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Published: June 11th 2009
Irúya has the most perfect location ever, in an isolated valley, surrounded by imposing mountains, with the river running steadily below. It is the centre (well, with around 800 inhabitants) of a range of small indigenous communities in this part of the Andes. The town itself is charming with its very ancient architecture and steep streets, surrounding by terrace fields on the flatter parts of the mountain slopes. Earlier on, this was a region where terrace agriculture - exisiting here from before the arrival of the incas - flourished and on the mountains you can still see the rests of this brilliant way to make the best of a terrain as difficult as this.
I went here with Barbara from Paris and Julien from Montreal, whom i met on the shabby bus that needed 3 hours for the 60km trip down into the valley (passing over 4000 meter, and then dropping down in hairpins, through wildly beautiful scenery). We based ourselves in hospedaje Asunta, a friendly (and insanely cheap) family place. There's a lot of trails for good walks around Irúya, you can see a lot of them from town, or from the mountain right at the end of the town (a very nice walk in itself, with supreme views over the valley). It was a bit sad i didn't stay too long, there seemed to be so much to explore.
The only problem with that exploring is that the tourist office is not keen to give you information on nice treks - you are supposed to go with a guide. And there's a sign of Irúya's problem: it's a region extremely promoted for tourism, with tens of tour buses arriving every day in high season (i was there in low season, luckily), camera loaden tourists invading town. A lot of people in Irúya and the surrounding communities are extremely uncomfortable with that, they have the feeling that this happens without them having control over it, and want to steer and manage it, so that life can go on as it was. We got this explained to us by the cultural centre / tourist office - that has an interesting film on show about the region. It's understandeable, but at the same time all too easy to blame invasive tourists: Irúya has about 25 places to stay, making tourism very easy. It is simply the easiest way to make money, and as lamentable as it is that a people that not so long ago lived from exchanging products, food and handicrafts, now has fallen for the taste of money. Allzu menschlich.
Anyway, of course we went walking without a guide, to the village of San Isidro (11 hostels there, and maybe 250 inhabitants). We made a slight detour to look at another valley, with very nice mountains, and not much space to walk, but whatever. When we had to cross the river, i threw my shoes to the other side, but one didn't make it. Soon i was running barefoot over rocks and gravel ('comme un malade' as Barbara observed), trying to get my dear shoe back, shouting like a maniac (feet hurt like hell). After 700 meter, i gave up all hope, started to laugh with the absurdity of the situation and stumbled back to my friends. And then suddenly, looking back over my shoulder, i spotted my walking companion, waiting for me against a rock, soaked but safe. And praised were the heavens.
Finally, we made it to San Isidro, all in all not such a very impressive place, but the walk is more than worth it, and there's some very beautiful fields (i have a deep affection for this harmonious agriculture). Along the walk, we were accompanied by one of the few female dogs in Argentina, a very fine animal indeed. And though i never felt as much put in a gringo position as here, it was sad to leave such a beautiful place. On the fourth of June, i felt myself in the middle of nowhere, at the junction of the road, with a woman singing to her baby at 5 meters from me, both of us waiting for transport on a vast plain between the mountains.
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