PASS THE Salta PLEASE bit of a review, pardon the repetitions

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South America » Argentina
February 14th 2006
Published: February 15th 2006
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Morning time, off to Salta…a 4-way group this time altho’ Raf annd I move further ahead as we go… starts with 100 kms of ripio, then nice asphalto and all of it in deserted roads, fantastic scenery, mountain range to the left like scrunched up old carpet, slabs of bare rock in parts, green fuzz over the rest, clouds hanging around the peaks, off to the right, bare rock in spectacular reds and browns, cactus plants and scrubby thorn bushes, pretty inhospitable but beautiful. Every few kms a washout, as we would say back home, sometimes concreted slipway but others just a broad expanse of gravely mud and waterways, approach with caution, drop back to first, grind it thru’, slip and slide but the old 1150 does the job, look to the end, be the bike, try not to ‘be the river’ fortunately its mostly gravel so we just churn thru’….lift the legs on the deeper parts, getting up over the hubs, now just how high is that air intake?…If Ted was here no doubt I’d have to go back and do it again for the camera and it’s a pity I don’t have some footage…tres speccy. Sometimes I become aware of just how far into the back of beyond this is, I mean, if something did clag up I would be in serious shtook! More reason to thank BMW for this machine…abso unfailingly unflinching and go anywhere. Mwah.
On both sides the mountains are closing in again, funnelling us up the valley, into the tiny twisting pass, up and up, clouds ahead, and rain…up and across the narrow pass, the road is cut into the mountain in parts, almost tunnels. Then the winding road down into the next, ever widening valley, following the caramel milkshake river, thrashing its way down then spreading out, many signs that this river flows much bigger and wider in the right season. Today I’m listening to a combo of Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and (would you believe it) Julie Brown ‘Trapped in the body of a white girl’!! Gotta love some of these cross-cultural interfaces!
Stopping from time to time for photo ops, yes I’ve got to do it too!

And constantly ambiguous signposts, there will be several signs at every possible side track before upcoming turns, like real overkill, then after the last, a fairly major diversion with no sign whatsoever! And out on the road, the distance markers, well, I guess that by the time the road sign guys get this far out they get a bit confused, I can relate to that, and I find one sign saying, say, 150 kms to this next town, then, 50 kms further on, a sign saying 125 to the same town!! Always interesting. Glad I’ve got the big gas tank!

We take a turn-off where a sign says only 5kms to Quilmes Ruinas, Quilmes is the most popular beer in Argentina so I’m expecting a broken down brewery and lots of drunks but no, this is the original home of the Quilmes tribe!, and a spectacular place it is, or was, but now sort of restored, a huge area covered in stone walls and you can imagine it as a intricate and enormous village some several hundred years ago, maybe thousands even!

Then on, and back into the mountains, again being funnelled into narrower and narrower confines…

Then, coming down the mountain the rain…I can see it coming as again I’m being funnelled down out of the range, twisting and curving alongside the torrential river, I can see the cloud ahead and sure enough, another bend and its on for young and old, pissing down, stop and pull the jacket on, battle thru’ the next 50 kms in blinding rain, tight curves, then it stops and the road is dry again, then the next batch of rain.., this time bigger drops, whacking into me, almost hail maybe? Get to a small town, Las Vinas, and hole up under a bit of shelter with a couple of cops from the station opposite, they tell us there are no hotels in this town!!…after 20 mins its easing off a bit and we head off to Salta, only 25 kms or so…as we leave the town it drops on us again!…but after 10 kms or so we turn a corner, swing into another small town and its absolutely dry, like it hasn’t rained here for 10 years…bizarre!
However, as we get to Salta it starts again so we take the easy option of the first hotel. Get settled, walk around, looks fine. Find, with great difficulty, a good restaurant amongst all the tourista places. Funnily enough I have one of the best steaks in Argentina! My first best steak in S America was in Salto in Uraguay, and now the next best in a Uraguayan restaurant in a town called Salta!….2 more lotto tix please senor.

Salta in the morning, a huge and wonderfully neglected park around another monstrous contraption at the round-a-bout on the way out of town.
In town a spectacular monument to someone, supported (in the statue) by 30 or so gorgeous, half naked women, always a puzzle how these statues are consistently adorned with half-naked women in this rather Catholic/repressed culture??

The road out snakes alongside the river, but I can’t see the river being quite this tortuous, narrow, 1 1/2 lane road, shaded by overhanging branches, a few cars coming the other way to keep one’s mind alert. Then up into the mountains again, and getting a bit chilly, Billy, and jungle covered, this is like Qld., Crikey, is this a tour of central, northern and eastern Oz?? This road is just a bit tight for these bikes, maybe a 250 would take advantage of the curvery, but I’m happy just to cruise around as there’s always a bunch of cattle, goats or horses, lounging around on the asphalto or grazing on the side, ever-ready to leap across in front of me!

Hey, another change of scenery, I’m heading up again, north, into the mountains again, and looking very high, like snow-capped as well!…the asphalto is perfecto, bliss indeed, getting some wear on the sides again, in fact this some of the best road you will find, and mind boggling views, and extraordinary landscapes, melting mud sculptures, eroded conglomerate mountains, layers of harder rock striations, immense scree slopes, and constantly the road is covered with alluvium where a small river has washed down and spread rubble all over the road, water filled crossings again, rock slides closing the road, carefully negotiate a path thru, or over the rubble and on and up, sweeping corners, scraping the panniers , well, it feels like it!

Then the little market town of Pumarmarca, gorgeous little square full of stalls with richly woven local garments, almost buy some socks, and above the town the famous seven colours of rocks, yes, count them, the cliffs above are really brightly coloured in reds and browns, yellow, green, there must be at least seven, and cacti, those big cartoon type cacti…. spotting the slopes, and across the skyline of the mountain, like a troop of people making their way to the summits.

Now the climbing gets serious so I take a mouthful of the local coca leaves, stash them in the corner of the mouth, good for overcoming altitude problems they say!..I can imagine the locals sniggering behind their hands as another couple of crazy touristas go off sucking a bunch of leaves from some useless plant they have found in the back yard…and it doesn’t do much for the vertigo as we go up around tight switchbacks with the usual broken guardrails and scary drops into the abyss…but always time to get a look at the road below..and the clouds are moving last the top..and across the desolate high country, rocky, stony with sparse scrubby grass, above the snow line this is around 4,200 metres!!..chew those leaves boy. The bike is gasping for breath, my breath is coming in short pants but that’s the only thing in short pants as its about 0 degrees!

Then clear weather, and a snakingly sinuous twister, laid over corners all the way down, another valley and then the flat lands, enormous salt lake, 50 kms of flat and then back into the mountains and eventually Susques, a small brown town, everything is mudbrick or mud, fantastic, hardly anyone around but we find a hotel(?) and hang out the wet washing from last night’s bizarre experience of Salta laundry (for another day)

All the photos with the last for the snow one!


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