Village hopping in northern Argentina

Iglesia San Francisco in Salta.

Iglesia San Francisco in Salta.

Salta is quite a nice city, lots of old colonial architecture, and still very hot even though it’s at 1200 meters altitude up in the mountains – not as humid as the area we left behind though. Teresa organized to finish her trip and go home, and me and Edel looked into visiting some of the cloud-forest reserves to the north. The El Rey park was difficult to get to this time of the year – one person we talked to explained that we’d need to rent our own 4×4 and then continued on to explain the safest way to cross a high river without getting the car swept away… Remembering something we had seen in Tibet Edel talked some sense into me and we aimed to get to the slightly more accessible Calilegua national park instead, after first heading to visit a couple villages up in the mountain desert.

Before leaving Salta we went to a museum set up to display the mummies of three children found on 6700 meters altitude on a mountain nearby, sacrificed by the Incas. Incredibly well preserved, as were the number of small offerings left with them, made of gold and colourful seashells and feathers from every corner of the Inca empire.

Pigeons at the Salta plaza.

Pigeons at the Salta plaza.

We didn’t have much luck with food in Salta, while it is a big city the cuisine in parts of Argentina can get a bit repetitive…little but pizza and sandwiches on most menus. Ham and cheese is a particular obsession..you get ham and cheese sandwiches on every long bus you take and in restaurants ham and cheese gets put in absolutely everything..even a side of potatoes can arrive at the table covered in the stuff. A lasagna I had in Mendoza some week later in fact was nothing except ham and cheese..in layer after layer. Edel did manage to find one place in Salta prepared to cook seafood, though the pyromaniacs in the kitchen turned her squid into something reminding me of the Cape Horn sailing book I’m reading at the moment, where the starving sailors start eating old leather anti-chafing gear from the ship… The guidebook did list a couple alternative places, but the one lebanese and two vegetarian restaurants we tried to find had closed down (maybe burned down by the same pyromaniac?). Fruit is so hated that we even had an armed guard confiscate our peaches, apples and plums on the Mendoza bus a while later! (maybe something to do with Mendoza being an important wine-growing region?)

Cactus by the Pucara ruined fortress.

Cactus by the Pucara ruined fortress.

From Salta we headed for Tilcara, a cute little desert town of adobe houses at 2450 meters altitude. It is domestic tourism high-season now and many places were full when we got there. We walked off in a random direction from the bus station, and after checking a couple places a young boy spotted us on the street and led us to his mums house where we could rent the basement floor for three nights. Tilcara offered a nice break from the monotone food we’d been eating for a while recently, with some lovely restaurants serving creative quinoa dishes and even real vegetables!

Purmamarca town.

Purmamarca town.

In Tilcara the first day we went to the Pucara ruins – a pre-Colombian fortress on a hill just outside town, overgrown by tall cactus. The ruins are dominated by a huge pyramid – built in the 1950’s as a monument by the early archeologists to celebrate themselves! The following day we hopped on a bus further north to another small town called Humahuaca at nearly 3000 meters – popping north of the Tropic of Capricorn on the way for the first time in three months. Humahuaca has a nice town square with an old church, and a gigantic modern independence monument up on a big hill. We picked up a couple things on the market in town, and had some good empanadas before heading back to Tilcara to catch a different bus south to a third town called Purmamarca.

Hilltop concert.

Hilltop concert.

Purmamarca sits at the foot of “Cerro de los Siete Colores”, a series of multi-coloured hills behind town. We were on the way down after taking some photos from the hill when we were hijacked by a group of Argentinians who were doing an improvised concert up on the hilltop – they got more and more people to come up and join them and after a while there was a good crowd sitting up on the hill, playing guitar and drums and sharing paper carton wine, Argentinian songs and Manu Chao. We had thought they were a band at first but apparently they had just met earlier that day! Lovely spontaneity…

Cactus by Purmamarca.

Cactus by Purmamarca.

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