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The world-famous Ruta 40 in Argentina by Tuk Tuk

Dec 19, 2023 | Blog

Ruta 40 (Wikipedia) is THE ROAD in Argentina. Five thousand one hundred ninty four kilometers long, it winds from the high Andes on the Bolivian border south to Patagonia, finally turning east to end at the Atlantic Ocean.

It is a unique road trip that crosses many climate zones and landscapes.

Everyone who comes to Argentina knows this road, and everyone with some knowledge of the world knows it, too.

It is the Route 66 of South America, so to speak, but much longer than the road from Los Angeles to Chicago and much more exciting.

Many sections of the road are still unpaved, making it fascinating to this day.

Quite a bunch of my cycling friends I have followed online over the years have cycled parts of this road, and so, of course, I was on fire to finally experience some adventures on this famous route.

Some people run it. Others hike it, and still others take a Tuk Tuk. But there certainly haven’t been many Tuk Tuks yet.

So we turned off the superb Los Cardones National Park passage, which I mentioned last time, onto Ruta 40. (our route)

In the first town, I saw the familiar Ruta 40 signs, which we saw constantly from then on, just like on Route 66.

Actually, heading south, I first drove a few more kilometers north to get to Cachi in the province of Salta. Supposedly, it is a nice place to take a break.

My first impression was that there were a few too many tourists, but I still really liked it here. Butch ran happily through the narrow streets and played with some street dogs while I took my camera and captured the magic of the place at the blue hour.

From then on, we only headed south because Tierra del Fuego, the so-called end of the world, was still ages away. Summer was soon in the starting blocks, so it was time to move a little faster. However, that’s not usually my thing.

Why race when it’s nice? It doesn’t make sense. If necessary, we’ll trudge around in the snow down there or enjoy the autumn colors of Patagonia instead of the crowds in midsummer.

Of course, this is always a good thing to say when the sun is shining and you can’t imagine the icy cold wind of Patagonia from far away. We’ll see how it turns out in the end; why should I worry about it now?

We drove out of the town towards Ushuaia in T-shirt weather. The place where all American travelers who started in Prudhoe Bay/Alaska want to arrive at the end of their long journey to say goodbye to their trip with a selfie in front of the famous town entrance sign at the southernmost place in the world.

Or those who start there to arrive in Alaska at some point. Whether on foot (yes, it’s been done) or by bicycle, motorcycle, or some colossal expedition vehicle that gulps 30 liters per 100 kilometers or by Tuk Tuk, although I don’t know anyone who has ever done that.

Either way, we were right in the middle of it all and had a great time.

I was surprised that I only met Argentinians and Brazilians but no Europeans, Americans, or other travelers from around the world. In short: where were all the gringos?

Desert as far as the eye could see. In all shapes and colors. It’s still my favorite landscape. Life was good.

On the iOverlander app, I discovered an entry about Martina, who runs a campsite. She’s German, an expat. I was keen to pop in and have a look.

While I was talking to her and listening to her adventure stories, it dawned on me at some point. “I think I know who you are now. A friend of mine, Frank, rode his motorcycle through South America 10 years ago, and he kept telling me about a Martina he had met. That must be you.”

That’s exactly how it was. The world is a village.

I went out into the desert with Martina in the morning to do yoga, enjoyed her curry, and then set off again.

In Molinos the next village, a group of French people came towards me and shouted “Taxi.” When I laughed out loud, they looked into the Tuk Tuk, and we all laughed together.

Camping Municipal is the standard arrival point for many travelers. They are either free or sometimes for 50 cents a night. Almost always with hot showers and lush grass, they are clean and well-maintained by friendly people.

I’m not usually a fan of campsites, but the grounds here are cozy, and, above all, Butch always has playmates there, and I occasionally have someone to chat with for a while.

Argentinians are BBQ freaks – although they call it asado here. At the weekend, half the village comes to the Camping Municipal and barbecues, and Butch often gets a treat, because Argentinians love dogs and mine in particular, so it’s always “que lindo”. And Butch is delighted that he gets attention.

What I love most here is the easy-going nature of the Argentinians. Nobody knows whether their money will be worth anything tomorrow, yet everyone is in a good mood. One US dollar was worth 620 pesos when we entered the country. In between, it was already worth 1000. As one Argentinian told me: “As soon as you have pesos in your pocket, you have to spend them or exchange them for dollars, because tomorrow the pesos will be worth much less.”

