Author Archives: Gio&Bert

A page of a hitchhiker’s diary: RN40 the new Route 66

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Crossing the border and leaving Bolivia behind us we enter in a different world with different dimensions.  At La Quiaca, the first village on Argentinean soil, there are signs indicating the distances to diverse Argentinian emblematic cities, the republic’s capital and to Ushuaia, the remotest south point of the country.  Argentina is an enormous country to visit and more than one traveller has spent nights awake figuring out which way to follow.  Well… 5121km is the highest bid on a sign post pointing straight southwards to ‘Tierra del Fuego and  40 is the magic number that will guide you on your quest to get there.  This number contains Scarlet red sunsets reflecting on the surface of small rippling streams, midnight skies spattered with stars and Tyrian purple sunrises over snow topped mountain peaks.  It delivers breath-taking views on glacial lakes at high altitude, endless plane wetlands and deserted dry areas where cactus becomes your religion and every drop of water is a goddess.  40 fusions ancestral, old, modern and futuristic.  40 alternate monumental silence that accompanies a wild barren emptiness with undying machine-driven noise that escorts a steaming metropolis in a sublime way.  Over 5000km of highways, roads and dust tracks are pulled together to connect both outmost ends of Argentina and makes of Ruta Nacional 40 the longest (and if not one of the longest roads) of the world (along with the 3945km U.S. Route 66 and the 2834km long Stuard Highway in Australia).  And the best of all… it is highly hitchhike-able!!!

RN 40

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Partly to make it more attractive for tourists, the road’s itinerary, that runs a staggering 5224km, has been changed over the years.  Till the date RN40 is offering you 14 National parks, 26 National Reserves and Provincial Parks.  The road runs through more than 200 cities and villages in 11 different provinces and transits 5 areas declared world heritage by UNESCO.  It combines 236 bridges helping you over 24 major rivers and an infinite of streamlets and bourns to get to more than 23 salt flats and lakes.  RN40 has connection with 41 international mountain passes to Chile.  Although starting at sea level, the thoroughfare truly breaks records at the lightheaded Abra de Acay, at 4895MASL, as it is the highest point on a national road anywhere in the world!

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While route 66 is a phenomenon and for this became almost a mass tourism destination, this long stretch is still virgin.  It provides infinite range of culture that goes from Inca at the Bolivian border over Diaguita Calchaqui, Kolla, Huarpe-Mapuche and Guarani till even the native Selk’Nam in the remotest north, all of them adapted to the endless variety of Argentina’s climate and landscapes.  RN40 arranges for the explorer an immeasurable fauna and flora of endemic species and they are waiting to be spotted.  The road guides you through the high Andean mountains ranges and low outstretched Patagonian plains both with views that will petrify more than one.  There are bottles of wine anxious to be uncorked and grills with red glowing charcoal waiting at your choice for meat.  And the best of all… there are the Argentineans to be met on the way, conversations ready to be had and experiences to be shared.

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(One of the bizzarest places only findable by hitchhiking: if a car gives you a lift just till the half off the distance and you end up at the godforsaken backcountry …  An empty, taken good care off, pool in the middle of nowhere might be awaiting you.)

Our Recommendations:

  • Plenty of towns and cities to spend the night, as well as plenty campgrounds and open spaces to camp. Organize well the trip as sometimes between two minor settlements might be too much distance to walk (in case you run out of hitchhike-luck). Plenty of food and water and an appetite for adventure are essential.  Large areas of the RN40 have no roadside assistance and no mobile network.
  • Take a public bus to get out of the centre and suburbs of big cities and hitchhike from there on.
  • There are a number of international important sites along this route. Here are some of them: Cueva de los Manos, which contains cave art dating back some 13.000years.  Perito Moreno Glacier at the Los Glaciares National Park.  Take a step back in time and explore the wonderful millennial forest in the Parque Nacional Los Alceres. The Calchaquí Valleys and the multi-coloured Quebrada de Humahuaca in the north.  Wine tasting in wine houses with international fame.
  • The ideal time commitment for most travellers is one to two months. And the best time of the year is from December to March.

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Amaicha Del Valle celebrates Pachamama

22/02/2014

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Remarkable are the moments when you look back in the past and realize you were there in the right place at the right time but even more extraordinary is when you realize it at the very moment.  A quivering of excitement runs through your veins, a strange tickle runs through your spine and ultimately every hair on your skin rises by the overwhelming feeling.  Amaicha Del Valle  is for us this place at that very moment.  We are lucky and arrive at this small indigenous Calchaquí community the day before the locals celebrate and honour Mother Earth.  Pachamama is a concept we have seen along our travel since the north of Colombia getting closer to the border, also in Ecuador, Peru and undoubtedly in Bolivia.

