Parque Nacional Calilegua

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June 11th 2009
Published: June 19th 2009
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Continuing its marvellous landscape-shifting capacity, Argentina caught me off guard with the Yungas: at only 50 kilometers east from the arid Quebrada de Humahuaca, lush rainforest rules supreme. After coming back from the Puna, i spent the night in a shady pension in San Salvador de Jujuy, where there's not an endless list of things to do. Bussing to Ledesma, the surroundings started to change. Soon, fields of cane sugar and misty forest-covered mountains appeared.
From Ledesma, i started walking to Parque Calilegua, 10 km further. It was Sunday, so no buses ran. On my way, i stopped to buy some wine for the night (it's wilderness, but it does not have to be uncomfortable), which led me to a long talk with the shop owner, who thought camping was way to uncomfortable. I told him i thought he hd stayed with his mama for too long a time (as Argentines do, i get the feeling that especially men generally don't manage to grow up here). Then, some very wasted locals joined us, and soon i was one man's 'mejor amigo' - though he seemed unsure about whether the best way to express that was to hug or to stab me (a feeling his girlfriend quite enhanced, trying to rub my legs and hanging around my neck). He offered to drive me to the park on his motorcycle, which would have meant certain death, given his very incoherent state of being.
After saying goodbye for about half an hour, i finally got to the road to the park, where i got a ride from three ladies, and another ride in a massive monster truck of an austrian family, who went to the park as well. There we made a fire, drunk the wine, and all was well.
The 8th of June saw me exploring the trails in Parque Calilegua. There's no multi-day treks to do without a guide, but what there is is not to be frowned upon: wide views over the green valleys, thick liana-lined forest (the early bird caught all the spiderwebs) and solitude, even though everything around the lonely walker makes jungly sounds. In the evening, a grand fire was made with the Austrians (Alex held a very interesting exposé about his job as a zero-energy-houses architect - not just resorting to alternative energies, but having invented a type of insulation that roots out heating altogether. impressive) and an older Canadian couple, the hombre of which got a bit unsettlingly semi-rightwing-badass at times.
On tuesday, i hitchhiked further north, to the village of San Francisco. Which was pretty close to paradise: set on a mountainside, on the edge of a magnifiscent jungle valley. And with some very nice people, like comedor Cerro Hermoso's don Hasinto and camping Oscuro's Nicolas. Walking around town was a pleasure, and there promised to be some super sweet treks in the surrounding areas. I prepared to trek through the forest and over the Andes to Tilcara, close to Humahuaca. A magnificent three day journey, with ever changing landscapes and staying in very small communities.
First though, i went to the waterfalls near town. And then it happened...

The growl, four meters in front of me, coming from behind the leaves, did not leave any doubt: i had entered a giant cat's territory. Through the vegetation, i could not make out whether i had run into a puma or a jaguar (soundwise though, it did not sound puma-ish and very jaguarish), but all in all that did not matter that much, both had the possibility to turn me into a gory mess. Sticking to the established rules, i started clapping and waving my hands above my head, while shouting at the wilderness. More roaring and growling came back, as i slowly walked backwards, until i felt i was far away enough to turn around and get back to town pronto.
I had expected the confrontation of a man alone and a wild, oversized carnivore to be life-changing and sublime in a dangerous way. But i mainly felt like an idiot, waving my hands, growling at the woods and walking backward. There was never a sense of 'so this is where it ends', but much more a distant sense of awareness, of thinking 'oh boy, this is so ridiculous'. In town, don Hasinto gave me a mate and told me i was lucky for meeting such an animal, and for getting away.
I had gotten scared though, and went to bed with serious doubts about my three day trek. The trail is used by the locals, once every while, but they do not go alone - they bring cows, other humans and a big knife. In the morning, i did set out, not so sure, but thinking it would be so great that not going would be a crime. When i reached the trail that went into the jungle though, i could not go on. And though i could try, i did not feel like spending days with the feeling i had to continually watch my back, and not being able to go at it in a relaxed way. I stuck my thumb out, and got a ride to Ledesma. A bus from there led my quite unbalanced self (angry for chickening out, happy for being not over-hubris-y) to Salta. In the following day, i would walk around town, looking for black and white film - mission impossible. Later on, i went to the very oldschool museums of anthropology and natural sciences and drank too much with two French guys.


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