Northwestern Argentina

Earth: Nice work.

Epic Sights

That’s one of the main reasons we took this trip: the sights. New landscapes for our eyes to paint. I hope — and someone reading this please slap me if I forget — we, you, never lose the desire to see the new. The unexpected. The possibly greener pastures. 

Northern Argentina, for us at least on this trip, was that: greener pastures. Somewhat literally — we’d been traveling through the compartively stark Peruvian and Chilean deserts for weeks and hadn’t seen much grass — but mostly figuratively. Evergreen- and snow-capped volcanoes. Variegated, stratified cliffs. Quaint yet cosmopolitan villages. Northern Argentina had it all.

Salt Flats

We decided to skip the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (and the country in general), as the Bolivian visa is expensive ($160 USD per person) and the Bolivian tourist experience seems meh, at least according to some fellow travelers. Most had stories about being harassed by la policía and being extorted four-times the local price for gas. No gracias.

Thus, we were excited, darn near dumbfounded, to unexpectedly drive by the world’s third largest salt flat, Salinas Grandes, off our route into Northern Argentina. Just there. Massive. On the side of the highway. We stopped, waltzed around, and struggled to take photos — the combo of the salt in the air and the sun bouncing off the pure white flats makes it difficult to open your eyes, even with sunglasses on. Our van chassis likely rusted off a few millimeters.

Wind (Twisty Kind) Down

The drive from the high Atacama desert — nearly 16,000 feet high at one point — down to the Humahuaca Ravine below was the longest, windiest, steepest —dropping nearly 9,000 feet in a matter of minutes — we’ve yet driven. Dense clouds awaited us at the descent. Driving through them felt like passing through worlds, the desolate yet gorgeous plains to the lush and equally gorgeous mountains.

Another must drive, if you’re in the region.

Neapolitan Hills

Perhaps we should’ve stopped in Purmamarca, the village snuggled up against the Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors). We pulled off the road here. Glanced at the hill. Then into the town. Saw (seemingly) thousands of backpackers and tourists scurrying between the hostels. Feared them and that we couldn’t jerk our van around. Moved on.

We saw a plethora (“jefe, what is a plethora?”) of polychromatic hills throughout this region, however. The colors are remarkable, from pale pink to mint green to pitchy purple, the product of a smorgasbord of geological history and tectonic movement.

Yala

We camped here instead of Purmamarca. For a fortuitous fraction of a fortnight.

Half the reason we stopped was because of a glowing empanada review on iOverlander. We’ve become empanada addicts. Not really connoisseurs, which requires a delicate appreciation of the subject, but just plain ol’ addicts. We scarf as many empanadas as our stomachs can hack. I’d be curious to know the chemical composition of our blood at the moment. It’s likely mostly empanada.

The restaurant, which we had to wait until 8pm to enter — Argentinians eat muy tarde — was, of course, out of empanadas. We were defeated. For certain. But we were redeemed the following day when we wandered into the village and indulged, well inhaled, the best empanadas we’ve yet had on this trip. At some restaurant on some street.

After stabilizing our blood empanada levels, we strolled around town. Admired the residential architecture. Questioned why every house had a pool. Then stumbled into Yala’s Carnival festival. Yala reminded us of Jardin, Colombia, our favorite spot and stop on this trip. You’ll wanna spend time here, admiring the sights and pace. We didn’t, however. We’ve been hurrying south, hoping to see Patagonia before the weather gets too crazy. Perhaps we’ll return one day. See you there.

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