Pachamama is a goddess honoured by the indigenous people of the Andes.  She is also recognised as the earth/time mother and as nature itself.  She is an ever present and independent divinity who has her own liberating and creative power to sustain life on this earth.  She is basically the core of a belief system of eco-social action among the different Andes tribes.

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At the central park San Martìn a pile of stones (Apacheta) that represents Pachamama is attracting more people as the morning grows old and the sun gets higher in the sky.  Primitive rhythms of drums and ancestral chants are gathering the crowd while locals and especially the folklore dressed women make their offerings to Pachamama.  All listen very carefully to the outing of gratitude of what Mother Nature has given them and the wishes they have for the future of mother earth.  Their closeness to the heart discourse is as old as the mountains surrounding us but in between the lines filled with modern, up-to-date ‘climate-change-problems’ and harvest difficulties.  We witness a dialogue between an agrarian community and their land they work so hard on.  Pachamama listens to their orations while she receives the offerings such as flowers, grapes, corn, water, wine and liquors.

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Stands offering local self-made food, homemade drinks and handmade arts are filling the streets around the central square together with music that comes a bit from everywhere.  The famous Argentinean empanadas are made on location and got our attention as we notice that it is the perfect food!  Self-made with natural bio products, a big diversity with chicken, meat, ham and cheese, vegetarian, spicy,… all of them are freshly cooked and last but not least, they are cheap.  Other options are the plenty big barbeques with all kinds of meat, the open grills with tortitas filled with ham/bacon and cheese, salchipapa (fries with sausice) or even the less traditional hamburgers.  Or we can get a full dish at the improvised food court on the local football field with views on a stage where Copleras  give the best of them singing Coplas, popular songs famous for this kind of celebrations.

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Amaicha Del valle might be a snoozing town the rest of the year but now it feels like the centre of the world.  Not only for locals but we notice a respectful attentiveness and participation from other travellers from all over the world.  This hamlet build around a pile of stones covered with offerings is at this very exceptional moment the place to be.

 

Recommendations:

  • Hostal Pacha Kuti  is one of the best we tried during our whole journey. A fine young open minded spirit.  No complications, basic with everything you might need for just 100 pesos per night/person.  Breakfast (with daily fresh home-made baked bread) and dinner included which are just delicious. Sitting all together at the table while eating brings the traveller in contact with others.

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  • There is a museum about Pachamama which gives the visitor a view on a wide spread Andes culture.
  • A bit outside the village (18km) you can find the Quilmes ruins. Archaeologically interesting and naturally beautiful setting.
  • If possible, go when the Fiesta de Pachamama is happening. Be respectful and enjoy every bit of it.

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

An alternative rhumb to Cafayate

19-21/02/2014

It dates back to 20 million years when large stones began to rise at the edge of hard crystalline rocks originated in the Precambrian.  Deep faults in the crust were raising granitic and metamorphic rocks forming a mountain buttress, breaking the sedimentary plaques (older than the Andes) and causing the elevation of an edge pointing to the sky, arming inclined narrow canyons with walls about 20m high.  Bit by bit erosion did its geomorphologic part to leave us with the looking like arrowheads sharpened blades of the Valle de las Flechas as we are driven through this stunning whimsicality of nature towards the heart of the Calchaquíes Valley.  The ‘Ruta Del Vino that starts in Salta is the alternative route we decide to follow, from the village Molinos on a true adventure of hitchhiking-luck to over win the 115km till Cafayate through this valley.

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Most tourists would take the road to Cafayate through the Quebrada de Las Conchas but unlike our itinerary there are plenty possibilities to visit this polychrome landscape with its interesting geological and cultural history.  The self-appointed capital nests in a beautiful landscape, mild climate, fine wines and friendly people.  Being a small but lively modern place, the centre of the province’s eno culture, a crossroad between Salta, Cachi and Amaicha and well foreseen of all type of accommodations, Cafayate is the main tourist base for visiting the valleys.  We find our home in Cafayate Backpackers Hostel where we connect fast with the rest of the guests.  We join their active organizing attitude and on the first evening we get ourselves fully booked for the next two days.

First day we go with a group to Las Siete Cascadas Rìo Colorado some 6 km away from the town centre.  A canyon where Rio Colorado’s crystalline water fall brute on a rocky frame and paints the whole scene with vivid greens.  It justifies the frequent stops for gaping at the viridescent wonder along a trail that goes upstream and connects the different waterfalls.  It’s a labyrinth of tiny paths that are hidden in between the luxuriant riverside all going the same direction, crossing several times the river over, between and under the smoothly polished boulders.  We end up at a waterfall with pool where only the brave will suppress the freezing water. A beautiful hike in exuberant nature shared with hostel roommates and goats that brings our legs and minds back in shape.  We close the day having dinner in a local restaurant on the main square with all the guests of the hostel and with a long discussed discount.

