Posts Tagged With: Border Crossing

The Quebrada de Humahuaca, welcome to Argentina.

8-10/02/2014

Bolivia was great.  A lake as large as an ocean with a culture as old as the hills, a city fusing modern and ancestral, as dense as an anthill, mountains as high as the sky covered by eternal snow, mineshafts so deep they descent straight to the abode of the spirits of the dead and a salt desert from outer space will travel with us for the rest of our lives.  At Villazón, on the bridge over the river with the same name that separates the two countries, we leave Bolivia behind us and enter Argentina in the republic most northern village, La Quiaca.

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From there we take the bus and drop 160km down on the map to the village of Humahuaca at 3012MASL.  The rugged topography of this area determines distinct climatic zones: during the day recorded a high temperature (38 º C), while at night it can drop considerably (-10 ° C), varying according to the season.  Humahuaca has a colonial look and with its narrow cobbled streets with lanterns stolen from middle age fairy tales and adobe houses, is it worth a walk through.  The fragrance of ‘tortitas’ (flat round bread filled with cheese or ham, or both, or not) freshly baked over red glowing charcoal and the aroma of big chunks of meat roasting on improvised barbeques float at nose-heights throughout these alleys.  Cute little squares cheered up by youngsters playing music for a few coins are dispersed through the centre of the town.  At the church there is daily a celebration showing typical dances in emblematic clothing on the rhythms of folk music and ending with the twice-told ‘Carnavalito de la Quebrada de Humahuaca’.  A wide staircase brings the visitor at the feet of the ‘Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia’ which offers, apart from some history knowledge, a beautiful view over the whole area.

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 During the meeting held on 2 July 2003 in Paris, France, the Andean valley that stretches for 155 kilometers in northwest Argentina, obtained a unanimous vote of the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, who described the landscape as a “hereditary ancestral system of outstanding features”.  The Quebrada de Humahuaca possesses a cultural itinerary from over 10000 years.  Its trails are walked by different indigenous ethnic groups and continue to hold religious beliefs, rituals, festivals, art, music and farming techniques that are a genuine living heritage.  With this declaration, UNESCO is committed to support the education and sustainable development of the area as well as the preservation of the culture of the native people.  So we can state that in this region the traveller is brought into direct contact with the roots of Hispanic America, amid a landscape of valleys and ravines where indigenous and Spanish cultures merged.

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Astonished by the surroundings we feel the need to lose ourselves in the rough environment which locals are so proud of and that presents a landscape flowed through by the river Rio Grande and climaxes interesting archaeological sites framed in colourful hills.  It’s a day where a minute counts an hour, lukewarm feels hot and where a Sunday afternoon stroll turns into a daylong hike.  The views on the ravine edging the horizon as far as we can see are amazing and the wildly growing endemic vegetation with its tiny flowers has an interesting beauteous.

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We liked every inch of Humahuaca with the open hearted being of the gentle population and adored the nutritional change as we adventure ourselves in a country that brags about culinary supremacy… as the matter of fact we couldn’t imagine a better entrance in Argentina.

Our recommendations:

  • Besides the Quebrada itself, there are more interesting sites and spots around Humahuaca than first expected: the archaeological ruins of Coctaca, Uquía, Peñas Blancas, Chulín and in the city, the Independence Monument and the Regional Archaeological Museum,…
  • Humahuaca is an outstanding location for travellers with time to perambulate the North-west corner of Argentina.
  • For travellers traveling towards Argentina from Bolivia, use the banks and ATMs (most have the option for Bolivianos or dollars) to obtain dollars. As in Argentina changing a dollar on the street gives you about 25 till 45% more value for your money. Big notes of 50 and 100 are getting the best rate. Look for the right rate at twitter (@DolarBlue) or on the internet comparing the many websites.  The same story for those traveling with euros (max 200€ notes!).  We noticed that the change offices at Villazón offered a very good rate.  Humahuaca as a small village does not have good opportunities to change dollars.
  • We find the food on the streets from very good quality and with the ‘blue dollar’ change exceptionally cheap. Tortitas at 10 pesos… try it and be prepared to be amazed!
  • Different hostels are to be found in the centre of town at fair prices. The real backpackers-deal is to take advantage of the possibility that people offer.  Some of the locals rent rooms in their homes and give the traveller the opportunity to be part of the family.  We met our lovely host lady as we got out of the bus.  She explained her proposition and paid the taxi to her home.  We paid 25 pesos a night a person (around 2.25 euros) in a room for the two of us, a bathroom to share with the other 3 rooms (also travellers) and a kitchen where we cooked together with the host family.  It’s almost unnecessary to tell that instinct and a feeling of trust are very important here.

