Getting out into nature and the wilderness has been the best part of my trip so far, and it all started in Argentina when I left Buenos Aires for Iguazu, reputed as one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the planet – and for good reason. Nothing had quite prepared me for the sheer expanse of the falls and the incredible power of the water plumetting down them. While the Brazilian side gave a stunning panoramic view, it was the Argentine side that impressed the most, with the final viewpoint at the Devil’s Throat literally almost taking my breath away – even while it was chucking it down with rain (GB-style).
From Puerto Iguazu I ventured to Cuidad del Este in Paraguay – full of dusty roads, cheap-looking electrical stores and dodgy characters – where I got chatted up by a 60-year-old Brazilian man who paid for my bus ticket, bought me a bottle of water and asked if I wanted to go for lunch. Who said romance was dead?
Next stop from Iguazu was Salta in the north of Argentina, a pleasant colonial city with a beautiful viewpoint (with a cable car for the less actively-inclined), a market devoted entirely to empanadas (a pasty-type affair that seems to be the South American snack of choice), and an archeological museum housing Inca child sacrifices frozen from hundreds of years ago and displayed behind glass – as disturbing and odd as it sounds.
Other than that Salta didn’t offer all that much in the way of attractions, but it was the surrounding area I fell in love with – including Cachi, a traditional, pretty mountain village a few hours south of the city and Humahuaca, a slightly larger town with a quaint plaza at its heart and a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone feel. From there I took a fairly treacherous three-hour bus ride along bumpy, about-to-fall-off-the-edge mountain roads to Iruya, a tiny village set among stunning mountain vistas with a population of just 1,000 that, happily, seems to have been left off the beaten gringo track.
The next village along, San Isidro – accessible by a 16km round trip trek wading through streams – was even more remote – and yet more beautiful. After that I found myself in Purmamarca, home to the infamous seven-coloured rock, also well worth a visit. From there I moved onto San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile – after a fairly perilous border crossing at 5,000m (with a fair few on my bus needing oxygen hits…) we made it to the quaint little town where tourist shops and good restaurants/bars line the streets. I’d especially recommend Barro’s, which serves great (and cheap) food with a good atmosphere and live music at the weekend.
From there we booked the Piedras Rojos (Red Rocks) tour and found ourselves amid stunning, brightly coloured lagoons and an expanse of dry, rocky desert – unfortunately it was about zero degrees and we were wearing shorts and flip flops (not an entirely illogical clothing choice given we were in the desert, but it turns out altitude means cold…). We hired bikes to explore the Moon Valley and its unique, crater-like formations, and took another tour up to the impressive geysers, where jets of steam pump out from the volcanic ground (though seemingly fail to create sufficient heat – it was still minus 10 degrees…)
All in all the desert was stunning (though more dry rocky-type landscapes than the sand I’d pictured), as was the north of Argentina, and I left both with an element of regret – and excitement for what was to come. More on that on the next post – for now the intermittent wifi seems to be on its last legs. Adios amigos.