Valley Calchaquies

Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sucre to Salta was the longest bus ride yet we've done yet, 22 hours including border formalities and multiple baggage checks for coca leaves and cocaine. Although this is nothing compared to the longest bus ride we've heard about, an english guy told us about a trip he did from Cuzco to Buenos Aires, via Lima and Chile, that took 90 hours. Mad dogs and Englishmen, etc. The movie situation on these buses is a bit like Russian roulette with the same psychological endpoint, unless you are an aficionado of the violent law enforcement genre. For example, the four movies we had crossing the border were:
- Vince Jones plays hard cop who hunts down a cop-killer following a series of brutal murders, and does the same unto him
- two Interpol assassins are played off each other by their contractors, discover the plot, team up and then kill everyone
- a mesmerisingly vapid Steven Seagal film where his police unit infiltrates the local neo-KKK cult by getting lots of tattoos and smoking crack (so they would know they were really, really badass) and finally,
- a Kenneth Brannagh film (wait for it) called Ironclad where he plays king John versus a returned crusader in which there is so much decapitation and dismembering it was hard to concentrate on the plot.
Argentina calls for steak and wine, and so in Salta we had our first of many delicious steak meals, accompanied by local torrontes and malbec wines. At a place called Ma Cuisine, run by an Argentinian couple who had spent 10 years in France. It was so good we went the next night with a few imore people from our hostel, and a memorable night followed. It was one of the guys birthday, so this called for a celebration which the Argentinians really got into as well including the chef and a random guy from the next table who came to say happy birthday (we'd been singing 'happy birthday') and clink glasses with us all.
Salta had an high altitude archeology museum, which housed the remains of three child sacrifices found on a nearby mountain. The one we saw was so well preserved it was creepy, she still had perfect eyelids. She had also been struck by lightening at some point and so her face and clothes had been scorched. Apparently, the Inca would select children from nobles around the empire to be sacrificed. They would come to Cuzco, the 'navel' of the Incan empire, and in a very special ceremony two of the children from different regions were married. They were then taken to many of the mountains in the cordillera where they were given chicha (corn beer) and buried, presumably alive. Being chosen as a human sacrifice was an honour reserved for members of the higher classes, usually the most physically perfect and beautiful children, and the whole process was designed to help tie different regions of the empire together by blood.
We diverted ourselves for two precious days (we are running short of time by this stage) to see some local countryside and drop in at Cafayate and Cachi, two picturesque local towns. The tour took in fertile valleys growing tobacco, the green subandina hills and the stark cordillera behind. There are fossils around there, now high up and on an incline (due to tectonic plate action), similar to the fossils we saw in Sucre, Bolivia. We went through a cactus national park at high altitude then went on to Cachi for lunch. Cachi is a laid back colonial style town with all white buildings and colourful doors set in the valley at the dusty foot of the cordillera. It had a church whose vaulted ceiling, pulpit and confession boxes were made of cactus wood (cardon). They make lots of things out of it, the wood is full of holes but looks rather nice. Los cardones are big around Cachi. They live to 500 years, and have three different kinds of spines- white ones to insulate from the cold, black ones to protect it from animals, and brown ones to absorb water (the longer they are, the drier it is). Check out the photo of the giant spine we found!
The road we followed, unsealed and frighteningly bad in parts, was the RN 40. This road (dirt track) runs the whole ~5000 metre length of the country from north to south next to the Andes. This lead us to Cafayate, renowned for its torrontes wine. We didn't do as much wine tasting as perhaps we would have liked, but then again it was 10am in the morning. Some of the landscape we saw was very similar to the red rock canyons and sculpted formations you see in Kalbarri (WA). In this area we saw a natural amphitheater where the Salta orchestra performs once a year. Some of the exposed rock had many different colours: red, yellow, green, purple and grey. In regions around there, you can get photos where each hill is a different colour. For those closet geologists out there, apparently the colours are from oxidation of the exposed minerals and elements (green for copper, red for iron etc). After getting back from our trip into the valleys we got straight on a bus to Mendoza, our stop over on our way to Bariloche and the lake district.
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dino on

Fantastic, am just loving this blog.

oceans7 on

Cheers, Dion! Hi to Ahn and Odin. Missing the moose salami and smoked caviar paste...

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