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

Tupiza, hiking the Inca Canyon in Bolivia

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04-07/02/2014

Born around the year 1535, nestled in a valley alongside the river in between precarious mountain slopes, hidden from the cold high altitude wind and settled on the ancestral grounds of the Chichas tribe, the village of Tupiza is a short pause on our travel schedule.  It’s a town with a relax atmosphere and rural ambient where nice and friendly are a daily obviousness.  After an overnight bus ride, coming from Uyuni, we arrive very early in the morning.  At 4 0’clock no hostel opens their doors for us so we lay down our camping mat at the bus station and sleep till the first ray of light resuscitates the life in the streets.  Fast we find a nice hostel with a cosy indoor patio that offers us a private room for the right price.  Tupiza, as many of the villages in the area, outcries the lost grandeur it once had as a miners paradise.  Great buildings showing off majestic towers with diverse architectural features at the town square expresses a past of welt while decaying with the passing of the time.

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And still, settled at the shore of the Tupiza River, the village did not fade away in time did not turn into a ghost village as many others did.  Agriculture took over from mining activities and could maintain the small population.  This area has rich landscapes with gorges, canyons and valleys that makes you feel like being in a western movie and a high but small mountain pass and bizarre rock formations amplifies the effect in settings such as those found in the Valle De Los Machos and the Inca Cañon.

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Popular and a great attraction are horseback excursions made to the hypothetical tomb of the legendary bandits Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, in the neighbour village San Vicente.  Another important tourist attraction of this town is the ‘Fiesta De Reyes’ to be held in the district of Remedios January 6.  Walking through the centre we become aware of the unwinding ambient here as trifling markets with vendors having time for a chat and a laugh meddle with happy children running on the streets and passageways and as young and old friends in the shade of carefully well-trimmed trees come daily play some kind of local billiard at an almost forgotten little square.  It feels good to see how simple live can be and how happy it can make people.

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Talking with the locals they tell us that there is a nice hike to do in which we can appreciate the full range of bizarre vicissitudes that erosion offers.  First the adventurous hiker walks the old railroad, then a turn to the right leaving Tupiza River behind him to pass through the ‘Cañon del Duende’.  El ‘Cañon Del Inca’ as a hike is not difficult but rather a long resistance test on the human body as both the solar radiation and the dry hot breeze brings you to your limits.  Once passed the Puerta Del Diablo (gate of the devil) where the sun high in the sky, shining luminous on the rocks, highlights the almost Valentino-red colour of the canyons but does not offer much shade to cool down.  Tower high cactus and some local thorn armed bushes are the only vegetation able to make it through the summer.

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With the devil left behind, scenery of incredible rock formations beautifies the abruptness of the ‘Valle De Los Machos’ as the hiker keeps on penetrating the purgatory.  A bit further the soil seems moist, and moist changes into wet by a hairbreadth and some few steps further wet becomes a tiny flow.  This micro river continually absorbed by the dry and thirsty soil grows by ever footstep the hiker advances into the narrowing gulch and ends up into a minor but very welcome cascade at Inca Canyon.  Clothes are taken off and a fresh shower in the canyon with no other soul around is a priceless reward for doing this hike.

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Our recommendation:

  • Hostal Pedro Arraya is a nice place to stay, close to both bus- and train station and the centre of Tupiza.  It has a small kitchen for you use but closes quite early on the evening (20:00hours!).  A good internet connection and comfortable rooms and dorms (without lockers) to spend some nights.  We paid 35 Bs a person per night in a private room.  The hostal offers tours and tickets for transport to the border.
  • The Cañon Del Inca trail is beautiful and cost nothing. Be aware to take enough water, suncream, food, …
  • For travellers heading for Argentina, use the banks and ATMs (most have the option for local bolivianos or American dollars) to obtain dollars as in Argentina changing a dollar on the street gives you about 25 till 45% more value for your money. Big notes of 50 and 100 are getting the best rate. Look for the wright rate at twitter (@DolarBlue) or on the internet comparing the many websites.  The same story for those traveling with euros (max 200€ notes!).
Categories: Bolivia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador: a new country, another story.

27-28/11/2013

Time flies by and standing here at the border we have a month of Colombian beauty stored in our memory and a bright Ecuadorian future in front of us.  The border crossing is easy and fast at both sides and very tourist friendly at the Ecuadorian side.  At the border control we find an improvised tourist office with in formation and maps from the whole country.

