Tetchy in Tupiza, Terrific in Tilcara

Trip Start Dec 01, 2008
Trip End Apr 20, 2009

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Saturday, February 7, 2009

It was just one of those days.  You know when you get up in the morning, and after about 10 minutes the tone has been set, and you realise you should have just stayed under the blankets...
Although Tupiza had been one of my favourite stops on this trip, I am on a pretty tight timeline right now, so I knew I had to get going yesterday morning, and head south back over the border to Argentina.  I would like to have spent a couple of days horse riding among the cacti in the area's wild, rocky mountains, every boy's cowboy and indian dream-scape.  I would like to have hired a bike and explored the locale on wheels, too.  It would have been great to spend more time relaxing beside the pool in my charming and cheap hotel (where else could you get an ensuite twin room, with a huge buffet breakfast, and a flower filled courtyard with swimming pool looking onto the mountains, all for less than 7 euro!!).  But I have places to go and people to meet so I disciplined myself into buying a ticket the night before for the 10.30 border bus.
So... I went to breakfast and unwittingly kicked the table, spilling coffee in a great pool on the cloth and the floor, and scattering my strainer full of coffee grounds about the dining room.  Bad start. 
Next on the agenda was finding an internet cafe, open early, to get online and book my refugio beds for the 5 day hike I plan to do in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, in a couple of weeks.  With Tupiza's excruciatingly slow net speeds, it took a while to connect, but finally I had typed my booking messages and had my finger poised over the 'send' key when there was a power failure and the screen went blank... sigh...
Looking at my watch, I could see I needed to get moving for the transport terminal, so I collected my pack and started walking... and then things really deteriorated... I stepped down from the kerb, didn't register that the road surface was broken, my right foot twisted underneath me, and I landed, with the hefty weight of myself and my backpack, heavily on my left knee.  I rolled off my knee and lay there in a heap, badly shaken, shocked by the degree of pain in my knee and unable to manouevre myself back onto my feet.  As I attempted to wriggle back onto the kerb, cursing, and blinking back tears of frustration, a leathery hand appeared in front of me, as an old woman offered to help me up.  Relieved, I accepted, and then began to limp towards the terminal, wincing with pain every time I put weight on my left leg.  I was in dire need of chocolate or a strong drink or a shoulder massage or a big hug... or preferably all four... but none were available.  I was tempted to forget the bus, return to a shady spot by the hotel pool, elevate my leg and apply ice to the knee... but I over-rode my instinct and spent the next 3 hours on a hot, stuffy, jarringly bouncy bus to the border, with my knee stiffening and swelling under me.  I know I'm a total wimp when it comes to pain, but it was so bad I honestly thought I must have smashed my kneecap!
The scenery en-route was stunning, through tunnels carved into the mountains, tiny pueblos of mud brick houses with lamas grazing outside, the occasional lonely shepherd in a bright poncho, views of magnificent stripy rocky slopes, and even a majestic condor in flight, circling over us.  Unfortunately all I could really focus on was my knee... and I was mightily glad, Sue, that we had invested in those huge orange Peruvian painkillers!
The border was hellish... a lengthy trudge over a rocky surface, to the immigration office, with the weight of my luggage bearing down on my puffy knee joint, and then a seemingly interminable queue for exit and entry stamps, when all I wanted to do was lie down and rest my aching limb.  I was in extremely bad form by this stage, tired and tetchy, and struggling to retain my composure... and then things took a turn for the better...
I met 5 Kiwis in the queue, who expressed concern on seeing me hobble... so we all got chatting and I found out one of them was a recently qualified osteopath... I've never had my legs touched up in an immigration line before, but there's a first time for everything!  Chris examined the injury and told me I had probably torn the ligaments but had also knocked the knee cap out of line from the bone... yuk!  No wonder it hurt!  All I could think of was that I might not get to do the hike in T del P... I will have to see how it heals over the next few days.
Anyway, the company helped take my mind off the pain, as we eventually cleared immigration and boarded a south-bound bus together, and I was even able to laugh when we were all hauled off in Humahuaca, and our luggage inspected by drugs police, with Jess's tube of pro-biotic pills attracting serious suspicious scrutiny.  We finally arrived in the mountain village of Tilcara at around 8, accepted the first cheap rooms we could find, stopped long enough for Chris to manipulate my knee and apply a support bandage, and headed off en-masse to the Plaza, where we decided on Carlitos's Pena for dinner, an excellent choice, furnishing us with large plates of mash and veg, along with plentiful jugs of local red wine, all to the accompaniment of local musicians, including the charismatic Carlitos himself.  As the wine flowed, the pain retreated ,and I realised that what had begun as a desperate day had undergone a total turn around, and I was having an absolute blast, in refreshing company, with great entertainment, and a bellyfull of mash, being washed down with good cheap plonk!
But there was more to come... it was well after midnight when we bade Carlitos  'buenos noches', and stepped out into the deserted plaza... but there was music emanating from a doorway on the corner so we had to investigate... and before we knew it, it was 2 am and four of us were up on stage, in the local karaoke night spot,  me standing on one leg as if in imitation of one of last weeks flamingos,  belting out  a woeful rendition of 'Like a Virgin', much to the bemusement of the crowd of animated locals...  It must have been the first time in weeks that I'd been up past 10pm, and it was exactly the medicine I needed to release the pent-up frustrations of the day!

Today the knee is still painful to walk on but I'm not hobbling as badly as yesterday, and while the others set off hiking and mountain biking, I opted to sit in the sunny plaza with my book and my journal and watch life around me in this charming Andean village.     
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