We woke up after yet another long, uncomfortable night at Coloria hostel. Dalton got up early and ran to the top of Cerro San Bernardo again, while I chose the extra hour of sleep since I had gotten so little. By 9 am we were showered, packed, and waiting by the front door for our rental car to show up. By 9:30 am there was still no car, and the older woman working the front desk was anything but helpful. Thankfully our stress was relieved when the rental car showed up, but only for a second.
Renting a Car in Argentina
The enormous teddybear looking body builder walked inside with our keys and my first question was since he was 45 minutes late dropping off the car, could we return the car 45 minutes late on Monday? Confused at first, he quickly explained that the way THEIR rental car company works is that a full-day rental does not depend on what hour you get the car, you are just obligated to return it by the last hour of that day, aka 12 am. Which would cut short our northern trip by a whole night AND we couldn’t even redeem the 45 minutes he had stolen from us by being late. My frustrations from the rude lady working at the hostel, the uncomfortable nights sleep, and the fact that when we had paid for the rental car a week earlier the lady had confirmed that it was a TRUE 48 hour rental (not this last hour of the day crap), I almost broke down into tears. I pleaded with the car rental guy and after a quick unsympathetic call to his boss , he informed that there was nothing he could due except for 500 more pesos we could rent the car for another half day. After Dalton calmed me down a bit, we just agreed to cut our trip a night short, return the car at 12 am on Sunday, and get on the road. A couple quick signatures later were on the highway, headed north.
Heading North from Salta to Maimara
Dalton did a wonderful job at cheering me up and in no time we were having a great time driving and winding our way through the foggy rainforest (but we were just in the desert?) north of Salta near San Lorenzo.
Our plan was to get to our hostel we had reserved in Maimara, drop off our things, get advice from Vale (the hostel owner) and maybe go as far north as we wanted, before seeing the salt flats and colored mountains in Purmamarca on our way back to Salta the following day.
La Casa Chica Hostal in Maimara, Argentina
Three short hours later we were pulling up to our hostel in the tiny spec of a town of Maimara. La Casa Chica was the cutest little house; a private double room and dorm room with a bunk bed were the only guest rooms.
Petting Vale’s dogs in the comfortable living room and asking advice on things to do, it felt more like we were staying at a friend’s cute, cozy house than paying to stay in a hostel.
Road Trip up the Quebrada de Humahuaca – Searching for Hornocal
Thanks to Vale’s recommendations we headed out to the northern town of Humahuaca, 45 minutes away, in the attempt to see the Hornocal, one of the most spectacular colored mountains in the region. Our plan was to drive into the town center, ask for directions there as Vale was unsure exactly how to get there. In the town of Humahuaca we got directions at the bus stop, crossed the bridge, and headed out on a dirt road to the town of Ozucal where we were told was a good viewpoint of Hornocal. About an hour later, we started to question what we were doing. We had seen a couple brief glimpses of Hornocal, but they were extremely far away and the going on the road was rough and windy. What had started as fun driving the little rental car through the back country was getting overcome by the irritation of going on 6 or 7 hours in a car and the fear that one of these rocks might actually cause a scratch (did I mention we were driving a BRAND NEW rental car – aka not one tiny blemish in the paint, ugh).
Finally finally finally we reached the end of the road and surprise surprise, no good view of the Hornocal. Wanting to pull my hair out in frustration, we crossed the river and hiked up a little ridge to hopefully get a better view… It was alright.
Evaded by Hornocol – Lesson #1 from the Quebrada
I think moments like this are what truly define traveling, adventure, and taking risks. The ability to turn the disappointment into finding the positives and happiness are something that you are forced to face and (hopefully) learn while traveling. Something that I would like to be better at. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, having driven for an hour in our rental car on dirt roads, and it was beautiful. There was a river, valley, cactus, colored rocks, and a tiny glimpse of Hornocal oh so far away.
But I was having a hard time not focusing on the fact that I was sick of driving, our rental car probably had some scratches on it, we had wasted one of our precious afternoons, we didn’t even get to see the Hornocal properly after coming so far, and that Dalton was a little grumpy too for all of the same reasons. Also the fact that Argentina was playing Chile in the finals for Copa America that evening and we were probably going to miss the game now wasn’t helping.
I think this is part of it, part of traveling in South America (or anywhere). Everything is not always going to work out, and that is okay. Also an incentive to continue my over-hyper research I am constantly doing.
Back to Tilcara (& “enjoying” some Argentine Craft Beer)
Tail between my legs we got back in the car. In Maimara we had bought a couple beers from the artisanal brewery (yes, that postage stamp of a town somehow had a brewery) and Dalton cracked one open in an attempt to cheer me (us) up and lighten the mood. It worked, the beer was horrible!! It tasted like they had added a bunch of sugar to it before bottling, overly sweet and malty; we couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous beers that you stumbled upon down here. I drove like a bat out of hell, trying to make it back to town before the Argentina game was over. We made it off those dirt roads in half the time and got back to Tilcara (the town next to Maimara where we were planning on having dinner) right when the second half started. We quickly shuffled into a bar, ordered a beer, and FINALLY relaxed for the first time all day. It felt so good to be done driving, hang out, and know that we were done traveling for the day.
Lesson #2 from the Quebrada
Sometimes doing less is really doing more. Listen to your instincts and don’t feel like you have to see everything, sometimes you will be much happier seeing less.
