I found myself on another 24 hour bus ride, making my way across the very large and diverse country of Argentina. I actually really like long bus rides. I find them to be very productive. I use them as an opportunity for writing, reading, reflection and introspection. This time I was on my way to Salta and the surrounding towns of Northern Argentina. There were two areas that I wanted to explore around Salta. I wanted to travel south along Quebrada de Cafayate to the town of Cafayate, known for it’s wineries, and I wanted to go north to explore the towns of Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca.
After talking to several people and reading travel blogs of people who had been there, the general consensus seemed to be that the best way to explore the area was by renting a car instead of doing tours. Apparently the tours rush you around and stop at attractions along the way for just long enough to take some photos, before shuffling you back onto the bus. I wanted the freedom to stop for as long as I wanted and to skip attractions that I had no interest in seeing.
The catch was that I needed to find three other people to rent a car with in order to make this an affordable option. I was also still on a tight time frame, so I knew if I was to see everything I wanted to see I would have to do the Southern route the day after arriving in Salta. Therefore, when I left Iguazu Falls, on my own, I left with the intention of finding enough people to fill a car, within the next 36 hours.
Things seemed to fall into place very quickly. I met George within minutes of hopping on the bus. I’m pretty sure we were the only two people on the lower floor of the bus. We started talking and he ended up filling the first spot. We met Anna later that evening when we had to stop to transfer buses. She was sitting on the bench behind ours. She overheard me and George freaking out as the largest cockroach I have ever seen came charging at us. This spurred on a conversation and she ended up being interested in joining us as well.
By the time we arrived in Salta the next morning, we still had an entire day to fill the last spot, so I was pretty confident things would work themselves out. This was my only full day in Salta, so I didn’t waste any time getting out into the city. We decided to make the climb up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo for a beautiful view of the city from above. We just made the stupid decision of stopping for lunch on the way and ordering a metre long pizza, along with beers. As you can probably imagine, the hike up the hill wasn’t the most enjoyable after that.
By the end of the day, we did find a 4th and final person to join us, so the road trip was a go. This all took place 2 months ago and I can’t remember who the last person in our car was. I’ve gone through all of my photos as well and he seems to have escaped all of my photos that day. Oh well. I apologize if you were with us and are reading this. I will call him #4 for the purpose of this story.
Since George and Anna didn’t have licenses with them, the plan was for me and #4 to be the drivers. It wasn’t until we were in the car and ready to go that we realized that the car had a manual transmission. I don’t know how to drive standard and neither did #4. The rental company did not have any automatic cars and it was now too late to join a tour for the day. Not a great start to our road trip.
The employee of the rental shop tried to tell me that it was fine and proceeded to give me a 30 second verbal lesson on how to drive stick shift. I wasn’t interested in learning to drive stick in a city I didn’t know, in a rental car, while the company held my credit card. Fortunately, George knew how to drive standard and had a very old Irish license with him. It was long passed expired and It didn’t even look like an official piece of ID, but the rental company accepted it. We were off towards Cafayate and wine country.
Overall, it was an amazing day, but the winery at the end, in Cafayate, was a bit of a disappointment. I had a really hard time understanding the tour guides Spanish and I’m honestly not too interested in how wine is made, so I struggled to keep my eyes open through most of it. Then when we got to the part I’d been looking forward to, the wine tasting, we were given two tiny glasses of wine. Literally, no more than one mouth full in each glass. It wasn’t my thing, but at least now I know.
The highlight of the day was definitely the scenery. It was a 3.5 hour drive each way and it seemed like every few minutes there was some new beautiful and unique type of landscape or rock formation to admire. I spent the day gazing out the windows, watching it all flow past. Several times we parked the car to explore and take photos. It was really nice to have the freedom to experience the sights at our own pace.
Our roommates from the hostel had also rented a car that day to visit the town of Cachi, which is supposed to be another absolutely stunning drive. They had an amazing day as well, until the very end, when they got in a car accident, less than 5 minutes from our hostel.
They ended up having to pay for the damage to the other car and pay the deductible to the rental company, which was a quite significant amount of money, especially for people on backpacking budgets. I felt really bad for them and also relieved that our car had been returned already with no damages. It put a bit of a damper on the night.
My whirlwind speed visit to Northern Argentina had me heading north the very next day. Anna joined me and we decided to explore the towns north of Salta via public buses instead of by rental car, using the town of Tilcara as our base.
It ended up being quite the bus ride. When I walked up to my seat, the man that would be sitting beside me, seemed to be passed out. About 30 minutes into the bus ride, he started continually leaning over on my shoulder. After I pushed him off of me for probably the 10th time, without being able to wake him up, he started projectile vomiting all over the seat in front of him. I don’t know if he was passed out drunk, or what he was on, but I had no intention of sticking around to get puked on.
I ended up spending the rest of the bus ride sitting on the steps that separated the two floors of the bus. It wasn’t too bad of seat, except for the fact that every 5 minutes or so, someone would come down to use the bathroom and I would have to stand up to let them by. I was very happy when we finally arrived in Tilcara, a small town in the deserts of Northern Argentina.
Tilcara was a great launching point for a day trip to Humahuaca, another small town just a couple hours further north. It was a fun place to spend half a day exploring, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. I decided to head back to Tilcara after lunch, to get some writing done.
As soon as I got back to Tilcara, I realized that my laptop was locked in a locker and I had left Anna with the key back in Humahuaca. At first it seemed like a bit of a waste to have left early, only to find that I was unable to write, but everything happens for a reason.
It turned out that an Austrian girl at our hostel, named Lisa, had also decided to leave her friends and return from a hike early. We ended up spending the afternoon together. She studied tourism, so I let her practice being my tour guide around the town. She was really fun and I had a really great time.
Up to that point, my plan was to head west to San Pedro De Aticama, Chile the following day and then up into Bolivia on a 3 day tour through the Salar De Uyuni Salt Flats. However, I was getting really tired of traveling so quickly. I figured out that if I went straight up into Bolivia, I could still see the Salt Flats and I would gain myself a few extra days, which would allow me to slow down a bit.
When I fell asleep that night I was still unsure of what I would do. When I woke up I walked to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Bolivia.