Wednesday, May 15th: Arrived in Salta in the
early afternoon and went directly to the hostal Annet had recommended. After an hour
there, Annet turned up, fresh from a few days visiting the surrounding area. Salta is
situated in an interesting part of the country. It is in a very fertile, green valley
surrounded by mountains on all sides. The climate was warm and dry when we arrived, but
changed to a bit humid and cool the remaining days we were there.
We were in Salta for 6 days, mostly running errands and organizing things before we
left for Bolivia. Not much of note happened while we were there, except for the Gaucho
Festival we went to. The festival, I imagine, is normally very crowded and festive. Now,
due to the bad economic situation, no one has money to spend on frivolous things like
going to see Gauchos demonstrate their skills. It was interesting however; listening
to the folk music, inspecting the crafts, and watching the Gauchos work their
horses. It was certainly colorful as the Gaucho culture has a distinct dress code for both
men and women.
One comment worthy of note is that on May 20th we reached the 3-Year
mark on our journey! It's hard to believe our 15 month trip has ballooned into this
incredible experience. We splurged a bit and had a terrific steak dinner (what else
in Argentina?) to celebrate.
On Wednesday, the 22nd, we finally left Salta in the afternoon. We drove
about 250 kilometers through some great windy mountain roads and quaint villages like
Pumamarca and Tilcara, to Humauaca (pronounced Oo-ma-waka). We found a great little
guesthouse there called Pousada El Sol. It was a fairly new adobe-style structure with
lots of wood, ceramic, and plants all around. The surrounding landscape is very arid with
the distinctive candelabra-type cacti everywhere, and we crossed the Tropico de Capricorno
to get there.
The next morning, after much discussion, we decided to take a ride to Iruya, a very
remote mountain village some 70 kilometers away. There was much discussion because we were
in a bit of a hurry to get to the border to rendezvous with friends and a trip to Iruya
would be an overnight affair. We heard the road was very rough, with several river
crossings, and it would take us at least 2 and a half-hours to get there. The owner of the
Pousada was nice enough to let us store our luggage/panniers with him so that we could
enjoy the ride more with lighter bikes. Its a good thing we did because the
road was very challenging indeed, with big rocks, loose sand, and steep switchbacks to
contend with. The highest point was the Condor Pass at 4,000 meters. From here there is a
good view to the valley below and the many different colors of the mountains. There are
many farms perched, literally, many hundred meters up on the cliffs on either side of the
valley, making us wonder just how those residents ever leave their farms.
After traversing 39 wonderful switchbacks on the way down, we arrived in Iruya in the
late afternoon. The locals looked at us like we were aliens just landed from Mars. They
get some tourists but usually not on big motorbikes. The town is built on the side of the
mountain and all of the streets are steep and cobblestone. At 2,600 meters, we were
huffing and puffing just walking up one or two streets. Annet located a nice little
guesthouse with a roof deck. We promptly ordered beer and Chris bought some good local
cheese, salami, and bread and we enjoyed our view and reviewed the days ride. Later,
Annet went on a short trek and Chris and I changed the jets on his carburetors -- we
changed mine in Humauaca. Because we would be at an altitude ranging from 3-5,000 meters
for the next 4-6 weeks, where the air is thinner, we changed the main jets from 137 to 125
since there is less air, we need less gas in the mixture. After an early dinner we
went to bed.
Friday, May 24th: As we headed out of town, Annet wanted to take a little
detour to see a valley she had spotted the day before. It involved driving some 7
kilometers on a dry and very rocky riverbed. The remaining ride back was the same as the
day before, lots of beautiful spots to stop and take in the spectacular views.
We hurried back to Humauaca (as much as the photo detours would allow) to get our
luggage and head back north for the border. This is where we are now, La Quiaca ----a
little dusty border town, 5,121 kms north of Ushuaia. But, we finally met up with Liam
here and are busy making preparations for the trip across the border to Bolivia tomorrow
and the Salar de Uyuni.