Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Tilcara, Argentina: Friends, Hiking, Llamas, Salt Flats, Hitchhiking and Cooking

Upon waiting for my bus from Salta to Tilcara I met 2 awesome Argentineans making the same trip, Mauro & Ale (Alejandra). Mauro had actually wrote to me on Couchsurfing to meet up in Tucumán. I utilised their local skills for the hostel search. They walked into a few hostels to scope out prices as well as the office of tourism for the locations of the hostels, general prices and a recommendation. We eventually found the best hostel which was also one of the cheapest. I immediately recognised a French guy, Arthur (say that again in your head but with a French accent), he was in my dorm room for a night in Salta and we had toured the city centre together. We all formed a little family that was 4 Argentineans, 3 French and 1 terrible Spanish speaking Aussie (me).

Tilcara is a very little town with less than 6,000 inhabitants in the province of Jujuy which borders Bolivia to the north and is surrounded by the province of Salta on all other sides. Tilcara sits at about 2,500m above sea level, the beginning of my altitude acclimatisation. The locals are very traditional selling crafts on the street, raising lamas and are definitely decedents of the Inka empire not European. However, I was here for the nature, ever since an Argentinean girl in Bariloche told me about this place nearly 3 months earlier and showed me photos of Siete Colores (7 Colours) and Salinas Grandes (Salt Flats) this place was on my must see list.

That afternoon I had a lunch and beers with Mauro before checking out the local markets. Argentina is a reasonably cheap country but this region is crazy cheap for food. Afterwards we had a big family dinner with beers. The dinner was a lama (llama in Spanish, pronounced Yarma in normal Spanish and Chjarma in Argentinean Spanish) stew with lentils and vegies. It cost all of us about $1.50 each and I went back for 3rds with my plate.

Alexia, Mauro, Ale, Arthur, Mathieu, Agustina, Carli & I
The next morning we got up early to for our hike to Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat and a less impressive version of Iguazú's Garganta del Diablo). It was a long hike and we must of reached 3,000m in altitude before descending into the stream of the waterfall.

A Brazilian guy joined the family

My happy face


Our Break with the Flag of the Imperial Inka on the ground.

I'm there somewhere

This one is not so fake. It's a sloped cliff with little rocks and cacti hanging out.

Enjoying the Spray

During the hike I ran into 2 Argentinean girls, Marianela & Cande (renamed to Mary and Candy) that I shared my dorm room with in Salta after Arthur, Mauro also knew them from a trip in Salta... Small World! On the way home we stopped in at a lady's house/outdoor restaurant for lunch. This is where I tried Quinoa for the first time (it's a traditional food here not some new health fad). I had Quinoa by itself, Quinoa & Cheese empanadas and Quinoa and Cheese tortilla. Lunch was followed by the long walk home passing some of the biggest cacti that I have seen in my life.


The Oven and the Chef behind me.

Size Matters

This night would be pizza night, again costing us less than $2 each for as much pizza as you can eat. We made the dough ourselves (by we I mean the French & Argentineans). Beers were still the standard price of around $1 for a 1 litre bottle so we spent more on alcohol than food every night. We ended up at another hostel for dancing where we requested the Macarena (I actually never really realised it was in Spanish until this night)... I also became a pole dancer.

The next morning we were up early to get a bus to Purmamarca for the day, we were now a group of 9 with another Aussie joining us. We explored the very touristic town centre before some of us headed off for a much bigger hike in search of the best view for Siete Colores... We found it!

The non-touristic back streets

Amedeo (new aussie), Mauro, Brazilian guy, Arthur and I.

Quebrada de Siete Colores
After finding the best photo spot Mauro returned to find the girls while the rest of us continued our hike getting higher and higher. The different colours and formations were pretty impressive.

Don't act like you're not impressed

We took the short way down by going through a crevasse with sliding rocks. It was good fun but could have easily turned to disaster.

The very top of the crevasse. Some parts were quite vertical.

