SAN ANTONIO DE LOS COBRES TO SALTA
Day breaks to the bleating of goats in this railway city of the clouds. Compared with its immediate surroundings, the old borax mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres is not merely a bustling metropolis situated some 12,300 feet above sea level, but an oasis of activity.
The rest of the trip is a breeze after what we've been through. We drop over 8000 feet in our six-hour drive, but the only drama is when the road surface changes from rock to chalk dust. Billowing white clouds limit visibility to only tens of feet, forcing us to hang back and keep an eye out for the oncoming traffic of heavy trucks.
Amid the confusion and narrow streets of Salta, our LR3s seem huge. They do offer advantages: We're high up with great visibility, which provides a preview of the interesting traffic customs. We're secure, too, knowing that few of old local vehicles could do much damage if we did happen to be caught unaware.
We pull into our hotel like conquering heroes, dusty but victorious. We're the last crew to make this journey; over seven back-to-back weeks, Land Rover sent the same set of LR3s up and over Ruta 40 with dozens of different journalists from around the globe. Naturally, our North American crew is the only one to break an LR3-a simple incident of busting a bit of the rear suspension. It's an impressive feat; everyone has made it safely back to civilization with memories of some of Argentina's most breathtaking sights. Well, except for the clouds.