Mendoza Top Gear

Day 1 of the third leg and I’m really quite pleased. We left the hotel at around 8:00am joining the morning rush hour which is always a good initiation into driving in a new country.

I have found that often the most difficult part of the journeys is getting on the correct road out of cities. You obviously have to watch the traffic at the same time as trying to spot signs and safely execute manoeuvres, so I was particularly pleased that our exit from Buenos Aires was fairly straight-forward. All I had to do was locate Highway 7 and follow it.

The road conditions are generally good and the standard of driving is reasonable. I had forgotten that I still need to run-in the engine since its re-build and so we drove along at between 45 -50 mph so as not to exceed 3,000 rpm. We covered 400 miles in Perth before leaving and so we only have to do this for another 600 miles. At least travelling at that speed gives me more opportunity to look around at the countryside.

West of Buenos Aires is flat and similar to Norfolk only much larger. As is to be expected the number of head of cattle is very high and the same with sheep. I quickly started spotting lots of birds that I haven’t seen before including along the way hundreds of pink Flamingos. These, and thousands of other water fowl, were at Laguna La Picasa between Junin and Rufino.

We were stopped by police checkpoints twice. In both cases as soon as an officer spotted the car they enthusiastically waved us into a lay-by. In the first case the officer approached and spoke to the passenger seat, then feeling a little foolish came round to my window and demanded ‘something or other’. I offered my insurance certificate and licence. He then asked me to get out of the car and I had to follow him to the police office. Here he tried several times to communicate unsuccessfully. Eventually I realised he was referring to a double yellow line that is often seen in the middle of the roads here and he was either accusing me of having crossed them or was telling me not too. A fine of $100 Argentine Pesos is the penalty but if he was hoping I would cough-up he was barking up the wrong tree. I have already been told by the MG guys that there are no on the spot penalties. The second instance the officers just wanted to have a good look at the car and didn’t even ask for the papers.

We arrived at a small town called Laboulaye and found a very reasonable hotel. Having covered just over 300 miles we are about halfway to Mendoza. I intend to stay there for the weekend and tighten down Bridget’s cylinder head, check the valve clearances and the timing. She has run well today but her idle speed is a little high and she was missing a little first thing. I want to make sure she is running perfectly before crossing the Andes.

Just when I think the day is over, a television crew turned up at the hotel asking for an interview. Someone had tipped them off that Bridget was here. Then to cap it all instead of them turning out to be the local channel news people as is usual, it transpires that they do a local ‘Top Gear’ program. At least they brought an interpreter.

Friday 29th May and the dawn was extraordinary but by the time I got my camera from the hotel room and returned outside it was gone. It was the start of a cold wet morning just like a November day in England. Of course the MG air conditioning cannot be turned off and just added to the misery, but at least the sealant I have put around the windscreen reduced the amount of rain coming in from that direction.

Bridget is running really well now and I had too almost hold her back as the speed gradually crept up whenever my attention was taken by something else. At least when we arrive at Mendoza her ‘running-in’ will be complete and we will be able to step up the cruising speed a bit.

At the provincial border between Cordoba and Mendoza everyone is checked to make sure that nobody is carrying certain foodstuffs. Suddenly a rather beautiful young lady rushed up to me and held out her arms in welcome and kissed my cheek. It transpires that she is a presenter on another Cordoba television programme that is transmitted by two different channels on a Saturday. She is accompanied by a camera man and assistant and so another television interview is held at the side of the road. Once again the programme is basically about cars, oh, and young ladies!!

We arrived safely in Mendoza late in the afternoon and tomorrow morning I will complete the work on Bridget ready for the drive over the Andes. Mendoza is a pleasant city, quieter and cleaner than Buenos Aires. The region of Mendoza is of course famous for its wine. My personal preference is for reds which from this region I find full bodied and very fruity. Many Argentineans seem to have a preference for wine from the Malbec grape. Enough talking about it, I’m off to try some.

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