Out of Bolivia we head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, before crossing the Andes into Argentina: Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman.
09.12.2011 - 18.12.2011 30 °C
Our tour of SW Bolivia finished, we take a jeep through the night to the border crossing and head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, followed by Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman in Argentina where we get an overnight bus to Buenos Aires.
It's 1:30am and we wait in the hotel corridor for our ride. I poke my head out the door to make sure he doesn't miss us, and soon we are piling into our jeep to the border. We're a bit disappointed as this jeep isn't anywhere near as comfortable as the one we had for our tour, and we realise that sleep isn't going to be easy to get as our heads bounce around. And then the cold creeps in...the heating doesn't work and we grab as many clothes as we can to huddle up in. Ice crystals form on the inside of the windows from the moisture in our breath and we brace ourselves for a cold ride. Finally, the sun comes up over the volcanoes, the ice melts and we start to warm.
We've made good time and so stop at the hot springs. These are the same ones we visited on our tour, but this time they are rammed! There are about 30 jeeps from Uyuni - which made us very grateful that we had started from Tupiza. With no time or room to get in, we warm our hands and chat so a few people wallowing in the steaming waters.
At the border crossing we show the exit stamps that we were issued with in Uyuni and change vehicles for the last stretch to San Pedro de Atacama - on a tarmac road!! (It had been a while...) The road was all downhill and as the altitude approached 2000m we enjoyed deep breaths of oxygen.
We found San Pedro to be a well organised, clean and tidy town with some great food (although prices reflected the fact that we were now in a much more developed country). The four of us cycled to Vale de la Luna, had a great meal together accompanied by live music and M&I even managed a run!
But the time comes for us to part ways - Ben and Tanis were heading back to Lima for a flight and we were heading to Argentina.
Our bus took us over the Andes, through the 'Paso de Jama', down switchbacks, through the edge of the Quebrada de Humahuaca (some very prettily coloured rocky hills) at Purmamarca before we arrive at Salta. By the time we get to Salta it is late, wet and we can't get any Argentinian pesos as the ATM isn't working...luckily we'd pre-booked accommodation and find the hostel's representative at the bus station and he puts us in a taxi.
The following morning is much nicer with the sun out and I get chatting to the woman in reception in Spanish and the next thing I know she's helping us out by phoning the bus station for me and making other tourists wait. It's amazing what some polite chat in Castellano can do!
We wander around Salta (which is a pretty town, but isn't making us want to stay any longer than we need to), get ourselves some pesos (the banks have massive queues), buy our bus tickets to Cachi and do a book swap.
On the bus to Cachi we befriend Cindy, a Greek/American lady travelling on her own while she attempts to meet a friend who's motorbiking South America. Soon we're heading up into the hills (which seem to have a lush tropical side and a dry desert side covered in cactuses). But the rain comes pummelling down again and we spend much of the journey wrapped in cloud. Just before arriving in Cachi the clouds lift and we drive through miles of flat cactus fields and get a brief glimpse of Nevado del Cachi (6380m) which towers over the village.
Cachi is gorgeous; pretty plazas, whitewashed buildings and a laid back vibe. Our first lesson in Argentinian timings comes as our tummies rumble for dinner - nowhere opens before 8pm and so we have to wait. It's worth it though as we eat steak and local dishes; locro (a meat and corn stew) and tomales (corn and dried llama meat wrapped in corn husks and steamed), and drink a fantastic organic malbec from the Nanni vineyard in Cafayate.
There are no buses between Cachi and Cafayate so our choices are between hiring a jeep, hitch-hiking or going back to Salta and getting a bus from there. We opt for hiring a jeep and get a guide thrown in to show us the sights along the way. This is a great decision as we stop in more pretty villages, clamber through the craggy desert landscape, eat a yummy lunch of goat and stop at a bodega (vineyard) before being dropped at our hostel in Cafayate.
Dinner is our first parrilla (argentinian BBQ) - yum! Loads of different cuts of beef, sausage and black pudding accompanied by a small bowl of salad :-)
We fill a day with wine-tasting at the nearby bodegas (vineyards). Nanni gets a look in and we walk away with a couple more bottles to try.
Moving on, a bus takes us over another mountain pass and to the lush fields of Tafi. The scenery is pretty, but we want to get to Buenos Aires, so stop the night and move on first thing to Tucaman. Tucaman is the home of Argentinian rugby, so while most people still follow football, when I say that I'm from "Nuevo Zelandia" I get the response of "El All Blacks! Numero uno en el mundo! Bravo!" which keeps me happy despite sweltering in the 40degree plus heat (not fun with a backpack).
The train to BA is full so we decide to treat ourselves to the best bus possible - a full cama ejectivo! The seats recline to a flat bed and at midnight, we're offered champagne, whiskey or tia maria...nice. An easy 12 hours later we are pulling into Retiro station in BA!
(PS. More photos to be added at a later point - computer problems are hindering their addition now...)