Tucuman, Cafayate and Salta: Enroute to Bolivia

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Friday, March 7, 2008

We left Puerto Iguazu to head for the north of Argentina.  We arrived after a pretty long 22 hrs haul.  But, its nothing new to us as Argentina is a gigantic country and we`ve already criss-crossed it 6 times - obviously taking a bunch of time.  Northern Argentina is supposed to be a more poor and indigenous part of the country, so we were looking forward to the culture and also not spending so much on accommodations (Argentina has been more expensive than anticipated) . 
We arrived into a town called San Miguel de Tucuman (Tucuman) where it was raining and continued to do so for nearly the full 4 days we were there.  The town was pretty standard, main plaza with gardens and lots of colonial buildings.  We spent a bunch of time in town basically catching up on 5 weeks of entries and such (people reading this probably already know) and then strolling around the city and planning stuff to do in the city and in the north.
The first day we looked around the city was a day which we planned on checking out the museums, the north is pretty laid back so not a lot of action packed adventures in Tucuman.  We went to this folkloric museum which sucked balls, there was about 2 rooms with pan flutes and drums, naturally we only spent about 20min there.  The second place was a lot better, it was the National Museum of Argentine History - the building was where Argentina declared its independence from Spain.  So, naturally they had a bunch of cool old stuff, chests, doilies and then these 2 huge iron scenes which depicted the independence signing.  The last place we went to had a really old sugar mill used in the area and there was the old machinery outside, but, the only problem was that the museum had nothing inside to describe the machines, so it was a big waste of time (Thanks Lonely Planet, what a great recommendation).
The two things that we wanted to do were to tour the area, which was very lush and green, and to visit the local ruins of a extinct tribe (Quilmes).  The first excursion was to Valle de Yungas, which was pretty interesting - there were panoramic views of the valley and we also visited a Benedict Monk House (an old Jesuit Mission).  Our driver made cracks about some of the monks there, saying that they must be very special individuals not talking to outsiders, retreating to nature and the mountains and only hanging around with men (basically was stating that they were gay).  He actually spent a great deal of time asking us questions about gays in Canada etc too, a rather odd and unenlightening topic for a full day tour...
The next day we headed to a place called Cafayate which was amazing - small, quite, friendly and beautiful.  It is located in a very dry valley where they produce awesome wines.  Along the way we stopped for some dulce de leche pastries and, naturally, mate.  Another attraction we saw was the ruins of an old indigenous tribe, Quilmes (like the Argentine beer) which were pretty neat.  The ruins are in a mini valley and run up the side of the hill.  The area was pretty mismanaged, originally the government owned the land and it has a museum on site, hotel and also shops and restaurants.  But, a few years ago the government transferred a lot of indigenous land back to the natives, now the whole area of buildings for services is flagged off and locked up.  I guess the natives donīt have the money to keep it running which is too bad, but we also heard that the governement may have built these hotels etc over the indigenous cemetaries.  A little history of the Quilmes, they were a tribe that existed along side the Inca, they defended themselves numerous times against attack, but, in the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish they were defeated.  The Spanish sent all remaining Quilmes (about 5000 people) to Buenos Aires, about 1500km by foot.  The trek took approximately 6 months for the natives and in the process it killed more than half of them off.  Now in Buenos Aires there is still a neighbourhood that has Quilmes descendants. 

We finished off our tour by having lunch with our tour-mates in Cafayate.  Our driver had been ranting about this special soup called Lokra which he described as very hearty with lots of veggies and corn etc.  So, we asked for some of that and were sharing it.  I wasn`t really sure what the meat was so I tried to avoid it but inevitably ate some.  Upon closer inspection of all the meat sitting at the bottom of the bowl, we noticed a distinct hollow shape to this meat...it was then that we discovered that in addition to veggies, it also contains intestines.  Fine for some, not for me.  Anyways, the empanadas kicked ass so all in all it was a great lunch.  Following this, we got information for a trip to see the Quebrada de las Conchas and to visit wineries within walking distance. 

