Last Days in Argentina

We ended our six-week sojourn in Argentina with a few days in very small towns near the border with Bolivia. It was sad to leave our road-trip buddies, Johnny and Ellen, who could have been horrible company for four days in a small car, but ended up being totally awesome people. Whew! We heard of some road trip horror stories, so I’m glad we dodged a bullet there.

Craig wasn’t very enthusiastic about our fourth road-trip day, but I LOVED the cactus forest we passed through. You can’t really make it out in our pictures, but in the distance, there was a huge expanse of densely packed cacti. Yeah!!

Our next stop after resting for a day in Salta was Humahuaca, a very small town at 2,940 m (9,645 ft). Luckily, this time we had fewer problems with the altitude and Craig experienced only some mild headaches, while I was left with just a bit of fun constipation. Considering how sick we’ve felt at times on this trip due to altitude, I feel like we were let off pretty easy. Another bullet dodged.

Meadows surrounding the lookout for Sierras del Hornocal.

 

Humahuaca had a very Andean feel; they had llama empanadas and a much more indigenous population. Such a different experience than further south near Buenos Aires, where almost everybody looks European, but it still feels familiar for us since we’ve been through Andean Peru and Ecuador. Women in skirts and sweaters, men with ponchos and huge gaucho (cowboy) hats, snippets of Quechua… I can’t say I exactly missed this Andean feel (and I’d better get used to it now we’re in Bolivia), but it’s kind of nice to feel like you’re in familiar territory.

The highlight of of our time in Humahuaca was a trip out to the Sierras del Hornocal, a breathtaking rock formation about a 45 minutes’ drive from town. It can easily be done with a rental car, but since we didn’t have one at our disposal, we hired a truck to take us there. When it came, we were told we’d have to sit in the truck bed, since the cab would be full.

Me and my new hat. Oh and that spectacular rock formation in the background.

 

“Well, we get to pay less, right?” we asked indignantly. I have no problem with riding in the back of trucks anymore; nobody wears seat belts anyway and you just kind of hope everything will work out fine and you won’t end up squished on the side of a dirt road, but paying a lower price just makes sense. After sorting out the money issue (we saved about $4 USD by sitting in the back, woohoo!), we headed out. I can’t really describe the Hornocal–it was insanely beautiful–so just enjoy these pictures that Craig took. I wish we had left town about two hours before sunset so we could have gotten better light, but it was still worth all the trouble.

Sierras del Hornocal.

We then decided to head to the little town of Iruya, a rough three-hour drive over a 4,000 m (13,000 ft) pass called Abra del Cóndor, which had no condors, but was quite beautiful. Our guidebook describes it as “one of Argentina’s most amazing drives”, but… it was all right (maybe I’m jaded). Still, Iruya was a really cute town, despite none of its restaurants (none!!) opening for dinner until after 8pm. One of the joys of traveling that I won’t miss.

Abra del Cóndor. No condors.

One day, we took a hike to San Isidro, an even smaller town 8km away. We heard it’s the only indigenous community in Northern Argentina that allows visitors (information not verified), but to be honest, Iruya didn’t feel all that much different. Craig and I also don’t feel like the trek itself is worth it after a certain point. Once you’ve followed the river bed to the end of the canyon in which Iruya is situated, and then turn left for about another kilometer or two, the views become uninspiring and mundane after that. So I’d just say turn around there, or explore the other side of the canyon; San Isidro is a long, dusty haul and even if I hadn’t slipped on a rock and fallen into the river, I probably still wouldn’t recommend hiking the whole way out there!

Iruya. We stayed at Hostel Asunta, which was great and extremely cheap.

On the entire 16km hike, we had company in the form of Rolf, the stray dog (I named him). About 10 minutes into the trek, he found a dead, dried out carcass of something or other and proceeded to rub himself into it. So our dog-for-the-day then smelled awful for the rest of the trek, which was a considerably long time. Next time you entice a stray dog to follow you for seven hours, make sure he stays away from dead things.

Just a boy and his (smelly) dog, taking a lunchtime rest.

Hiking to San Isidro.

By the time we made it back to Iruya, Rolf looked pretty beat. We were impressed with his stamina; and with all the running around he did, I’m sure he traveled at least twice as much distance as we did. We rewarded his loyalty with some of our packed sandwiches, and he seemed happy enough.

Rolf waiting patiently with us while my boots dry out after a dunking in the river.

The border crossing into Bolivia was relatively uneventful, and I’m happy to say we crossed over with only about 37 Argentine peso ($3.70 USD), since the exchange rate is really terrible here. Nobody wants Argentine pesos, not even Argentines, and especially not any of its bordering countries.

So here we are… about to embark on a grand Bolivian adventure–the last country of our trip. Only six weeks left until we take a flight back to the U.S., where I will gorge myself on fake cheese and Ruffles. But there’s a lot to do in the meantime (including spending Christmas with a Bolivian family), so we’d better get to it!

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