So. We’re home, after six weeks in South America. We arrived a few days ago. Exhausted. Utterly spent. And happy to be back in Canada, even if it did snow a day or so later. I slept for two days straight, in between unpacking and doing the laundry. We’ve been enjoying cooking our own meals again. And binge watching all the television shows recorded on our PVR. Hubby has been skiing every day, so he’s happy. And I’ve been on my exercise bike doing my spring shopping research, so I’m happy. Sigh. It’s good to be home.
And after my Sunday phone call to Mum this morning, I’ve been trying to cast my mind back almost a month ago to our sojourn in Salta, in northern Argentina. In particular the back-road road trip we’d planned. This was to be one of the highlights of our trip and believe me it did not disappoint. I snapped this shot of Iglesia San Francisco just a few blocks from our accommodation, on our way to dinner our first night in Salta. Beautiful, eh?
Iglesia San Francisco, Salta
We spent a day tramping around historic Salta, stopping for coffee, admiring the old buildings. And visiting a couple of museums. MAAM, or the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Salta is famous world-wide for being the home of the child mummies of Mount Llullaillaco, three Inca children sacrificed 500 years ago, and perfectly preserved in the cold, and the thin, dry mountain air. They were drugged with cocoa leaves and an alcoholic drink made from corn called chicha (both of which are still consumed by Peruvians today) and buried, freezing to death as they slept, sacrificed to ensure the continued prosperity of their communities. Mountains were holy places to the Inca, as we were told many times in both Argentina and Peru. Our guide on a tour we took later in Peru told us that these long dead children, from families of high social status in their culture, would have been considered lucky, honoured, to be chosen. It was an arresting and moving exhibit, chilling, even. The narrative of the Incas told through several rooms, culminating in the sealed glass and acrylic sarcophagus holding one of the three children. No cameras were allowed in the exhibit, naturally. Several of the websites I’ve read cannot seem to agree on the details of the process of this kind of sacrifice, capacoha, as it was called. But you can read about it here and here if you’re interested.
Downtown Salta… Centro Historico
The next day we picked up our rental car and hit the open road, for what Hubby called our “Curcuito Grande.” Our Argentinian back-road road trip. We would head south-west to Cafayate, and then at San Carlos, we’d say good bye to paved roads for the better part of two days. We’d turn north towards Angastaco and Cachi. And then from Cachi head north-east, back to Salta. This was the scene as we headed out of town on the first morning. “Darn. Would the hills be shrouded in cloud the whole way?” we moaned.
Nope. Our luck with the weather was holding. Soon the green hills gave way to the beautiful multi-coloured mountains around Cafayate. And the sun shone in a perfectly cerulean blue sky.
We weren’t the only travellers on the road. I love this shot.
We stopped for gas and coffee in Cafayate. Thankfully we had a packed lunch and drinks in our little travel cooler. Because there should be a sign at Cafayate that reads: “Last drink stop for 80 km.” And I mean 80 kilometres of unpaved, pretty rugged road. Even for us. And that was just the first day.
Brick and adobe houses on Ruta 40
We did see signs of human habitation along the way. A couple of villages with a few houses and a church, like San Carlos. But mostly just small dwellings like this one above. We thought they were abandoned until we spied the dog on the stoop, or a small child in a doorway. Or we noticed an electrical hook-up, like below.
Then the red hills disappeared, and everything became more dry and arid. Less hospitable. We stopped at this cemetery. Obviously the graves are tended by the families of the dead, as evidenced by the wreaths and small bouquets of flowers. But we couldn’t help but think of the opulent tombs and memorials that we’d seen in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Argentina is indeed a country of contrasts.
And then the landscape morphed again. Still dry, but now the road twisted between sharp crags that looked like upended plates. It was almost moonscape-ish.
I tried to take a short video of each new section of the road. To give you (and later us) a feeling of actually being there. Of not knowing what was around the next turn. Or when washboard ridges were going to make it challenging to hold the camera steady. You can see one of our videos at the end of the post.
