Higher and Higher

Next stop was Tinogasta. Looking for a camp ground, we came across the “Complejo Termal La Aguadita” (at about 1400 m). In internet and in a camping guide which I have downloaded it said “camping possible upon request”.
This “complejo” turned out to be a well equipped and well frequented recreation area about 10 km outside of town. It had a good size pool in front and a play ground, sufficent and clean showers and bathroom facilities, a restaurant and about a dozen barbeque pits with picknic benches and individual water faucets and sinks. But: It was NOT a camp ground. We could have parked the Caddy and put up the tent where ever we liked for about 400 pesos, but we could not find a really suitable place. Either it was not level, too loud (next to contruction site or playground) or smelly (garbage or sewage).
In the back, with nice view towards the mountains, there were 4 spacious cabañas. We rented one of them for 1000 pesos/night (less than USD 15). It was very basic but clean. Fresh sheets and towels were provided and it had a nice, well functioning bathroom and space to park the Caddy right in front.

At the side of the “complejo” we found the real “termas”: 3 basins, each one lower than the previous one. The top one was continuously being filled with tepid water (about 30°C) from a creek coming down from the mountain, the water then overflowed into the next lower pool and in the end back into the creek.
Early next morning Norbert enjoyed a dive into this really fresh water.

We stayed 2 nights and then decided to drive up to the “Paso de San Francisco”. Google said, it was only about a 2,5 hour drive away.

The road from Tinogasta (RN 60) leads through Fiambalá. It is a small town known for its thermal baths (which we did not visit) and some more or less preserved adobe buildings in its surroundings.
We stopped at a few of the ruins to take some pictures.

Remnants of an old estancia
Remnants of one of the oldest Christian churches in Argentina, with an altar formed of clay
Some buildings, like this one, are still being used
And here is a creative example of combining new elements with the old structures

The pass “San Francisco” is the highest international border crossing in South America: 4725 m. Because of this altitud we did not dare to drive up in one stretch. We thought it would be better to spend a night somewhere at about 2500 m altitud for acclimatization.
The first place, however, we found was a hotel called “Complejo Turistico Cortaderas” at 3300 m. There was no opportunity to camp nowhere around. So we took the chance and booked a room in the hotel. We were somewhat sceptical. Last year we had gone from Salta (1100 m) to Humahuaca (3100 m) in one day and had a very difficult time the first night breathing. Surprisingly this time we did not have major problems.

The place is HUGE and in the middle of nowhwere. We were two of only a handfull guests.

The room was nice, clean and very big and the price of 3000 pesos (about € 36) acceptable. Presumably because of the constant strong wind and the fine sand, all the windows and doors (except the main entrance) were taped shut. First thing we did was remove the tape and open the window wide, which resulted in a shovel full of sand on the floor next to the bed. But better sand than a taped window!
In the evening we took a walk around the building and I collected a handful of wild herbs for our tea.

Backside of the hotel
Beautiful evening sky
The greyish looking shrub to the right is called ajenco or ajenjo. Some guy told me that his parents always used this to make tea, when he had a cold.
I think this is rosemary, even though I do not understand how it can survive in an altitud of 3300 m
Smells VERY good! Someone told me it is being used to aromatize the mate tea. I couldn’t yet find out the name.

Next morning we headed for the border. Wonderful drive, excellent street, beautiful sites, good weather, bright sunshine, but of course cool.
Plenty opportunity for great pictures.

To our surprise the Argentine border control was about 25 km before the actual pass (the Chilean control 100 Km after the pass!).
The paperwork to get through the control, including the car, was a matter of 10 minutes.

Argentine border control at 4000 m

Another half hour and another 725 m higher, we could finally take our selfie in front of the historic border landmark.

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