Under the Searing Salta Sun

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Instead of heading straight from Cafayate to Salta on the main highway we naturally opted for the back road through the Valles Calchaquíes to the small desert town of Cachi. Once again we were on our old friend RN 40 (the longest road in Argentina - some 4,000 km), which of course meant a corrugated gravel surface and lots of dust, but the incredible lunar landscape with its wildly distorted stratified rock formations was well worth it. Along the way we stopped to explore some of the small oasis settlements and visit the picturesque churches which offered a cool sanctuary from the blazing mid-day sun. This was an area where the Calchaquí Indians offered stiff resistance to Spanish rule, and were only subdued by genocidal military campaigns and forced relocation to the viceroyalty capital of Buenos Aires. The productive lands along the river were eventually lost to the vanquished indigenous people and were absorbed into the large land holdings or 'haciendas' awarded to the conquistadores by the Spanish crown.

The shady sites of the Municipal campground in Cachi gave us some relief from the late afternoon heat, but unfortunately the swimming pool was still undergoing repairs before opening for the season. Wandering around the tree-lined plaza and cobblestoned streets in the evening we enjoyed the sensation of the rapidly cooling desert mountain air - at over 7,000 ft altitude the temperatures drop dramatically once the sun is down. Against a backdrop of gathering storm clouds the facade of the 18th century Iglesia San José and the arches of the colonnaded Cabildo stood out in stark simplicity and seemed to reflect the tranquillity of this restrained desert town. Dinner at a local restaurant consisted of empanadas, stuffed peppers and a tasty goat stew - accompanied of course by a glass of local 'vino tinto'.

The next morning we climbed higher into the arid puna and made our way through the Parque Nacional Los Cardones with its endless rows of candelabra cacti standing guard over the desolate high plains. At 10,500 ft dense clouds rolled across the peaks of the 'Cuesta Obispo' (Bishop's Hill) and we soon found ourselves enveloped in an eerie, swirling mist which obliterated the spectacular panoramic views for which this pass is famous. Eventually we dropped precipitously down the winding curves and hairpin bends into the verdant valley of the Río Arias and joined the paved RN 68 heading back into civilization and the cosmopolitan city of Salta.

Although Salta has the reputation of being Argentina's best preserved colonial city, our first impressions on visiting the centre were not very favourable. It seemed that the commercial development of a busy modern city had mostly overwhelmed its historical heritage, and we were struck by the shabby appearance and the noise and bustle of the urban environment. Maybe we were tired and hot or just in a bad mood that day, or maybe it was all the students tearing up their notes and scattering them like so much litter around the stately plaza in an orgy of post-exam enthusiasm. However, when we revisited the centre after dark we came to really appreciate the impressive beauty of the floodlit Cathedral, Cabildo and surrounding churches and particularly the vibrant energy of the Salteñans enjoying the balmy night air of their lively city.

Back at the extensive Municipal campsite the huge swimming pool was being prepared for the summer season just beginning. Depending on who you talk to, the pool is either the largest in Argentina, or in Latin America, or maybe even in the whole world! It is certainly an impressive size - about 400 yards long by 100 yards wide and apparently holds some 6 million gallons of water - and takes about 9 days and nights to fill. The day we arrived the final clean up and painting was taking place prior to opening the flood gates. Five days later it is still only about half full but teeming with boisterous holiday makers and festive students starting their summer vacation.

So why are we still here after five days? Well, one of the "joys" of travelling as we do is that a few chores that might take an hour or two at home can be a full-time occupation here for several days. As you may have gathered over the last few episodes of Travelpod, finding a good mechanic and hustling up the right spare parts can take a matter of days or even weeks. In Salta we had three tasks that we thought we could accomplish in a day or two....getting the muffler fixed (yet again); filling our propane tanks; and arranging for our flights home towards the end of January. We won't bore you with all the gory details, but we can assure you that we have not been idle during our stay. Suffice to say that our muffler now has some sturdy new brackets and is very firmly attached; our propane supply is good for another month or two; and our air tickets have been issued. Perhaps the most interesting experience (i.e. read frustrating!) was with the travel arrangements. After finally having found an extremely good deal on a new Continental flight direct from Buenos Aires to New York, both we and the travel agent were astonished to learn that we could not pay by credit card as the system had not yet been set up - necessitating daily trips to the ATM until we had sufficient wads of pesos to pay the bill!!

Meanwhile, back at the campsite we took advantage of the ever-deepening pool to cool off from the fierce afternoon sun, and exchanged stories about life on the road with two young Germans and two French couples. Tonight we are off to a concert by the Symphony Orchestra of Salta, followed by dinner on the plaza at an outdoor café. Hey, it sure beats shovelling snow!!
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frankandrita on

First to comment - again
Well, I soon found out that I had not read your latest post. Missed it the first time I looged on. ANYWAYS, now I know the answer to my question, 'where are you now ?' And, yes, it sure beats shovelling snow !
Cheers from Almonte, Frank and Rita

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