That afternoon we visited 3 delicious and small bodegas (wineries), bought a couple of bottles of wine then drank that with some big Argentine beef for dinner complete with awesome live music.  The next day we headed off for our trip of the Quebrada (basically a Gorge) with 4 other people in a 4X4.  The Quebrada was incredible, it has numerous vibrant colours to it (red, green, blue) caused by mineral deposits and also different rock formations.  The entire trip was about 90km return and we saw stupendous colours and wild rock shapes.  Four shapes that stood out included a place called the Windows (Ventanas) which has hole-like shapes that looked like windows, a valley that had bright red colours and different coloured rock layers, one called the amphitheatre (Anfiteatro) which was like a huge, high amphitheatre and the final amazing formation was one called the Devilīs Throat (Garganta del Diablo) which had rocks forming at a 45 degree angle to the ground.  This Quebrada was certianly a highlight of the North for us, very memorable scenery.
We left the next day for Salta, 180km in the north for a quick stop over and then planned to head to San Salvador de Jujuy, more north.  We arrived, got a place then strolled around the central park for a bit then met up with 2 friends from Belgium we met along the way (in Puerto Madryn) for dinner, shot the shit and then headed back to the hostel.  We really didnīt do too much in Salta.  We did however get some essentials like coca leaves (altitude sickness) which are awesome and give us something to chew other than gum, some medicines for cheap and also dried figs.  We left for a place called Jujuy because we wanted to see this hill called īCerro de las siete coloresī (Hill of seven colours) and Lonely Planet suggested it was the best launching off point. But, when we got to Jujuy, we discovered that it was not only a crappy looking town, but it was actually quite far from the hill.  We fortunately met some other friends from Buenos Aires at the terminal in Jujuy who we met in Cafayate that said they were going to a place that was at the foot of these hills (Purmamarca).  Good thing too, Jujuy was a real scuzzy place that I really didnīt want to stay in and Purmamarca turned out to be amazing.

Purmamarca was a really cool town, the hill of the seven colours really stands out from the other green hills around it, the red is from large amounts of iron, green from copper and yellow from sulphur.  When we got up the next day our friends from BA had booked a tour of the nearby salt flats (Salinas Grande), so we went with them.  These salt flats are a lot smaller than the ones in Uyuni, but still were cool.  We were at 4100m above sea level, so naturally we were all sucking on a wad of coca leaves and before we left Sarah and I had a nice cup of cocaine tea (coca tea) - a great way to start your day!! What a kick!  The Salt Falts were incredible, really flat, bright and the altitude made our lips all chapped.  We took a bunch of pics that lacked perspective, like me standing in Sarahīs hand and also me lifting a Volkswagen Gol (I have lots of big muscles).  Purmamarca is at 2200m, so we gained around 2000m in about 45km along a pretty steep hill involving 150 turns.  

When we got back to Purmamarca we ate lunch and then headed for a hike around the hill of the seven colours with our friends.  A little ironic - we started the hike around 5:30pm walking along a path looking at the brilliant colours and wondering where this hill was located.  It wasnīt until arond 7pm that we noticed the hill, last stop of the trail, but, by this time the sun was low and the hill wasnīt lit up.  Naturally this is a big kick in the ass, but, Sarah and I were leaving the next day in the afternoon so we decided to get some more pics of the hill and send those off to our friends.  Meeting them in Jujuy was such a nice stroke of luck as it really made our time in the north much more memorable - Purmamarca was great, the salt flats and the hill were beautiful, and we had just an awesome time together.  Another note about Purmamarca was just watching the kids play together was really different - they play doctor but instead of knocking each others knees or whatever, they run around saying `Who is pregnant!? Who is pregnant!?`.  As it turns out, usually just about anyone who can be pregnant is. 

After a brief stop in Humahuaca where the main attraction is seeing this Benedict Monk statue emerge from the church temple at 12pm (yes, we went and were embarassed to be with such a large crowd awaiting such a lame attraction..).  Once he comes out, he lowers his cross in a blessing motion while simultaneously pointing at you to remind you, yes you, that you are just one great big sinner...or so we think. haha

We were finally on our way leaving our beloved Argentina after 2 amazing and beautiful months of exploring.  We had no troubles at the Border and had one nice laugh as we passed the last piece of Argentine land marked with a giant sign exclaiming `The Malvinas are ours!` (The Faukland Islands)...hilarious is my only comment about that.

Hope you are all well.  Lots of love, Us. xoxo
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