Published: August 7th 2007July 22nd 2007
The reason for putting up with the freezing cold, the dusty roads, and the lack of oxygen!
Every region in Argentina takes a 2 week winter holiday to give teachers a break from their students. Here in Salta it even includes TEFL teachers like us, so we made the most of it and hired a car for 10 days to see some more of North West Argentina.
After negotiating the streets of Salta back to Grand Bourg to pick up our gear, we were soon on our way out of town. What a scenic drive it was.
Ruta 51 follows the route of the now defunct "Tren De Las Nubes" which will hopefully be restored before we leave Salta. I expected a major provincial route to be a good road so it was a surprise when it soon deteriorated to rough ripio just a few km outside of the city! Our little Fiat Uno must have wondered what sort of madman was taking it onto such surfaces! This surface continued until just before our lunch stop.
The road winds its way up the "Quebrada de Toro" crossing the train tracks several times. It was dry and dusty, but the views of the railway bridges crossing the quebrada combined with the constantly changing colours in the
This is the (dried up) river we followed up for the day.
rocks meant it was never tedious.
We stopped for lunch in Santa Rosa de Tastil where we visited the museum and ruins. The museum was full of artefacts including some pots in which people used to store the bones of their ancestors, and display them in the house! The director of the museum spoke very clear Spanish and explained lots of things to us. The name Tastil apparently means "chiming rock" and she demonstrated a huge rock xylophone to us hewn out of the local hills. She then showed us all of the petroglyphs which have been saved from natural erosion and theft, and stored in the museum.
Then we drove up to the ruins and wandered around the thousands of former one-room dwellings now surrounded by cacti. It was a beautiful setting which was seemingly abandoned when the water supply dried up.
Another half an hour or so up mainly good roads, the ripio returned shortly before San Antonio De Los Cobres. We drove around trying to find accommodation. The expensive hostel said he was full, but there was nobody in sight, and we didn't like the HI place when we found it. Instead we ended
One of many that cross the Rio Toro.
up with a room in the friendly Hostel Palenque. At almost 4000m above sea level, and in the middle of winter, we anticipated a cold night so insisted on some form of heating. A calor gas bottle was soon brought out complete with an attachment to convert it into a heater. It was certainly needed as the temperatures drop well below zero overnight.
The reason for coming to San Antonio was to see "El Polvorillo", the enormous steel railway viaduct which is famous on postcards in the Salta region. We left on Ruta 51 which soon became the worst road we had driven on. Then we had to turn off onto a track which was worse still! This track continued for about 15km to the viaduct. It was very impressive and quite a feat of engineering. We anticipate the re-opening of the railway so that we can see it all from a different perspective. We tried to drive to the top of the bridge but the road was impassable to our Uno. Rather that walk up, we headed back. It turned out to be a good decision as we just made it before nightfall and freezing temperatures.
Quebrada de Toro
With beautiful scenery like this, the drive was really worth it.
somewhere to eat in San Antonio was more of a challenge than expected. By 8.30pm the temperatures were so low that hot food became stone cold on your plate within minutes: some justification for scoffing it down quickly I suppose!!
Bitter cold temperatures, unventilated calor gas heaters and a lack of oxygen at altitude ensured we had a terrible night's sleep before heading off up Ruta 40 which is, apparently, an even worse road than what we had already driven on!
There are more photos below