The Old Mates Tour Part 2

Dinosaurs … alive and kicking!

When I had been here in 1999 I had done a day trip out to Valley of the Moon from San Juan, but this time we decided to go out and stay there so we could explore the area properly and over a few days. It had always left a really big impression on me and I wanted to share it with Alex. We made our way to the relaxed, green little village of Valle Fertil, 250 kilometres northeast of San Juan and set amid colourful hills and rivers, from where we would do our adventuring. We ended up at the Campo Base (Valle de la Luna) Hostelling International Hostel.  It was a small, yet fun hostel where we met and made some great friends, and also hung out with them over the next few days.

The two main trips to do from Valle Fertil are the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna) which is formally known as Ischigualasto Triassic Park and Talampaya National Park. Both are, in a word, incredible! After a day of wandering around the town, and taking it easy, we set out on a couple of adventures.

The Bocce Field.

The Valley of the Moon was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, as it’s one of the most important fossil reserves in the world. Move over Jurassic Park!  Here we are talking Triassic, and this place is home to some of the oldest fossil remains on earth, dating back some 230 million years (unless, of course, you believe that man walked with dinosaurs 2000 years ago!) The eerie landscape, constituting years of erosion, is what has given the park its memorable name. It really does resemble a lunar landscape.  Over three hours and 40 kilometres we saw numerous natural rock formations like ‘the worm’, ‘the mushroom’, ‘the submarine’, ‘the Sphinx’ and ‘the bocce field’. Not to mention the mind-blowing landscape that was the backdrop. It was possibly the bocce field that had me most intrigued; this area has perfectly polished spheres made of the same material as the soil, and there is no explanation for their formation. Yet again, I could only admire and keep telling myself how truly fortunate I was to be able to see this!

Talampaya National Park.
Run for your life!!!!

The next day we visited Talampaya National Park, known as the Talampaya Canyon, which was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Whist this park too has numerous fossil remains, the main attraction are the gorges and rock formations with walls of up to 150 metres high, narrowing to 80 metres at one point. A guided tour took us through a series of rock formations, (The Monkey, The Gothic Cathedral), a botanical garden, petroglyphs and even a botanical garden. Nature truly astounds!

In Tucuman with Pepe.

And so, with some more spectacular sights under our belt, the Old Mates Tour was to continue.  Next San Miguel de Tucuman, or simply Tucuman, as the locals call it, to see my friend Pepe and his family.  A friendship forged in Rio Gallegos in 1999, in the very south of Argentina, I would then visit him and his family several months later as I continued my trip upwards through the continent. I stayed with Pepe and his parents then, and I was returning to do the same. Unfortunately, it would be without his wonderful Dad, Antonio, who has since passed away. Pepe was to meet us at the bus terminal. Once again a very emotional reunion it was.  I ran off the bus and Pepe and I embraced as Alex looked on and took some photos.  I was speechless, and my eyes teared up as I hugged Pepe, who is like a brother to me. We just hugged for a few minutes and, in-between tears, I introduced him to Alex.  It was like no time had passed.

With Flora and Pepe.

Pepe had taken a couple of hours off work (he is a teacher) so that he could take us back to his place. As we sat in the taxis the memories came flooding back … the people, the places, how wonderfully I had been treated by his family, how they had made me feel loved, how they had loved me!  In no time we were at Pepe’s house, and it was more hugs and tears all around as I hugged Flora (Pepe’s mum), who told me how great it was to have a member of the family back again. Her daughter had come back to visit her!

With our Tucuman Family.

Pepe had to go back to work, so we spent the afternoon with Flora chatting and reminiscing. What a beautiful, kind lady. Despite the fact that she was in her 80s and ill, she gave up her double bed for us.  I insisted no, she insisted (harder than us!) yes! We spent a brilliant week in Tucuman, chilling and catching up with the rest of the ‘family’; Pepe’s Aunt Dali and his cousin Mari, Mari’s son Danny and partner Fernando, Anita ( a good friend of theirs who was really like family) and her family. That very same afternoon Anita came screaming through the house with a big hug for me.  The Gringa Loca (crazy foreigner) had come back and this time with a bit more than a shaved head! That night we went to visit Dali and the family.  More hugs and tears. Feeling very loved!

Asado with the family.

