Calilegua: eaten alive by blood-sucking animals

After leaving Tilcara we got a bus to Jujuy, then another to the small town Libertador close to the Calilegua national park. In Libertador we got a collectivo taxi to take us another bit further to Calilegua town, which the guidebook recommended as a nicer place to stay, though when we got there the town’s only little hostel was full. Luckily the same taxi driver spotted us again when driving around looking for people for the return journey, and we checked in to a hotel back in Libertador instead. When we went for something to eat in the evening we noticed the whole town was overrun by one-inch bugs, thousands of them running around or lying crushed everywhere on the sidewalk.

Bus to Calilegua.

Bus to Calilegua.

In the morning we got the one daily bus to the national park, after having breakfast in the hotel while being interviewed by the fairly-drunken staff…“which part of America is Ireland in now again?”… The bus had a nice countryside feel to it, finally limping out of town an hour late packed with people and the aisle stacked high with sacks of potatoes. The road runs through the national park to a couple isolated villages on the other side – we got off at the second ranger station “Mesada de las Colmenas” somewhere in the middle of the park, planning to do a trek from there. The ranger station was unmanned, but a faded map outside suggested the trek should start nearby – we eventually found where it branched off from the road, unsigned except for a fallen-down rotting sign a hundred meters into the trek reminding you not to forget to register… It hadn’t been walked in a while it seemed – overgrown and lots of spiderwebs across the trail kept getting stuck in my face. It was boiling hot when we started the trek, even though we were 1200 meters up, and the trail was a steep downhill, through dense forest covered in epiphytes; bromeliads and even cactus growing up in the trees.

Natural shower in Calilegua.

Natural shower in Calilegua.

At the end of the climb down we came to a small river and a waterfall. The water was cold and refreshing and we were hot and sweaty from the walk – we hadn’t brought any swim gear but luckily I’m Swedish and we seemed to be all alone in the park. We stayed a couple hours by the stream, lunching on tuna, bread and olives we’d packed, before starting the long climb back up (did meet someone on the way actually…). When we got back to the ranger station we started walking back along the road – nice views out over the forested hills in the park but it was boiling hot and now we had less shade…it was all downhill at least luckily. When we got a lift some 6-7 kilometers later we were almost completely out of water, and it was great to feel the breeze in our face sitting on the back of the pickup.

Back in the comfort of the hotel in Libertador I discovered there might be something to be said for not “going Swedish” in the national park – I counted a full 30 ticks sucking blood from my leg! Got a bus back to Salta the next day (…more ham and cheese sandwiches), then a long 20 hour bus took us (minus our contraband apples which were confiscated by an armed guard..) south to Mendoza. The city of Mendoza is a wine growing Mecca, and we had organized to bring with us a genuine Frenchman so we wouldn’t make complete fools of ourselves. Matteo had already arrived from Chile and was waiting in the hostel.

Forest in the Calilegua national park.

Forest in the Calilegua national park.

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