Monday, February 16, 2009

Jumping to Salta

The next stop after my Mendozan flying experience was the north-western town of Salta, a mere 16 hours away by bus. Salta is not immediately captivating the way Mendoza is, but has a quiet elegance and easy-going feel; and with a large indigenous population in has in many ways more in common with Bolivia, a few hundred kilometres to the north, than Buenos Aires nearly 2000km to the south-east.

While town itself has a certain colonial charm, the real attraction of Salta is the landscape of the surrounding landscape, with stunning multi-coloured gorges (Quebradas), picturesque Andean villages, salt planes, wine districts and cacti-filled national parks all competing for your attention. I opted for two all day tours to try and maximise my appreciation of the area.

The first trip was a monster 14 1/2 hour epic, and followed the route of the famous Tren a las Nubes (train to the clouds), which was an old railway track built to service the borax mines in the salt flats high in the Andes.

The train line has been closed for repairs for a while, but in many ways the mini-bus is a better way to see the line, as well as stop in some of the cute villages along the way and generally admire the scenery.

After winding through the valley outside of town, the road leads up to the High Planes - Altiplano - or Puna, as the Argentineans call it, where horizons go forever, and you never know who is watching you:

After crossing a pass at over 4000M, our lunch time destination was the sleepy mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres. As can be seen -

Peak Hour San Antonio de los Cobres

- not much happens here, although at the table next to us, two people fainted from altitude sickness. After another two hours in the bus, we arrived at the stunning Salinas - or Salt Plains. More photos here.

Believe or not, there was still more to see, and after crossing another high pass

we dropped back down the Cuesta de Lipan, to the UNICEF World Heritage Quebrada de Humahuaca - destination of my next tour -

Cuesta de Lipan leading to Humahuaca Gorge

before arriving at the town of Purmamarca, ostensibly to see the beautiful (from bus window) Seven Colour Hill, though in reality we were subtly dropped at the craft markets. Another 2 hours later, at 9:30pm, it was a relief to finally get out of the bus that had been home all day, knowing that dinner was only 2 hours away !

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