Continuing on with friends Grant and Jules we explored the far North of Argentina and headed towards Bolivia.
Our trusty steeds
(Thanks for the photo Jules!)
The four of us left Salta after an enjoyable week and rode North on Ruta 9 – pretty soon the scenery changed totally and we found ourselves riding through lush green forests; it reminded Hame and me of Malaysia and the road up to the Cameron Highlands. It was also full of bends which made Hame’s day!
(Thanks Jules for the picture!)
See the video below for a dizzying pillion's view!
We rode on into the Quebrada Humahuaca – a UNESCO World heritage area of outstanding beauty. The hills were of every colour and ancient rock formations lined the valley on either side of us.
We arrived in Tilcara and as the weather was warm for the first time in ages, we decided to camp. It may have been up in the high twenties during the day but at night it dropped to four or five degrees – a little chilly but we enjoyed being back in our canvas house! It was good to get back to the asados too!
Flame grilled...or scorched?
Tilcara was once populated by a tribe of indigenous people - mostly shepherds and farmers - until the Spanish came along. The remains of the village - the pucara - were interesting and we enjoyed exploring them.
Pucara Tilcara from above
Tilcara itself was a sleepy town with a large Quechua population and lots of adobe houses.
In Tilcara the four of us tried to make a decision about where to go next. We’d been thinking about the possibility of visiting the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia via San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Hame did lots of homework and got GPS co-ordinates, road reports and fuel information - we decided it would be a good adventure. We planned to ride over the Paso de Jama; apparently the only pass over the Andes which never closes, (ha ha).
From Tilcara we headed to Pumamarca and saw the amazing ‘hill of seven colours’
Traditional farming methods and the seven colour hills
The road wound its way up and up and we quickly climbed to 4100m.
The land was bleak, dry, rocky and colourful. Here and there we passed poeple seemingly scraping a living off the land and farming llamas. We soon came to the Salinas Grandes – a huge salt flat stretching across the plateau.
A gomeria (puncture repair place) on the Salinas Grandes
Grant and Jules remembered a hotel in Susques they’d stayed at before so we decided to break the journey there and head to the Paso de Jama the following day.
The next morning came – bright and chilly with a temperature of -2º. Grant and Jules had decided to ride on to Calama while we checked out San Pedro as they’d been before. They set off about an hour before us.
Bleak, high plateau
It was about 140km to the border across a 4100m plateau with bleak rocky land either side of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold – at one point I was in tears because I felt cold to my very bones. We arrived at the border and tried to thaw out with cups of tea and coca tea, the latter supposedly helps with altitude.
I'd decided to catch a lift over the pass in a truck as I was so cold but as soon as we got our passports out we were told the border had just closed, due to bad weather on the Chilean side. We explained that our friends had just gone across - the border officials told us they'd left 20 minutes before us and assured us they'd soon turn around because the weather had turned nasty and the pass was now impassable.
We were slightly concerned about them but a car load of Chilean officials turned up soon afterwards and assured us Grant and Jules were on the way back. Except that they didn't appear. A truck driver then came in from the Chilean side - he told us they'd continued on to Chile so we weren't quite sure what to think.
We waited for a couple of hours but Grant and Jules still didn't appear. At this point the border guards said they must have got across. Busloads of people began to arrive only to be turned away again and we became worried Susques would fill up and we'd not get a room.
I was still freezing so while Hame rode back I hitched a lift in a Paraguayan lorry with driver Antonio Banderas and co-driver Tom Cruise. I told them I was Madonna and had a lot of fun teaching them to swear in English. In return I was educated in all kinds of South American music and watched Antonio Banderas drive the huge truck with one hand and pass a cup of mate back and forth with the other.
Hame, taken from the truck
I said a fond farewell to Adolfo and Amargo (as they soon admitted their real names were) and promised to buy them some whisky when we got to Paraguay. They'd been really excited when I told them Hame was Scottish - "Ah, whisky!!" they said with gusto. I had a good laugh and enjoyed practising my Spanish. I can also swear well too, now!
We arrived back at the hotel to find it quickly filling up with disappointed travellers all wanting to get to Chile. We kept a room for Grant and Jules but by nightfall they hadn't turned up - we could only assume they'd been lucky and got through.
Hame and I passed the evening and the next day meeting llamas and playing paper planes with Ezekiel, the manageress's son, and talking to other travellers.