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Here we take, together with the German girls, a taxi for 3,5$(per ride) to the bus station of Tulcan and together we take the bus to Quito.  They get off at Ibarra and we get off at Cotacachi (2418MASL) where we are hosted by Holger, a friend of a very good friend of me.  Holger guides as a bit around in Cotacachi and invites us on ‘humitas.  This Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times is in Ecuador prepared with fresh ground corn with onions, eggs and spices that vary from region to region, and also by each family’s tradition. The dough is wrapped in a corn husk, but is steamed rather than baked, toasted or boiled. Ecuadorian humitas may, not in our case, also contain cheese. This dish is so traditional in Ecuador that they have developed special pots just for cooking humitas. Ecuadorian humitas can be salty or sweet. In general: very tasteful and savoury.  We talk a bit about everything at the humitas diner.  We make the plans for tomorrow and go to bed early to have a good night rest.

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The day in Cotacachi starts early so after a fast breakfast we are ready for the road.  Together with the wife of Holger we go her work: The natural reserve of Cuicocha, containing the Cotacachi volcano. At 3100m altitude there is a path of 14km long marked at the very edge of the crater.  It is the first time on our trip we feel the altitude affecting our physical conditions, this is a friendly welcome from the 7000km long Andes mountain range.

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Ascending the ‘Las Orquideas’ trail for about 350m does force our hearts beat to go faster and the respiration get tougher.  We make several stops to enjoy the view, popping out of the morning mist, and to recuperate from the physical effort.  The day awakes when greyish mountain shades turn into every colour nature contains and while we walk high above the side of the lake, the many different birdsongs around us seems to receive us happily in their splendid habitat.

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At noon (because 14km walking takes a while at these heights) we hitchhike back to the village.  A truck brings us to the central place just in front of the local ‘comedor’, a roof covered terrace with several daily menus to choose out.  Different chefs shouting their best dishes at sharp prices make it difficult to choose. And the worst part of it is that we are not familiar yet with the names of the dishes neither with the Ecuadorian way of cooking.  So we chose what sounds the best… and get: first some Indiana Jones soup (mine of blended liver and Giorgia apparently had chosen the lung soup) and then a first class rice with chicken (we are lucky here that it isn’t the legs or head) for 1,75$ each.

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Cotacachi is small but cosy. This city even holds UNESCO medal for being free of illiteracy. In 2000 the entire canton was declared the first ecological county of South America.  So nice to spend a day of wondering around and for those who like shopping, it is the place to buy leather goods.  Handbags, jackets, leather pants, bracelets or ever just the leather itself are exposed in vitrines in a range of colours.  We enjoy the village and go late home and are already asleep before our host arrives at home.  Again an early day in north Ecuador as today we go to the market in San Luis de Otavalo at 2250MASL(or simply Otavalo), the largest indigenous craft market of Ecuador (of whole South America some say).  From every corner from the country sellers come to the ‘Plaza de Ponchos’ or ‘Plaza Centenerio to sell their colourful merchandise.

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We can find literally everything here.  Bracelets, earrings or necklaces and other ornaments, food, drinks, snacks and even a kind of caramelized bug, there are all kind of first hand or second hand typical handwoven clothes, toys, garden tools, kitchen electronics, alternative medications and even enchantment powders, car replacements and tires… you name it and if you look long enough you‘ll find it.  It is an everyday happening but Saturday is the day to be and Sophia and Lara where thinking the same obviously as we come across with them in one of the many streets full of stands.  We have a nice lunch together and split up again for the shopping.  We have a hard time bargaining prices for the many presents we buy for our families but finally as the time passes by the prices get a bit lower and closer to our budget.  So after a day of discussing prices at the local and touristic market at the same time, we sit satisfied in the bus back to Cotacachi.

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A first positive impresion… so pleased with our new destination, we pack our backpacks to continue the trip to Quito, capital of the republic.

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Our recommendations:

  • If possible, try to combine your visit to Cotacachi at the annual fiesta of San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo, also known as ‘Inti Raymi, or the “Sun Festival” in Kichwa, in late June.  Definitely worthy we think as there are many different ceremonies and a parade that sometimes degenerates into a rock-throwing expression of hostility between members of the indigenous Kichwa tribe and the mestizo majority population that co-exist uneventfully throughout the rest of the year. The ritual is a temporary enactment of social upheaval via the symbolic storming of the city, remembering ancient rivalries.
  • There are many trails to discover and there are no entrance fees
  • To and from Cotacachi everything is easy to plan as busses are regular and just cost 1$ for each hour of bus drive.
Categories: Colombia, Ecuador | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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