And after my Sunday phone call to Mum this morning, I've been trying to cast my mind back almost a month ago to our sojourn in Salta, in northern Argentina. In particular the back-road road trip we'd planned. This was to be one of the highlights of our trip and believe me it did not disappoint. I snapped this shot of Iglesia San Francisco just a few blocks from our accommodation, on our way to dinner our first night in Salta. Beautiful, eh?
|Iglesia San Francisco, Salta|
We spent a day tramping around historic Salta, stopping for coffee, admiring the old buildings. And visiting a couple of museums. MAAM, or the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Salta is famous world-wide for being the home of the child mummies of Mount Llullaillaco, three Inca children sacrificed 500 years ago, and perfectly preserved in the cold, and the thin, dry mountain air. They were drugged with cocoa leaves and an alcoholic drink made from corn called chicha (both of which are still consumed by Peruvians today) and buried, freezing to death as they slept, sacrificed to ensure the continued prosperity of their communities. Mountains were holy places to the Inca, as we were told many times in both Argentina and Peru. Our guide on a tour we took later in Peru told us that these long dead children, from families of high social status in their culture, would have been considered lucky, honoured, to be chosen. It was an arresting and moving exhibit, chilling, even. The narrative of the Incas told through several rooms, culminating in the sealed glass and acrylic sarcophagus holding one of the three children. No cameras were allowed in the exhibit, naturally. Several of the websites I've read cannot seem to agree on the details of the process of this kind of sacrifice, capacoha, as it was called. But you can read about it here and here if you're interested.
|Downtown Salta... Centro Historico|
The next day we picked up our rental car and hit the open road, for what Hubby called our "Curcuito Grande." Our Argentinian back-road road trip. We would head south-west to Cafayate, and then at San Carlos, we'd say good bye to paved roads for the better part of two days. We'd turn north towards Angastaco and Cachi. And then from Cachi head north-east, back to Salta. This was the scene as we headed out of town on the first morning. "Darn. Would the hills be shrouded in cloud the whole way?" we moaned.
Nope. Our luck with the weather was holding. Soon the green hills gave way to the beautiful multi-coloured mountains around Cafayate. And the sun shone in a perfectly cerulean blue sky.
We weren't the only travellers on the road. I love this shot.
We stopped for gas and coffee in Cafayate. Thankfully we had a packed lunch and drinks in our little travel cooler. Because there should be a sign at Cafayate that reads: "Last drink stop for 80 km." And I mean 80 kilometres of unpaved, pretty rugged road. Even for us. And that was just the first day.
|Brick and adobe houses on Ruta 40|
We did see signs of human habitation along the way. A couple of villages with a few houses and a church, like San Carlos. But mostly just small dwellings like this one above. We thought they were abandoned until we spied the dog on the stoop, or a small child in a doorway. Or we noticed an electrical hook-up, like below.
Then the red hills disappeared, and everything became more dry and arid. Less hospitable. We stopped at this cemetery. Obviously the graves are tended by the families of the dead, as evidenced by the wreaths and small bouquets of flowers. But we couldn't help but think of the opulent tombs and memorials that we'd seen in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Argentina is indeed a country of contrasts.
And then the landscape morphed again. Still dry, but now the road twisted between sharp crags that looked like upended plates. It was almost moonscape-ish.
I tried to take a short video of each new section of the road. To give you (and later us) a feeling of actually being there. Of not knowing what was around the next turn. Or when washboard ridges were going to make it challenging to hold the camera steady. You can hear me chuckle and murmur, "Bumpy ro-oad." Some of my videos I posted on Instagram. Some of them I tried to edit out the expletives at the end. Especially when my phone ran out of battery. My editing was only partially successful. Ha. As you can hear.
At the end of five long hours of driving with the air conditioning in the car next to useless, and the windows rolled up tight against the dust and flying stones, with our water bottles empty, and our throats parched, we pulled into the yard of Finca El Carmen, outside of the village of Angastaco. Oh my. Oh my. This was unexpected.
|Finca el Carmen in Angastaco|
Our accommodation for the night sat on a rise looking out over the lush green of Valle Calchaquíes. A literal oasis... or so it seemed to us. Shady trees, cool breezes, a gently rocking swing. I needed to blink to make sure it was real. Wide porches, tiled courtyards. Our huge room with a fireplace and a pitcher of cold drinking water welcomed us.
The site even boasts its own chapel built in 1780. Now how cool is that?
And they served dinner with their own wine made on site. And... and... wait for it... lots and lots of vegetables. Sigh We were in heaven. Especially since we'd been severely veggie-deprived since the middle of February.
