On this trip it is incredibly rare to retrace our steps and return to somewhere we have already been to. It was a strange feeling returning to Mendoza: knowing the one-way route into town, how to navigate the tricky roundabout and the way our iPads knew the wifi password at the campsite. Much excitement ensued as our friends John and Betti pulled in next to us in the parking lot of the supermarket. The girls were literally jumping up and down with joy and very happy to abandon their last day of school. We'd been going to meet them later in the day but they'd seen us parked up and stopped. It has been over 8 months since we last saw them in Bogota but we'd stayed in contact and decided to meet up for Christmas. Betti and John had scoped out a good spot to camp on the edge of a reservoir for Christmas Day but with a day in hand we decided to take the scenic route over the mountains. We all headed out of town though the scrubby desert and up into the hills the road turned to gravel switchbacks as we passed the mineral springs of Villavicencio. There were orange-brown guanacos grazing on the dry spiky grass and fox that was almost as curious about us as we were about her. We parked up for the night near a viewpoint by a "stations of the cross" pilgrimage site. The wind and sun were both out force as we enjoyed the view of the Andes. We could see the snowy peak of Anconagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, in the distance. It felt good to be back in the solitude of the mountains again, even if it was our coldest night for a long time as we were at 3000m. Lucy was just pleased it meant that we could get the porridge out for breakfast again.
The film "Seven Years in Tibet" were filmed around the small town of Upsallata, as the scenery looks very much like the Himalayas. Rolling into town we'd had hoped to go for a coffee in a cafe filled with props from the film, supposedly a rather strange experience in such a South American town, but it was closed. We went for the only slightly less surreal option of a coffee in a Swiss chalet instead.
Alisha was concerned that Santa wouldn't be able to find us and was only reassured when Steve told her that he had used our "Spot" GPS tracker to let him know our exact location. Thankfully Santa found us and we were awoken at 6.20 by delighted squeals. We had presents under our makeshift tree, dead branches in a bucket decorated with lots of homemade decorations that the girls have been working on for the last few weeks.
Luckily it was just a short walk to a small village that had a free wifi signal so we could catch up with our families celebrating in Europe. Of course it isn't as good as being with them but it was lovely to talk to them all. The boys got going barbecuing a huge quantity of beef, pork and sausages. By sun down we were truly full with all the meat, sides and Alisha's delicious apple pie served with custard. And of course, we had to wash it down with some Argentinian Malbec.
As we sat round the fire that night, all the girls indulged in a bit of spa time painting our toenails. It's not often that us overlanding ladies get a chance to do a bit of pampering.
We waved goodbye to the Swiss on Boxing Day as they headed to Mendoza, I'm sure we will see them again as we are all heading south. After not having seen any other Overlanders for months, we are seeing more and more. Everyone is heading south for the short window of better weather in Patagonia, so there is a funnelling affect going on. The two trucks headed south towards Laguna Diamente, a stunning high altitude lake with a perfect come shaped volcano behind. It was a beautiful drive on the flat scrubby pains with the Andes looming on our right hand side all the way. When we got to the entrance to the park we found that the high pass road was still blocked with snow, which would probably take at least another week to melt. Heading down a side track we found a place to park up for the night overlooking a gorge.