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North Argentina Into Bolivia

Though we have finally (and reluctantly) crossed into Bolivia, for the past week we have been wandering around northern Argentina and loving it. This part of Argentina has been quite spectacular, and we found ourselves amazed at the variety of landscapes and environments that Argentina puts up. We´ve gone from the deep south Patagonia to the most northern parts, up to the border crossing of La Quiaza, which is over 5000 km away from Ushuaia in the south.

We ended up in Salta after leaving from Puerto Iguazu. Being that Argentina is an enormous country (8th in the world, I think), Argentinians have really developed a wonderful bus system that is known for its comfort. We didn't get a good representation of that on our 23 hour bus ride to Salta; the crew was surly and unpleasant, there were no movies shown, the food most likely led to a week of GI upsets, and during the night, something happened to the toilet, so the bus soon smelled strongly of urine. We weren't so impressed with the trip. Salta, though, was quite interesting. It is a pretty big city, but the hostel that we stayed in became a refuge, as we were quite exhausted from our trip. The people there were incredibly nice, which was very welcome. We explored Salta itself, checking out its colonial style center, its many parks, and even a museum. Usually we avoid those, as they suck the fun out of a good day, but this one had Incan mummies found on nearby peaks. Only one was on display, but it was incredible to see how well preserved it was, especially considering that it was a natural mummification (the body was found over 6000 meters, or 19,000 feet).

From there we stuck to little villages. Our first destination was the little town of Cachi. It was a very peaceful place of whitewashed buildings and cobblestoned streets. The bus ride there took us through an amazing valley west of Salta, a four hour trip that started in a deciduous forests and ended in alpine desert, with towering snowcapped mountains behind Cachi. En route we were treated to huge views across the valley, which made Jess nervous, as well as the lonely, sparse land that is known here as the Altiplano, the high desert. We stayed a night, which was great, because once the tour buses from Salta headed back, we had the village to ourselves, and strolled around town, dining on Argentinian steak that was even better than what we'd had in BA. The next day we headed back towards Salta, arriving late enough that we stayed another night before continuing north up to another village called Purmamarca.

This little village was quite amazing. It is surrounded by heavily eroded hills that reveal all sorts of colors of soil and stone. There is a hike there that circles through a valley of red hillsides, riven with gullies; the sun makes the red seem almost painted on. Above the village itself is a large hill known as Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven Coloured Mountain), which truly does have seven shades of color in its soil. The town itself is quite scenic, lots of adobe buildings that make cities like Santa Fe, AZ, look like Dollywood. We'd noticed Argentinian backpackers starting in Salta, but here there were hordes of them, young Argentinos who put a lot of effort into looking a little grubby with tents strapped to their backpacks and dreadullets (mullets made into dreads--horrible). They are apparently on holidays, for the northern highlands are crawling with them.

Our next destination was the slightly larger town of Humahuaca, which wasn't terribly impressive. There was the required plaza, the dusty streets and adobe buildings, but what we enjoyed best was the hostel we found. It had a great view looking out over the town and on to the mountains beyond. It was a very cozy little place. Beyond that, Humahuaca sits in a nice location in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which is a scenic valley of high hills, deep colors like red and orange, and cardón cacti standing like sentinels; these huge cacti closely resemble saquero cactus in Arizona. From Humahuaca we made a little side trip up to a village that rests in another time, perhaps another world, called Iruya. We had to struggle through the hordes of Argentinian backpackers, and to our horror, there ended up being three buses leaving at the same time to the town, which resulted in us getting onto a different bus than our bags. That made for an uncomfortable ride to the town; a real pity, because this was another amazing trip. The unpaved road went over a 4000m pass before dropping down into a deep valley. The single lane dirt road carved its way down steep hillsides, turning back and forth, and of course we were in a rickety old bus, our bags strapped to the top. It was a great ride, and our bags were just fine. The central part of the village was fairly modern, though steeply placed along a hill; further away, the painted plaster disappeared and the adobe buildings and locals in garb that has changed little since the Incan times became the norm. It was a really nice place, and we hiked all around the village; another village, this one even more remote and less advanced, lay up the valley a couple of hours, but as our time is running short now, we couldn't stay another night. The next day, we left the village and returned to the comparatively urban Humahuaca, where we found a bus heading north to the border town of La Quiaca (elevation 11,358.6 feet). There we spent a night before attempting to cross the border into Bolivia, a process I'd imagined would be quite simple, based on other experiences crossing borders in South America. I was wrong about that.

Though we are just three hours up the road from the border, it wasn't until about 9 last night when we arrived in Tupiza, Bolivia. Getting here was a very difficult ordeal, a truly epic traveling day, and certainly one of the most difficult border crossings we have had yet. La Quiaca was a nice enough little town, and we had a leisurely breakfast, expecting a quick crossing. The day just didn't go very easily, though. To start, we needed a fair amount of cash for our Bolivian visas, so after checking out of our hospedaje, we went to the ATM. There was a line there and it took an hour to get money (apparently there were loads of illiterate people who couldn't use the ATM). Anyhow, we took a taxi to the border, where we stood in line in the sun to get stamped out of Argentina for 2.5 hours. Finally we managed to get across the bridge to Bolivia, where another line lasted a half hour before we were told they didn´t have the visas, we would have return to the consulate on the AR side to get them. So back across the border we went, paid the $135 each for visas, then back to the Bolivian place, where I just pushed my way to the front and avoided that huge line. Once we were officially cleared for Bolivia, we went into the town, to find that the only ATM in town was broken, and the is no ATM in our next destination (Tupiza). So back across the border I went again, to the ATM we were at earlier. Fortunately there wasn't a line this time, and I got out enough cash for awhile. I crossed back into Bolivia and found a money changer, and got Bolivian pesos. We paid for the bus and found a restaurant (we hadn't eaten since breakfast at 8, and it was now 5 pm, Bolivian time, which is an hour behind Argentina). Our bus was late leaving, and the only road leading from the border town of Villazon, which is a major border crossing with Argentina, was this bumpy, hilly, dusty dirt road, probably worse than the road that led out of Mombasa, Kenya, when we were there, which up to this point was what I considered to be one to the worst highways I've encountered. There wasn't anything dangerous about the road, it was only that my butt became quite sore after a couple hours of the bus slowly thumping its way though the potholes and washboards. We were quite happy to arrive in Tupiza, and fortunately, we found an HI hostel next to the bus station; finally the day came to an end.

Anyhow, Tupiza is much more relaxing; we are spending a couple of nights here since we haven't stayed in the same beds for more than a night since Salta. The plan had been to head north to Uyuni, to visit the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, which is supposed to be spectacular. However, it turns out we can just leave from Tupiza for a four-day tour. We will still end up in Uyuni in the end, where we will take a bus north towards La Paz; whether we stop along the way is undetermined. We have to be economical at this point with our time; we leave for the US in three weeks from today.

Until next time, be safe.



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Wish I could be there too. Your trip is most amazing and it is wonderful to read that you are both well and enjoying the ride. Happiest of trails. Kind regards Joanne and the Gang. PS Eugene is wearing his summer suit now and enjoying his daily bath.

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