Northern Argentina around Salta

Vicunas on a hill

Monday, 10 November 2008, Paso de la Patria, Argentina
We have now been in Argentina for just over 3 weeks and find ourselves liking it a lot. At the moment we are staying in a pleasant little campground right on the bank of the Rio Paraná, looking across its vast expanse at Paraguay. We are travelling with Inga and Maja once again and spent a relaxing day yesterday celebrating Inga's birthday. We decided to stay here for one more day to see how it would be in the campground without the many Argentineans who come here on Sundays to launch their boats or to cook asado - barbecue - which is a national pastime. In our short time in this country we have witnessed what so many have told us - Argentineans love their meat!
As mentioned at the end of our last report, we crossed from Chile into Argentina via the Paso de Jama. To cross this pass it is necessary to climb to around 4800m, almost straight up from San Pedro de Atacama. This is the highest we've been to date. It was a clear sunny day, and the scenery was quite breathtaking in places. It ranged from completely barren hills to masses of yellow grassy growths, both of which camouflage the vicuñas very well, but we still managed to spot some. There are also clear salty lakes with amazing reflections of the surrounding landscape. The pass itself is at a little over 4000m and we reached it in less than 3 hours from San Pedro. The actual crossing went quite smoothly, although we found it all a bit slow. I think that was partly because there were two busloads of Brazilian travellers, but also because it was almost time for a shift change and the workers were thinking more about their long lunch break than the work at hand.
Coming into Argentina the scenery changed somewhat but was still quite spectacular. The mountains became a little more rugged and, as we descended, tall candelabra cacti began to make an appearance again. At some point we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, but there was no marker, so we can't add a photo of that to the other 3. (Since we won't be driving across the Antarctic Circle either, we can't possibly get a complete set anyway!) We crossed the large Salar de Olaroz, then climbed into the mountains again, for the final time, to just over 4000m. The highlight of this particular journey awaited us in the brilliantly coloured terrain around Purmamarca, where we were awed by the 7 Colours Mountains. They really do show all the colours of the rainbow and, late in the day, the sun was angled just right to give us a splendid view. Without the right equipment, the colours don't show in our photos to be as amazing as they actually are, but we have to exercise our memories sometimes. We continued on, by-passing San Salvador de Jujuy, and finally reached Salta after a 10 hour day. Needless to say we were exhausted.
Salta is another place, like Cusco, where travellers like us in their own vehicles tend to stop a while and share experiences. We stayed a week and met some amazing people for the first time, and caught up with some familiar faces as well. We spent a lot of time with Maja and Inga, our German friends who are hoping to soon be resident in Australia, and Carole and Franck, a Swiss French couple who have spent a number of years travelling in Australia and love it. It was very enjoyable for us to spend time with people who have such an affinity for our home country.
As usual, we had a few things to take care of, since we were in a fairly large city. Juergen needed a dentist to have his implant tightened - yet again - but I am very pleased to report that this time it hasn't started to work its way loose again. The truck needed an oil change and a few other things maintained. We had our camper battery checked, since it had been going flat a bit too quickly lately, and discovered that the battery wasn't the problem. An auto-electrician found the problem and repaired it. Apart from these necessities, we had time to walk around the city a bit. It is pretty in places, particularly near the centre where there are lots of trees in the streets, several parks and colonial buildings, some of which have brilliantly coloured tiles adorning them. But when you start driving around the outskirts, it becomes considerably less attractive.
After a week we left Salta with Maja and Inga to drive a circle through Cafayate and Cachi and then back to Salta. Juergen was waiting for mail which we hoped would arrive by the time we returned. The drive to Cafayate was very impressive. The work of nature - folding, faulting and eroding - on the red mountains produced some spectacular images, some of which reminded us of, and perhaps even surpassed, those we had been over-awed by in Utah! Cafayate is the centre of a wine area and a nice little village. We stayed 2 days to experience this pleasant, little town, sampling the local wine, food and, most important, ice-cream. One of the local heladerias actually makes sorbet from wine - a white and a red. We tried the white at least and it was very good, and we heard the red was also. In one of the Bodegas we encountered a couple from California that we had been in contact with for some time. We just kept missing them, although we had tried to meet a couple of times. In the end we met by chance. It was interesting to spend some time with them in person, and share our stories, after feeling like we had become well acquainted by email.
From Cafayate to Cachi was a difficult drive and, although it produced some interesting scenery, it was quite an exhausting day. This area is nowhere near as beautiful as the road to Cafayate, because it lacks the striking red colour but, once again, erosion has produced some fairly spectacular structures along the way. The road is mostly unpaved, at times very narrow, at times winding, and sometimes both at the same time! But the tranquillity of the campground we found on arrival was the ideal place to recuperate. We spent an hour or so wandering around the town but, although it is a pretty little place, there is not much to see. So, back to the campground and relax. We only stayed 2 days because we had things to do back in Salta, but our German friends stayed on to relax and enjoy this peaceful place.
The road back to Salta passes through the Los Cardones National Park which has some of the tallest candelabra cacti we have seen. The road took us up to over 3300m again, and then down a very long serpentine to the main road to Salta. Along the way we were once again impressed by the scenery of bright red, rugged mountains, and the beautiful, red-flowering Cibo trees also caught our eye. It was a much quicker trip than we had expected so, when we arrived back at the campground in Salta, Juergen took the bus to town to try the post office. I expected him to come back empty handed, after our other experiences waiting for mail to arrive. It was a pleasant surprise when he returned with the two letters he was waiting for and also reported that it had taken no more than 3 minutes from entering the post office to receive his mail and leave again. He was absolutely impressed by the efficiency of the service, so if anyone reading this needs to have mail sent to them on the road, we can thoroughly recommend the Poste Restante service we received from the post office in Salta.
The next day we went into the city again and spent the majority of it in the New Time Café, which has quite good WiFi, and they don't seem to mind people sitting for hours at their computers, providing they sometimes eat or drink something. They even provide power points near each table. After regularly using internet cafes, it is sometimes preferable to be able to connect to the internet with your own computer.

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