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