How do you describe Iguazu falls? I was ten years old when I visited Niagra in the states and I remember being pretty blown away by the experience. Well Niagara has nothing, absolutely nothing on Iguazu!
Yesterday I began the experience with the Brazilian side, mainly to convince myself that Portuguese wouldn’t be that hard to understand (it is) and to get an onward bus ticket. The Brazilian side is further away from the falls themselves but gives you a series of fantastic panoramic views of both major sections and finally you arrive on a walkway to look up at the columns of water pounding down over the rim and into the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat). I’d gone with another English girl, Paula, and with navigating the border, bus to the national park and then the bus across to the beginning of the walk we were both starting to wonder if the trip had really been worth the effort. When you first catch glimpse of the falls, surrounded by jungle with a cloud dotted blue sky there’s no question, it is simply amazing.
Today I went in an international contingent of myself (UK), Lou (Argentina) and Will (France) to visit the Argentian side, by far the largest and most impressive. You walk along walkways downstream and upstream of the falls, through jungle filled with brightly coloured butterflies and birds, see small isolated cascades and huge curves of water columns pounding down onto the rocks. There are mischevious racoon like coatis sniffing round trying to steal food from tourists (after my incident with a similar suspiciously cute-faced animal in Guatemala I wasn’t falling for that ruse again) and huge black vulture like birds sunning themselves on the rocks and circling ominously around the falls as if waiting for some poor unbalanced tourist to fall over and provide them with an easy lunch. Continue reading
I had planned a relatively quiet final night in Salta. Brought some rice and vegetables and a bottle of beer to have in the hostel. I should have known better. Whilst having a quiet read on the patio I ended up collecting a group of people and before you can say ‘alcoholic travellers’ five of us decided to have a final night out on the town. Now having met quite a few Frenchmen in my time I have never known them to be piss-heads in any sense of the word. My opinion has been completely changed by Victor who came out with us in Salta. We had a lovely meal involving quite a bit of wine then walked on to the bar district and upon installing ourselves in a table he had ordered us flaming cockroaches, cuba libres, beer and speed (local version of red bull) and soon was challenging our Dutch friend Martin and a local Argentian guy to competitions in downing pints of beer! We ended up in a club dancing to the wee hours before staggering back to the hostel where upon Victor had us in hysterics as he was unable to climb into the top bunk bed for about 15 minutes! Very funny evening.
The next afternoon I left Salta on a marathon bus ride to get to a small town in the Northwest of Argentina called San Ignacio where I wanted to visit one of the best preserved Jesuit Missions. Okay, ready for a spot of history? Continue reading
Back in Salta, again, after my latest little excursion into yet another tucked away valley in the North. Not fancying one the whirlwind, in-out-and-shake-it-all-about tours from the city I decided to make my own way to Cachi along yet another long, windy, unpaved expanse of road on the only bus of the day, which left at the thoroughly uncivilised hour of 7am, to arrive in Cachi fiv
e hours later. One reason local bus trips that cover relatively short distances on the map take so long here is that they stop for pretty much anyone, anywhere, plus the actual scheduled stops and the odd detours around small towns to deliver random packages and items of post. I did however have the scenery to keep me entertained. I missed the very lovely green stretch of valley along the river out of the Salta area as I was asleep (caught it on the way back!) but woke up as we were driving along the side of high cliff faces covered in soft green vegetation with rose coloured rock peeking though the gaps. Soon the vegetation grew gradually more sparse until we entered into the Parque Nacional los Cardones, an area with more than your average count of the huge cardon cacti, some of them more than two hundred years old.
