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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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 ;-)