I finished up with all of my academic obligations last Thursday, and Friday morning I was at the airport en route to Salta! Quite a nice way to celebrate, don’t you think? Salta is a city in the northern part of Argentina, fairly close to the Bolivian border. It’s considered to be a much more indigenous zone of the country, with far less European influence than Buenos Aires and far more retention of the traditional culture. This was the first time I’ve ever traveled solo, and I can honestly say it was a smashing success. Considering I was technically traveling alone, I spent very little time by myself. Luck was on my side, and I encountered some travel companions faster than I thought was possible.
On my flight from Buenos Aires to Salta, I sat next to a girl who I could tell was foreign, but I wasn’t sure where she was from. We didn’t talk during the flight, and we went out separate ways when the plane landed. I collected my suitcase from the baggage claim, took a cab to my hostel, and checked into my room. Lo and behold, who was one of my roommates in the dormitory-style hostel? The girl who had been sitting next to me! She was traveling with 2 other girls as well, all of whom would be sleeping in my room. Just minutes after I arrived to the hostel, the three of them invited me to find some food with them. Two of the girls were from Finland, and one was from Sweden. They all spoke English extremely well, and we hit it off right away. After dining together, we decided to visit one of the attractions that our hostel receptionist had recommended to us. It was a scenic overlook of the city of Salta, which could be accessed either on foot or by way of a gondola. We decided to stretch our legs and hike to the top, and this is what we found:
The city of Salta sprawling below, and a gondola on its way up the hill
Me, Ella (Finland), Sanni (Finland)
Being from the United States, I never actually learned how to drive manual. I didn’t have access to a stick shift car when I was learning to drive, and I haven’t felt the need to learn since. All the cars that are available for rental in Argentina are manual, which meant that wasn’t an option for me. However, all of my newly found friends were capable stick shift drivers, and they had already arranged to rent a car the next morning. By a stroke of luck, we had also planned to spend our second night in the same town, Tilcara, though at different hostels this time. This meant that I could tag along with them throughout the following day, and then they could drop me off at my hostel when we reached Tilcara. This was a far better (and more fun) arrangement than what I had anticipated. I thought I’d be relying on bus service to go from town to town, but they offered to let me ride along! I gratefully accepted the offer, and on Saturday morning we set out together from our hostel.
From Salta, we drove 2 hours north to Jujuy. Little did we know, this drive would feature a dramatic change in landscape! As we gradually ascended into the mountainous terrain that lies between Salta and Jujuy, we felt as if we’d entered the heart of the jungle! Lush vegetation, serpentine vines, and a roof-like canopy of tree boughs overhead encompassed the windy road. At one point, a curious looking bird scuttled across the road in front of our car, and we all had the same reaction: “Was that a dinosaur?!” Something about the way the bird moved, its bobbing head and its frantic scurry, made it look like a little velociraptor.
Looking out over the jungle
We pitstopped for lunch in Jujuy, and then made our way toward Salinas Grandes – a vast salt plain that lies at the foot of the mountains. After departing from Jujuy, the landscape underwent another dramatic shift. We left behind the jungle and found ourselves in a barren dessert with little more vegetation than tumbleweeds and cacti. The mountains around us were no longer covered in dense forest, but were totally exposed, revealing colorful rock formations like I’d never seen before. The drive to Salinas Grandes took a couple hours, but the time went by quickly due to the nonstop scenery. It just kept getting more and more beautiful as we went on. I actually wasn’t able to photograph some of the most gorgeous parts of this trip because they were difficult to capture while driving, but the photos that I do have should give you a decent idea of the terrain.
Along the highway
The little town of Purmamarca, nestled among the mountains. We stopped here for coffee and souvenir shopping.
The sunlight created a rainbow effect in the clouds
We reached Salinas Grandes in the late afternoon, and stopped for an obligatory photo shoot. Taking goofy pictures here is pretty much a must. The salt plain isn’t terribly exciting in the sense that there’s really nothing to do there, but it makes for a nice photo backdrop and as I said previously, the scenery on the way to the salt plain was jaw-dropping.
They were “blown away” by Salinas Grandes. (insert chuckle here)
I actually look kind of graceful in this, which is unusual.
This is the view in the opposite direction. The ground only had the distinctive crack marks on the other side of the plain.