It’s normal here, and people take it in stride. I only see friendly faces, no grumpy moods. Remarkable and so very pleasant to experience. Some people are worried about how the elections will turn out, while others say: “If the new guy is no good, we’ll just get rid of him.”

So far, we haven’t had a single drop of rain on our tour – that has its advantages. Especially as I still don’t have any doors on the Tuk Tuk and wanted to wait because somehow I find it much more fun without doors. It also makes it easier for people to approach us, which many do.

It’s funny that many people film us without asking. Many secretly take photos of us, and others call out to us happily or stop us to pet Butch or ask me what kind of strange vehicle it is.

“Que lindo” is the favorite expression, which means “how beautiful.” There are often groups of people standing around us, and, as always, I tell them where I bought the Tuk Tuk, what brand it is, that there are none like this in Argentina, and that it doesn’t need much fuel.

Some want to buy it, while others want me to make room so they can be photographed sitting behind the handlebars.

Motorcyclists always wave at us or give us the thumbs up when they see us. We are the “Woman-Dog-TukTuk-Show,” and I have to say I like the format.

To put it another way, Argentina is awesome. Argentinians are great, and we love it here!

KM 4470 was written on a bus on the side of the road, and what spontaneously came to my mind was the war song (Wikipedia) I used to sing with my parents when we were on vacation in Ireland. I rewrote it a bit and sang it out loud to myself all day.

It’s a long way to Ushuaia; it’s a long way to go; it’s a long, long way to Ushuaia, with the sweetest boy I know, it’s a long, long way to Ushuaia, it’s a long way to go.

The road really shook us up, but I always found it funny when I read posts somewhere where people complained about the road’s poor condition and said that you definitely need four-wheel drive. Hahaha.

It was already dark when we came to a sensational place. Quebrada de las Flechas, at an altitude of around 2000m. An enormous canyon and the road snaked right through it. Ingenious!

I searched for a campsite in the dark and found a great spot near a riverbed. Never camping in the riverbed is one of the rules I’ve always followed since I was 19 and traveling in Australia.

I finally made a fire again; as always, the stars were all ours. It was a dream.

As soon as the sun rose the following day, we climbed around the canyon all by ourselves.

By chance, I saw an artist’s studio in the middle of the enormous canyon. There were all kinds of sculptures in front of the house, but unfortunately, no one was there. I’ve been dreaming of an artists’ colony for a long time, where I could look around and learn something. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one yet.

We drove into the village, and I asked whether the artists would return at some point. Unfortunately, nobody knew anything.

From now on, our constant companion was the wind. The so-called Zonda was starting to get on our nerves. The sand was constantly blowing around our ears, but being in a bad mood didn’t help, so I tried to accept it. Luckily, it was a warm wind that would be utterly different in Patagonia. Besides, we had no reason to complain because I wasn’t on my bike.

Regrettably, the Tuk Tuk always gets a good shake when a mega gust of wind whips around our ears. Sometimes, it’s not so easy.

From now on, one exciting sight followed the next, so we camped right next to the Inca ruins of El Shinkal to be the first to explore the ruins the following day. Butch was even allowed onto the site—memorable ruins with a fascinating museum.

Incidentally, we could have been somewhere on the Arizona Trail. It was just my thing, and yet I still longed for trees.

So it was time to get out of the mountains and into the countryside. In principle, this is no longer a problem with a Tuk Tuk. In the past, I would have thought ten times about going down the whole mountain by bike or let alone on foot, only to have to pedal back up again at some point.

Something I think you can only understand if you’ve experienced it yourself. Climbing a mountain under your own steam is entirely different from turning on the gas, holding the steering wheel, and not having to do anything else.

The significance of the mountains has changed completely. With the Tuk Tuk, I often don’t even notice that it’s constantly going up and down. I’m not feeling the topography. The fight against the wind and the inner bastard, the drops of sweat, and the constant feeling of hunger because I often didn’t get enough to eat when I cycled are all gone.

There are always moments when I feel like I’m cheating. Along the thoughts of, I didn’t have to fight for this and it’s not my place to be here.

This may sound strange, but what I struggle with now is staying awake at the wheel. I often have to really concentrate to keep my eyes open. And I haven’t gotten used to the fact that I no longer have to fight to get to what I want to see in the Tuk Tuk.

It’s a dilemma. Most people would be uncomfortable traveling in such a vehicle as we are, but from my point of view, it’s pure luxury. I haven’t had this much stuff with me for ten years, and I can carry so much delicious food on board. Plus, we have two blankets, which we enjoy every night!