Finally we started descending into the Cachi Adentro, a valley hidden by the large mountain range of the Nevado de Cachi with the highest peak ever so slightly dusted with snow. Cachi is a beautiful town set around a central plaza with white washed buildings, church complete with cactus wood roof, and porticos all with dark green painted doors. Continue reading
Finally back in Salta after my adventures in the
Quebrada de Humahuaca. Hayley and I ventured away from Tilcara for a five hour walk up into the hills to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) one of many in Argentina. After complaning about the cold for the past few weeks this heat has been a bit of a shock to the system. By the time we made it down into the gorge, we had to paddle in the freezing stream to cool down. We got back into town and the three boys in our hostel, two Dutch, one Belgium, had offered to cook a parilla (barbeque) for us all. So we came back to find a chicken marinading in the fridge, salads and home made salsa being prepared. They’d also managed to find one of the gigantic five litre bottles of cheap red plonk they sell here. So some fire, a few card games, drinking games, a laptop full of music and much wine later it made for a fairly amusing evening. In the spirit of sharing and experiencing new cultures, I learnt an hysterical drinking game called “Roxanne”. It’s very simple, you put on Roxanne by the Police and all the girls have to drink everytime they sing ‘Roxanne’ and the boys drink every time they sing ‘red light’. Play the song and you’ll get the idea!
The next day Hayley and I headed further up the Quebrada to Humahuaca and got ourselves a little attic style bedroom in a hostel on the outskirts of town. We were sharing it with two lovely Dutch girls, Patti and Pia who, to Hayley’s relief, were also going on up to cross the border into Bolivia so she wouldn’t have to go it alone. The four us explored the town which is full of cobbled streets, a beautiful white church and bizarre statue reaching up into the sky. We also climbed upto a mirador behind the town to see the views and the colourful rock formations surrounding the valley. Cultural bit and sightseeing done, we went out to feast on empanadas, pizza and wine!
Yesterday I bade farewell to the girls and headed off on a six hour round trip to the decidedly remote village of Iruya with an Israeli guy from the hostel (seriously Argentina is full of Israelis!). Continue reading
The extremes of temperature and the altitude are getting a little crazy…actually the weather here at the moment is really hot and sunny in the day and then pleasantly chilling at night time! I left Salta yesterday morning at the very unsavoury hour of 7am. Craig however, had a 5.20am bus for 27 hours to Iguazu so really shouldn’t complain! I spent yesterday in a big red van/car with our guide, Jorge, a lovely guy who was a little preoccupied with reminding us every half hour which Ruta we were on and how high we were, and Charles and Becky, a brother and sister from New Mexico who have done a lot to restore my faith in the American public! We started from Salta armed with water and bags of Coca leaves. We then followed a long winding road for 150km to San Antonio de las Cobres at about 3700m above sea level through stunning rocky scenery with mini frozen waterfalls. From there we headed across to the mini Salinas Grandes, took lots of silly photos, then had the world’s curviest road dropping over 2000m in less than 30km!
We ended up in the tiny adobe-brick housed town of Purmamarca at the bottom of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a wide gorge that stretches north to Bolivia through crazy striped rocks, yellow, green, pink and red, and slopes peppered with giant cacti called Cardones. The three of us found a small hostel at the back of a restaurant for the night and feasted on Llama steaks whilst listening to folk music and samba rhythms. About 10.30pm when the restaurant owner got stuck in with his accordian as well, it seemed like time to go to bed.
Charles and Becky left on another tour this morning so I strolled around the town taking photos of the rock of seven colours that looms above the houses and then decided to get the midday bus up to the next village. Waiting at the bus stop, I bump into another English girl, Hayley, who I’m now staying with in Tilcara, (travelling is so wonderfully random) although given that I made her walk about 20 minutes up the only steep hill in town to reach the hostel I picked (and I’m making her walk 5 hours tomorrow on a trek) she may not be my friend for much longer! Tilcara is a really sweet town, bigger than Purmamarca and the hostel is awesome, lots of pine wood, a garden, soap and a towel in the shared bathroom…seriously these things become very important when you start opting for budget accomodation in south america! We went to the bus station diner for one of the best and cheapest meals I’ve had in days and then headed up to the prehispanic ruins at Pucara, 1km outside the town. From the top of the maze of stone walls and forests of Cacti there were beautiful views across the valley. We made friends with a school girl from Salta, Antonela, whose friends had deserted her on their geography school trip and we took her back to her bus at the end of the afternoon. I like to think she gained some considerable kudos by hanging out with two older English girls…well maybe! Well there are some american girls in our hostel too, so the plan for tonight involves cooking, it involves wine and then who knows..but in a town this small there surely can’t be that much trouble to find?