After a wonderful night's sleep and a lovely breakfast we hit the dusty trail again. Cachi was a long, slow, bumpy 78 km away. More twisty road, lots of hills. The occasional field of cactus. Some dried up wash-outs.
|Famous Ruta 40 outside of Angastaco|
At Cachi we stopped for lunch. And then turned onto Route 33 for Salta. On pavement once again. Yah. That is until we reached Piedra de Molina, the highest point around at 11,000 feet, and began the long descent down the "Cuesta de Obispo" or the Bishop's Slope.
|Piedra de Molina, a small chapel at the highest point on the road, 11,000 ft.|
Just when we were becoming a bit blasé about spectacularly twisty roads, we encountered this one. A meandering maze of switchbacks, mostly unpaved, pretty narrow at times, and spectacularly spectacular throughout. Ha. It seems I've run out of adjectives, folks.
|The twists of the Obispo Slope|
And so we were safely back in Salta without further mishap. Many kilometers of spectacularly spectacular road under our belts. Some new stories to tell our friends. Some new memories to share with each other, down the road. And one more night in Salta at the very interesting Posada del Angel. We had enjoyed our stay here. A lovely old place, with a small courtyard off the street, large rooms, and old, but comfortable, furniture. We laughed at the jumble of keys that I had to lug around in my purse. One for the room, one for the front door, one for the gate into the brick-walled courtyard off the street. So, one more night in Argentina and then we were off to Peru.
But as all good stories go, just when the hero and heroine feel they can relax. Just when it seems that the plot is all denouement from here on in, there has to be one more plot twist. And for us that came when we were checking out of our hotel. I say checking out, but really we'd checked out much earlier. Our flight for Lima, with a connection to Arequipa, left very, very early in the morning, and the desk at Posada del Angel was not staffed after ten o'clock at night. So after dinner, we packed, paid our bill, and then tried to get a few hours of sleep before our taxi arrived at 1:00 AM.
I was lacing up my hiking boots at ten to one, when Hubby wheeled the bags out into the hallway, and came back into the room to say the taxi was outside. "Okay," I whispered. We tiptoed into the hall. Hubby had the front door open, and I wheeled the bags into the courtyard, waving to the taxi driver who stood on the sidewalk, on the other side of the courtyard gate. Behind me I heard the jangle of keys as Hubby placed them on the desk inside the door. And then, just as I grasped the courtyard gate, I heard the click of the front door closing and Hubby coming up behind me.
"Ahhhh. Don't we need the key to open the gate?" I asked at the very second it occurred to both of us that we were locked in. Well, make that locked in... and locked out. I swallowed a giggle. This was not funny. But picture it. The bemused taxi driver on the outside of the gate. Us on the inside, rattling it. And cursing. And looking stupidly at the closed and locked front door, and the darkened windows of the hotel. Where no one was on duty, I might add. Maybe we could wake up a guest who could come and let us in, so we could borrow their key to get out. We rushed at the door and knocked and banged. The taxi driver tried to ring the buzzer on the wall outside the gate. But we knew there would be no one to hear it.
We could NOT miss our flight. This was the one that we had had so much trouble booking. If we missed this we had to wait another week, or take a flight that flew all the way back to Buenos Aires, with long lay-overs there and in Lima. We were NOT going to miss this flight.Then Hubby began to size up the height of the wall. "Do you think you could manage to climb over, Suz?" he asked. Was he nuts? Didn't he see those spikes on the top? I'm quite sure that's when I began to yell.
"Hello," I shouted, quite quietly at first. Then louder. "We need help. Is anyone awake?" "We need help to open the gate," Hubby shouted. "To get out," I added in case anyone thought we were trying to break in. Lights went on inside and, of course, a face appeared in the door. We were laughing by then. With relief partly. And partly because it was pretty darned funny. A smiling German lady who thankfully had just gone to bed, but not to sleep, used her keys to open the gate. "Have a good flight," she called as we rushed to the taxi, and she pulled the gate closed. We chortled all the way to the airport.
But I'm telling you, people, it might not have been so funny if I had had to navigate the potted plants, scale that brick wall, try not to get impaled on the decorative iron spikes on top, and jump down into the street on the other side. Probably twisting my ankle in the process, and ripping a hole in my favourite jeans. Hubby no doubt pulling a muscle in his recently repaired shoulder, and hitting the taxi driver on the head when he tossed the bags over after me. It just doesn't bear thinking about, actually.
So. That concluded our adventures in Argentina. We went out with a bang... or a clang, more like. We were just over half way through our trip. Still filled with vim and vigour. And Peru awaited us.
But that's a story for another post.
I may wait a week or so before I write about Peru. I've been doing some spring shopping research since we arrived home. I need to do my closet inventory, make my lists. And I'm itching to write about that.
Linking up with Saturday Share Link-up over at Not Dressed as Lamb