October 31, 2008 GMT
Riding In The Clouds. October 2008 Update.

Departing from John and Annette’s farm in San Rafael we headed north east to Grl Belgrano passing through San Luis. This ruta has one of the longest straight roads we have ever ridden probably around 100 kms long and reminds us very much of the Nullabor in Australia. Belgrano has a strong German influence and also celebrates an annual Oktoberfest. The weather was superb with warm days and cool nights and the festivities were in full swing when we arrived. We camped at Camping El Rincon under shady trees and an outdoor kitchen, venturing into town in the evenings to enjoy folk dancing on a stage in a large park. With an enthusiastic audience we enjoyed several dance routines from many European countries laughing as we listened to German songs being sung in Spanish. I guess it is the same in Aus when we do them in English. Loud applause and cheering accompanied all performances and we only departed when the cool night air penetrated our summer jackets late in the evening.

German folk dancing in Grl Belgrano

Thermals and mate in Termas del Rio Hondo

Pushing north along Ruta 9 some 500 plus kms we reached Termas del Rio Hondo situated in one of the many thermal areas of Argentina. There were numerous hotels on offer with hot mineral pools to soak away the pains of weary bones however due to the great weather, we pitched our tent in a grassy campground close to town. The thermal pools were popular in the campground as a lot of the hotels had closed their facilities because it was not peak season. The showers at the campground had only one tap .. HOT… and it got very hot with a crusty mineral buildup around the shower rose. Our afternoon in the pool was great fun. A family of four from Cordoba arrived. (Mum Dad, + two teenage daughters). One daughter returned to their hotel room to watch a foot ball match, however the other spoke English and for some hours as we wrinkled our bodies in the warm waters, talked about Argentina and Australia, the similarities, the people and our lifestyles. She patiently translated everything to her parents and also to another couple who had joined in the conversation. We were asked if we had tried the local herbal drink Mate (pronounced ‘martay’). Although we had tried it several times we considered it to be an acquired taste and preferred a good cup of tea or coffee, however the young girl informed us that they drank it sweetened and promptly left the pool. She returned a few minutes later with a thermal flask, their mate cup and metal straw. Sweetened, it was quite palatable and we shared their national drink and wondered if this would ever replace tea or coffee around the world. The girl was also contemplating an exchange student position in Australia and I advised her there is no Mate in Australia and she would need to take a supply with her or become a tea or coffee drinker.

003 Indian Memorial Ruta 307 PA120102.jpg
Indian memorial on Ruta 307

004 Windsurfing and Paragliding Embalse La Angostura IMG_5575.jpg
Wind surfer and paraglider on Embalse La Angostura

005 Downhill ride was great Ruta 307 IMG_5579.jpg
Going down the other side of the pass on Ruta 307 was great

006 Gaucho on Ruta 40 near Cafayate IMG_5607.jpg
Gaucho on Ruta 40 near Cafayate

007 Quilmes ruins south of Cafayate PA140180.jpg
Quilmes Ruins south of Cafayate

008 Complejo Pachamama museum IMG_5715.jpg
Complejo Pachamama Museum at Amaicha del Valle

Searching for entertaining roads and destinations is a great part of traveling and Carol does a great job. Departing T.d.R. Hondo we headed west then north along Ruta 38 passing through lush cane fields. We then turned onto Ruta 307 along a twisting road through a gorge of sub tropical forest beside the banks of Rio de los Sosas. It turned out to be a popular road with the locals as well, who had similar desires to stop and photograph the scenery. Half way along there were markets and a monument to internal wars and lost lives depicting an Indian warrior. The green landscape gradually disappeared and a bare open plain greeted us. A cold wind whistled across a lake (Embalse La Angostura) beside the road and windsurfers along with paragliders enjoyed the blustering conditions far more than we did!!. After passing by Tafi del Valle the road climbed higher over Abra del Infiernillo (Little Hell Pass) reaching the top opposite the peaks of Sierra del Aconquija. I found it a little harder to breath and on checking the map realized we were at 3,050 meters and the body and the bike performed accordingly…( very sluggish).

009 Complejo Pachamama museum IMG_5733.jpg
Complejo Pachamama Museum

010 Vineyard near Cafayate IMG_5750.jpg
Vineyards and cactus near Cafayate

011 Side walk cafes Cafayate IMG_5624.jpg
Sidewalk cafes in Cafayate

012 Town square Cafayate IMG_5625.jpg
Town square in Cafayate

The ride down however was inspiring with undulating curves against the cliffs. As the country opened up large cactus trees edged the road and an inspection indicated the length of these needles was something to avoid. As we headed down onto the plains the terrain became much drier and hotter. Stopping at an YPF garage for lunch we noted a large modern museum. Complejo Pachamama museum at Amaicha del Valle looked impressive and we decided to return later to have a look. We rejoined Ruta 40 heading north to Cafayate following Rio Santa Maria. The road had numerous dips allowing flood run off and made for an interesting ride with the dry sandy land being broken by numerous vineyards, some with very substantial houses. We reached Cafayate with a strong wind blowing and the campgrounds looked uninviting as the sand swirled in the gusting breeze. The guide books as well as many travelers speak highly of this little village and our host at Hostel Shalom was very accommodating and friendly. A covered shed at the back for the bike was a bonus. We walked the streets for a few days checking out the museums and wineries plus had a day trip back to the Complejo Pachama museum as well as the stone ruins at Quilmes. Cafayate, a great little town with many things to see and do.