Some of the other guests
Hame meets a llama! See the video below
We watched the weather reports and discovered that Buenos Aires was experiencing its first snow-fall for 80 years. Pictures on the TV showed delighted kids jumping about in the snow and building snowmen. It had also snowed in many other parts of the country. The weather reporter was very eloquent in his description of the forecast - "Muy frio o frio" ("Very cold or cold")! Like the rest of the world, Argentina seems to be having weird weather patterns.
The next day we woke to a temperature of -6º and the news that the pass was still closed. We hummed and hahhed about what to do; we needed to e mail Grant and Jules and tell them we were stuck but Susques didn't have internet facilities. It didn't have a lot actually - Hame strolled into town to buy wine and described it as 'Brown'.
Warming up the engine with a llama skin, Susques
We thought about riding back down the hill to Pumamarca where at least there was e mail, or waiting another day... while we were in the middle of deliberating, Carlos, one of the Paraguayans we'd befriended, rushed in saying, "Sus amigos, aqui!" ("Your friends are here!")
We ran out to greet a very tired and cold Grant and Jules - they'd ridden for 110km, found a hell of a lot of snow and ice, fell off a few times and turned round as they saw a storm approaching. They would have had enough fuel to get to San Pedro de Atamcama but they didn't have enough to get back to Susques so they had to spend the night in a shed at the border.
We were glad they were okay and we celebrated by having a glass or two of wine.
The next day the pass 'opened' (however it had been open when Grant and Jules first left, and it was very snowy and icy) but after hearing what it was like from Grant and Jules we decided it may not be the most sensible route to take - lots of snow, ice and two wheels isn't a good mix....
Disappointed, we rode back to Pumarmarca and had lunch. If nothing else we got to ride the hairpin bends again.
More cool bends!
Hame and I wanted to ride North to La Quaica and cross into Bolivia there, but Jules and Grant had had enough of the cold and had decided to cross the border at Yacuiba, a town at a lower altitude where it might be warmer.
We said farewell and made plans to meet in a couple of weeks in Santa Cruz to ride the road to Corumba (Brazil) together.
Hame and I North headed to Humahuaca - crossing the Tropic of Capricorn on the way.
Back in the tropics... or not?
Humahuaca was a quaint - if a little touristy - town of cobbled streets and adobe houses.
Street in Humahuaca
While looking for a hotel a lady stopped us and asked if we needed help. She gave us a few ideas for hotels and then said she owned a bar in town called Tantanukay and that we might like to go later - she handed us a leaflet before saying goodbye. We found a great little hotel that was half-built and had parking for Bertha in the restaurant.
I did a bit of laundry, within five minutes of hanging it out it had frozen on the line! So much for being back in the tropics...
We wandered out to explore the town and ended up at the Tantanukay bar - we spent a great evening eating traditional local food and listening to live music. The lady we'd met, Elba, came and chatted to us - it turned out she was the wife of Jaime Torres, a famous local charango player. The charango is a popular local instrument, like a very small guitar or mandolin.
Traditional music and dancing
Elba and her husband had set up the bar as a meeting place for local musicians and a cultural centre for local traditions. We had an excellent evening - great food, wine and entertainment for eight dollars each - and it was pretty upmarket. It'll be hard to live in an expensive world again...
We stood with about one million other tourists to watch San Fransisco Solano pop out of the municipal building and bless the crowd. Every day he pops out for five minutes at midday - it was quite bizarre!
We left Humahuaca's cobbled streets and headed up to the border, seeing yet more amazing and ancient rock formations on the way.
570 million years ago this was the sea bed...
La Quaica, the border town, wasn't very inviting so we rode West, out to Yavi - a small adobe village with a way of life which seemingly hadn't changed for the last 200 years.
Outside the kitchen door in our hostel
Traditional roof-building methods
We spent a great evening with a family from Rosario (East Argentina) who invited us to stay if we go back that way.
We've come a long way....albeit slowly!
In the morning we finally managed to escape Argentina, after a really fantastic few months. It was exciting to be in a new country again.
Next blog - Bolivia!
Me and Bertha on the road
Em and Hame's big trip... or Hame's beer tasting tour of South America?!
Posted by Emma Myatt at July 20, 2007 06:17 PM GMT
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