Salta, Purmamarca & Tilcara

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien. Click here for photos of there.

A colonial city and child sacrifices

“The child sits upright, knees bent, wearing woolen garments and a black, four-pointed, finely woven hat topped with a small feather. Alongside lie a basket of small corncobs, a knotted string bag, and a grub hoe carved from a llama jawbone. Brown braided hair peeks out from behind a metal mask that was meant to ward off evil spirits in the afterlife.” ( extract from “Atacama Desert” by Priit J. Vesilind, National Geographic, Aug 2003).

This is the description of an Inca child, sacrificed along with two others on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano located on the Argentina-Chile border. According to archaeologists and cultural historians, the children were victims of a sacrificial ritual called capacocha. Their bodies remain in state of near perfect preservation as a result of the incredibly arid, cold conditions of their high altitude tombs. Images of these mummies are available here (Warning: disturbing content).  Macabre and yet fascinating, the story of these children who had traveled all the way from Cuzco, Peru only to be drugged and placed in burial niches in the exposed side of the mountain and left to die intrigued me. Having already decided to go trekking in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, we decided to push a little further south in order to visit the controversial Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana, where the mummies are exhibited. However, when we actually stood outside the museum getting our wallets ready to pay the entrance, a wave of definite uneasiness struck us. It suddenly seemed entirely ghoulish to us. We were, in essence, about to pay to view some dead children. Unthinkable. We turned around and walked away. Undoubtedly, these mummies are extraordinarily valuable in terms of history, culture and archaeology but as we were, basically, just curious, visiting them didn’t seem right. Interestingly, the museum has stirred up alot of emotion in the area with many locals arguing that the remains of children should be laid to rest. It really is a question of intellect vs. emotion – and for us, emotion won out.

We instead spent the rest of our day in Salta wandering through its cobbled streets and leafy squares, soaking up the sunshine and admiring its beautiful colonial architecture.

The corner of the main plaza, Salta

The corner of the main plaza, Salta

A Hill of Seven Colours

The next day, we hopped back on the bus and retraced our steps back to Purmamarca. We had had a slightly rough run of things in terms of accommodation and my inner princess (no, I’m not proud of her) was starting to stamp her feet.

We decided to treat ourselves to a night in the wonderful Don Faustino at the foothills of the Cerro de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colours). We hikked through the Paseo de Los Colorados, counted the colours (satisfyingly, there are indeed 7!), watched the mountains light up, change colour and darken in the sunset, and savored glasses of delicious Argentinan Malbec. It was bliss!


Paseo de Los Colorados

Fortresses and cowboys

We then headed on to Tilcara, a small village a little further to the north, where we visited its botanic gardens (You have to love the cacti…and the giant volcanic stone that rings when you hit it with another stone! Look look!! ) and the restored remains of a pucara, an Incan fortress.

Pucara de Tilcara

Pucara de Tilcara

As we wandered back to our hostel, we struck culture gold! We could hear whoops, music and cheering and, like moths to a flame, we were drawn in. It was a rodeo – an actual, real life rodeo! Irresistible! The style of the gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) was fabulous – shiny, clinking spurs, bandannas, knives on their belts and hats… oh the hats. The whole village was there in their wrangling finery and again I cursed my practical trekking pants – sometimes they just don’t cut it!





Quebrada de Humahuaca et ses 7 couleurs

Par Damien Click here and here for Emma’s posts. Les photos du roadtrip sont ici, et celles de la quebrada par là!

En prenant ce bus de San pedro de Atacama vers Salta, la principale ville du nord-ouest argentin, on ne savait pas que l’itinéraire était répertorié sur… Mais qui dit dangereux dit aussi magnifiques panorama, et on ne sera pas déçus du voyage!


Ice shards

Ice shards

On traverse des paysages désertiques splendides, avec des restes de glaces hivernales en innombrables pointes sculptées par le soleil et le vent, de nombreux cols, dont un passage à 4819m me dit google earth lors d’une recherche le lendemain, expliquant nos maux de tête et les essoufflements inattendus!

