preparation.”

I have to admit, that always makes me happy. Since I set off on my bike in 2013, I’ve always received messages from other travelers thanking me for inspiring them to set off themselves. Or I get mail from people I’ve met along the way.

I recently received a video from Uzbekistan, an older woman who asked in English if I would like to revisit her. It was ten years ago when I visited her, and of course, I couldn’t remember her face. Her son helped her to pronounce the English words. So cute.

I also received pictures from a German woman the other day who met me in the Czech Republic shortly after I left in 2013 and sent me photos from back then. Examples are many.

They all continue to follow me. Sometimes, this even makes me proud, although I don’t like to admit it to myself,

It makes me all the sadder that I now pass cyclists, greet them, ask if they need water or are hungry, and then realize that I am no longer one of them.

I have a motor, they are cycling. I know what they are going through, yet I no longer feel it in my body because my time on the bicycle is over. Everything in life has its time, yet they were the best years of my life, which I haven’t lost, but I still mourn because I can’t seem to top what I experienced back then.

But I feel the same way about other periods of my life. I was passionate about handball, and one day, it was just time to give up the sport. I had great times as a camerawoman for television, but at some point, everything became repetitive, and I got bored.

For years, I hung out on the climbing crags of Europe and climbed one route after another, and what happened? One day, I didn’t feel like it anymore. It was over – I no longer got the thrill I always had.

That’s just the way life is. Or let’s say in my life.

The only thing I never seem to get enough of is experiencing the world and taking pictures.

But back to the actual topic:

Not belonging anywhere is not easy. Even though I somehow chose to do so, I still had a kind of group affiliation, even if it was only virtual, because there were hardly any other cyclists on my route.

When I think back to CyclingDutchGirl, CyclingCindy, or Dorothee Fleck, I see we had the same interests. We battled our way through the big, wide world alone, and although we were far apart, it gave me strength.

Today, I chug around on my own. Of course, I have Butch, and we are a great team, but somehow, we are also the team with the name; Zweisam (from the number Two-Lonely together with someone else)

Yes, there are other TukTuk travelers, but I first have to learn to identify myself with the TukTuk before I put out my feelers.

I found an interesting statement from a former TukTuk traveler traveling with her partner for six months by TukTuk in South America. She told me: “You know, the TukTuk is great, but after a few months, we longed for our bicycles, because suddenly everything was so easy.”

Yes, that’s exactly how it is. Everything is suddenly so easy.

Salome and Dan then told me about their ordeal with the wind. I felt sorry for them because the wind was no fun, even though it would get much worse in Patagonia. The three of us didn’t want to hear that for now.

Back on the Ruta40, I overtook an Argentinian running alongside the road and greeted us, beaming with joy. He had set himself to run the entire Ruta40, i.e., more than 5000 kilometers. He runs 40 kilometers daily and sleeps in a van that his father drives while he runs.

Ruta40 is simply a cult in Argentina.

At a gas station, a group of Argentinian motorcyclists surrounded us and were utterly dumbfounded by our journey. As always, the Argentinians filmed and celebrated us everywhere we went. We were still the “one woman, one TukTuk, one dog show.”

By chance, I saw a Hilleberg tent, and two pushbikes parked behind a shed. I immediately stopped and tried to strike up a conversation. But the Dutch couple didn’t feel like talking to me; they just said: “We’re on our bicycles and don’t have a motor like you; we’re tired. “

It was already late, so we camped nearby, and they didn’t move the next day either. As I said, I’m no longer one of them. But I’m also not one of the vanlifers or the motorcyclists who think we can only travel on tarmac.

We are just different. Being different is good but sometimes difficult.

But I am sure we leave a lasting impression, no matter who we are with.

It’s always been like that for me 😉 And that’s the way it has to be for me.

As it was super windy again today, I sought shelter in a cabana and got a small hut with a wood-burning stove and kitchen for around $8. Butch played with the dogs outside, and I cooked myself a delicious meal on the gas stove.

When people ask me what I miss most on the road, my answer is always the same: Good food! Then I think of the delicious food at my mother’s and ask myself why I’ve been doing this to myself for years. Yes, if there’s one thing I miss on the road, it’s delicious food.

I’ve been on the road for almost four years without being home. Those four years were very disappointing in terms of food intake. Almost nobody in the USA can cook properly. I don’t think the Mexican food is impressive either. The Chileans have no idea how to eat, and in Argentina, the beef tastes delicious, but there’s not much else.