So, at the end of five long hours of driving with the air conditioning in the car next to useless, and the windows rolled up tight against the dust and flying stones, with our water bottles empty, and our throats parched, we pulled into the yard of Finca El Carmen, outside of the village of Angastaco. Oh my. Oh my. This was unexpected.
Finca el Carmen in Angastaco
Our accommodation for the night sat on a rise looking out over the lush green of Valle Calchaquíes. A literal oasis… or so it seemed to us. Shady trees, cool breezes, a gently rocking swing. I needed to blink to make sure it was real. Wide porches, tiled courtyards. Our huge room with a fireplace and a pitcher of cold drinking water welcomed us.
The site even boasts its own chapel built in 1780. Now how cool is that?
And they served dinner with their own wine made on site. And… and… wait for it… lots and lots of vegetables. Sigh We were in heaven. Especially since we’d been severely veggie-deprived since the middle of February.
After a wonderful night’s sleep and a lovely breakfast we hit the dusty trail again. Cachi was a long, slow, bumpy 78 km away. More twisty road, lots of hills. The occasional field of cactus. Some dried up wash-outs.
Famous Ruta 40 outside of Angastaco
And, of course, a couple of wrong turns. One where the road wound up into the hills and became narrower and narrower, and rougher and more rutted. Even the infamous Ruta 40 couldn’t be this bad, could it? Thank goodness we turned before it became impossible to do so. And drove back a couple of kilometres, and found the turning we had missed, both of us remembering the paneled truck that had been sitting there blocking the sign the first time we passed. Such are the perils of the back-road road trip, my friends. And if we had not made that wrong turn we would never have seen this beautiful flowering cactus.
At Cachi we stopped for lunch. And then turned onto Route 33 for Salta. On pavement once again. Yah. That is until we reached Piedra de Molina, the highest point around at 11,000 feet, and began the long descent down the “Cuesta de Obispo” or the Bishop’s Slope.
Piedra de Molina, a small chapel at the highest point on the road, 11,000 ft.
Just when we were becoming a bit blasé about spectacularly twisty roads, we encountered this one. A meandering maze of switchbacks, mostly unpaved, pretty narrow at times, and spectacularly spectacular throughout. Ha. It seems I’ve run out of adjectives, folks.
The twists of the Obispo Slope
But Hubby was not short of adjectives, or expletives, when a few minutes after we had successfully descended the Obispo Slope, we ended up on this bit of road, below. We thought we were supposed to be on pavement all the way back to Salta, and we panicked a bit thinking that we had taken another wrong turn. Nope. The newly paved section was under repair, so we had been detoured onto the old unpaved section. Now how ironic is that? Ah well, we’d just white knuckle it around one more cliff, and then we’d be home free. And we were.
And so we were safely back in Salta without further mishap. Many kilometers of spectacularly spectacular road under our belts. Some new stories to tell our friends. Some new memories to share with each other, down the road. And one more night in Salta at the very interesting Posada del Angel. We had enjoyed our stay here. A lovely old place, with a small courtyard off the street, large rooms, and old, but comfortable, furniture. We laughed at the jumble of keys that I had to lug around in my purse. One for the room, one for the front door, one for the gate into the brick-walled courtyard off the street. So, one more night in Argentina and then we were off to Peru.
But as all good stories go, just when the hero and heroine feel they can relax. Just when it seems that the plot is all denouement from here on in, there has to be one more plot twist. And for us that came when we were checking out of our hotel. I say checking out, but really we’d checked out much earlier. Our flight for Lima, with a connection to Arequipa, left very, very early in the morning, and the desk at Posada del Angel was not staffed after ten o’clock at night. So after dinner, we packed, paid our bill, and then tried to get a few hours of sleep before our taxi arrived at 1:00 AM.
I was lacing up my hiking boots at ten to one, when Hubby wheeled the bags out into the hallway, and came back into the room to say the taxi was outside. “Okay,” I whispered. We tiptoed into the hall. Hubby had the front door open, and I wheeled the bags into the courtyard, waving to the taxi driver who stood on the sidewalk, on the other side of the courtyard gate. Behind me I heard the jangle of keys as Hubby placed them on the desk inside the door. And then, just as I grasped the courtyard gate, I heard the click of the front door closing and Hubby coming up behind me.