Flora went out of her way to cook me a range of vegetarian dishes which were absolutely delicious. Although Pepe had to work, we spent as much time as we could with him; dinners with his aunt, afternoon tea with Anita and her family, (another!) big asado (BBQ) at Mari and Fernando’s house just outside of town.  That was on a Sunday, as is the norm in Argentina; they raise show horses, so that was the backdrop to our all-day eating! They say that Tucuman is a big city with a small town feel.  Well, yes and no!  Unfortunately, it also has a reputation of not being so safe.  We most certainly got that vibe but were our usual, vigilant selves. We did walk into the city centre on several occasions during the day, taking in the sights, having good (well, not as good as Melbourne!) coffee and just generally chilling out.

Bye, bye Flora, we will miss you!

The week passed before we knew it.  Mari and Fernando had invited us out to their holiday house at Tafi del Valle.  Only 126 kilometres from Tucuman, this pretty little town, overlooking a lake, is where folks from Tucuman come in summer. That would be perfect as we were planning to go there on Monday anyway.  In this way, we could do it together and then keep moving. Unfortunately, Pepe would not be able to come as he had hurt his ankle and had been ordered total rest and relaxation by his doctor.  Mari would come and pick up on the Saturday afternoon.  We packed our backpacks on Saturday morning and slowly said our goodbyes to Flora and Pepe.  This was proving to be really hard. Finally the time came, and Mari came to pick us up.  I hugged Pepe with gusto and then hugged Flora even harder.  I told them both that I loved them. “I love you too”, Flora told me.  As I jumped in the car and waved goodbye, I bawled my eyes out.  You see, Flora has advanced breast cancer, and I probably will not see her again.

At the holiday house in Tafi del Valle.

Mari is very close to her aunt, and we chatted about this in the car. These people are my family. They have treated me with the love and respect that some of my own blood have not afforded me.  I always hold special people close to my heart. We had a wonderful two days at Tafi. We ate, slept, went for drives and hung out. Peaceful, tranquil and relaxing … before our adventure would continue.

In no time at all, it was time to say goodbye to Mari and Fernando as well.  Where had the time gone? On Monday they dropped us off at the small bus terminal, from where we would be heading north to Amaicha del Valle. Again, more hugs and tears as we said goodbye.  I repeat, this is never something that I will get used to.  I have made some friends overseas that have touched the core of my being. Silence as the bus took off and we waved goodbye. I momentarily felt very sad and alone!


“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.” – William James

Dedication: Pepe, Flora, Dali and Mari you are our Tucuman family and we love you from the bottom of our hearts.  Thank you for all the love you showed us, not only in the week that we were with you, but over the last fifteen years as we stayed in contact. We love you all!

Dedicacion: Pepe, Flora, Dali and Mari son nuestra familia en Tucuman y les amamos de nuestros corazones.  Gracias por todo el amor que nos brindaste, no solamente en la semana que pasamos con ustedes, pero en las ultimas quince anos que nos quedamos en contacto.  Les amamos a todos!

Welcome to the land of dinosaurs.
Selfie in the Valley of the Moon


Valle Fertil


Talampaya … but we are simply grains of sand
On the road to Talampaya
Rock Art, Valley of the Moon.
These are the layers of our lives; Valley of the Moon.
Valley of the Moon
Great to see you again Pepe.
With the gorgeous Flora; Pepe’s mum.
Feeling at home with Flora and Pepe.
With Mari, Pepe’s cousin.
Good food, good wine and good friends.
In Flora’s yard.
Always the devil.
Good salami and cheese in Argentina!
Pepe’s work look.
Any time is a good time for an asado in Argentina.
With Pepe.
Fernando on one of his horses.
A shop that sells ONLY sweets … common in Argentina!
With Pepe and Ana.
With Ana’s gorgeous family.
Flora feeding me her home-made hommous.
To mate (pronounced ma-tay!) or not to mate, THAT is the question!
In my case, good friends and good coffee.
Tafi del Valle … serious about their food!
Mari’s weekend home.
The house at Tafi del Valle.
Fernando and Alex … Tafi del Valle.
Tafi del Valle.
Pac Man … the Bocce Field.
Guanaco, Talampaya National Park.
Peruvian horse breeder Fernando. Tucuman.
Perspective … Talampaya National Park. 

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Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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