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The second day we decide to go to visit the Quebrada de las Conchas.  This bizarre eroded multi-coloured valley that has recently enlightened archaeological investigations with the existence of a beautiful stretch of Inca road, is located a few meters from the 68 Highway and by this easily reachable with bus, rented car (not too expensive if shared with) or even bike.  This valley is an Eden for the shades-worshiping-photography-lovers, an utopia for geography teachers and a dream for nature devotees.  We like it and more than once we look at each other astonished and overwhelmed by it.

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With the right sensation in our body we say goodbye to Cafayate and prepare ourselves for the next episode of our Argentinean hitchhiking adventure.

Our recommendations:

  • We reached Molinos by bus from Cachi (28 ARS per person) and from there we kept on travelling hitchhiking our way till Cafayate.
  • The Cafayate Backpackers Hostel offers private luxury rooms, dorms and a small campground. It gives a good impression at first and the prices are ok (50 ARS a night/person in dorm) but once paid everything changes. The first day we did not get any bedding, the kitchen is not prepared for backpackers (it was already difficult to cook something for just the two of us) and those paying the campground can’t use the kitchen at all. No hot water, we ask for lockers they said there was no problem but later on it seemed that the staff locks everything in a closet so we can only get to our personal belongings when the staff is working,… and so much more inconvenients!!! Luckily there was an awesome group of travellers with which we laughed the misery away.
  • Cafayate is a big dot on the map of Argentineans wine route so, apart from a wine museum, there are many wine houses to visit and wine tastes to do.
  • We paid 220 ARS for the both of us for a sightseeing tour through the Valle de las Conchas. Many prices are offered so our advice is walking the centre and compare the different options.
  • El Cañon de Rio Colorado or El Cañon de las Siete Cascadas is reachable by feet but go in the morning in order to be ahead the midday heat. Entrance is free. Locals offer their “knowledge” and guidance but try to get more money out of the tourist once halfway. We did realize that following a river upstream does not really require a guide so… be adventurous!!!       
Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Cachi charms heart and soul

15-18/02/2014

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The road serpentines outstretched into the mountains, higher by every turn we take and more abrupt and deep are the ravines just next the by now becoming straitened dust path.  The 160km ride from Salta is an adventure on itself and rewards with a sunset at the 65 620 hectares ‘Cardones National Park which is driven through.  The cactus as old as 300 years are standing tall and proud in an arid silence desert-like scene.  It’s a region where flora and fauna show as singular characteristics as the arid décor they are standing in and delight the eye seems their only purpose.

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We arrive long after the sun finished nightfall, when only a few orange streetlights enlighten what is left of a joyful day in a rural town.  Heavy loaded with our backpacks we stumble from street to street looking for a place to sleep.  Amongst the last living souls we find a friendly youngster indicating us the way to a hostal.  In an orange gleam between the black shades a small door incrusted into a white wall is the gate to heaven and our new home for the next days while visiting Cachi.  This picturesque village nestled in the Chalchaquí valleys of Salta on the east slope of Nevado de Cachi (6380m)whose peak looms only 15 km to the west, is a pleasant place to wander the paved streets with white buildings, to contemplate children playing in the park from a bank while enjoying local goat cheese on a fresh BBQ-baked torta with a wine glass in the hand or even to climb the cemetery for brilliant snow covered mountain views and a panorama of the Calchaquí river surrounded by green valleys.  The hostel feels like a home, the owners like a mother and a father and the other guests like brothers and sisters.

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At night guitars are filling the air with melancholy, stories filling the mind with imagination, laughs filling the heart and the shared love for travel… fills the soul.  Together we make plans and the next day we visit the remains of the settlements of Las Pailas.

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Here pre Incas lived in a community of which, after the passage of flooding rivers, looters and tourists taking “souvenirs”, only the foundations remains, some of the circular tombs, silos and underground irrigation channels.  Only one house, built with rough stones, no windows and a door leading to a side street, was excavated and used as an example of Pailas architecture.  Located at 16km and reached by taxi (100pesos divided by the four occupants) this site located at 3000MASL not only has a cultural interest but is set in a stunning natural landscape where the sound of the river and meltwater streams are the only sound that cut the stillness of the mountain in this inhospitable place.  So we relish the amazing walk back to the village.  That night, with the full hostel ‘gang’, we decide to do some UFO spotting at the, and this is true!!!, ufo-port made by a Swiss guy, who completely lost it!!!  So there we are… some beers, some wine, some smoke but no alien landings.  Even though we did not spot a single UFO it was worth the try as we had a great time under a billion stars sky.