013 Ruta 68  Cafayate to Salta IMG_5772.jpg
Ruta 68 Cafayate to Salta

014 Colours of Ruta 68 Cafayate to Salta IMG_5867.jpg
Colours of Ruta 68

015 Nice coat Cafayate to Salta IMG_5882.jpg
Nice coat

016 Cathedral on square Salta IMG_6114.jpg
Cathedral on the square in Salta

Heading north we tackled one of the most beautiful rides in northern Argentina. Ruta 68 to Salta, is edged by sand dunes at the early parts then winds its way through a gorge surrounding Rio de las Conchas. The colours are something else and most of the sights have been named with many areas having picnic spots. The day was a cloudy one which made the colours even more pronounced but as we closed in on Salta the clouds dissolved and it rained. We stopped at a bus shelter and donned our wets but by the time we reached Salta it was all fine and dry again. It took a couple of attempts to find accommodation but our final stop was worth it. Hostel Corre Caminos. A great atmosphere with a smorgasbord of countries represented. Safe parking in the courtyard for the bike and staff who were always helpful and good fun. There was also a kitchen where we could cook with free internet and the resident cat, Poncho was also entertaining. Our tyres were starting to look a little bare by this time so we did a bit of rubber chasing in town but ended up contacting Javier at Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires who came to the rescue sending us a set by bus. Meanwhile we did the sight seeing thing covering museums, chairlift to Cerra san Bernardo, markets and a park performance of singers and dancers. The park performance was a real joy however it was not until the show had finished we realized the accompanied band members were blind. The museum (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta) was of particular interest with mummies of child sacrifices tastefully displayed. It was quite moving to see these little bodies squatting, in loosely fitting clothes and frozen in time. It was all too much for one young Argentinean lad who was reduced to tears after realizing this was perhaps a child of similar age who died high in the mountains probably from the cold after having been given beer to dull his senses.

017 Shoe shops everwhere Salta IMG_6120.jpg
Shoe shops are everywhere in Argentina

018 Plaza 9 de Julio and the Cathedral Salta IMG_6136.jpg
Plaza 9 de Julio in Salta

019 Smiling children dancing Salta IMG_6180.jpg
Smiling children dancing in Salta

020 Dancers with band member IMG_6200.jpg
Dancers with a band member in Salta

Having fitted the tyres we headed north this time on Ruta 9 to Humahuaca. The cobble stone streets shook the bike as we entered town and after a short tour settled on a small hostal (Hostal La Saltenita) in the centre of town. Our host was a beaming Indian lady who spoke at a million miles an hour even though we could not understand a word. However despite this drawback we were always able to get the message!!! Humahuaca is a little touristy but we still enjoyed the slow life style and walked the streets into the night enjoying a meal at a restaurant nearby while being entertained by a family band including pan flutes, drums ,flute, charango and guitar. The dimly lit streets on our walk back to the hostel made for a beautiful sight. The most interesting and dominating sight in Humahuaca is the massive Monumento a la Independencia Argentina . A stroll up the stairs looking at the craft stalls and gazing at the sky dominated by this piece of architecture is impressive and we sat for some time people watching and taking photos.

021 Streets of  Humahuaca IMG_6261.jpg
Streets of Humahuaca

022 Monumenta a la Independencia Argentina IMG_6297.jpg
Monumento a la Independencia

023 Cobbled street market Humahuaca IMG_6314.jpg
Street Markets Humahuaca

024 People Humahuaca IMG_6346.jpg
People of Humahuaca

025 Hat and jewelry sales Humahuaca IMG_6350.jpg
Hat and jewelry seller in Humahuaca

026 People Humahuaca.jpg
People of Humahuaca

027 Streets at night Humahuaca PA260131.jpg
Streets at night

028 Our restaurant band PA270212.jpg
Our restaurant band Humahuaca

For a day trip out of Humahuaca we were recommended a visit to Iruya. Leaving early, we tackled the mostly ripio track of around 70 kms over the 4000 m pass Abra del Condor. It was a slow rough road but after the ride we felt we could have done the trip with luggage and stayed a few days at one of the hostels in this quiet village… Maybe next time. Iruya is a very small place, carved into the side of a cliff above a river. We will let the photos do the talking on this one.

