Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Andean Northwest

Town Hopping
The second leg of Argentina

I spent a pretty chill week traveling through the valley to 4 small towns in the Northwest of Argentina. The culture was influenced by Incas and differed greatly from Buenos Aires. Also, here I was forced to use my Spanish which was a challenge, but manageable.

Colorful layers of sediment as we bussed through the valley.

Town #1: Tilcara
After 4 hours bussing north of the major city, Salta, I reached Tilcara with no place to stay and no map of the town. Hmm..... what to do? Luckily I found a nice French couple with a map and so we grabbed a a quesadilla-like item from the street ladies, a nice meal and then asked around for hostel recommendations.

At the hostel, I met up with another lone traveller, Tanya, an Aussie living in Spain. So, we hit up the town and the surrounds together. Tanya was fluent in Spanish and had spent a lot of time in Argentina, so she explained many things to me.

Hiking through the gorge to a waterfall.
It was dry season.
Cacti everywhere!
Stunning scenary on the desert mountainside.
The main drag of Tilcara.

Overall, we spent 1.5 days in this town. We found it a little dead, and a bit too touristy, so we moved onward.

Town #2: Pumamarca
I headed out early to the neighboring town, Pumamarca, 1 hour away. Immediately, I enjoyed the liveliness and character present that was lacking before. I hit up the visitor's center who recommended a nearby guesthouse.

There, the lovely owner, Chulita, explained to me in Spanish the following - "priest, noon, fake, metal, south of church, must see, blessing, everyone, go to church after." What? Am I hearing this right? I need to see a fake metal priest at noon for a blessing with everyone then go to the church after?
Yes! I arrived just in time to get the blessing from the metal priest in the town square.
Town steps

My solo hike to the montanas blanca (white mountains) outside of town.

Tanya and me at our quaint guesthouse in Pumamarca.

Tanya joined me for an evening in Pumamarca. She woke up early to see me off to the next town. Thanks Tanya for a fun time exploring these Andean towns together!

Town #3: Iruya
This town is the most north and secluded. It's often a stopover for those heading onward to Bolivia. But alas, no Bolivia for me this time.

En route to Iruya at the highest altitude of the pass (4,000+ meters).
So windy!

It was a ~4 hour windy ride on dirt roads, but absolutely stunning. We also seemed to pick up school kids and drop off people at seemingly random locations where there was no house or life in site... who knows.

We made it on the local bus!

Overlooking Iruya, a town embedded in the mountainside

My Guide fixing the San Isidro sign

Right when I arrived, I wanted to hike to an even smaller town, San Isidro, 2 hours out. However, I was advised not to go solo. Also I had no idea  where the town was or when the sun was going to set. So, I got a local guide to walk with me for ~$25.

Baca (cow)? Donde? On top of the moutain?
What in the world?!

On our hike back, we encountered a cow herder. Here is the conversation that ensued in Spanish:
Cow herder: Have you seen my cows?
My guide: We saw a black one.
Cow herder: I should have 16 cows. I only have 14. Have you seen a brown one?
My guide: Only a black one.... look! There is a cow over there.
Cow herder looks on top of the mountain (in the pic above), sighs and starts walking toward it.

How that cow got up there and how the man was going to get up there and where the lost brown cow went .... I'll never know.

Hiring a local guide was great because 1. I was giving her employment, 2. It was like getting a private 5 hour Spanish lesson 3. definitely got an inside view of this town life.

FOOD in the Andean Northwest
As the culture was different in the Andean mountains, so was the food. It was my favorite region of cuisine by far.
I was instructed to open them like gifts.They were little packages of deliciousness.
Locro: my favorite dish of stewed beans and llama meat topped with green onions.
Perfect for those cold mountain nights.

Narrow cobblestone roads of Iruya

Three ladies conversing in the morning in the streets

Many tourist come for just the day and leave. I stayed the night in a family home and got to observe the real life of the locals in the late evening and early morning. I really enjoyed this town. It was probably my favorite. It wasn't the most beautiful with spectacular sights, but it was the most secluded and untarnished by outsiders.

Salt Flats!
I was adamant on making it to the Salt flats, Salinas Grandes. After much inquiring, I finagled my way via a group tour from Salta ... in Spanish. When the tour guide picked me up, he was said my Spanish was good and that's fortunate because I am the only non-speaking Spanish person. Well, it can't be as bad as the all Chinese speaking tour. Here we go!

The salt flats were incredible and vast!

Town #4: Pumamarca
The Painter's Palate
Walking around town, I saw gorgeous shades of color on the mountainsides. Imagine all the history in these rocks!

Salta: the main city in the Northwest

I spent my last day in Salta, which is a lively quaint city. Even though it was vast, most of the main sites were walking distance around the city center.

Marching band in the town square
I'm not sure what the special occasion was.
Walking around town I saw many old colonial buildings like this one.
Contemporary Museum of Salta
This was one of my favorite museums! It only cost 2 pesos (50 cents). I wrote on this board "No dia pero hoy!" (Anyone know where that is from? :) )

Iglesia in the town center

Food market
This was my favorite local place to eat. Lots of food stalls (tamales, empanadas, etc) and fruits and veggies. All super cheap too!

Liz and me in our Salta hostel, Los Siete Duendes (7 Dwarves)

I met Liz in our family guesthouse in Iruja. Tanya had reserved a room for me at this hostel and then I reserved a room for Liz. Always great meeting fellow travellers.

Liz and I explored Salta together. She had just finished the semester studying in Cordoba, another major city and gave me more insight to Argentina.

View of Salta

On my last half day, I took in a city view from the furnicular. Then I took the local bus to the airport, though it seemed to weave through unpaved neighborhoods and the driver stopped at a local bodega to get food and then a house to maybe warm it up? Then I saw the airport passing by in the distance. Eh? Apparently the bus does not go into the airport like it does at LGA or LAX. So, I practically jumped out of the bus and trekked the half mile along the road into the airport.

Off to Iguazu Falls, my final leg of Argentina!
 seemed to detour into unpaved neighborhoods and we stopped at local houses.

1 comment:

sharock said...

salt flats looked amazing. you ate llama?