“Ahhhh. Don’t we need the key to open the gate?” I asked at the very second it occurred to both of us that we were locked in. Well, make that locked in… and locked out. I swallowed a giggle. This was not funny. But picture it. The bemused taxi driver on the outside of the gate. Us on the inside, rattling it. And cursing. And looking stupidly at the closed and locked front door, and the darkened windows of the hotel. Where no one was on duty, I might add. Maybe we could wake up a guest who could come and let us in, so we could borrow their key to get out. We rushed at the door and knocked and banged. The taxi driver tried to ring the buzzer on the wall outside the gate. But we knew there would be no one to hear it.
We could NOT miss our flight. This was the one that we had had so much trouble booking. If we missed this we had to wait another week, or take a flight that flew all the way back to Buenos Aires, with long lay-overs there and in Lima. We were NOT going to miss this flight.Then Hubby began to size up the height of the wall. “Do you think you could manage to climb over, Suz?” he asked. Was he nuts? Didn’t he see those spikes on the top? I’m quite sure that’s when I began to yell.
“Hello,” I shouted, quite quietly at first. Then louder. “We need help. Is anyone awake?” “We need help to open the gate,” Hubby shouted. “To get out,” I added in case anyone thought we were trying to break in. Lights went on inside and, of course, a face appeared in the door. We were laughing by then. With relief partly. And partly because it was pretty darned funny. A smiling German lady who thankfully had just gone to bed, but not to sleep, used her keys to open the gate. “Have a good flight,” she called as we rushed to the taxi, and she pulled the gate closed. We chortled all the way to the airport.
But I’m telling you, people, it might not have been so funny if I had had to navigate the potted plants, scale that brick wall, try not to get impaled on the decorative iron spikes on top, and jump down into the street on the other side. Probably twisting my ankle in the process, and ripping a hole in my favourite jeans. Hubby no doubt pulling a muscle in his recently repaired shoulder, and hitting the taxi driver on the head when he tossed the bags over after me. It just doesn’t bear thinking about, actually.
So. That concluded our adventures in Argentina. We went out with a bang… or a clang, more like. We were just over half way through our trip. Still filled with vim and vigour. And Peru awaited us.
But that’s a story for another post.
Here’s a brief video of our backroad drive. Bumpy road. Ha.
P.S. You might notice that the post is not laid out very well. The formatting of the post did not transfer intact from my old blog format to the new one. So please excuse the dense text and wonky spacing.
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High Heels in the Wilderness is for women like me. Women who love clothes. And books. Who dream of travelling to amazing places. Who want to explore their own lives, and their own potential, now that they aren't twenty (or even forty) anymore.
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40 thoughts on “Back-Road Road Trip in Argentina”
Haha, what a story! But the pictures are fabulous!
That was a lovely read Sue , & the photos – as you say , spectacularly spectacular . Proper traveling !
Wendy in York
Thanks, Wendy. Love that description…"proper travelling."
That was a wonderful post. What an amazing landscape, so different from lush Ontario. I'm not so sure I'd be as calm if I were mere steps from being able to go to the airport, caught between two locks! Enjoy the beginning of spring now that you are back home! -Jenn
Thanks, Jenn. I was pretty calm until the talk of me going "over the top."
Oh my gosh – I'm sorry, I'm going to have to take a minute to get over the gate episode. What a nightmare!
Otherwise – great post! You two sure are adventurous!
Thanks, Patricia. We're not as adventurous as some people I know. Just enough to suit ourselves.
Wow…great pictures and I love the stories. That unpaved road on the side of a cliff is breathtaking. You two are fearless!
Looking forward to the spring fashion details and the next installment of the vacation.
Hubby is a pretty calm driver…on some pretty hairy roads. He only gets upset when we are in danger of missing a flight:)
Wonderful adventure. Sometimes the telling of it makes it seem more unreal and not really happening to yourselves….who were those people and wouldn't you love to meet them sort of thing. If that makes sense.