029 Top of the pass road to Iruya IMG_6380.jpg
Top of the pass (4000 m) on the road to Iruya

030 On the way down to Iruya IMG_6399.jpg
On the way down to Iruya

031 Still going down Iruya IMG_6407.jpg
Still going down

032 Almost down Iruya IMG_6424.jpg
Almost down

033 Small tunnel Iruya IMG_6444.jpg
Small tunnel on the way to Iruya

034 Ken always has a loyal following Iruya IMG_6449.jpg
Ken always has a loyal following

035 Some are very loyal Iruya IMG_6450.jpg
Some are very loyal

036 Roads are rough and tough Iruya IMG_6454.jpg
The roads are rough and steep in Iruya

037 Iruya carved into the side of a cliff IMG_6467.jpg
Iruya, carved into the side of a cliff

038 Road back was just as good IMG_6475.jpg
The road back was just as good

039 and worth another look IMG_6479.jpg
And worth another look

040 Stone fences and farm houses IMG_6497.jpg
Stone fences and farm houses on the way back

041 Solar power as well IMG_6498.jpg
Solar power as well

042 Graveyard on the way back to Humahuaca IMG_6502.jpg

043 Our ever smiling host at Hostal La Saltenita PA280219.jpg
Our ever smiling host at Hostal La Saltenita

Our planned ride south to Purmamarca and its mountain of seven colours was a windy (as in blow) one and our attempts to find accommodation with secure parking failed so we returned to Tilcara and stayed a very pleasant two nights. A late start down to Ruta 52 passing through Purmamarca again and heading up Altos del Morado at 4170 meters. A great windy (twisty) ride into the clouds and back down again to the Salinas Grandes. Our first accessible salt lake…. We raced out onto the hard surface and noted another motorcycle in the distance. It looked quite close but this environment was very deceiving. We eventually met up and started the silly photo routine. This was harder than we thought but still good fun. The sun was high when we departed and tracked along Ruta 40 and as usual the ripio of Ruta 40 exposed its dark side. The bull dust or fesh-fesh holes were huge and we became expert at detecting them in the distance. Large dust devils or whirly winds spiraled upwards from the track ahead indicating a major deterioration in the road. By the time we reached San Antonio de los Cobros (3775m) we were as white as the track we had ridden. A quick shower and all was good.

044 Markets on square Tilcara IMG_6544.jpg
Markets on the square in Tilcara

045 View from hill above Tilcara IMG_6556.jpg
View of the valley from the hill above Tilcara

046 Ruta 52 west Glad it was not winter IMG_6594.jpg
Top of the pass on Ruta 52 (4170 m). Above the clouds, glad it's not winter

047 Ruta 52 The down side IMG_6597.jpg
Ruta 52 the down side!!

048 Practice for the S de Uyuni IMG_6605.jpg
See, I haven’t put on any weight eating all those asados!

049 Its just so white IMG_6612.jpg
It’s just so white. Salinas Grandes

050 Almost there IMG_6617.jpg
Almost there

051 How its done PA300009.jpg
How it’s done

San Antonio was a very quiet town and was our access point to La Polvorilla railway viaduct on Ruta 51. This section of rail is part of the highest train ride in the world, Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds). We headed out early the next morning but before we left met up with a Swiss family who were doing a reconnaissance trip for a possible bicycle tour through the area. Now that would be a tough ride. Mum was driving the 4x4 with the two young girls while dad would alternate between the 4x4 and the bicycle. Interesting journey. The track out on Ruta 51 was a little vague with confusing signs but after a couple U turns we found our way to the viaduct. Too early to photograph the train on the viaduct we departed, as the condition of Ruta 51 towards Campo Quijano was unknown (map showed as ripio), but our fears of a deteriorating highway were unfounded and the trek south east towards Salta was a great ride following the Rio Rosario to Campo Quijano. It was not holiday season and a lot of the accommodation in the area was closed for upgrades so the campground passed on the way into town looked like a good option. On entering the grounds we noticed small cabins and decided an early start the next day would be benefited if we did not have to pack the tent. Also there were cooking facilities in the cabin and this was always a good option for our budget. Tomorrow we will head to Cachi which to some Argentinean/South American travelers is one of the best rides in the country.

052 Dust signals where the fesh fesh lies IMG_6641.jpg
Dust devils signals where the fesh fesh lies

053 Just a little patch to colour our clothes PA300021.jpg
Just a little patch of fesh fesh to colour our clothes

054 Ruta 51 to the Train Viaduct IMG_6659.jpg
Ruta 51 to the train viaduct

055 We were early train was not late IMG_6672.jpg
Got the photo but too early for the train

056 The track was rough and the weather hot IMG_6674.jpg
The track was rough and the weather hot at 4200 m

057 Our cabin in Campo Quijano PB010059.jpg
Our cabin in Campo Quijano

Posted by Ken Duval at October 31, 2008 12:00 AM GMT

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