Finally reached Salta in the North of Argentina, a really beautiful and lively town with a gorgeous central Plaza and amazing churches and buildings. I arrived just after midday on Sunday to find Craig, my friend from Buenos Aires, waiting at the bus station for me! So we spent the rest of the day exploring the town and catching up on the past three weeks since I’d left him in Mendoza and then went to see Pirates of the Caribean 3 at the cinema. For once the film was acutally dubbed into Spanish but luckily there wasn’t really enough of a plot to require me to understand more than the basics.
Yesterday Craig decided that his 11 year old fear of horses had probably come to an end so we went out to one of the Estancias 40km south of Salta to go horse riding for the day and finish up with an asado. It turned out there was an English girl, Sam, working at the Estancia so the three of us and a gaucho guide set out across country. It was a lot of fun as we got to do some galloping aswell across the fields and the scenery was lovely. Craig did pretty well although he has been complaining all day todayÂ that his backside is rather sore!
We got back to have a huge asado with the owner Enrique, a whole table full of food. Enrique was thrilled that both of us spoke reasonably good Spanish although spent the first 20 minutes refusing to believe the two of us were just friends and said it was only a matter of time before we became a couple as men and women cannot be just friends. Apparently a very common belief in Argentina. Anyway, somehow we drank a lot of wine and Enrique just kept producing more bottles. By the time our car came to take us back into Salta, I was pretty hammered and trying to play a Peruvian flute and failing utterly. I fell fast asleep in the car all the way back to Craig’s amusement. We were still drunk when we got back to the hostel and spent most of the rest of the evening sobering up. I think we were in bed by about 10pm! Such an amusing day.
Today I made Craig and his sore bum do some serious walking in the Qubrada de San Lorenzo, a gentle gorge through the hills about 11km west of Salta. Again the landscape continues to surprise me. The whole area was lush, green, forested jungle, rocky mountain streams, condors and loads of bright green parrots chattering away. We sort ofÂ followed the path but ended up walking up the river bed before spending an hour climbing upÂ one of the hills to see spectacular views of the valley in the distance and had a picnic lunch by a steep drop back down into the gorge. Â We got back in time to take the cable car up to a view point over Salta called Cerro San Bernardo before walking leisurely back down the hill and into town. Definitely ready for a few beers and some good empanadas!
Back from my two day horse trek into the wilds. I should totally become a gaucho, after two days I had the hat, the poncho, a wad of cocoa leaves in my mouth, totally going native! No, seriously though, the horse trip was brilliant. We had fantastic weather, blue skies, gorgeous scenery. It was Miguel (on Chiquito), Martina (on Calypso), me (on Ezak) and Amber carrying the food. Then there were our three dogs, Terri (short for terrible, hunts everything and half killed an armadillo yesterday), Gala and Dana. Martina and I spent most of the two days gossiping about the countries we’d travelled to, places we’d like to go, then we got onto the subject of boys and relationships and we were laughing so much Miguel started talking to Chiquito and deliberately laughing loudly saying they were discussing “boy things!”
Last night we camped out in the countryside, built a fire and cooked a fantastic asado, grilled meat, onions, potatoes, a bottle of red wine and some chocolate for dessert. Then Miguel fell asleep with Gala and Dana by the fire and Martina and I slept in the tent on the horse blankets, I slept so well! When I woke up there was a small slit open at the end of the tent through which I could see the blue skies and Calypso in the distance.
While Martina was packing up the camp Miguel and I took Ezak and Chiquito for a canter up the road into the nearby hills. Managed to stay on the horse, just about! Then it was about seven hours across the valley through scrub land, Miguel hacking through bushes with his Machete and finally taking a short cut through several farms to get back to Cafayate
It’s going to be sad to leave Cafayate, it’s been my favourite place in Argentina so far. The night before we left on the horses was the last night of the Greeks; Natassa, Michael and Katalina so Martina and I made chocolate mousse (my first!) and they cooked a huge chicken curry. Then we all ended up in a bar in town with the hostel’s two playboys, Fernando and Mariano drinking Fernet and Cuba Libres!
Hola chicos, hace calor, en realidad hace un poco calor, pero el ciel es azul, no esta nevando y me gusta Cafayate. Es un pueblo in el norte casi tres horas de Salta y situado en un valle muy lindo con las bodegas de vino y todo alrededor hay muchas montanas.
