The First Stagecoach from PurmamarcaJune 10, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C
It was not an encouraging sight. After the numerous attempts to restart the ancient generator, the hotel owner had obviously given up. The motley handful of hotel guests were left sitting in the foyer in darkness. The few sad remnants of the would be breakfast sat forlornly on the table. Outside the wind was kicking up the first of many dust devils. Hundreds of large cacti looked on malevolently from the surrounding hillsides. We certainly did not want to miss our first (and only chance) to leave this place.
Our instructions said that we would be collected by some form of transport at 10 am. We did not exactly know what form the transport would take - minibus, horse, stagecoach, etc. We weren't really all that concerned. We were more than ready to leave.
Right on time at 10 am, a mean looking hombre pushed in through the door, looked around the foyer and then said he was looking for "Dawson". I wondered for a minute if I had offended someone and this guy was looking for a shootout in the main square. Fortunately he broke into a half smile, introduced himself as Raoul, and told us to grab our bags. We didn't waste any time. Soon we were were squeezed into a Toyota Hilux 4WD, along with another couple. And you guessed it, they didn't speak a word of English. Not a single word. We were learning that no one speaks English in these badlands of northern Argentina.
Overhead the sky was completely clear and the warm dusty wind foreshadowed a hot day. We bounced our way out of Purmamarca and soon the view from the rear window was completely obscured by a huge cloud of dust. It had been a surreal experience, but one they we will never forget.
We were soon back on the highway. Not just any highway but the famous Pan American Highway. This incredible sequence of roads stretches for around 30,000 km, all the way from Ushuaia in southern Patagonia to Alaska. Apart from a small gap in central America you could drive, pedal or walk the entire length of two continents.
Our initial route took us north along the famous highway, towards Bolivia. In this section the highway follows the path of the Rio Grande River Valley. Since we were going upstream, the elevation steadily increased. My ears popped several times. My drink bottle expanded. We were getting used to these manifestations of rapid changes in elevation, although I am not sure if my lungs will ever really adapt.
The drive would have been relaxing if Raoul did not have the somewhat disconcerting habit of taking his hands from the wheel and turning around to talk to his rear seat passengers. I am not sure what the official speed limit was, but Raoul seemed to think that 140 kph was a reasonable speed in these conditions. The incredible scenery flashed past our windows. This region really is breathtaking, and not just because of the altitude.
By midday we reached the comparatively civilised town of Humahuaca. This marked the northernmost part of our journey in Argentina. Somewhere in the morning we had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, officially placing us in the tropics. No wonder it was so warm.
Paul and I, along with our new (non English speaking) amigos found a likely looking restaurant for lunch. Soon we were enjoying a plate of delicious empanadas . These are like small pasties, filled with hot meat or cheese. They are a staple food item in this region, and they really are quite delicious.
After wondering the plaza and examining some of the "maybe alpaca" handicrafts that were on sale, it was time to climb aboard the Toyota for the return trip down the valley. We had a long way to go before reaching our destination for the evening in Salta. Once again Raoul revved the engine and wound up the speed. The car wandered over the road. Numerous passing manoeuvres were executed right over the continuous double lines. Sometimes his hands were on the wheel and other times they weren't.
One common sight along this highway were motorcycle riders without helmets. Sometimes whole families were on a single motorbike, with the smallest sitting astride the handlebars.
"Are helmets compulsory in Argentina ?", I asked. "Of course", Raoul replied, "but this is Argentina". That explained everything.
Another interesting sight we observed was several heavily laden cyclists making their way slowly north along the highway. I wondered if they had ridden from Ushuaia. I also wondered how far they would go north before common sense finally dawned on them.
Very late in the afternoon we finally arrived back in Salta. According to my GPS we had travelled almost 400 km during the day. It was a wonderful feeling to be back in familiar territory. By now we had both developed a warm affection for this lovely city.
After checking into our hotel we walked back to the plaza. The night was uncharacteristically warm. Young lovers sat in the park. The city dogs wandered about, proudly wearing their free jerseys. Music wafted through the streets. Unlike Purmamarca, we would both be sorry to leave this place.
Early tomorrow morning we catch the first flight back to Buenos Aires. This adventure is drawing to a close.Read more