Après le passage de frontière Chili/Argentine au paso du Jama, sur un plateau à 4300m d’altitude, on commence à apercevoir de multiples couleurs de roches, car on s’approche doucement de la Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Cuesta del Lipán

Cuesta del Lipán

On traverse des nuages, et lorsqu’ils se dissipent on peut admirer d’impressionnant points de vue sur la vallée et la route sinueuse qui nous attend. De lacet en lacet, le terrain de jeu rêvé pour les quelques motards que nous croisons!


Après un bref passage par Salta, jolie cité à l’architecture coloniale, on remonte vite découvrir plus tranquillement cette Quebrada du Humahuaca, en passant par Purmamarca avec ses collines aux 7 couleurs (on vous laisse compter), et Tilcara avec ses ruines pré-incas.



Ici au Nord-Ouest de l’Argentine, on ne rencontre pas ces Argentins aux apparences européennes, métissés par les différentes vagues d’immigration, mais principalement les descendants des peuples indigènes, majoritairement Quechua, et par chance on tombe par hasard sur une fête des gauchos locaux, avec costumes traditionnels et compétition de lasso!



On pourrait rester des semaines à randonner à travers les montagnes colorées de la région, mais c’est qu’on a toujours un programme chargé (mais pas trop) jusqu’à Noël, et on achète donc des billets vers La Quiaca, la ville frontière avec la Bolivie.

Roadtrip from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta

By Emma. For the slideshow, click here.

Inescapable slasher films, wonderful pleather recliners, overflowing toilets and disturbingly damp aisles, fleece blanket tuck-ins, Argentinian Irish stew, desert breakdowns and mildly worrying careening, infinite highways and pocked dirt tracks – all part of the intrigue and vagaries of bus travel in South America. Honestly, and pretty inexplicably, I have really been enjoying the marathon trips, the ups and downs. These bus journeys seem, to me, to be the complete opposite of the sterile, identikit environments of airports. Traveling (relatively) slowly like this feels more like a process than just a result – it feels, somehow, more real.

Bus breakdown near Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Bus breakdown near Puerto Madryn, Argentina

It probably comes across as a bit bizarre to rhapsodize about a bus journey but here I go. The 10-hour journey from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, across the Andes to Salta, Argentina, winds through some truly incredible scenery and spins along some of the most dangerous roads in the world ( Setting out from San Pedro de Atacama we head east, the road flanking the spectacular and perfectly conical Volcan Licancabur.


We climb higher and higher to 4000m. Weather-sculpted red earth, snow capped volcanoes, aquamarine and navy lagoons flecked with pink flamingos and vast expanses of breathtaking nothingness streak by. “Wolverine” is playing as the in-bus entertainment but Damien and I have our noses firmly pressed against the glass of the window, determined not to miss a thing in this Martian landscape!


We cross the plateau and begin another climb. The bus struggles. We reach 4,500m and another plateau of beaded, salt-edged lagoons. The landscape slides slowly past in shades of red, pink, ochre, yellow and brown. Jagged spears of ice stand out against the scorched earth.

Ice shards

Ice shards

The tingling in our fingertips increases and it becomes a little difficult to catch our breath. We continue to climb. The bus struggles, struggles and cuts out. The lower level of oxygen is affecting the engine’s combustion. We stop for 20 minutes and then continue our slow climb. The engine cuts out again. We stare out of our window. Clouds drift across the road in front of us at approx 5,000m.

Cuesta del Lipán: drop from 4200 to 2200m

Cuesta del Lipán: drop from 4200 to 2200m

We clear the highest point at a snail’s pace and emerge from the clouds. The descent begins and the road twists and coils below us. It is impossible to cleave our attention away from the drama of the Cuesta del Lipán’s hairpin bends and sheer roadside drops.


Down and down we corkscrew past fields of reaching green cacti and rippling mountains. The landscape changes again as we reach the adobe village of Purmamarca at the foot of the La Cuesta de Lipan. The mountains tower above and around us in incredible colours of greens, reds and purples. This is the Quebrada de Purmamarca and the Cerro de los Siete Colores ( Hill of Seven Colors). It’s incredible!


As we continue onwards, the landscape becomes more and more green and it’s increasingly easier to breath. The difference with the stark and beautiful desolation of Atacama is at once striking and refreshing. Yet, as we pull into Salta, I know we’re both disappointed this amazing bus journey is over.

El Chaltén

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien, en français. Click here for the pictures of there.