Okay, for those non spanish speakers, I’m finally back in the sunshine. It’s still cold enough to freeze the bollocks off a horse at night, but the blue skies are back so I am happy. I left Tafi del Valle and for a while didn’t think the bus would make it out of the valley, it crawled up the frost covered road at a snails pace until finally we broke above the clouds and were on our way. Then I fell asleep. When I woke up three hours later we were driving past vineyards under a blue sky into a beautiful valley surrounded by forested mountains. The contrast was just remarkable.
So here I am in Cafayate which I love. It’s a really small and charming town with a large leafy plaza and quiet streets populated by the most glossy, friendly street dogs I have ever come across. The hostel I’m staying in is lovely and the collective nationalities are Greek, Argentinan, French Canadian and German so everyone speaks Spanish, which actually has been fine. Plus last night Martina cooked everyone Goulash and Macaroni, including a gallon of red wine and a huge bag of doughnuts. We all huddled around the wood burner in the kitchen with my ipod speakers playing, feasting away! Seriously by 3am this morning I was speaking Spanish like a native!
Yesterday afternoon I went trekking through the Quebrada de las Conchas, a huge area of immense and strange rock formations along the road heading north. It was incredibly windy but worth it for some really spectacular views. Most of the rock is either rose coloured or a deep orange and in places different coloured sediments have formed over the years to produce outcrops of folded and twisted multi coloured layers. Tomorrow I have the difficult task of buying woolly socks, finding a sleeping bag and then on Friday I’m off horse riding for two days and sleeping out in the wild. I must be mad!
I think I have accidentally entered another country without realising it. Yesterday I was sitting on the bus winding up through lush green forested hills and citrus groves on the way to my current destination and today the scenery is all white, grey and brown and oh so cold. Tafi del Valle is a small, pretty cute town nestled into a valley completely surrounded by hills and mountains providing it with a rather unique, and apparently unpredictable, micro climate. Yesterday afternoon, when the sun was shining, it was pleasantly warm to sit outside drinking beer and eating empanadas in a cafe. Last night it did get pretty darn cold but I wasn’t quite prepared to wake up and find that it was snowing. It’s not allowed to snow, honestly, I’m supposed to be on holiday!
So sadly couldn’t go horse riding as I’d planned. Luckily the hostel I’m in, Nomade, is lovely. The guys who run it are big Bob Marley and Che Guevara devotees and sit around playing reggae and drinking mate all day. There are a few other Argentian backpackers and a 71 year old American guy from Southern California who has come over from Tucuman to do some writing, so I’ve been practising my spanish, playing guitar and with the puppy, Chichi Mani who is so adorable but a little too fond of biting my fleece! Continue reading
So it’s about 11.30am, I’m sitting at Cuchi Corral, a lookout point high up over the valley about 9km west of La Cumbre. For the next two and half hours I drink mate and sit enjoying the sunshine waiting for a thin length of nylon attached on top of a stick to change direction so that it blows away from the edge of the ledge. Around about 2pm the material begins to flutter in all directions and then, finally, the winds change direction and start to blow into the hillside. And why, you ask, am I aimlessly waiting for the winds to change? Because now, I can go paragliding.
Fifteen minutes later I am strapped into my harness seat, my instructor Fecho is strapped into his and attached to me and behind us, spread out on the ground, is a huge orange and white parachute attached to us via hundreds (it seems) of brightly coloured ropes. Suddenly a guy in front is pulling my harness and we are running down the slope, the wind catches under the chute and pulls us up, higher and higher until we are soaring over the valley far above the heads of those below. “¿Vale la peina?” (Is it worth it?) says Fecho behind me. “Si, si, si!” I reply grinning like an idiot. “Vale la Peina!”
Flying was amazing, really indescribly, wonderfully, breath-takingly amazing. There is enough wind to keep you circling over the valley, twisting and turning above the trees, indefinitely. Once you are airbourne nothing else matters. I forgot that I hadn’t eaten breakfast, that I sort of needed the toilet, that I have another overnight bus journey tonight, everything but the sensation of gliding through the air. I was so preoccupied I even forgot to be annoyed that George Bush is still president, that is the magic of flying! I don’t think I’ve fully come back down to earth yet.