After returning to the village of Purmamarca I found Mauro, Agustina and Carli. Lucky for me they hadn't left to the Salt flats yet. We also met an awesome American couple Becca & Alex. The 6 of us went to in two taxis to Salinas Grandes, the 3rd largest salt flats in the world. The drive there was amazing reaching altitudes of over 4,000m. This would be my first time surpassing 4,000m.

4,170 Metres... My record at the time... before the car drove a bit higher. This marks the level of the Salt Flats not the highest point.

The winding road to the right.

It was now time for the Salt Flats. This was a practise for me as my plans were to visit the world's largest salt flats in Bolivia a week later.

Aussie in a Bottle!

The girls are small in Argentina

Meditating Mauro

Agustina on Traditional Argentinean Transport

Had to be Tried... Interesting Shadow

Agustina & I Shadow Dancing

After our photo shoots it was time to return to Purmamarca but not without a bag of salt for the Asados. Mauro decided to stick around for small music festival while Agustina, Carli and I decided to Hitchhike back to Tilcara. This would be their first time hitchhiking in their life and my first time hitchhiking in South America. We received a lift from a guy in a camper with a dog named Heineken. He happened to be from the same town Agustina & Carli were originally from.

Hitchhiking!... Hacer Dedo!
 We made it back in time for another family dinner this time with a bigger family. Agustina's list said Francia 4, Argentina 4, Trent 1 which somehow equalled 11. There were 6 French in the end.

The next day was THE FINAL OF THE WORLD CUP. Germany vs Argentina!!! I had learnt the song made about Argentina taking the world cup in Brasil that had been sung all over Argentina for the last month.

Basil decime que se siente, Tener en casa a tu papá
Te juro que aunque pasen los años nunca nos vamos a olvidar
Que Maradona te gambeteo, que el Cani te vacunó
Estas llorando desde Italia hasta hoy
A Messi lo vas a ver, la copa nos va a traer
Maradona es mas grande que Pele.

My Translation (some of this song is slang):
Brazil tell me how it feels, having your dad home
I swear that even if the years go by, we will never forget
Maradona tricked you, Cani beat you
You have been crying since Italy until today
You will see Messi, we will take the cup
Maradona is bigger than Pele.

The common room of the hostel had about 60 people watching and cheering for the game. I had been in Argentina for 3 months now cheering on Argentina every time they played so it meant a lot to me as well. The result... Germany scored the only goal of the match in the last minute of the second half of overtime. Argentina had many more scoring opportunities during the match and I doubt anyone would disagree that they played better but these things happen. It was the first time that I had experienced this sort of silence in Argentina. Everyone seemed to be in disbelief and shocked.

Mauro had been asking everyone to put in for an Asado (BBQ) for dinner that night. 40 people must have chucked in. Mauro cooked an amazing asado for the entire hostel. It was an awesome night with dancing, guitars and lots of alcohol and meat.

The next day would be my last in Argentina. Mauro, Ale, Agustina, Carli & I checked out of the hostel and made our way to the town of Humahuaca. We found a hostel before exploring the town. It was a very beautiful little town.

After lunch and exploring the town the 5 of us jumped in a 4WD taxi to visit a very impressive mountain. We went to an altitude of 4,600m. I was feeling very light headed with walking becoming difficult... However, the sight was amazing!

I somehow ended up with a white hat.

Once returning Ale said goodbye to make her long journey back to Santa Fé.

It was my turn to cook on this night for the 4 of us plus 1 staff member of the new hostel. My dish was nicknamed Salsa de Trent.

Pasta with a shitload of vegies and meat
The next morning I said my goodbyes and hopped on a bus to Bolivia. This was an amazing 5 nights in the province of Jujuy with really awesome people.

After 3 months in Argentina, one of the most amazing countries I have ever been to, my time had come to an end. This country had definitely changed who I am.

Next stop Tupiza, Bolivia!

Lessons Learnt:
The most beautiful places aren't always the most touristic.
Argentineans are incredibly warm people.
I love cooking, eating and drinking with awesome people.
Communal dinners are so cheap.
My Spanish is terrible.
My French is worse.

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