12th – 13th February – We finally leave Salta after returning here following our visit to Parque El Rey. We are heading further north now on Ruta 51 from Campo Quijano. This dirt road will take us all the way to the remote mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres and then to the Salinas Grandes. We have been told this route is quite spectacular.
Our route begins through very green and forested hills, following the railway line of the ‘Tren a los Nubes’ (Train in the clouds), the 4th highest railway in the world which reaches an altitude of almost 4500m at the Chorrillos Pass, with many tunnels, hairpin bends and viaducts along the length of its journey.
As we climb higher, the landscape becomes drier and more rugged with forests of giant Cardon cactus and unusual rock formations and colours.
Snow capped peaks appear in the distance and at over 3000m the air is pleasantly cooler.
The river here is almost dry as we arrive at San Antonio with identical, little box houses in rows, presumably for the mining community and single storey, mud brick houses lining the dusty track.
Just outside of San Antonio, the altiplano provides grazing for herds of llama. Many have coloured wool tied in their thick coats.
We find a flat area just away from the road at the foot of a small, rocky hill and with spectacular views. The late afternoon sun on the mountains was beautiful. This is where we will spend the night. At 3500m we are already feeling a little breathless and do not do as well as the llamas……but we survive the night!
As we head further north the dirt track often disappears under water from recent rains.
Unusual, flat plants with minute white flowers grow everywhere and Salinas Grandes appears as a thin white strip in the distance amongst huge, snow covered mountains.
Still heading north to Tres Morros – 3 hills amongst a remote landscape. The first and largest hill has an ancient and very interesting cemetery on the top and from there the views stretched to the horizon under huge skies.
The second hill was said to have the remains of an abandoned mine but as we drive closer to look at the little white church, we are greeted by barking dogs and discover people living there. A little boy with sunburned cheeks comes running over and clambers up to look through my open window. He is fascinated by our steering wheel on the right.
The third hill is the smallest and simply has the remains of some mud brick buildings with guanaco grazing nearby.
We reach Ruta 52 and go west for a short distance. This tarmac road will continue to the border with Chile as well as passing through the Salinas Grandes. A huge, gleaming lake of dazzling white with areas of shallow water, melting into the horizon. Extracting the salt is big business and lorries and diggers are busy piling it into mounds, whilst many people are walking some distance out on the salt flats.
We head east now on Ruta 52 for Purmamarca, through mountains of many colours from the different mineral layers.
The small town of Purmamarca sits at the foot of the stunning ‘Cerro de los Siete Colores’ (Hill of 7 Colours) and is full of colourful craft stalls and shops and many backpackers and coaches. The main square has the little white Church of Santa Rosa and the whole town was declared a National Monument in 1941.
We don’t stay long in Purmamarca but continue to San Salvador de Jujuy where we hope to find camping and a hot shower. Surprisingly, there is no camping to be found in this town and so we make the decision to return to Salta via Ruta 9, a slow and twisting journey, but through a very beautiful green area with hills and mountains completely covered in thick forest and which reminds us of Parque El Rey.
14th – 16th February – Valentines Day and we have a very nice meal overlooking our favourite Plaza in Salta. The Cathedral, Basillica, Museum and many other buildings are all lit up, the square is crowded with people, and guitar playing and panpipes serenade the restaurant tables. There is a relaxing atmosphere and a feeling that we could be in any European city.
We get Moby power washed, find Mann oil and air filters, antifreeze, grease and oil…….what are we going to do without these superb YPF garages! We had a snack inside their cafe, so clean, the toilets too and with doors that shut! Such friendly staff, they even turned the football on for Bill on the overhead TV.
We return to the campsite for our last evening after a busy day. Mounted police and others on foot still patrol the grounds but they are all very friendly. There are less people here now but the swimming pool is still very full due to the hot weather. We however, have a very nice quiet spot, well away from the busy area. Quiet, except for a guy singing his heart out, sitting on the pavement in a small road alongside the campsite. We are not sure if he has had too much to drink or is just feeling very emotional but the more he sings, the better he gets and many of the residents in the road applaud him! The home made ‘waffle’ man comes to see us again with his bicycle and box of waffles. He is visibly disappointed when I turn down his offer of waffles covered in strawberry jam and topped with dulce de leche!
Our last night however, was not so peaceful. We are woken in the early hours by guys shouting, a whole crowd of guys in fact and we seem to be in the middle of where they are converging toward the campsite fence where there is another large gang also shouting, out in the street. Stones start to be thrown and we can see this gang warfare getting nasty! Where are all the policemen when they are needed? Fortunately it isn’t long before sirens are wailing and blue lights are flashing inside the campsite as well as out on the road. We notice police walking about with shotguns. It takes a while for everything to quieten down and we are unscathed, but I suppose things could have been different.
17th – February – Today we will be beginning our last couple of days through the northern Jujuy Province toward the border with Bolivia at Villazon. We have decided to give Chile and the Atacama a miss for a number of reasons but high on the list is that we don’t want border hassle or our vehicle impounded (remember the ‘right hand drive’ saga earlier), as we have heard that has happened to other travellers. We have seen such spectacular landscapes and places in Argentina to last us a life time and there will hopefully be more to see in future countries. So having made our decision we take the road back out to San Salvador de Jujuy and find camping at El Refugio in Yala, a few km outside this main town.
18th February – Happy Birthday Will. We hope you have a great day!
We had thunder and lightning with heavy rain last night and it is still raining this morning. How lovely though to have cooler weather. We continue on Ruta 9, low cloud and mist hanging over the wide river bed, ribbons of brown water flowing through it, otherwise dry. We cross the Tropic of Capricorn at Huacalera……. the last time we crossed this we were in Namibia.
Argentina -2013 Namibia – 2006
A huge llama made from stones advertises a large, indoor craft market, but only the large clay pots catch our eye, none of these are of course practical!
We find a quiet little campsite at Humahuaca, conveniently situated within walking distance of the town. The main Plaza is dominated by the huge Monumento a la Independencia with a native Indian raising his arm in celebration of freedom, but there are also craft shops, the Cathedral and the unusual Municipalado with its clock tower.
19th February – A fine and sunny day as we leave Humahuaca for the Bolivian border. We pass spectacular painted mountains near Tres Cruces……..El Espinazo del Diablo.
By early afternoon we reach the Argentine border at La Quiaca and have no problems with our exit. We will take with us, many wonderful memories from this spectacular country, not only from its incredible landscapes but also from the many Argentinian people that we have met. We are sad to leave but a new country awaits. We have covered 10,425 miles since leaving Uruguay.