La Puna

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June 8th 2009
Published: June 11th 2009
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The northwest of Argentina is known as the local Siberia - at least in winter. It is winter. The puna is a series of high plains (3500 meters and up), populated by lamas and small shepherd communities and surrounded by mountains. I spent the night of the 4th of June in a shabby and very cold hostel in the town of Abra Pampa, before taking the bus to nature reserve Laguna Pozuelos the next day. In the terminal, someone sold huge cups of hot coffee, which blew away my horrible 'i nearly froze overnight that friggin hostel should get some isolation i keep losing stuff and what kind of ridiculous town is this anyway'-feeling, and the trip was quite amusing, with the bus breaking down about 5 times.
Laguna Pozuelos is a huge lake in the middle of the puna, with a huge load of bird species living here (especially in summer). Walking from the road, it takes two hours to get to the lake, walking between vicuñas, guanacos and lamas. The walk itself was actually a lot more fun than being at the lake, which i could not get too close to, since the soil was not very stabile. I decided to spend some more time walking in the puna, and set out to the chapel of Pozuelos, which i saw in the distance. That is the great thing about the puna: there's almost no vegetation here, apart from prickly bushes. So you can see everything, and just pick a direction to walk.
In Pozuelos, nothing more than a chapel and a school, i met Max, with whom i talked for a while before deciding to walk back to the main road over the mountains in two days (25 km, it seemed). I had to go straight to the east, but set out for what looked like a low mountain pass (reduce death risk), which screwed my whole itinerary up in the end - but that's allright. Having walked until dusk, i pitched my tent in the plains, made a stew in my tent to heat the air inside up, filled my sleeping bag with all the clothes i had, and braced myself for the night. It was -10 C, my breath froze on my tent, and i slept very comfortably.
The next day, i had coffee with coca leaves and walked to the mountain pass, and noticed it was a pretty silly mountain, and that the road by which i had come passed by it. I had walked in a completely wrong direction, but would make the best of it anyway. After all, my direction was pretty random. After climbing my first mountain, i went for a second and a third, having quite some breath problems because of the altitude (even though i chewed coca leaves all the time). But what a sight!
Looking for water, i went down again, and ended up at a small farm, where i got some water after promising not to take pictures. Then, i set out on the mountain, now in the real good direction, walked to the end of the mountain range, and found myself at 4500 meter high, next to some oldskool stone construction (watch tower? shepherd waiting pit? inca monument?), not seeing my road anywhere, but being perfectly fine with that. I just watched and enjoyed what i saw, before venturing down to the secondary road again and getting picked up by a trucker that put me in the back of his wheels, where i didn't see a thing and rocked gently around on the rhythm of the gravel track.


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