Fortunately, Argentina at least has good ice-cream. However, I had set myself a zero-sugar challenge. No sugar for three months. As a substitute, I ate several apples daily, satisfying my sugar craving.

The constant meat and the lack of vegetables in the stores and restaurants has gotten on my nerves. As always, I then ate my lentils. I would undoubtedly be near the top if there was a list of perpetual lentil eaters. Although, of course, I’m nowhere near as good as the many Indians, as they are raised on them along with their mother’s milk.

Shortly before Patagonia, the town sign – Junin de los Andes – appeared for the first time. The place that has been important to me for almost 30 years and has been at the top of my to-do list since entering Argentina, but more on that next time.

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15 Comments

  1. I’m always amazed by your wonderful pictures.
    Waiting to see more from you.
    All the best and greetings by a🇨🇭from Chiang Mai 🇨🇷
    Herzlich, Emil 👍🏼🚵‍♂️🛺😘

    Reply
    • Hi Emil 😉

      Great to hear you are enjoying my journals.
      Wish I could trade a Chileanian sandwich to a Pad Thai 😉

      Happy greetings Heike and Butch

      Reply
  2. Beautiful blog post Heike. I’ll say it again, happy Argentina had so much so give you. And, it’s seems you, Butch and your Tuk-Tuk gave a lot back- helping people smile and laugh- taking videos and photos to remember the adventurous German lady and her beautiful dog-Tuk-Tukking.
    Very Best Wishes!!!

    Reply
    • Thank you very much Ronny!

      Yes, we will be missing Argentina big time!
      Everyone loves Butch….

      All the best to AZ from the team.

      Reply
  3. As always. Love the pictures and stories you share. Very inspiring, interesting and informative. Glad to see you having a great journey. Hope all keeps going well as you continue your journey.

    I at living on the road, trying to find my place in life and seeing your stories kinda helps make sense of the journey and world around me. I did my first on bike in 2014 and have followed your journey since then. These last two in 2019 until Covid, and now this past year. I have decided to do in my vehicle and take my bikes along so I can enjoy trail system, I find along the way.
    Sorry
    I would give but am not doing too well in the money department as things went so wrong on my tour during covid and prices skyrocketed. So I had to drain much of my savings to keep my vehicle.
    I was donating plasma to help supplement my gas and food costs but can’t do that anymore as they messed up and kicked me out of the system.
    I love to travel as like you l have gotten bored of the things I have done to try and make a life for myself. I have tried so many different things in life yet don’t know what I want to do or worse, where l want to live. I don’t blog very much as I am at a loss for words when it comes to sharing with others.

    Reply
    • Hi Robert, glad to hear I am inspiring you!

      Yes, to find out where and what can be difficult sometimes, but from experiences, there is always a road ahead and the answer will come!

      All the best from us….it will all work out! Because it always works out!

      Heike and Butch

      Reply
  4. Heike, Your photography is ever, ever better. I look forward with great anticipation to a new post from you to see what beautiful scenes and faces you’ve captured. It’s with great envy that I see you enjoy your travels as they come. It seems you have developed this keen ability to know when one target, one means of travel, and whether or not to stay in one place longer or move on. I hope you continue to have great success at that, and that you continue deriving joy, tranquility, and a sense of self-fulfilment from all you do. Schöne Grüße an Butch.

    Reply
    • Lovely words Charles! THank you so much 🙂

      Much appreciated and best of luck from us.

      Heike and Butch from Chile

      Reply
  5. you are lucky you still are able to travel free with the tuk tuk.
    dont worry, be happy.
    Argentina was my favorite, I spent in all 18 months cycling, hard to find the get out.
    maybe you could find some tips in my webpage
    happy new year
    Pierre

    Reply
    • Yes Argentina is just super!
      Enjoy life.
      Best greetings Heike and Butch

      Reply
  6. Heike, amiga! No me canso de decir que buenas fotos! Saludos!

    Reply
    • Muchas gracias Juan. Su país es simplemente hermoso: es fácil tomar buenas fotografías allí. Espero que lo estás haciendo bien. Todo lo mejor para Argentina. Estamos de regreso en Chile; lamentablemente no me gusta volver a estar aquí. ¿Cuál es su próximo proyecto? Un cordial saludo de parte de Heike y Butch.

      Reply
  7. Again Heike another interesting & informative blog along with magnificent photos. You are inspiring! take care

    Reply

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