Saturday, 25 February 2012

Winning and Losing

I must admit, we've been incredibly lucky so far (I say as I knock on every wooden surface within arm's reach). For the most part, things have generally gone pretty smoothly for us these last two months. Sure, we've had our downs, but they've been temporary and haven't caused us any real set-back.

Last week, though, after a string of wins, or at very worst, ties, we finally had our first loss.

From San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, we had the opportunity to take an 11 hour bus to our next destination: Salta, in northern Argentina. Instead, we decided to get off the bus after eight hours, in a tiny village called Purmamarca, which we had heard was beautiful. We would stay there for a few days and then continue on to Salta.

Well, that didn't work. We got off the bus around 6:00pm, without a hostel reservation and with the grand plan to stop into the first cheap place we found with a free bed. Two hours later and we were still searching. Every bed in that damn town was full. We tried the cheapest dorms, the most expensive hotels; we even walked into random convenience stores and restaurants asking if anyone there had a bed we could rent. Nothing.

Around 8:00pm, we started to realize that we would be homeless for the night if we stayed in Purmamarca, so we headed to the ticket office for bus tickets where we were told that there were no available seats on the bus out of town, but "we could wait around just in case." On the verge of a breakdown, I told Vincent I was going to go buy us something to eat. I walked over to a woman grilling fresh empanadas on the street and waited in line. When my turn came: "Sorry, no more empanadas." First no beds, then no bus seats and now this??? I was close to tears.

Dejected, I walked back to Vincent just in time to see a microbus pull into the village with a woman hanging out the door yelling the name of the next town over. Without asking any questions (Are there any seats available? How much?) we hopped on the bus, figuring that once we were on, it might be more trouble that it was worth for them to kick us off. We were in luck. While the main bus company was booked, the microbus had seats and we were on our way. At 8:30 at night to a town we didn't know with no hostel reservation.

It all worked out ok though. We were able to find a room in the town of Jujuy, where there is nothing for a tourist to do besides sleep. The next morning, we took a shared taxi (with a driver who was obviously training for suicide missions) to Salta, where we spent two days of doing basically nothing. The first day, we had a nice long lunch on the plaza, listening to a group of locals at the table next to us who were spending their afternoon drinking wine, playing guitar and singing. These guys had obviously practiced and despite the copious amounts of alcohol on the table, they were good enough to be the perfect accompaniment to a lazy, beer-soaked late lunch in the sunshine. Their voices were deep, almost haunting, until the music would suddenly by punctuated by rhythmic, Latin-style clapping. Their songs were unknown to us, but were popular enough that random passersby would join in the song as they walked by. The whole spectacle was ridiculously romantic and was the highlight of our time in Salta. Although that isn't really saying much since the second most interesting thing we did was go to a museum that featured child mummies so well-preserved that it felt almost indecent to be looking at them. Apparently, these kids were buried alive as sacrifice after being forced to drink alcohol until they passed out and since they were at high altitude, their bodies had been perfectly frozen for 500 years. The youngest one was six years old. Now if that isn't the feel-good story of the year, I don't know what is...

Now, you may have noticed that this post is decidedly lacking in pictures. That's because we didn't take any until we got to Cafayate, a village south of Salta (4ish hours by bus). Cafayate is a cute little wine-making town, nestled between two mountain ranges. Think of the village as a bulls-eye: in the middle is the town, with wide, tree-lined streets and a picturesque plaza, then surrounding the town are rows and rows of grape vines, then surrounding the vines are bright red and pink mountains towering over the lush, green valley. It's lovely.

To explore the natural beauty of the area (here come the piiiiictures!), we rented bikes one day and rode through the vines up to a river that flows down from the mountains above the town. We dropped our bikes and hiked up the river through a canyon that was flanked on ether side by low, rocky foothills with vaguely phallic cacti jutting out of the cliff faces like errant whiskers.
Yep, that's me imitating a cactus...
After about two hours of hiking, we reached a waterfall, where we cooled off with a swim and had a picnic.
So manly with his waterfall...
The next day, we jumped on a bus going in the other direction to a range of mountains that were literally every color of the rainbow: red peaks hovering above bright pink and orange cliffs that gave away to low hills of green and blue, streaked with yellow sand. There were layered gorges that we hiked up into with tall, seemingly lunar columns of stone and chiseled spires of rock that changed color with the light.
To give you some perspective of the size of these gorges.
The only problem with our hike was that this was our footpath:
A highway through the desert.

After about three hours of walking with no shade, the hot sun beating down on the backs of our necks, we decided we were done. Unfortunately, there wasn't another bus for two hours. After a few minutes of weighing our options, we decided to try to catch a ride back. Which is a nice way of saying that we hitch-hiked.

We felt the rejection of passing vehicles for only about 15 minutes before a car slowed down, rolled down its window, and a heavily accented elderly man yelled to us, "What happened?!"

How about that for a hello? "Uh, we're going to Cafayate..."

"Well get in!" The man and his wife were from Israel and had rented a car to explore the region. They were as nice as they could be and didn't even rape or kill us! All in all, a successful first attempt at the art of hitchhiking.

Now safely back in Cafayate, we are taking a series of buses to make our way to Buenos Aires tomorrow. We'll first go the six hours necessary to get to Tucuman, before getting on a 17 hour overnight bus to BA. This will be our longest day of travel so far, but since Argentinian buses are so much more comfortable than any transportation in Bolivia, we figure that this won't actually be the worst we've encountered. At least we are telling ourselves that...


  1. nice stories again!great to hear experiences in Argentina are become better every day too!enjoy!willie xx

  2. See "bad moment" are good for us as you have a gift to tell stories that we enjoy to read!!!!!!
    Another gift : taking pictures I love them!
    Take care...

    Gros bisous

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.