After visiting Salinas Grandes, we drove the rest of the way into Tilcara, where we would spend the night. I had plans to stay in Tilcara for two nights, but my travel companions were only staying for one. Nevertheless, there was still one more outing in the Tilcara area that they wanted to do before leaving. They agreed to pick me up from my hostel the next morning so we could do this last outing together before they left and I stayed behind. We drove to Humahuaca, which is another rustic town about an hour up the road from Tilcara. There, we ascended into the mountains (by car) and reached the most stunning viewpoint yet. It looked out over El Cerro de Catorce Colores, which basically translates as Fourteen Color Mountain.
A herd of wild vicuñas, close relatives of the llama
Elevation: 4,350 meters
There aren’t even words.
It almost looks like shark teeth, doesn’t it?
We drove back to Tilcara so that my travel companions could drop me off before continuing on their way. Before they hit the road, we indulged in a fancy lunch to make light of the sad farewell.
Grilled chicken breast with potatoes, arugula, cherry tomatoes, bacon, and cream sauce
After they rolled out of Tilcara, I was actually alone for the first time of the trip. However, being alone proved to be a nice opportunity for some reflection and introspection. I opted to hike a trail to La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), which is a rather intimidating name for a small waterfall. The trailhead was near my hostel and I’d read some pretty good reviews on TripAdvisor, so I decided to give it a go. I was very happy to be out of the car, and to finally have a chance to use my hiking boots!
Just me and the cacti
A fellow hiker snapped this photo for me
The waterfall initiates this creek through the canyon
This photo was the product of 10-second self timer
After completing the hike, which took about three hours total, I headed back into town and photographed sleepy little Tilcara. For such a small town, it has a surprisingly large number of hostels. Tourism is its big business. Other than that, there are a few restaurants, a few shops, one gas station, and… not much else.
Tilcara could also be called Happy Valley
Some streets were paved, some weren’t
On my last night, I was once again the beneficiary of some very good luck. After finishing my hike and my photoshoot around town, I returned to the hostel to get cleaned up and figure out what to do about dinner. This was the first time during the whole trip that I felt a brief twinge of loneliness. There were other travelers staying at my hostel, but they all seemed to have buddies, and I wasn’t quite sure who to approach in an attempt to make friends. Then, as if my prayers were being answered, two new travelers arrived to the hostel. They were a boyfriend and girlfriend from Holland who were a few weeks into a five month backpacking expedition around South America. We ended up going out to dinner together, enjoying the golden combination of pizza and beer, and getting to know each other really well. We talked about it all: work, school, family, travel, languages, current events, etc. Truly an engaging pair of people. Also, while we were out to dinner, the result of Argentina’s presidential election was announced! Here is a video of a celebratory parade that wound its way through Tilcara’s streets:
The following morning, I woke up early, scarfed down some bread with dulce de leche, and took one last stroll around Tilcara before heading homeward. It made for a long day of travel. First, I took a bus from Tilcara to Jujuy. Then, I took another bus from Jujuy to Salta. Next was a taxi from the bus terminal to the airport, and then a flight from Salta to Buenos Aires. Finally, I took a taxi from the airport to my apartment.
It was a short trip, but it reminded me how eager I am to get out and see the great big world. It was a much needed reminder, because I have come to feel extremely content in Buenos Aires – a little too content. Before taking this trip, there was part of me that wanted to spend the rest of my time in the city. I have friends here, I have a routine here, I have a life here. Leaving the city for the weekend was bittersweet, because my time here is ever so limited and I like Buenos Aires ever so much. There was part of me that fell prey to FOMO. For those of you who aren’t familiar with FOMO, it’s an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out.” I knew that I should feel more excited by the prospect of traveling, but traveling meant I had to leave my “home” and miss out on all the fun things that my friends were doing there.
However, during my trip, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. My thoughts rarely went back to Buenos Aires. It was a very rejuvenating experience. I lived in the moment, made new friends, absorbed the tranquility around me, and remembered why I consider myself to be a victim of the infamous “travel bug.” The world is a beautiful place, and I want to see as much of it as possible. Looking forward, I still have three major trips yet to come. These trips will change me, and I couldn’t be more ready for it. Next stop, Uruguay!
The view from my hostel in Tilcara