The fact is, an engine changes everything. It has good and not-so-good sides, and I’m sure it will soon be time to use my body again. Because at the end of the day, falling into the tent dead tired and just wanting to sleep is a feeling I haven’t had for a while, and I miss it.

I don’t yet know how and what we will do. Parking the Tuk Tuk somewhere for a while would be an option. It’s not nearly as dramatic with the dogs in Argentina, so I can see a possibility there!

But back to our trip. The Pachamama (Wikipedia) Museum in Amaicha del Valle was completely different than expected. I had also hoped for more from the excursion into the countryside. Basically, it was a lot of driving for not much experience.

Back on the Ruta 40, I had to decide whether to visit the Puna now or see the Puna, Argentina’s high desert, next year, and I opted for the latter. I didn’t fancy any more wind at the moment, and as the Puna is at the top of my to-do list, I wanted to save it for a little longer as a treat.

In the small town of Belen, I met the Argentinian Juan and his wife. He cycles, and she plays sherpa service. In other words, she drives the car with the luggage behind him. His mission is to cycle the entire Ruta40. His enthusiasm for the road was infectious. Everything was great for him! He was having the time of his life.

I met them a few times, and as a parting gift, he gave me one of his cycling jerseys with his logo on it, which I was pleased about. Of course, they were faster than me because everyone is always quicker than me and, therefore, way ahead of us.

I didn’t want to miss out on the street of adobe churches, so I enjoyed looking at a few places of worship, but then I realized that the adobe buildings in Morocco are much more impressive. Well, of course, I’ve already been around a bit, and unfortunately, I make comparisons here and there.

On the other hand, the tent sites we found here were awe-inspiring. I also thought the little houses in the villages were charming.

As always, there was stress with the money. I currently withdraw money via Western Union because it’s the cheapest way to get money. If I withdraw cash from an ATM, I would have 50% less on the exchange rate, as the Blue Dollar is only guaranteed via credit card, cash, or Western Union.

But often, there is no money at the Western Union outlets. Then they say: “Maybe tonight, or tomorrow morning? The record waiting time so far has been five days. It’s always a gamble. When do I get money? Will the peso continue to fall – or when is the right time? Just like on the stock market 🙂

It’s very similar at the petrol stations: long queues everywhere or no fuel at all for days.

So we kept chugging south and kept seeing incredible landscapes and beautiful places to camp. Most of the time, we were all alone in the vast expanse. We hiked, played together, or hunted rabbits and lizards. So we felt cattle-dog-happy.

We are wishing all our dear readers and followers worldwide a super relaxed Christmas and only the best for the New Year 2024, and we hope we will hear from each other again next year.

Thank you for your support, lovely comments, and loyalty!

See you soon.

The Team:
Heike, Butch, Teddy Lasse and Tuk Tuk Herr Nilsson.

8 Comments

  1. You are one of the people whose posts I read without a break… Thank you for your wonderful photographs and explanations…All the best…

    Reply
    • Thank you for the great compliment!
      all the best from us….

      Reply
    • Hello Heike, I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. Your boots on the ground traveling provides us with glimpse of people and places beyond and aside from the highest well-known peaks, and the “Ten Must See Sites” of where ever.
      Furthermore, I’m so happy to hear how well Argentina is treating you, and how much you are enjoying the people, and want to wish them well with their country’s struggles.
      Cheers, thank you and wishing you a super 2024!!!

      Reply
      • Lovely comment! Thank you!
        Merry Xmas and a superb 2024 from us!

        Heike and Butch

  2. A happy New Year Heike, and many pleasant travels.

    I like the tent you are using. Who is the manufacturer and the model of the tent Heike.
    Is it a free standing type of tent,

    all the best

    Michael.

    Reply
    • Hi Michael,

      thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply but I missed your comment.

      It’s a Hilleberg Soulo, free standing. Hilleberg is one of the best tent manufacturers far and wide.
      It’s pricey though but it last forever.

      Best greetings….Heike

      Reply
  3. What an inspiring journey. The longest trip I ever made by tuk tuk was from the international Airport of Colombo in Sri Lanka till Unawatuna. it took more then 6 hours. what a trip!!! 😉
    You’re selling your ride. what’s next? I love your dog♥️

    Reply
    • Hi Elise,

      yeah….TukTuking is great fun isn’t it?

      I will soon let everyone know what’s next…. 😉

      Happy greetings from Chile and Butch (thanks for loving him)

      Reply

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