<h2=>Copa America + Llama Dinner in Tilcara
We cuddled up (it was FREEZING outside) and watched the unfortunate game that ended with Argentina losing to Chile (ouch) in penalty kicks (double ouch). The second that the game was over the bar cleared out faster than I could ever imagine, angry Argentine’s returning to the darkness of their homes to hide. Disappointed (but not on the same degree as everyone else) we headed to La Pena de Carlitos, a restaurant that Vale recommended as one of her favorites where we were promised we could eat lots and lots of llama.
It turned out to be an incredible evening. We started by only ordering wine and an appetizer and a llama empanada, enjoying and savoring it slowly to draw out the evening. It wasn’t until a while later we finally ordered our entrees, for me an llama stew with rice and for Dalton a llama steak with some sort of veggie we weren’t quite positive about.
My jaw dropped and I couldn’t quit laughing off and on for the rest of dinner when the veggie on his plate happened to be beets, one of the only foods that Dalton loathes. The best part was watching him try to force them down, making the exact same face a 5 year old makes when they don’t want to each their vegetables, mom makes them and they want to show how much they can’t stand it with every bite. Needless to say I couldn’t stop laughing at him. The llama was delicious!! It had a taste very similar to chicken, but a consistency like a steak. I would order it again in a heart beat.
The Best 4th of July – Argentina Style
Later in the evening a man, who turned out to be Carlitos (the owner of the restaurant), took the stage with his guitar and sang classic Argentine songs while making jokes in between. There was huge group of older Argentine tourist from Tucuman, taking up most of the space in the restaurant who sang, clapped, and laughed the whole time. At one point the show turned to making fun of Dalton and I (which at some point here it seems like all the shows seem to do) and the man at the table next to me would explain the slang to me in spanish while the woman sitting behind Dalton would explain to him in English. We then would turn to each other and determine exactly how Carlitos was making fun of us. It was a fun, hilarious, delicious evening where at one point we realized it was the fourth of July….
A 4th to remember: llama, Argentine folk songs and soccer finals.
P.s. The best part of the night was coming back to our cute little room finding that Vale had turned our heater on for us before she had gone to bed!! (insert heart eyed emoji here)
Day 2 RoadTrip on the Quebrada de Humahuaca
We woke up incredibly well rested to find a delicious breakfast of yogurt, medialunas, cereal, coffee, and juice waiting for us in the kitchen.
Viewpoint over Tilcara
We packed up our things, said thankful farewells to Vale, and headed to Tilcara for a viewpoint and a possible glimpse of La Garganta del Diablo (yes, another one), a waterfall. We drove up and stopped, taking in a spectacular view where you could see the road snaking its way north up the valley towards Humahuaca.
We then continued up to find the waterfall, but gave up quickly when we lost the trailhead, not wanting to spend another half day like we did yesterday. However we did get to look down into an incredible deep canyon that was worth the search on its own.
Las Salinas Grandes
Getting back in the car we started South, next destination las Salinas Grandes, the largest salt flats in Argentina. Vale had mentioned that the drive to las Salinas took about double the time of getting back and at the time I had not quite understood how that was possible. Driving there it all made sense, we went up and up and up and up and up…. Everytime we thought we couldn’t go any further up, we went up again! The highest point was at 4170 meters above sea level- aka about 13600 feet above sea level.
At the salt flats a small festival was going on, yesterday was the first day of winter. There was a live band, food, and people selling artisanal goods.
After a quick wander through we headed out into the flats for our main purpose; the funky perspective pictures. It was a bit difficult considering there was only two of us… but we managed a few with a beer bottle. Overall it was loads of fun just trying to do them, jumping around, and seeing the final comical pictures that came of it.
Purmamarca – The Seven Colored Mountains
An hour or so later we were back on the road, now headed to Purmamarca, the town with the famous seven colored mountains. Here there was more artisanal stores than you can imagine, all selling more or less the same things; llama pom pom balls, purses, bags, chess boards, mates.
>We wandered for awhile, picking up things here and there, and exploring the cemetery (South American cemeteries seem to always be worth a visit!).
Drive back South to Salta
Not wanting to get back to Salta to late and feeling accomplished in our day of exploring we started our trek back stopping in Jujuy to get gas. The stop was actually quite interesting considering we just randomly drove around until we found a gas station, we ended up getting to see a taste of Jujuy! All the trees in town had these beautiful ripe oranges on them, Dalton pulled over so I could grab a couple for a road snack. I peeled it, gave a piece to Dalton and the funniest expression of someone who has ate a pure piece of lemon took over his face…. they weren’t oranges, they were unripe grapefruit; hence why the trees were still completely full of them! An hour later Dalton was still spitting and complaining about the flavor in his mouth.
Back in Salta, determined to not stay at Coloria, have a private room, and pay less we stopped from place to place in our rental car asking for prices until we found a bit of a ran down hostel with cheap rooms, it was perfect for the night!
Wrapping up the Trip with another Night in Salta
The bodybuilder man picked up our rental car, gave us a ride to an Italian restaurant for dinner leaving us with the promise that he would let us know after the car was washed if we owed him money for scratches…. Dinner was tasty and we were happy to retire to our hostel in Salta for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning was full of chores; pack, workout, finish business with the rental car guy (surprise we owed him money), and figuring out how to get to the airport. But we ended Salta with a great note; Dalton got an interview for the PT program in Scotland he wants to attend! Something he had been stressed about for awhile, so we headed back to the city with big grins and hopeful hearts.