Life on Mars

The bus trip out of Cordoba was fair enough, and we woke up after twelve hours of road at the feet of the mountains, in Salta la Linda. It is a very nice city, with pink-colored churches full of ornamental flowers and ribbons all over the facade, little colonial houses, and oh joy, a lot of sun! Lots of pilgrims too, and folk bands, had come for the weekend to celebrate the patrons of the city, El Señor y la Virgen del Milagro.

At first we got to the wrong hostel, because there were three of them called “La Linda” o “de la Linda”, but soon we managed to find the right one and meet again our crazy German guy known in San Ignacio. We climbed up the 1070 stairs (yes, I counted them while I was panting on the Highway to Hell, or should I say Stairway to Heaven?) of the main mountain of the city, where we could see a beautiful panorama of all the surroundings at twilight, and had a lot of fun in the evening with Mickael and Domitille, in calle Balcara, the bar and concert street of the city, eating empanadas de llama, humitas and tamales while listening to peña, the local music.

Then we left again for Tilcara, where we had a little trek of two hours in the mountains to see the huge Garganta del Diablo (the devil can make really impressive things, uh?), hidden in a desert of cacti swept by a cold cruel wind, and jumped over the rocks of a little river to reach it. We had to speed up a bit as night was already falling, but it was easier to walk with the wind in our backs and Queen singing up on Janyce’s iPhone.

That night, a mystery happened : while the clients of our hippie-like hostel were all gone to a concert bar around midnight, and while I was using the computer just at the entry of the hall, someone got in and stole the television! I heard nothing, nor saw anything suspect (a man with a telly in his arms passing by and saying goodnight , maybe?). Weird. Batman must have needed the tv for the night.

Next day we climbed up the Pukara (always escorted by dogs), the fortress of the Aymara, made of little houses and lots of prickly cacti, visited a botanical garden with twenty different species of cactus (Janyce was in heaven) and a strange volcanic stone, called “La Piedra Campana” : when you hit it with another stone or the knuckles of your hand, it tolls like a bell! In the evening we took another bus to Purmamarca, to see the beautiful Cerro de los Sietes Colores in the twilight : amazing! Purple, pink, yellow, dark green, pale green, rusty red, blue cobalt, all those shades were twinkling from the canyon covered up with blue-green sand, yellow-dried flowers and white cacti. Overwhelmed by such beauty, we decided to build a little tumulus to the Pachamama, to express our thankfulness. It was like exploring another planet, Mars maybe, with its huge red hills made of clay and stones, looking like giant termite-colonies.

From Tilcara we moved again to Humahuaca, where they were celebrating the local patroness, like in Salta, the Virgen de Candelaria. We deliberately went to Iruya, a little pueblo at 70 km afar from Humahuaca, lost between the highest mountains of andine Argentina. Seems like nothing, eh? The trip took us three hours, because only the first 20 km where on asphalted road, the remaining 50 km were spent bouncing and bouncing over the rocks, turning again and again round wonderful mountains inhabited by spare indios, llamas and wild vicuñas. The village itself wasn’t impressive, the road taken was rather the main aim and discovery of the whole expedition.

This is how we spent our last days in Argentina, climbing and jumping over rainbow mountains, and of course, eating humitas y empanadas.

Bolivia was already calling us, so we took another bus to La Quiaca, where we had to walk a bit and cross by feet the bolivian frontier (yeah, that’s it, baby), to get into Villazón. The acre smell of coca leaves floating in the streets caught our throat and nose.There we took a private taxi with a very funny English couple towards Tupiza, far nicer than Villazón, and almost feared not getting to our final destination, since the driver kept driving in the middle of the road, if not in the other way, avoiding at the last moment the buses coming in front of him. And he was as scared as us, apparently.

To change a bit, we decided to go walking in the surrounding mountains, through the desert, to see the Puerta del Diablo and Canyon del Inca : we went without a guide. All we had to do, according to Alfonso, was following the traces of the horses. What a challenge! Tiring, but completely worth it! And we could eat the best Bolivian tomatoes, empanadas de pollo (also called salteñas or tucumanas) and sweetest pineapple ever, under a tree hidden in a cave after climbing the Canyon del Inca, where our voices kept echoing (ouch, my ass! Beware of that rock, OK, you can climb there, thump! oh no my bag! The tomatoes are still alive?). Janyce got her first war scar while crossing a treachery bush full of thorns, and had an overdose of sun, cured with a good night of deep sleep and a liter of Sprite.

And then we decided to rest a bit, doing like tourists and going on an organized journey to the Salar de Uyuni with our English couple met in Villazón. We stopped at Atocha, then slept at the Salt Hotel of Colchani, very simple and frugal (just beds with seven blankets on it, in and out of electric power, I won’t describe the toilets). We woke up at five in the morning to contemplate the dawn on the Salar (just in time to see the Milky Way and its billion of stars disappear slowly, letting pink shades shine on the top of the faraway volcanoes covered with snow), and finally climbed up the Isla del Pescado, with its funny cacti enlightened by unreal beams. Back to Uyuni, where we left our kind but shy guides and our funny Manchesterians, we got to Potosî, the highest city in the world, and then Sucre. Very neat, white and with nice gardens. We came just in time for Spring Day (also Love and Peace and Student’s Day) and could enjoy the festive atmosphere in the streets and listen to a folk concert the Culture House. In Sucre too, Janyce attended to her fist mass in the Cathedral of Sucre, and we decided to write a song to understand better the bolivian spirit (with our faithful ukulele Jimi, and now our beautiful charanguito ABBA).

And now we’re are we? But in La Paz, preparing our next mythological intervention with children at the Alliance Française!

Hasta luego !