Small Towns in the Back of Beyond

Humahuaca Travel Blog

 › entry 21 of 38 › view all entries
After being on vacation in South America for over a month and having travelled 2000km across Argentina and seemed like a good time for a road trip. Our quiet, multicultural hostel had been invaded by a tour group of 32 Brits, Aussies, and Americans who, while nice people, had a different attitude towards travel and overwhelmed the facilities. All of a sudden the computer was always in use and the bathroom was always occupied by girls drying their hair and applying eyeliner. On Wednesday morning, Benjamin, Julie (Quebec), Daniel (Switzerland), and I fled...I mean... rented a car and headed north from Salta. Renting a car in Argentina is not like renting a car in Canada. You do not arrive at the office, pick up the keys and go. Before you leave, every scratch and flaw on the car is documented, transcribed, and discussed at length. Eventhough we had reserved the car the day before, it took us over an hour after arriving at the rental office before we were granted the keys to an elderly, dust coloured Volkswagon.
We drove about 300 kms north from Salta, through Jujuy and Humahuaca, to Iruya, a town nestled in a dry river valley overshadowed by vertical rock faces that rise hundreds of metres into the sky. The approximate population within a 7 km radius? 306. To reach Iruya, one must drive 2 hours from Humahuaca down a gravel track that slowly winds its way up to 4000m before descending into the valley. The mountains in the area shift from rounded grassy humps to multicoloured folded outcroppings to precipitous cliffs eroded into hoodoos. Every half an hour or so we would encounter a solitary adobe dwelling with meat drying on a line and the owner high on the mountainside tending the sheep. The land is beautiful but stark and we wondered aloud how the people could grow enough to sustain themselves in the rocky, grey soil.
We spent the night in Humahuaca and watched a brilliant, fiery sunset over the mountains fade into a night bright with the full moon and hundreds of stars. Humahuaca is a town that follows many traditions from the past. The streets are cobbled and the buildings modest. It is a popular spot for tourists and there is a market where people sell traditional fabrics and knicknacks. The hostel we stayed at was a bit out of town but served fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh coffee for breakfast (instead of the usual hostel breakfast of reheated coffee and the Argentinian equivalent of Tang). We spent our second day trying to find a spectacular mountain that we had heard rumours of. We drove for hours down the wrong back road, continuously wincing as we scraped the bottom of the car on yet another pothole. The scenery was still spectacular and we encountered several local people dressed in the traditional, brightly coloured outfits driving their sheep and cattle (one woman was even walking with a calf strapped to her back like an infant).
I felt a bit weak from the combination of a slight stomach bug (brought on by eating uncooked vegetables) and the altitude and although the mountains were awesome (especially the one with folds of many different colours) I was glad to return home to Salta and crawl into my bed.
Returning to Salta was not as easy as expected. Several times on the road we were stopped for almost half an hour by protesters who (wielding Che Guevera as their mascot) had blocked the road to demonstrate against the lack of jobs available. The north of Argentina is visibly poorer than the south and we drove by huge communities of social housing being constructed with identical 2 room houses as far as the eye could see. By the time we returned to Salta, the car was in rough shape. It was making several unusual grinding and ticking sounds, the bumper was on its way to falling off and the car was filthy. We were fairly certain that we were going to be slapped with a huge fine for destroying the car but even after a careful inspection the rental company told us ¨todo bien¨(all´s well). We were quite relieved but decided that if we were to do another road trip we would rent from a different company because we certainly did not want to be the next people to rent that car!
In the hostel, I met up with my friend from Iguazu, Marie-Claude, and we will probably go to Jujuy together tomorrow.
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photo by: Paulovic