Off we go, exploring by car....

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hosteria Solar de la Quebrada

Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, November 3, 2008

Armed with a small map upon which Clive had marked out a possible
route, we collected our car, the smallest and cheapest we could find -
a nice shiny black Renault Clio.

The plan was to combine two
routes to the north and south of Salta, which should take us about 7
days. This route takes in the highlights of the "Circuito Norte" and
the "Circuito de los Valles Calchaquies". If you cannot translate this,
think yourself lucky as I had the job of navigating (Clive has
absolutely no sense of direction!), reading the detail of the route and
planning out the seven days, all as we drove along! Apart from the fact
that the maps were in different scales and spread out over 3 sides of
folded paper, the detail of what we should take time to see was written
over a 27 lengthy paragraphs........ in Spanish...... Anyway, off we go
heading north towards Jujuy.

As we headed off, the roads were clear of traffic and the drive was pleasant along nice winding roads through the (unusually) green countryside. Now and again there would a roadside trader with a pile of locally made goods for sale - blankets and ponchos, which all looked rather cosy at a distance. I have been hankering after a llama wool blanket for some time, but Clive keeps persuading me of what a pain it would be having to carry it around continually and (so far) this has stopped me buying one.

Before long, the green countryside starts looking a bit dry and rocky and the villages peter out, as does the road, which turns from a lovely smooth tarmac surface to compacted gravel. The road then climbs uphill and the bends in the road become tighter and tighter as we continue northwards. The scenery is now very dry and very rocky and the road gets ever narrower. There are no other cars around and I would have normally wondered if I had got us lost, but as there are were no turn offs, I have to assume that this is the right way! 100km later, the road widens and becomes smooth again, which gives Clive's hands on the steering wheel, a chance to stop vibrating. We are heading into Jujuy, the provincial capital and the major town in the region. As we have had no lunch, we pull off into the town to find a snack and some water. We should have known better! As always seems to be the case in Argentina, it is siesta time and the whole town is closed for 4 hours. Eventually we find our way back out of the town (sign posts are few and far between here!) and carry on to Tilcara - the next pueblo (village), which is another 70/80km further on. Tilcara is one of the few places geared towards tourists on this drive so it is
a) open, b) we can get food and, c) there is a over-priced craft market in the village square. We settle for a quick sandwich and decide to ignore the craft market.

We now see the most amazing mountain scenery as we drive along the Humahuca Gorge. Although we are at quite high in altitude, we are driving along a valley, with mountains on either side. What is rather odd, is that if we look left, we get a completely different type of mountain view than if we look right. One side might be a mountain with a huge range of mellow colours, with rounded tops. Looking out of the opposite window, the mountains might be vivid colours, with sheer steep sides and pointed ridges. The colours in what is now getting to be late afternoon are truly breathtaking.

As we move on from Tilcara, the mountains take on even more spectacular colours (and some odd shapes!) they are almost a bit Disneyland they were so pretty. They are the shape of Oyster shells and as the sunlight hits the rock, the colours glow. Reds, pinks, yellows, violets almost like a rainbow.

Continuing our journey takes us to the town of Humahuca, the northern most point in the circuit. We spend the night in a lovely hostel called Hosteria Solar de la Quebrada.  Unexpectedly, we have one of the nicest but simplest breakfasts we have had in Argentina (they usually consist of often stale, bread and jam). Fresh strong coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread, cheese and fresh fruit. The pueblo itself has a delightful village square, which we see first in the dark as we stroll around town looking for a place to have dinner - not an easy task as few places are open.

Next day we head off to find some Inca ruins about 9 kms north of the village. This time the road was not compacted gravel, but just dust and stones. Soon we are in the desert wilderness and the track swiftly becomes less than a track - really just a gap between the bigger rocks and suddenly disappears completely and we find ourselves in the middle of a football (at least we assume it is a football pitch as there are two sets of goal posts and less rocks than elsewhere in the immediate vicinity!). We have been driving for perhaps 45 minutes and have not seen more than 3 adobe homes in the distance, so where do the players come from? We get out of the car here and see a stone wall around a patch of land that some poor soul has been trying to cultivate - but the ground beneath our feet is really nothing but stones on stones. The main vegetation around us is in the main huge cacti and a few bushes. (Later, we find out the wall was, in fact the inca remains we had come to see).
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