Tilcara & Purmarca
Our last stop in Argentina was in the Jujuy region at a place called Tilcara in the Rio Grande valley. This is an absolute must as the mountains and desert rocks are incredible. We first of all enjoyed the heat of the sun, something we had missed since Sao Paulo, then the next day, after a salty meal, trekked up to el Pucara (2500m above sea level), a pre-Hispanic fortress with fantastic views over the town. The fortress has been reconstructed in parts to show where the locals lived before and during the Inca times. From what it seemed they had to contend very much with the cacti that surrounded the fort and the hillside surrounding Tilcara. We made friends with some Llamas and fed them some dried leaves that we noticed they were trying to get to in between the sharp cactus spikes. To stop people climbing over some of the old/ reconstructed houses, the staff had planted some mini cacti as a sort of barbed wire alternative- which actually were very apt for the area, but clearly the llamas weren’t too impressed having to contend with them to get at what is their version of vegetable crisps.
We headed back into town to try some street food of heated flat breads, with whatever fillings they had. Often in Argentina we would go to a food stand during a long bus trip to get some sandwiches and would often find that if you asked for vegetarian sandwiches they would just say no, some would do a sin carne (no meat) but it was just queso solo (cheese only). This street stand did cheese only but could also do cheese and tomato wrapped in a heated flat bread. It was more exciting than it sounds! Sarah dropped half of hers whereby a local golden Labrador instantly vacuumed it up. South America seems to be full of street dogs- often they do have owners but they are free to roam when and wherever they want and they go back to their owners when they fancy. Tilcara was absolutely full of dogs- which was AWESOME!! As a mad dog fan this was a great way to temporarily adopt a dog, however often the dog just seems to adopt you and follow you around for a bit. This golden lab decided to do just that and follow us after we tried to not let the street vendor and her kid stop hitting this poor dog for eating something that had dropped off the ground. We thought, surely it is better than leaving it for a rat to eat, so no need to hit it with a metal rod. I guess dogs here are like pigeons to us, so not as exciting. Anyway this dog, which we nicknamed Queso solo- for obvious reasons followed us up a 2 hour hilltop walk to Garganta del Diablo (devils throat) 2890m high from sea level, 12km steep walk that takes you to the top of a ravine.
The walk takes you through local villagers dwellings, where poor Queso solo had to tackle some of the local guard dogs- he was still following us, along the side of a hill with magnificent views across the valley and river and up past cactuses and steep rocky slopes. At one point we were worried Queso solo hadn’t drunk anything, so we tried to make it drink by making a well for water, only for him to look at us oddly as we were on our hands and knees trying to get water from a small stream at the side of the path into a makeshift bowl on the road we made for him. He was also fussy with food- he wouldn’t eat any crisps, only pastries, clearly a spoilt dog. This was amplified by the fact that when we got to the top there was a small leaking tap that he then started to drink from!! Sadly hitting dogs is something that is common here, if you went to stroke him, he would first of all wince and step back, you had to be very slow and at his level before he could trust you. On the way down we found a short cut, but we weren’t 100% sure of the way. Queso however knew exactly where we wanted to go and stopped at the right path as we plodded on, waited for us then took us down, passing two other barking dogs, which he fended off and carried on leading the way. He must have lived near there as when we were back on the main road he disappeared into a house and we never saw him again. It made saying goodbye easier but it has made we want a dog even more now.
Our final day in Argentina was spent visiting the nearby village of Purmamarca. This town is best known for its hill of 7 colours. The geology dates back millions of years where over time layers of rock have formed with different bands of colour. It is immense and best to let the pictures do the talking. The town itself is quite touristy with many street vendors trying to sell you local knitwear- Bolivian, Northern Argentinian and Peruvian style, but off the track it sort of reminds you of a South American twin peaks type of town. The walk around the hill of 7 colours has you dazzling at every corner where the scenery changes slightly and you need to stop to take more pictures. To add to the awesomeness we found a fab restaurant that did vegetables and healthy food- bonus.
Although my Spanish is pretty terrible it has been funny in Argentina as, similar to Brazil they are not used to UK English accents. Saying Spanish words without a Spanish accent often means they do not understand what you are saying. Even a word like Cordoba or verduras (vegetables) isn’t understood without the correct amount of ‘r’ rolling in each word. Something I’ll have to try, as well as just generally improving Spanish.
Argentina has been extremely different in every part. Although mainly Buenos Aires and Cordoba were amazing cities and well worth visiting, it was great to see some contrasting countryside of the Jujuy region and even the drive from Salta. The country is very European close to Buenos Aires and Cordoba but further north, particularly in Jujuy it feels much more Bolivian or even Peruvian in style.