The night before, we had arrived in town after a seven-hour drive through mountains and desolate, desert landscape only to find the town awash in Argentinean tourists. Unbeknownst to us we had picked the long weekend of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception to travel from Valle Fertil to the other side of the Cordillera mountain range.
Mina Clavero is situated in a broad valley with a cool river running through it and is set against an impressive wall of stark mountains. It's also gaucho country. Sadly, however, it’s a combination of Banf and Wasaga Beach. Lot’s of tourists, horrendous holiday traffic and crowded streets on long summer weekends.
Earlier in the day we had to replace both low-beam headlights at a small town garage run by two elderly brothers who kindly identified the problem, replaced the bulbs and gave us directions back onto the right highway for only 8 pesos (about $3). ``Be careful, the younger 70-year old brother warned, ``in this province of Cordoba, the police are strictly enforcing the Argentinean law to drive with your day-time lights on.``
We had already been stopped three times during our seven-hour trek by police manning intimidating checkpoints along the highways. Each time they demanded our papers, our destination and noted down my passport number. One even had the nerve to ask for ``a little something for a soda``.
Having anticipated this subtle form of bribery, I pretended not to understand and offered him some of our soda water, but he persisted and kept leaning on the car smiling. Fortunately, we had set aside a ``kitty`` of bribe money with small bills. The trick is not to let them see you have any big bills in your wallet. So we ended up giving him 5 pesos and drove off.
But at each checkpoint, the police had checked to see if we were wearing our seatbelts and had the daytime driving lights on. I had been cheating by putting my high-beams on, but they couldn’t tell the difference in the daylight. Eventually we had to get them fixed.
More laps around town ensued when the hotel we had previously booked for the week, wouldn’t let us check in a day early. so we ended up in a nice hotel in town that was highly recommended. It even had a secure, covered parking area – two things that are critical in this area. Unfortunately, the rooms had just been repainted and the highly acclaimed restaurant was not open because it was just the start of high season.
Anyway, the next day we checked in to our holiday resort, an RCI resort we had exchanged for our Mexican timeshare, only to find that they didn’t have a restaurant either and no cooking facilities in the rooms. The pool was great and the room was comfortable, but Carolann was expecting a little more luxury in exchange for our 5-star Mayan Palace resort. And neither of us was too excited about the five-kilometre drive into town for lunch and dinner, especially when I was looking forward to imbibing some more of the local vinos to accompany my `bife de chorizo`.
So the next morning we decide to hop across the stark Altas Cumbres mountains and check out the small German-Swiss town of Belgrano. Time for some Apfel Strudel and beer!