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But Cachi, as small and insignificant as it is, offers even more!  So the next day we decide to walk the streets, up to a viewpoint and from there down to the river and like this back to the town.  Another nice day with marvellous people, adventurous decisions, spectacular views, discovering hidden places where (seems like) no person ever has set foot before.  We have a break in the shade of and old tree, escaping the midday heat aside the river at this very end of paradise… a place God forgot to doom at the moment Eva took that bite of that apple.

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That evening between giggles and howls of laughter we get introduced to three Argentinian legends: the glorious hitch-hiking-culture, the mythical generosity and Argentinian ‘Asado’ which was delicious!

Cachi was a highlight for us as in that little town at that very moment with that very group of persons we feel and understand once more that happiness is to string along with the simple things in life.

Our recommendations:

  • The simplicity of Cachi is heartwarming so walk the streets and get in contact with the people: buy tortas at the corner of the street, purchase fruit and vegetables at the pick-up truck that drives through the village,… be part of it!
  • Hostel Mamanà has cost us 50 pesos a person a night and offers all you need (shared kitchen, shared bathrooms, shared patio, shared BBQ and shared joy)
  • Reserva Natural Las Pailas is free to enter, the taxi cost 100pesos. There are also guided tours organized by locals penetrating even more the archaeological site showing all the features.
  • The UFO port is free to visit… though we can’t confirm if the aliens are asking money or payment for any photography ;-)

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Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Argentina’s outmost colonial: ‘Salta La Linda’

12-14/02/2014

About 100km down from San Salvador de Jujuy on Argentina’s map, situated in the Lerma Valley at 1152 MASL at the foothills of the Andes mountains, we enter after a 2 hours bus drive in Salta, the historic capital of one of Argentina’s biggest and most beautiful and yet less well-known provinces with the same name.  Salta city is becoming a major tourist destination and is the exception in a province where the landscape and nature, rather than the towns and cities, are the main attractions.  Due to its old, colonial architecture (which within Argentina is the best preserved), city museums exhibiting a wide range of artefacts and art works from the native civilizations that flourished in the area (Salta was the southernmost region in the Collasuyu area from the Inca empire), tourism friendliness, its balmy climate, the nationally famous tobacco plantations and the natural scenery of the valleys westward, the city was nicknamed ‘Salta La Linda’ (Salta The Pretty).  Hidden in the south west area of Argentina far away from mass tourism, at 1500 km northwest from Buenos Aires, Salta is not yet over estimating and over prizing itself and for this, gaining points at the touristic scoreboard.  Offering beautiful views such as the 18th century council house, the colourful San Francisco Church, the neo-classical style Cathedral, the Victoria theatre and the ‘9 de julio’ central square it even reminds us of some Spanish cities.

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Salta is also the starting point of the famous “Train to the Clouds” (Tren a las nubes) that climbs to the village La Povorilla at 4200MASL passing through nine tunnels, precarious zigzagging the steep mountain slopes and overpassing thirteen viaducts of which some constructed over 200 meter deep ravines.

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(both fotos from the internet)

We find a nice place to stay offered by a gentle man at the bus station which is not too far out of the city centre and has all the features we are looking for: kitchen, Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms and a cosy collective area with pool, billard and ping-pong, just perfect to get in contact with other travellers. We walk the streets, squares and parks during a few days and have a bizarre kind of sensation of feeling at home while we saunter the pedestrian shopping streets.  Restaurants with recognizable menus, a cinema with up-to-date billboards, a casino and the fashion shops with dresses and outfits we would actually see ourselves clothed with, makes us forget for some instants that we indeed are at the other side of the globe.  Luckily there are some things that are unmistakable so Argentinian that we stay aware of our geological situation.  The first one are the small eateries with different kind of empanadas and other fried or oven baked eat-out-of-the-hand dainties spread all over the city.  As common as the first, is ice cream as each town or city has its own ‘heladerias’(ice cream parlours), open and crowded till past midnight, which offer a wide range of varieties of creamy and water-based ice creams, including both standard and regional flavours.  There are hunderds of flavours but Argentina’s most traditional and popular one is ‘dulce de leche’.  Another indisputable sign is the Friday evening cue at the butcher where meat is sold by kilos and half carcases to prepare the typical weekend barbeques as in Argentina the ‘asado’ is a serious issue and a cultural culinary statement of friendship and pleasure.  Although founded in 1582, garbed colonial Salta fizzes of juvenility and makes it imposible for the traveller not to reside for some days.

Our recommendations:

  • January and February are the months with greatest rainfall. During the spring, Salta is occasionally plagued by severe, week-long dust storms.
  • We paid around 80 pesos a night a person at Hostal Palo Santo and enjoyed very much the ambient as well as the helpful staff.

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  • Lots of different tourist friendly agencies offer all kind of services and activities and are happy on helping you out with any questions or information. Comparing prices will take some time but will be worth the effort.

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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