Multicoloured mountains and angels with guns!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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day tripping

Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Sunday, December 27, 2009

We had considered travelling northwards from Salta to stay in some of the mountain villages. This is possible by public transport, but the buses are irregular and infrequent so we decided to take a day trip from Salta which meant that we would see more in a day than we would probably manage in several days hopping on and off buses. Part of the roads we followed is actually Ruta 40, the Panamerican Highway, technically running the whole of America from Canada into Argentine (although a lot of it here is pretty bumpy!)

We were soon into the Quebrada de Humahuca, a valley known for its stunning multi-coloured mountains.  The different layers of minerals laid down in this sedimentary rock over thousands of years, plus the movement of the land, has created a huge variety of fabulous colour and pattern. Added to this, the different types of rock have eroded in different ways creating stunning shapes and textures.

In the very wide and very flat valley, there was some vegetation and some of the land was farmed.  However, on the hillsides and mountains very little was growing apart from thousands of giant cactii, Cordones. They apparently grow at the rate of about 8cm a year and many are a couple of hundred years old. The flowers generally open in the evening and then only for about four hours and then die. But we did spot a few in flower. The fruit are edible and where many cactii are growing in an area, archaelogical remains have often been found, indicating that maybe people have been eating the cactii fruit here and the seeds have passed through them or been thrown down. Whatever the reason for them being on the mountains, it is quite surreal to be in such barren areas and surrounded by cactii twice your own height or more.

We stopped in several small villages during our journey, all of which consist of traditional adobe buildings. Mud is mixed with grass and formed into large bricks which are left to bake in the searing sun for 7 or 8 days. They are 'cemented' together with more mud and sometimes they are then covered with a plaster-like layer of (you guessed it) mud.

Another interesting feature of the local buildings is the use of cactus wood for furniture, doors, fences, panelling in churches and anywhere else where wood may be used. It is much harder than we imagined cactii would be. the green stuff is just a fleshy outer around the hard interior and the wood has lovely patterning from the holes made by the spines.

In all of the villages there were local people selling all manner of woven, knitted, carved and pottery items. These all have a very Andean style to them and are quite different from crafts we have seen elsewhere in Argentina. Tempting as it is to start buying, we reminded ourselves that we have to carry everything for another six months and there will be lots more stuff on the rest of our journey!

Just north of one of these villages, Tilcara, we arrived at the tropic of Capricorn. Having crossed this twice in Australia, we couldn't miss another photo opportunity, especially since this one also has a giant sundial which creates a shadow along the Tropic of capricorn on a certain day of the year. (One of you will tell us what day, I'm sure!)

Eventually we reached Humahuaca, around midday, and stopped at a restaurant which seemed geared up for tour groups. The usual thing - a set meal for a set price. We explained that we were vegetarians and we were amazed when they produced the best veggie food we have had during our time in Argentina! We had very tasty lentils & quinoa ( an Andean grain), locally produced goats cheese with herbs and olive oil and a main course of quinoa 'risotto' with a wide variety of fresh vegetables and lots of herbs - it was delicious! If they can manage it in remote mountain villages, why can't they manage it in the towns?

Lunch over our driver handed us over to a local guy to take us on a tour around the town. Apparently there are a huge number of children in Humahuaca and as part of their education they learn local history in order to become tour guides. Others are trained as musicians and craftspeople. Hence, as soon as a car arrives at the village, it is greeted by someone out of nowhere - first to the car gets to be the guide! Of course, a tip is expected at the end of it, which is a bit frustrating when we've already paid for our tour, but on the other hand, the local children are actually learning something in order to contribute to the community instead of begging from tourists, so it seems fair enough.

On our route back from Humahuaca we stopped at a little village called Uquia in order to visit the church. Here the walls are adorned with pictures of angels weilding guns called arquebuses. Apparently these were painted in the 17th century by painters from Cuzco in Peru. The angels are wearing Spanish clothing of the time but of course with wings because they are angels!

Our brief stop in Jujuy was very different. This is a much bigger, more modern town with not a lot to detain us other than an oak tree grown from a piece of an oak tree from Basque town of Guernica and a statue entitled 'Liberty' which was apparently banned during the time of the military regime because the top half of the woman is nude!

On the outward journey, our route as far as Jujuy was fairly uninteresting on a rather boring road. It was therefore a lovely surprise to go home from here via a winding little road through hills covered in sub-tropical rainforest. It was quite breath-taking and such a contrast to the very colouful yet very barren land we had seen further north.

Eventually we reached the outskirts of Salta where hundreds of people were bathing in & picnicing by river. It seemed a wise thing to do on such a hot day, but this was not part of our itinery!

We got back to the hostel hot, tired and mentally exhausted but quite pleased that our Spanish, whilst still far from fluent, has improved enough to conduct most of the day's conversations with our driver and two fellow travellers in a foreign tongue!
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grindrodkaz on

hey we have started reading your blogs together ..... and our combined comments are - one hell of a day trip, very Peruvian altho also reminds me of Cuba

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