Coca Leaf highs and Llama Pies

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostel del centro

Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Saturday, December 11, 2010

We got up at about 6:30 and had a few honey covered croissants before our tour guide turned up. At about 7:20 indeed he arrived, the people leaving before us left in flash tour buses and brand new minibuses, of course an 'our price' tour we got a bloke and a car. He greeted us by wrapping his arms around Erica and giving her some kisses, he had slicked back hair and was a spitting image of Ray Leotta from Goodfellas, an interesting start. We set off with two South American women as well and our man explained things in Spanish and English, we couldn’t really converse with the other two ladies due to a big language barrier but we tried none the less.

Initially we drove up through the rain forest one of many micro climates around the Salta area,on the way to Termas de Reyes, we stopped at a few lakes and reservoirs as well as stopping for a few walks where we spotted some eagles as well as some fantastic views over the jungle. We then continued Northbound and continued to gain altitude stopping at Termas de Reyes to view birds of prey and the seemingly endless rainforest. We then stopped at Purmamarca which is famous for its stunning views of the Cerro de los Siete Colores where the square was full of local colourful stalls selling handicrafts.  We are again starting to experience very different landscapes and cultures to what we have seen so far elsewhere and these tiny dusty villages definitely provide a wealth of both. You can tell we are on the road to Bolivia now. We kept on approaching regular police checkpoints where they search cars mostly for products from Bolivia being brought back into Argentina, mostly Coca Leaves (the raw product Cocaine is made from), clothes and food that are widely available from all the cheap markets that abound. At one of these checkpoints the driver suggested the front seat passenger put on her seatbelt. Whilst he quickly put his on the lady in the front appeared to have absolutely no knowledge of how to put a seatbelt on.  She wrapped the whole thing around herself and back around her back trying to put the buckle back into the door then moved it all back over her head so she was basically just wrapped up in a seatbelt which wasn’t fastened at all. We were in absolute hysterics, however bizarrely when the windscreen wipers and spray was used later on she was going nuts about it so perhaps she had never been in a car before. The police just looked at her and let the car go on its way.

After more spectacular landscapes covered in cactus deserts as we drove through the Quebrada de Humahuaca we ended up in Humahuaca were we decided to have lunch. We ended up in a Llama restaurant as nothing else seemed to be open. We had a choice of Llama Pie or Llama cooked in red wine. We both ordered the Llama pie although when it was served it was described as Llama cake. Anyway it was a change from steak and something we hadn’t tried before. We definitely feel like we are getting close to Bolivia just in terms of dress, houses and lifestyle etc. It is certainly very different from the rest of Argentina we have visited.

After exploring the rest of the town (walking around a couple of squares and seeing a monument) we waited in the meeting place along with our fellow passengers for our tour guide to come and collect us.  After waiting for 1 hour we decided to go on a hunt for him only to find him asleep in his car around the corner. He made his excuses to us blaming it on the other two ladies (as they hadn’t understood the instructions he gave), and made his excuses to the other ladies no doubt blaming it on us(we did hear the word Inglese mentioned a couple of times).  We headed back via Tilcara where we visited the museum and had the most amazing dulce de leche ice lolly (toffee flavour).  Our driver bought some Coca leaves (the raw ingredient of cocaine that is chewed to alleviate altitude sickness) here from the market and offered us a handful, we took a pinch and began the maceration (how you are supposed to deal with it) to be honest we didn’t really get anything from it but I guess from the amount that the driver had wadded in his cheek we hadn’t taken enough.  It tasted of tea basically but just gave you very bad breath.  We also stopped by the Incan fortress to get fantastic views of the beautiful temple elevated amongst giant cacti.  Next stop was Maimara where there is a huge cemetery high up on a hill surrounded in mountain scenery.  The most interesting thing was at another village where we visited a church where the paintings on the wall were angels, but not like you have ever seen them before.  The angels were Spanish soldiers with wings, apparently this was due to the fact that when Catholicism spread to South America via Spain and Portugal, the locals could only imagine angels looking like Spanish warriors armed with guns etc.  We also crossed and re-crossed the tropic of Capricorn again today, amazingly this sight can be accessed via a wooden plank over a stream, which is .... nice. We have now had a few crossings of the tropics and almost always we hype it up more than we should.

On the way to San Salvador de Jujuy we hit an absolutely amazing thunderstorm, something like I have never witnessed before.  We saw the storm approach us then we were being battered by hailstones maybe half the diameter of a golf ball. All the cars were skidding to try and get under the trees with the driver shouting "put pressure on the glass to stop windows breaking", every other car on the road also had a hand on each window where possible. The storm must have lasted for about 30 minutes and is apparently not that uncommon in Salta, sometimes they are actually as big as golf balls apparently. After the worst had past our driver went nuts and started trying to overtake anyone and everyone through the rain unable to see, we were glad to get to Juju however it was still raining heavily so we opted for a driven tour of the area.

We then headed on back to Salta and after about 90 games of what shape is the cloud with only the Driver and Erica playing, both got so excited it was bizarre. We finally got back into Salta at about 20:30 so some 13 hours after we set off. We had an E-mail form Will and Joanna asking to meet us at the 2 a litre of wine place at 21:00. As we hadn’t eaten since the Llama Pie we decided to go mad and have a final meal out in Argentina and decline a cheap wine fest. Of course a steak place, it was over the road from our hostel and was number 1 on Trip Advisor. It didn’t let us down at all with another huge Argentine steak and a large portion of chips each one with garlic and parsley. Backed up with a litre of red, and the waiters dressed up as Gauchos it was amazing, until we didn’t tip the waiter and he had a bit of a strop as we left. It must have been about 22:30 by the time we got to bed and an early start tomorrow as we head back into Chile.  Almost forgot also of note today was the green frothy diarrhoea I developed on the trip, maybe to do with either altitude, coca leaves or something else but it wasn’t pretty and I needed to run to find emergency toilet situations on more than one occasion.
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