El Norte Argentino

Well, it’s been a couple of days again since my last update and it feels like we have become bus experts in the meantime… 20 hours from Mendoza to Salta, 20 hours from Salta to Buenos Aires and another 20 hours from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. We are now able to tell you which bus company has the most comfortable seats, which one shows the best movies, which one serves the best food etc. Unfortunately, we have not found the perfect combination yet… In all honesty though, the bus trips in Argentina are unbelievably comfortable when you book “cama” seats (equivalent to business class seats in the plane). We have been sleeping like babies on our overnight trips…

Anyway, we spent about 4 days around Salta in the Northwest of Argentina. Salta is one of the oldest cities in Argentina and has retained a lot of its architectural beauty. It was an important trading post for Argentina long before Buenos Aires had any significance and today it is the main hub for tourists travelling around the Northwestern part of the country. We proudly managed to rent a car despite not having a driver’s license with us (mine is in Switzerland, and Patrick’s was mugged in Mendoza). During the 4 days and 1200km we also gained a better understanding of why Argentina was chosen as a back-up location for the Paris-Dakar Rally… Gee, some of these roads were in pretty bad shape – a lot of sand, gravel, dust but very few houses out there. The scenery though was amazing and we felt it was changing dramatically every two hours or so. Particulary day one struck us as fantastic and at times beyond belief. We left Salta and were driving towards the mountain village of Cachi at 3000m. On the way to get there the landscape was first dominated by agriculture and forests but then we started climbing up a dramatic mountain road (culminating at over 3200m) and witnessed beautiful rivers, valleys, hills and mountains of changing colours (from pure red/brown to pure olive green and with all the combinations you can imagine). The closer we got to the peak of the mountain road the paltrier the landscape and really looked like semi-desert dominated by little bushes and cacti. When we arrived in the beautiful little village of Cachi, we were exhausted from so many wonderful impressions. We felt we had been driving through Zion Natl Park, Mojave Desert and some wonderful hills in just half a day. Little did we know that a landscape resembling Bryce Canyon and Death Valley was just waiting around the corner. So, it was a continued “Oh” and “Ah” for the rest of the day until the sun decided to give us a rest and our cameras ran out of battery. This was definitely one of the most impressive days of our trip and we highly recommend the Valles Calchaquies to everyone travelling to Argentina (just don’t ask how to pronounce it…)

Iglesia San Francisco, Salta

Iglesia San Francisco in Salta

Cuesta del Obispo

Cuesta del Obispo, on the way to Cachi

Quebrada de las Flechas

Quebrada de las Flechas

Cardones National Park

Cardones National Park

We stayed overnight in a place called Cafayate which is also a beautiful little oasis at about 1600m Interestingly, this place is also turning into a major hub for wine producers and the vineyards are at some of the highest altitudes worldwide (up to 3000m!). The region has been predominantly known for a white grape called “Torrontes” but is now also growing Malbec, Cabernet and other red grapes. Again, (thanks to Gustavo’s excellent instincts) we found a nice boutique winery that is producing organic wines of very good quality (http://www.bodegananni.com/).

Anyway, after some winetasting we were eager to continue our trip since we were expecting to see a lot more beautiful gorges and rock formations. This part is called Quebrada de Cafayate and is also beautiful – it’s just that we had been spoiled a lot on the day before… Also, we encountered a little problem along the way – Gustavo had locked the keys in the car…  You feel pretty helpless in the middle of nowhere with all your belongings and essential things like water locked away. However, we did not have to wait for long and Fortuna came to the rescue. The first guy who pulled over was a neuro surgeon from Cordoba and about the 4th car who stopped was able to provide us a piece of wire. So we had the perfect tool and the perfect skills and sure enough after about 45 minutes the door to the car was open (thank god he did not charge us for this surgery!).

Quebrada de Cafayate

Quebrada de Cafayate

Neuro Surgeon Hero

Neuro Surgeon Hero from Cordoba

We continued our trip to San Salvador de Jujuy and from there straight to Purmamarca. Again we learnt an important lesson, a straight line on a basic map does not necessarily mean there will be a straight road. Gosh, not even the most dramatic mountain roads in Switzerland have that many curves. I was sure my driver Gustavo would have blisters on his hands that night… The next 2 days we continued to put the pedal to the metall and witnessed more valleys, hills, gorges, rockformations, altiplanos and little colonial pueblos (Quebrada de Humahuace, Quebrada del Toro etc). However, the one thing that fascinated us most was the Salinas Grandes, a very large salt flat that was amazing to see under the wonderful blue sky.

Cerro de los Siete Colores

Cerro de los Siete Colores, Purmamarca

Salinas Grandes

Salinas Grandes

After our return to Salta we continued our trip to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately we had to make this detour, so Gustavo could collect his temporary passport at the Swiss embassy. Of course it was also a good opportunity to enjoy the good food and wine again in the capital. That night we had a wonderful meal at a restaurant called “Manolo” in San Telmo. Oh my God, the bife de lomo was to die for and thanks to Gustavo we also enjoyed some more bottles of good wine.

It was good to get out of Buenos Aires soon because the shopping there is just too tempting (also thanks to a continuously depreciating currency). We restricted ourselves to a few CDs (of course we had to buy Gustavo Cordera) and books and then caught the bus to Puerto Iguazu.

The arrival in Puerto Iguazu felt like a coming home. For the first time on this trip we had real tropical climate with lots of humidity, so it really reminded me of Singapore. Otherwise it is interesting that the town of Puerto Iguazu is actually quite small despite the Iguazu Falls being one of the major tourist attractions in South America. Well, we found out that most tourists stay in the fancy hotels between town and the falls and only the backpackers stay in town, that’s why it is so quiet around here. We spent one day walking around the different trails of the Iguazu Falls. And yes, they are truly spectacular even though the water levels are relatively low right now. I guess it’s the magnitude that is truly impressive – I have never seen so many waterfalls in one spot and the setting is just splendid! Was also positively surprised that we could actually take a swim in the river, not to far from the Falls. The water was nice and warm and I felt like in the Fish Spa in Singapore because as soon as you held still in the water there were dozens of little fish picking your skin…

p1010997Iguazu - View from Garganta del Diablo

After travelling around Argentina for exactly 2 months it is now time to say goodbye as we will be heading to Brazil tonight. Argentina is a wonderful place with lovely people (except for the sucker who robbed Gustavo in Mendoza), great food/wine and an unbelievable diversity of landscapes. I do not regret a single day spent here and highly recommend it to anyone planning to travel to South America!

Hasta la proxima

Adrian

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