It does make sense. You're right about he sense of being unreal. I had to ask Hubby to read it to make sure I wasn't exaggerating.
I read your blog regularly, but don't comment. Sorry, this time I had to as I was laughing out load – too funny. It sounds like you had a wonderful vacation. Great pictures.
Ah…thanks for that, Paula.
Wow! Love it!
I'm glad you enjoyed it:)
Good that you are home safely. What adventures you have had and I have enjoyed following along with instagram. The gate drama must have been absolutely nail biting. Looking forward to reading about fashion as you always help to keep me on track. Thanks again for spending the time to write and write fabulously by the way.
Thanks, Christy. For the compliment and for following along.
I hung on every word, remembering my 20+ years of adventure traveling–we were Indiana Jones before there was an Indiana Jones. So exhilarating and fun! I miss having someone to travel with on trips like that. Can't wait to hear about Peru. Did you have any altitude sickness here or Peru? Brenda
We had a bit of altitude sickness in Peru…but very mild. Cocoa tea and lots of water put us right. As well as a few days of acclimatization.
Oh my! That sounds like something I'd do! Ha ha! I'm glad you didn't have to scale the gate. I had a girlfriend when I lived in London that impaled herself on an iron gate at Speaker's Corner. It was dreadful.
I'd been following you along on IG. Loved that you managed to keep up some posting while you were gone. What adventures!
I'm happy that I didn't have to go over the wall, too! Oh my goodness…was your friend badly hurt?
I loved this post. What a wonderful trip you had and so well recounted. Beautiful photos. Look forward to Peru and of course fashion updates. Welcome home! Iris
Thanks, Iris. Fashion next and then Peru:)
So enjoyed this Sue … could well be my favourite post! Definitely something I could imagine us doing. Took me back to a time when the children were small and we were going out to watch a works football match. I said "have you got your keys" he said "yes" I said "are you sure?" He said "yes, hurry up!" Yes, you've guessed it ..He hadn't! (I always take mine now!) That resulted in later that night me and two very tired children watching videos (pre dvd's!) with our neighbours whilst hubby and their teenage son dismantled our door lock using a drill! and no one stopped to ask what they were doing! so much for neighbourhood watch!
Thanks for writing so entertainingly about your wonderful trip Sue …I've enjoyed every word.
Hope you're having a good week …feet up, reading!
I am having a good week, Rosie. Feet up reading, some shopping, more feet up reading. Except of course for the housecleaning… but I spell myself off with reading…so all is good.
Oh Sue! What an adventure! And that final twist, as you needed to catch your flight. Crazy.
Thank you for including the video clip. It really does allow us to feel what it must've been like to drive through that breathtaking and surprising "moonscape" as you called it. Extraordinary.
Glad the video clip captures the scene. My i-phone is my new best friend.
This is fascinating!
Love reading your adventures(and what an adventure :-)!)
What a story!!!! I'm skimming this, reading fast to get to the punch line…and sure enough, there IS one. You two are amazing. Glad you're home safe and sound!!!
Your photos are absolutely stunning and the story of the locked gate completely drew me in! So glad you didn't have to climb over!
Thanks, Elaine. I'm happy I didn't have to climb over too. Still…I know Stu was seriously considering it!
Six weeks in South America sounds fabulous! However, I know a trip that long can exhaust a lot of people (that would me). I returned from two weeks in Europe and in some way I felt like I couldn't walk anymore. Northern Argentina looks so beautiful, varied and interesting. Going to the are is one of my dreams and driving around would be fantastic. Well, those twist and turn do not look so good but I will have to prepare for them. #TheWeeklyPostcard
love the photos! what a great trip #theweeklypostcard
I loved Buenos Aires, didn't have time to explore more of the country. Sounds like a great road trip, love the pictures! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
Exactly what I needed to relieve my road-trip blues, too! Great photos, I loved it all, but especially the last bit… I could picture it perfectly… so glad you didn’t have to climb that fence, but what a wonderful adventure it was nonetheless!
I particularly enjoyed your story today because interestingly enough my phone just popped up with MY memories of being in Argentina three years ago for a family wedding!
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