Posted by: robinson2000 | August 25, 2013

Leaving Argentina

Jujuy Tuesday 13th – Thursday 15th August

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Only 2 hours further north from Salta is the much smaller city of Jujuy (pronounced ‘Huhuy’), which serves as another starting point for some of the country’s more spectacular scenery. Although it lacks some of Salta’s elegance and is quite dirty and bleak in places, it was a nice enough place to stay for two nights whilst we explored some of the nearby towns and organised our onward travel over the Andes to Chile.

We arrived in the late afternoon (on Tuesday 13th) to a dirty and unkempt bus terminal (think Bolivia and you’re almost there) complete with your usual layabouts, unscrupulous characters, market stalls and hawkers. Once we’d tipped the lad for removing our luggage (something I hate doing but unofficially obligatory in Argentina!), we walked for several blocks laden with our backpacks and daybags to find our hostel which promised a jacuzzi. Upon arrival we were shown to a freezing cold room with very little heating which was just past the moss stained jacuzzi which wasn’t working! To keep warm we left the hostel to have a wander around the small city centre, purchase our onwards bus tickets to San Pedro de Atacama and also book a tour for the following day to see the local sights. Juyuy has a very Andean feel and some of the city’s inhabitants are very Bolivian looking, as much as in clothing as in physical appearance. The city sits in a bowl (much like Salta) surrounded by wooded mountains. Unfortunately, by the time we had done all we needed to do, it was dark and therefore difficult to appreciate the sights but the attractive Plaza Belgrano, with its tall palm and orange trees, was typically surrounded by colonial buildings such as the government house and cathedral.

Argentina had drained our money due to the ridiculously expensive bus travel, so we decided to dine cheaply at a local empanaderia next to the hostel. The empanadas were excellent and the red wine was very cheap, but we were slightly put off by the loud slurring drunk man sitting on the other side of the restaurant who was watching his side (Boca Juniours) getting beaten on the TV. He left after he tried to kiss a Swiss male traveller! Nicola was much happier after that.

If was a very early start the next day as we were collected along with several other people from our hostel in a mini-bus to do the set route of the Quebrada, which involved being driven back to Purmamarca (which we had visited previously from Salta), and then on to new Andean villages (for me, Nicola had visited these before) – Tilcara, and Humahuaca. The driver took us on the Pan-American Highway which runs through the beautiful Quebrada de Humahuaca, a vast gorge of vividly coloured rock, with giant cacti in the higher parts, and emerald green oasis villages on the river below. Our first stop was at Purmamarca, a quiet, picturesque village which sits beside the spectacular mountain of seven colours. We were given some time to wander around the 17th century church, where Nicola informed everyone that I was an atheist, and to visit the handicrafts (artisan) market. We then moved onto Humahuaca, another picturesque town rich in pre-inca culture where we left the group and went our separate ways to have lunch on our own. Humahuaca has an impressive monument commemorating the Wars of Independence overlooking the town and a quaint church where tourists gather to watch a mechanical figure pop out of a door. We weren’t that interested in looking around any more markets so we basked in the sunshine beneath the momument until our guide picked us up. Our final stop of the day was Tilcara to look at an old Inca fortress which didn’t look that spectacular so we took ourselves off in the other direction and had a walk around the town. It was a long drive home as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and travelled back down the valley to Jujuy. It had been a worthwhile trip with lots of amazing sights and views.

Our time in Argentina was drawing to a close as the next day we caught an early morning bus that was to take us to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. The whole journey was breathtaking as it climbed over both the Eastern and Western high ridges of the Andes and crossed the high plateau in between. We passed more Salt Flats and at one point went through an ice field with shards of ice windswept in the same direction. The coach was quite silent in places where we climbed to over 5000 metres. Even the annoying, Journey Latin America, noisy English tour group we had the misfortune of sitting behind, piped down, as everyone felt the effects of the altitude. Finally after 10 hours the long road began to descend and we saw our first glimpses of Chile and the vastness of the Atacama desert stretch below us. We were happy to be on firm ground and off the coach when we reached the disorganised Chilean border control which was, putting it politely, sheer caos as several coaches arrived at the same time and guess what, just two chilean officers on duty. So we all queued to have our passports stamped and more forms to be filled in while the bus drivers unloaded every single piece of lugagge from the coach. The Chileans are very tight on security so every arriving vechicle has to be emptied and searched for any contraband which includes fruit and vegetables. Sneakily we had hidden our apples and oranges behind a blanket on the top deck but as we were waiting to get our passports stamped and our luggage x-rayed we noticed a sniffer dog and its handler walking away with them. Grrrr! After an hour or so we were through and dropped off on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama. The outskirts of the town leave a lot to be desired, in other words or Nicola’s words, it’s a ‘dustbowl of a dump’, as Nicola questioned why I had brought her here. To make matters worse I got us quite lost and had to ask several people for directions. After a long hot slog through the dusty streets with our heavy backpacks, we stumbled across our hostel with great relief since we were both quite wearily from the last few days of travelling.

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