A place of silvered, twisted forests, winding trails, red-headed woodpeckers, frozen lakes and wild horses

Ruta 40 and downy comfort

Past guanacos, battling rheas and the beautifully, blue Glacier Viadma, we travel up Ruta 40 to the trekking capital of Argentinia, El Chaltén. The wind is howling and the rain streaking down the muddied glass of the bus windows as we pull up in front of our hostel, El Rancho Grande. By some wonderful twist of chance, our hostel is in the process of being refurbished and we find ourselves in the duck-down luxury of its four-star sister hotel, the Poincenot. Our rain-gear skulks, studiously ignored, in the bottom of our rucksacks as we wallow for an afternoon in deliciously awful MTV (yup, “Keeping up with Kardashians” and “16 and pregnant”… I can’t help myself!!Oh the shaaaame!).

l'auberge est fermée, on est placé dans un hotel...

Lago Torre

The next day dawns grey and blustery. We team up with an Andoran couple, Roger and Marta, and an English boy, Paul, to set out on the 8 hour round-trip to Lago Torre. The going is good, albeit muddy, snowy and extremely spiky – oh yes, my new plant foe is out in force along the track – and we reach Lago Torre pretty easily. The air is thick and silent around the frozen lake as if the snow is muffling and absorbing all trace of our presence. My inner geography nerd has definitely been released and I’m constantly poking Damien saying things like, “Look, look a U-shaped valley! A moraine! An arête! Ooooh an erratic!” Seriously, it’s quite sad!

Lago Torre

Lago Torre

My untrustworthy lowland feet!

Due to the snow, the upper paths overlooking the glacier have been closed. Little do I know that “a little bit of snow” (in fairness, it’s more snow than Ireland has ever seen!) would fail to deter the Andorans and off they go, sure-footedly picking their way up the moraine. Naturally, we follow … even though every part of me is silently screeching, “But the rules!The rules!!”. Slipping, teetering and stiff with fear, I trace their tracks, footprint for footprint, along the ridge. The snow is past my knees and I’m trying to ignore the sheer drop onto the frozen lake to my too immediate left. The view when we reached the top is wonderful – well, so Damien informs me. I’m far more concerned about how I’m going to get back down again!


A wild and frozen beauty

An Andoran home remedy and a day of bubbles and bathtubs means I’m eager for more hiking when fine weather and blue skies call us outside again. We take a taxi through spectacular landscapes up to El Pilar to begin our trek to Lago de los Tres. The trek is magical, taking us through a Narnia-like, twisted, silvered woodland of woodpeckers and wild horses.



The snow is deep and the paths are icy but on we go, drawn on by the strange, frozen beauty of the trail. When we reach a sign warning us that the route up the mountain is only for experienced trekkers – a small sliver of worry starts to unfurl in my tummy. I look at Damien. Nope, blithely ignoring the fact that I am most definitely not what could ever be called an “experienced trekker”, he’s just even more delighted. Sure, nothing like a bit of mortal danger to increase the fun! It looks like we’ll be continuing! Soon I find myself clawing my way up the mountain trying my best to ignore the thrumming fear in my cold ears. I reach the peak having basically hauled myself up there using my nails and teeth.


It is only when I manage to slide down (by way of my bum and heels, dignity lost and fluttering in the breeze) to the safety of Lago Capri that I can appreciate the beauty of the FitzRoy towering about us.


Condors and ceramic penguins

We head out that night for a celebratory meal – Damien celebrating reaching the top and me, the heady glee at not dying! Bruce Chatwin’s ceramic penguin holds our wine and the lamb parilla is indescribably delicious!

The following day, Damien and Paul trek back up to Lago Torre again to capture the view in some blue-skied photos while I, lured by the name, take a solo trek to Mirador de los Condores. I’m not disappointed. The trail winds through some lower hills, hugging the cliffs. Two condors wheel effortlessly on the breezes above me. I feel like I am the only person in the world. It is so silent and the sky is vast in a way I have only seen here in Patagonia.

Nuage cachant Fitz Roy - Mirador de los Condores

Mirador de los Condores

Randonnées à El Chaltén

Par Damien. Click here for Emma’s post.  Et les photos sont ici!

