So Terry and I hopped on the overnight bus to Tucumán, which arrived just a bit before noon on hot, humid day. We immediately walked to where our desired hostel was, only to discover it was on an extremely busy street just a few blocks northwest of the Plaza de Independencia. I suppose I had forgotten just how busy the city can be. So we decided maybe we should start the trip by renting a car and heading out of town. But I at least showed Terry La Casa de Indepenencia and La Casa del Gobierno.
We rented another Chevy classic for 5 days at a hotel across from El Parque 9 de Julio and headed out. We headed toward Tafi del Valle, a lovely town at significant elevation in the Tucumán province. The road at first took us through some rather dense forest, or "Yungas," as they call these little jungles.
We stopped briefly to swim at a small pool in the river, as well as to wash some of our stinky clothes. Terry and I are pretty confident it is the same pool where the Lamanite woman were captured by the Priests of Noah.
We continued farther up the road into some of the most beautiful jungles I have seen. The jungles quickly end as one arrives at beautiful grass lands where probably thousands of cows and horses graze. There is a beautiful reservoir with towns on either side and grass extending up the hills, with little groves of trees extending up hillside ravines.
The road continues to work its way up along a lengthy, grassy slope until one reaches a peak well above 3000 meters (will look up the figure soon). At this point, cardones (a large cactus) begin the pop up on all sides. One sees donkeys, horses, and cattle grazing on the side of the road and sometimes traveling along the road.
The road lowers through scenery of red rock, cactus, and more livestock. Small houses start to pop up and one soon arrives at a small town in northwestern Tucuman glad to have travelled on one of the most spectacular roads around.
On the way to Cafayate we stopped to see the famous Quilmes ruins which I never saw as a missionary. We climbed up to near the top of the ruins before turning back as the sun was setting.
We headed off through the now dusty desert to Cafayate. There we found a hostel, Ruta 40 hostel, which was rather comfortable and accommodating. The town had a very tourist friendly and safe vibe, and we rested well.
We arose after a good sleep and headed on our way to Cachi on La Ruta National 40. We had no idea we would travel on over 100 miles of dirt roads through the Calchaqui Valley that day. The route travels through a very dry landscape with rocks that look like they should be featured in a movie that takes place on some distance planet. When I upload the photos, you will see what I mean.
Along the dirt road were several small vineyards, which were a stark contrast to the desert landscape. It would appear that these vineyards are sustainable in the desert due to the ample water provided by the Calchaquíes River, which I can only imagine emanates from melting snow and glaciers in the high Andes. For more info, see "The Internet."
After several hours, we arrived at Cachi, a tourist town with excellent views of what appear to be multiple peaks over 20000 feet. For my part, I had quite the delicious sandwich and we headed on our way.
From Cachi we headed east towards Salta up a steep slope which takes the traveller to an elevation of more than 3400 meters. On part of that route,we passed through Cardones National Park, where we traveled on a straight road among the majestic cardones.
From the summit, we drove down La Cuesta del Obispo, a long winding road descending towards Salta la Linda and the Lerma Valley. From the top of La Cuesta del Obispo, one sees the clouds lifting up the mountains and forming, clouds that might later bring rains to the valleys.
We arrived at Salta at the early evening and stayed the night at a decent hostel south of San Martin on Calle Tucumán. I think it was called "Mi Linda Salta." We took a stroll through town touring the main plaza and central area of the city. Later that night, we got huge steaks at Viejo Jacks. I was worried the prices there would be beyond absurd, but they seem to have done better at preventing their prices from inflating than other places (hard to believe some items that cost 4 pesos before can go for 30+ now!).
We slept and prepared for our travel to Jujuy.
Got what appears to be the last decent sleep for a good while.
We got in our rented, and now quite dusty and grimy, Chevy Classic and headed up Ruta 9 en route to La Quebrada de Humahuaca. Ruta 9 between Salta and El Carmen is an older, narrow, and windy highway that travels through some more Yungas and by a few reservoirs.
From El Carmen to San Salvador de Jujuy we passed through fields that were very familiar, the fields I passed at least weekly when I travelled between Monterrico and Jujuy as a missionary. The section of road brought back pleasant memories.
We then travelled straight through Jujuy (where we would lodge a night later), to La Quebrada de Humahuaca. I thought it would be nice to take Terry to the normal tourist traps of Purmamarca and Tilcara. So we took in the Cerro de Siete Colores and the ruins and Tilcara as the skies clouded over and thunder sounded in the distance. Terry was amused by the little kids asking to do little services for the Tilcara tourists. He gave the kids some Chilean Moneditas and I chipped in some USA coins. Terry got a nice photo with the kids.
We headed out of Tilcara, grabbing some delicious ham and cheese stuffed tortillas a la parilla. We passed through Jujuy and Palpalá, only to discover that our off the beaten path highway quickly became no highway at all. Then we turned around and finally made our way to San Pedro.
The temperature climbed as we lowered elevation towards San Pedro, a town which has definitely changed since I walked the streets over 7 years ago. We got a room and a really, really lowsy Hotel called Hotel Alex (the shower drain failed to... umm... drain. And our room was already muggy!).
We headed out to the plaza, grabbing some grubilicious tamales en route. A band was playing for El Día de la Mujer. We stopped into the Catholic temple where we had a nice chat with two of the youth ministers. We exchanged contact info with the lads, got some ice cream, and then headed to the hotel for the night. At the hotel, I was glad I could still sleep covered in sweat.
The next day would be the start of visits to old friends from mission!