Mendoza was a crossroads for us – our initial plan was to head from here to Buenos Aires via Rosario and Cordoba, but the thought of more mid-sized cities didn’t really excite us. We had read of a place called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) further North, and although we hadn’t met anyone who had been there, with a name like that who could resist?
The only problem was getting there was not particularly easy. We had to catch a bus to San Juan, and then another bus to San Agustín de Valle Fértil where we could stay and then take a day trip out to the Valley of the Moon. The 2.5 hour trip to San Juan was fairly comfortable, and we were glad to arrive in time to spend an easy 45 minutes at the bus station before the 4 hour bus trip to San Agustín. Most of this trip was through arid desert regions, and we thought it was fairly odd that people were getting on and off the bus literally in the middle of the desert, often being met by family members on horses or bikes.
Eventually the terrain changed and we could see where the “Valle Fértil” part of the name comes from. Weather patterns from the mountain have created a relative oasis in the desert where agriculture flourishes. You can see this in the aerial shot below (taken from google maps)
We arrived in San Agustín and were met at the bus station by Marisa and Mario the friendly owners of Hosteria Rustico. After our rather crappy room in Mendoza we decided to spend a bit more, and the place was fantastic. Very small and quiet (off season) with a massive room & bathroom, and great breakfast. This was our oasis in an oasis 🙂
The main thing to do here, apart from enjoying the ponderously slow way of life, is visit the Ischigualasto Provincial Park which includes the Valle de la Luna. We booked a tour there for the next day as unless you have a car there is no other way to get there. The sky was still very overcast with light showers, and we were disappointed that after taking such a big detour to get here, the conditions might not be very good. It is a sight that really depends on good light to be seen at it’s best. The weather didn’t look like changing any time soon, so we decided to just go anyway.
We were picked up at 2pm and driven through arid desert to the park entrance. Being so open and arid we were very exposed to the windy & freezing conditions, so we took refuge in the dinosaur museum while we waited for our tour to start. The ancient landscape of the park contains an amazing richness of fossils, including some of the oldest dinosaurs and pre-dinosaurs. It is the only place in the world where nearly all of the Triassic period is represented in an undisturbed sequence of rock deposits, and since the 1950’s the park has been home to many important discoveries. The museum had some interesting displays including fossils and models of dinosaurs that had been discovered in the area. The love of dinosaurs that all boys have never completely goes away, so this was right up my alley!
Even people with a car are not allowed to do the 40km park circuit by themselves, so everyone drives around in a convoy following the guide and getting out at each stop. We got into our van and played follow the leader for the next few hours. The guide only spoke Spanish (and our basic lessons didn’t include geological or paleontological words!) but the visuals were stunning even without the education. The landscape often seems more martian than lunar, with impossible rock formations and a dust so fine it’s like powder. We understood enough to learn that most of the formations had been formed by water erosion in the clay and sandy rocks over millions of years.
There were five stops along the tour, each containing different landforms and contrasting colours.
El Gusano (The Worm)
Valle Pintado (Painted Valley)
Cancha de Bochas (Bocce Court) & La Esfinge (The Sphinx)
El Submarino (The Submarine)
The sun finally poked out from behind the clouds here, and you can see the massive difference it made to the photos!
El Hongo (The Mushroom)
By this point we were thrilled to have the dramatic lighting provided by the late-afternoon sun.
We returned to the park entrance in convoy as we watched the spectacular sunset over the valley. After a brief stop, we headed back to San Agustin where we arrived at about 9pm. What a day!
Here’s a video I quickly cobbled together … the road was very bumpy so sorry for the shake, but it gives you an idea of what it was like to be there!
The rest of our time in San Agustin was spent researching our next destination – Buenos Aires. We’d heard so much both good and bad about the “Paris of the South”, and were quite daunted by our first big city since Santiago. After much debate and reading many conflicting online reviews we decided where to stay and made the arrangements. The Nobbies were heading to the big city!