Non contents de notre première petite ascension la veille à El Calafate, nous voici maintenant dans la capitale de la randonnée en Argentine, El Chaltén.
On y retrouve Paul, voyageur anglais rencontré parmi les éléphants de mer à Puerto Madryn, avec qui on a décidé de partager les étapes montagnardes du voyage.

Lagoa Torre

Le premier jour est très nuageux, et quelque peu pluvieux, mais on s’attaque malgré tout au lac Torre avec Paul et deux Andorrois? Andorrains? habitants d’Andorre (après vérification, Andorrans).


8 heures de randonnée, où Emma et moi essayons tant bien que mal de suivre le couple de pyrénéens, et Paul qui s’est déjà formé les mollets au Népal.
La vue à l’arrivée sur le lac gelé sera une belle récompense bien méritée, mais l’arrière panorama, qu’on devine presque, restera largement caché derrière les nuages.

Le vent et la neige sont au rendez-vous le lendemain, on reste donc au chaud! Les nuages s’éclaircissent en fin de journée, et on voit pour la première fois le symbole de la région visible même depuis le centre du village: le splendide sommet du Fitz Roy.

Soleil! Vu sur le Fitz Roy depuis le village

Soleil! Vu sur le Fitz Roy depuis le village

On part donc pour une rapide ascension au sud de la ville, mais évidemment à l’approche du sommet, les nuages reviennent, et c’est un panorama orphelin de son sommet que nous admirons longuement malgré tout.

Nuage cachant Fitz Roy - Mirador de los Condores

Nuage cachant Fitz Roy – Mirador de los Condores

Après la pluie…

On décale notre départ, car les jours suivant, le beau temps est attendu… Et beau temps il y aura!

Suivant les conseils d’un gardien du parc national, nous prenons un taxi qui nous emmène au Nord, au-delà des limites du parc national, et nous marchons toute la journée entourés de splendides paysages, chaque franchissement de colline offrant son lot de nouvelles surprises, de magnifiques panoramas, lacs gelés reflétant le soleil, en passant par les condors toujours aussi impressionnants, et surtout les piverts locaux (Pic de Magellan) qui nous surprennent avec leurs chants si singuliers. Un petit souvenir de “Ça Cartoon” et Woody Woodpecker!

Magellanic Woodpecker - Pic de Magellan

Magellanic Woodpecker – Pic de Magellan

L’ascension vers le lac de los Tres s’avèrera aussi difficile que le panneau à l’entrée promettait: “pour randonneurs expérimentés et équipés, en bonne condition physique”, c’est tout nous! C’est principalement la neige et la glace qui rendent l’ascension délicate, avec glissades et petites frayeurs garanties…


Mais la vue au sommet est à la hauteur, sans mauvais jeu de mots.


Le dernier jour, Paul et moi décidons de refaire la première randonnée (3e fois pour Paul qui était arrivé un jour avant nous et avait abandonné avant la fin à cause du mauvais temps). Quand on aime, on ne compte pas.

Cerro Torre, Glaciar Grande, et Lagoa Torre

Cerro Torre, Glaciar Grande, et Lagoa Torre (gelé)

On peut donc profiter du lac Torre à nouveau, avec cette fois le pic du Cerro Torre en arrière plan. Une autre grosse journée, puisqu’on rallonge la boucle initiale, on enchaîne les sentiers rocheux, boueux ou enneigés, avec toujours nos amis les piverts qui tambourinent contre l’écorce des arbres, et surtout des traces toutes fraîches de Puma qu’on suit dans l’espoir de rencontrer le rare félin, sans succès (mal)heureusement.
Près de 40km au total, dont 5km pour un détour vers un sentier où je pensais avoir perdu mon bonnet la veille (j’ai une fâcheuse tendance à égarer mes affaires récemment). 5km pour rien, mon bonnet n’y était pas. Oui, je l’aimais beaucoup ce bonnet.

Emma de son côté ce jour là retourne au point de vue proche de la ville, sans les quelques nuages cette fois-ci, et avec une rencontre de très près avec des condors! Évidemment la batterie de son appareil s’était vidée juste avant. A moins qu’elle n’ait inventé cette histoire de condors…

Retour à El Calafate après ces quelques jours d’acclimatation en montagne, avant de passer à la vitesse supérieure, au parc national Torres del Paine.