A long and testing adventure

Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
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Trip End May 26, 2008


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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Friday, November 4, 2005

I have been on this traveling wagon for three whole months now and it's been one hell of an experience. I'm packing as much in as possible, which is sometimes too much and there are times when I just need to stop for a few days and soak it all in.

The vistas in this country are superb. For example, in a 3 hour bus ride last week I started in the hot dry, desert like city of Cordoba, and within an hour I was in a cloud forest. Thick with ferns and waterfalls and moss covered rocks. Then, what seemed like only minutes later, I ended up back in the plains in Tucuman, surrounded by cactus and desert like scenery. I stayed in Tucuman for a week and teamed up with a guy called Adam from Holland. We went horse riding and had a few crazy nights out in the surprisingly active town.

After Tucuman Adam and I boarded a 4 hour bus to Tafi Del Valle. The bus there was spectacular. Beginning in dry cactus fields, we headed North and into the foothills of the Andes. Another example of amazingly diverse scenery - an hour later, we were in a cloud forest with ferns and rivers and an incredible winding road. Then as quickly as the forest appeared, it vanished and we were yet again in dry cactus filled plains. After a few hours we were dumped in a village surrounded by 5000 meter mountains. There are lakes and Condors and a whole bunch of Gauchos (cowboys) without teeth.

We found a 3600 meter mountain that we were told is possible to summit in one day. After much advise, we set off at 6am, climbing to a brilliant vantage point above the town with Condors circling overhead and some incredible scenery. The Condors seemed to be waiting for us to drop dead, and they were onto something...

The hill was very technical, extremely steep and challenging, more like a  mini mountain than the hill we were expecting. We hiked for 5 hours and thought of turning back, but continued for another hour and much to our relief the summit came into view, about an hours hike straight up, or so we thought.

We were given many warnings before we started this hike but two in particular stood out:

1 - If clouds come from the South, be careful, watch them and if they pass the lake get down immediately because in an hour the entire valley will be covered in mist, and the way down will be obscured in low cloud. 'You will not find your way back to the town' they told us.

2 – If clouds come from the North, we have 30 minutes before a complete white out, so get down immediately. Very dangerous.

We continued up towards the summit but then clouds appeared! Not just from the North and South, but from East and West as well. We weren’t told what to do about clouds from the East and West, but we figured it couldn’t be good. We quickly started running down but didn’t get far before we were trapped. Visibility was down to a few meters and there were loads of cliffs and steep drops all over the place and not to mention wild llamas, horses and the Condors that had taken a liking to us.

We blindly ran down the hill and became horribly lost. At that altitude it was a little difficult to breathe and we had only a little water left. We ended up taking refuge in an abandoned stone hut, and thought about waiting, but the fog only became thicker and we were covered in mist and started shivering. We decided to make a run for it. It was getting very cold and very dark very quickly.

We didn't get too far before loosing the trail and wandering into a cactus field. Everything was going against us and we were getting a little freaked out. We backtracked up the hill but couldn’t find out starting point. The cactuses were so thick that we had to pickup sticks and bash our way through. Climbing up, we managed to find clearing and re-evaluated our options. Of which, there was only one – get off this mountain. So we tried again, getting stuck at another dead end full of cactuses. After a few hours, darkness came and we got very very cold. Luckily, shortly after nightfall the clouds cleared and revealed the city below us. It wasn’t where we left it, and we were not heading in the right direction, but it was a relief to see the twinkling lights below and we changed direction and somehow made it to the bottom.

12 hours after our departure, we returned to the village. We had just experienced the most extreme adventure of our lives. We were starved and ate and drank and slept well through the night and into the afternoon of the next day and were congratulated on our efforts by some very worried townsfolk who heard of two stupid gringos trying to summit this cursed mountain.

After a few days in Tafi, Adam and I left, with a Swedish couple to the Incan Ruins called Quilmes in a town called Quilmes, which incidentally is the name of a cheap and nasty beer over here called Quilmes and boy does it pack a hangover. We call it Kill Me’s.

These ruins were a real highlight - the home of one of one of the most ancient civilizations who were impressively resistant to the Spanish invaders. The Incans from Quilmers were eventually overcome after many hard fought battles and terrible punishments along the way.

The story of Quilmes goes something like this:

They were a peaceful people and had many warriors, but only to defend, not conquer. Then the Incas came and taught them about irrigation, mathematics and made them pay taxes. No problems here, then the Spanish came. From that point and for the next 120 odd years, the people of Quilmes battled and died protecting their peaceful way of life. Eventually giving in when their water and food supplies were cut off or poisoned. Finally, through betrayals of other tribes who allied with the Spanish, the Qulmes were defeated. Those that survived (which were the women that failed to bare children and the men that had surrendered) were taken on foot to Buenos Aires. It’s said that 4000 Indians started the long, painful walk and only 400 made it to the place in Buenos Aires that is now called Quilmes.

To give you an idea of how far this is, it’s a 20 hour nonstop bus from Quilmes to Buenos Aires.

The ruins of the town have been quite extensively restored, which gives a really good idea of how it used to be. The original stone walls are still intact and there are many stone holes which were used to grind corn and make flour. The higher the family lived up the hill, the more important or wealthy they were because they were closer to the Gods. The chief apparently had a 6 bedroom mansion at the top.

From Quilmes we were taken to Cafayate, which turned out to be the most spectacular and welcoming place I have been so far.

Cafayate is where I found a small 20 day old puppy, abandoned on the street. I have taken her in for the first few months of her life to give her a better chance. She might even travel with me for a few months before I can find a good home for her or get her back to Australia. She is tops, I called her Surri and she is now 30 days old. Surri is an Incan god, the protector if niños (children) and we call her ¨Surri de Cafayate¨ a very powerful name here.

From Cafayate, Adam the Hollander, the two Swedish, Surri the dog and I took a bus to Angastacio and walked for 3 days and covered over 100 km to Molinos, Sleeping in mud houses with Gauchos which was probably the most incredible experience so far. Then we spent a night in Cachi and eventually made it to Salta.
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