Never stray from the path

Trip Start Mar 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, April 20, 2008

We reluctantly left our penthouse Mendoza apartment and headed north. Our destination was Salta, a slightly downbeat but very beautiful city in Northern Argentina. It is awash with colonial architecture (aren't they all but Salta is particularly blessed!) and has a huge and devout Catholic population. We didn't stay long but we are unlikely to forget Salta.......

The city is overlooked by a huge hill which attracts tourists and locals alike to its summit to enjoy the views. It can be reached by cable car which runs from the Parque General de San Martin (The Liberator) which slowly bares you to the top over the dense hillside forest. The other option is to hike up a steep winding path through the trees. We chose the cable option and resolved to walk back. After enjoying the attractions on the summit which included artisan markets, man-made waterfalls, a bar, some great wildlife and of course the view - we headed down. Due to the gradient the path zigzags down with sharp hairpin corners but it is possible to lessen your journey time considerably by cutting a straight line through the forest at various stages. After a couple of successful diversions we got cocky! We took one more and descended for some minutes. However the path did not reappear and the rough tracks made by previous feet were fading. Pretty soon we realised that they had vanished altogether and we were lost!

For about an hour we hacked through the dense foliage but the path was gone. We did eventually reach a fence displaying a very aggressive sign in Spanish. I can't translate exactly but basically it said - 'don't even think about hopping over this here fence, gringo!' Unfortunately we had no choice and we jumped down about 12ft into a back garden of a fancy looking residence. We walked slowly towards a house and saw, about 40m away, a gate...the road...freedom!! Our spirits rose but just as quickly we were stopped dead in our tracks. In between us and the gate there was a large, sleeping Pit bul. We crept past him and reached the gate which turned out to be about 5m high and padlocked. Suddenly the dog was running towards us and barking wildly...

It is at times like this that you find out a lot about your own character. It turns out that I am both a survivalist (Darwinist if you will) and a bit of a coward. Yasmin is an animal lover (vegetarian) who has boundless courage! The dog's owners emerged just in time and after a brief explanation they subdued their hound and let us pass. I have no idea what would have happened had the elderly couple been out that day but one thing is for sure, that dog had blood-lust in its eyes. Never stray from the path.

We managed to put the experience behind us with a nice meal and the next morning we were packed and heading for the border town of La Quiaca. Not much to report there and the following morning we crossed the border to Bolivia. Villazon is a lively and colourful town where the indigenous heritage of the Aymara tribes hits you straight away. There is still the evidence of Spanish invaders but, much more so than in Argentina, the people of Bolivia hold true to their Indian routes. The ladies (Cholitas) dress in colorful skirts, as many as maybe 4 or 5 one on top of the other to give the impression of girth (men think they are more attractive and have more child baring potential!) They also wear bowler hats at slight angles over their thick braided hair. At every turn someone is selling something. Whether it be fresh juice, pirate dvds, hats and jumpers made from pure Llama or Alpaca fur - or the ubiquitous coca leaf.

The leaf is a source of conjecture amongst South American society. Most Bolivians will tell you - usually through a bulging mouth - that the leaf is an integral part of the history of South America and has been used for positive means for thousands of years. This is of course true. However the other side argue that because the derivatives of the leaf are highly addictive drugs that cause untold damage to individuals, families and entire societies throughout the world, it should be illegal full stop. 
On the question of whether the leaf itself can be classed as a drug or not, it s not my place to say. However I can say that I hiked 8km at high altitude with my asthmatic lungs a couple of days ago and found it, well, surprisingly easy!  

Next up, a  four day tour to the Salar de Uyuni.

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