Ahh El Bolson — we were so sad to leave you — but the deluxe coach whisked us away leaving no time for regrets.
Eighteen short hours later, we had arrived in Mendoza, Argentinas largest wine producing region well known for its excellent Malbecs. At the first opportunity we were on the bus to Maipu to go and see Mr Hugo about a bicycle to ride around the vines. With our pop-up cycling group made up of us and two Spanish guys who rode on the bus with us, we made our way to Familia Di Tommaso, the oldest vineyard in the area. After a few glasses of red we made our slighly wobly way to the next stop on the tour, Tempus Alba where we shared a bottle of most excellent Rose. We finished the day with a glass or two of Absinthe which was akin to drinking windowcleaner and seemed to sear off our nasal hairs.
With our fill of wine, the following day we rented a car to visit Aconcagua National Park and look at the highest mountain outside of the Himalaya (sadly it was outside of the climbing season, so we were unable to do any hiking). The landscapes on the way were surreal, with striking, sheer multicoloured mountains and cliff faces which photos do little justice. Although the mountain itself was veiled in chilly-looking clouds it was still a mangnificent sight, I am looking forward to another opportunity to return and conquer!
The next stop on our itinerary was Cordoba where we ran into a familiar face! Quite an achievement, we thought, for people so far away from home — Santiago Porter, Nics cousin was in Cordoba doing a series of lectures to accompany his show. It was great to hear a little about his photography work and catch up with him over a beer and a most excellent (the best in Argentina??) empanada.
Cordoba is a pretty cool city, with an excellent craft market and a reminiscent-of-Melbourne bar scene. We definitely enjoyed our two days of wandering around and I am officialy glad to confirm that we will never ever sleep in a dorm room again. Ever.
North, north further north we must go! Another long bus ride took us to Salta which is a reasonably uninspiring and dusty town with two redeeming features
- The Terazza of Empanadas, which is a small group of empanada restaurants surrounding a small courtyard, the empanadas are excellent, so too are the humitas and tamales, we certainly ate our fill.
- The excellent Museum of High Altitude Archaeology which has information about the discovery of the ‘Llullaillaco Children’ offered to the gods more than 500 years ago and due to the conditions on the 6000 meter mountain, they were recently discovered amazingly well preserved along with a number of artifacts.
Keen to leave this place, we boarded a bus and journeyed several hours north to Jujuy which in reality is a much more pleasant place to spend time…we arrived at a time of major indecision but after several hours we did eventually agree to rent a car and continue further north towards the border with Bolivia. We set off along the ‘Routa Nueve’ at dusk and arrived several hours later in Tilcara, where we slept in some pretty fancy diggs — both of us too tired to face mould, dirt, animals or any kind of infestation.
The following morning we were pleasantly surprised by a sweet little town with a craft market in the central square. After a wander around we packed the car and took a road that turned into the bed of a creek then back into a road which ended at a fort and a high country ‘botanical gardens’ which looked to my untrained eye more like ‘a whole lot of cacti’, after some photos we were off again blaring our recently purchased pan pipe CDs all the way up Routa Nueve.
By lunchtime we were in Humahuaca where we were lucky enough to sample our first llama steak…wow it certainly tastes llama-ish! Nic enjoyed it but I was definitely glad that I had ordered a salad. After a short wander around we forged north and veered off the highway just shy of the border, onto a rocky dirt road headed for Iruya — a tiny isolated town precariously balanced on the edge of a steep valley at the very end of routa 113.
We arrived in Iruya in the chilly drizzle, negotiating the steep slippery cobblestones looking for a place to stay, the forlorn look of the town enhanced by a pile of bleeding, salted goat skins. We found a nice room in a hotel full of excited and sweaty men who had just cycled up and over the impressive mountain range, most of whom were being picked up in a 4×4 the following morning (pussies!). After an uninspiringly watery stew for dinner we shuffled off to our toasty room and searched in vain for a cable channel in english and slept like the dead, having our lungs gradually crushed under many layers of blankets.
Thankfully the morning brought sunshine and Iruya showed us that it wasn’t quite so ghastly as it seemed the day before, we strolled through the streets and up to a lookout above the town affording an excellent view of the full sized soccer pitch.
After cautiously checking the depth of the river which had risen during the night, Nic deemed it safe for our little rental car to cross, so back up through the valley we drove, once again blaring our excellent pan pipe music. On our way back to Jujuy (after an obligatory stop at the ‘llama grande’ souvenir store) we stopped off in Purmamarca for one last humita.
Purmamarca is well known for its ‘Cerro de Siete Colores’, or hill of seven colours that sits behind the town. We took a short walking track to admire the amazing colours of the earth, pausing of course to take some photos with a very photogenic cactus.
We had a reservation at a sweet place in Jujuy and were happy to find it clean and comfortable when we arrived in the pouring rain. It really was a terrible shame about the bed bugs. Ugh.
It was obvious to us that there was one glaring omission from our northern escapade, the ‘Salinas Grandes’ are the largest salt flats in Argentina and we had to get there! We boarded an early bus back to Purmamarca and from there went west. In a tiny red taxi.
Yep, those Salina sure are Grande!
Satisfied that we had ticked all of the boxes of the north of Argentina, we braced ourselves for another very long bus ride and shelled out the big bucks for the ‘Cama Suite’ — where the seat reclines 180 degrees into a bed that travels at 100 kilometers per hour. We had the best seats in the house and arrived in Buenos Aires the following morning. After a good session of de-lousing and some delicious cooking lessons with Barbie, for us, it was back to Montevideo.