Friday, May 19
We leave the lovely Estela behind in Cachi, and make our way along la ruta 33 en route to Las Salinas Grandes in Jujuy. We pass through the Cardon National Park and along La Cuesta del Obispo, a winding, picturesque road through the mountains, down into the eponymous capital of Salta. Horses, cows, goats and sheep all graze pretty freely along the side of the road. We play tag along the picture points with the one other couple from the hotel whom we made friends with over breakfast, and Tincho hopes that the road will descend directly through the bank of clouds we see below us at the other end of the valley.
Tincho’s dream didn’t come to pass, but we did stumble upon some empanadas worth mentioning at a little hole in the wall restaurant called La Casona in General Güemes, a suburb of Salta. I recommend the cheese and onion.
We pulled into Purmamarca at about 3pm to find a veritable tourist trap. However, I am in heaven – it won’t be difficult for me to step away and buy an alpaca sweater or two. It’s been perhaps 12 years since the family trip to Bolivia that began my mother’s alpaca craze, and you really can’t get a better deal than here in the middle of South America. I’m also hell bent on getting an ornamental piece of cardon for the apartment back in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the majority of the textile goods and alpaca clothing available are imports from Bolivia (including the one I am wearing below). However, if you find any hand woven items in cream, brown, or gray, it’s a good bet they were made by local collectives.
After a quick tour of Purmamarca we left for the Salinas, which are about an hour away, so we end up pulling over into one of the stations set up for tourists just as the last guide was leaving for the day. Though we asked if we could go out onto the flats and she said “not without a guide,” we pull the car out anyway – the only witnesses are the salt miners on the other side of the highway and a couple on their honeymoon – Tincho offers to take their picture. We’ve reached the farthest point we’d planned for on the trip, the Peugot is covered in a not-so-fine layer of dirt, and we are feeling pretty satisfied with ourselves.
The region is already bone dry and our skin has been feelin the effects for the past couple of days, but the Salinas are brutal. These flats can barely compare in size and scope to Uyuni, Bolivia, but it is only 10 degrees Celsius out here, and Tincho’s sailor friend Tom would be gleeful about how fast the wind is blowing. We run in circles for a few minutes, trying to capture the best light. Both of our phones die, the wind in my ears gives me a head ache, and Tincho is so static I bet he’d light up like a Christmas tree. Two hours later we climb back into the car, exhausted and content.
The next morning we do a quick “vuelta,” or a turn about, Tilcara. We pick up some papas andinas for Tincho’s dad (they aren’t really available further south, not even in Purmamarca or the capital of the Province, Jujuy) and have a quick lunch of empanadas. The region is known for having great empanadas, but we struck out with a place called Malka. In Tilcara, we saw even more of the Wiphala, or a flag of rainbow blocks. Our host told us that the flag represents all of the small towns in the north that resisted Spanish colonialism, and Wikipedia informs me that the flag represents all native Andeans, with a strong presence in Bolivia, and notes the symbolism of each color.
A note on Purmamarca versus Tilcara; If it weren’t for the myriad of stalls and stores, Purmamarca would be a tiny, sleepy little town. It is subject to the waves of tourists who rumble through, shop, take pictures, then leave. The locals then wait around for the next wave. While there are some high end hotels and shops, there wasn’t really a “cafe,” which tells me that it is not a place to hang out and relax. Tilcara is a bit more cosmopolitan, and has a few museums and historical attractions to boast of. When people heard we were heading to the Salinas, they asked, “Tilcara?” I’m under the impression that the extranjeros go to Purmamarca, and the Argentines hit up Tilcara. It also wasn’t till we got back to Buenos Aires that I noticed that two of the four items I bought were defective – stained in once case and an inconspicuous hole in another. A third item was the result of a bit of hunting – the first few I tried were not quite up to par… I’m inclined to advise against shopping in Purmamarca.
For next time:
– The hills of 7 colors and 14 colors (Purmamarca)
– The cactus garden in Tilcara – go on, call me nerdy
– El Tren de las Nubes; an old steam powered train that has been converted into a restaurant (Salta)