Off the Beaten Track

Trip Start Jan 17, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Upon arriving in Salta, we immediately felt like we were in another country. The people were darker, the food was different, and the streets seemed more chaotic. We realized that Salta was a foreshadowing of what´s to come for us in Bolivia.

After roaming around the busy streets and exploring the local markets, we decided to get off the beaten track and venture outside of the city into the surrounding province. We hopped on a local bus to Cachi filled with elders who reminded us of Alaskan natives returning to the ¨bush.¨ The bus trip was a long, 5 hour, tedious, nerve-wracking ride through lush yunga (rainforest), along a narrow, windy dirt road, into cactus filled quebradas. This desert-like scenery reminded us of the Southwestern United States.

As soon as we pulled into the small pueblo of Cachi, we immediately felt a tranquility come over us. The cobblestone streets were quiet, except for the random beat up car passing us by or the stray dogs fighting over territory near the town square. After asking a local, we quickly found an open campground and headed up the hill from where we could hear booming music. Apparently, the campground was hosting a wedding party and the dancing had already gotten started. We set up our tent amongst the others and headed back into town to enjoy some local red wine and a parilla (Argentinian BBQ).

If you´re a meat lover, you would love Argentina, especially its parillas. Realizing that we would soon be leaving Argentina, Pete decided that he would ¨eat meat every night¨ since we would not have the luxury of eating it in Bolivia. That night, at the local spot, we ordered The Parilla for 2 (para dos) and were pleasantly surprised when a grill of sizzling meat (blood sausage, intestine, ribs, chorizo, steak, chicken, etc.)was brought out to our table. The soft texture of the blood sausage grossed me out, so to Pete´s dismay, I threw the partially eaten piece to the begging dogs at my feet. I´ve never seen anything gobbled down so fast in my life!

From Cachi we took an early morning bus to Angofastaca, the end of the line. A friendly, castellano-speaking guy approached us on the bus and asked us if we wanted to hitch with him to Cafayate since no buses go there via the windy, dirt road. Cafayate was a town ¨not to be missed¨ because of its tranquility, high-altitude vineyards and red-rock canyons. Pablo, our new friend from Buenos Aires, quickly found a pickup truck that would take us to the next town, Molinos, and from there we would need to hitch again. The ride allowed us time to practice our Spanish with Pablo since he spoke very little English. It was amazing to discover his country together and talk about the impoverished people living in the desolate hills that we passed by.

Eventually, after another hitch through incredible canyons and jagged red-rocks, we pulled into Cafayate as the sun was setting. We were surprised by how many people were zooming by on their bicycles; men, women, children using it as their primary means of transport. We settled in for the night to prepare for a bike adventure the next morning.

The most exciting part of our Cachi-Cafayate trip was our bike adventure. Pete, Pablo and I took a local bus 50km out into the Quebrada de Conchas at 5am and waited for the sunrise to explore the surrounding cayons via our dilapidated mountain bikes. These bikes had been ridden one kilometer too many and our bottoms could feel it. We joked with Pablo about our ¨culos duros¨ (hard butts) as we cruised our way down bumpy Ruta 68. It truly made Pete and I appreciate our top-notch bikes back home. We felt really lucky to be able to afford such nice gear that is not even available down here. Like Cachi, the surrounding red colored landscape reminded us of the American Southwest and some of our favorite lookouts were the Garganta de Diablo (Devil´s throat), a giant echoing chasm, and El Sapo (the frog), a large boulder shaped like a frog.

On the 5 hour bus ride back to Salta, we got into our first bus accident when our driver attempted to pass a farm truck and a pickup truck on a hill. The pickup truck simultaneously attempted to pass the farm truck and ran into the side of our bus which sent us flying off the road into the grass. For a surreal moment, I braced myself as we fish-tailed to gain control. Thanks to some unseen luck or whatever you want to call it, our crazy driver gained control and pulled us back onto the road. We spent an hour at the police station as the driver ¨sorted things out¨ Argentinian style while we gasped in awe at the side of the sliced pickup truck. When we finally arrived back in Salta, we were relieved to have complete the Cachi circuit in one piece. It was definitely a worthwhile off the beaten track trip, but fortunately not too off the beaten path if you know what I´m saying.

Stay tuned for our crossing into Bolivia...

Chau, Ashley
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