From Humahuaca to the Bolivian Badlands

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March 22nd 2008
Published: April 2nd 2008
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Humahuaca is a small town in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, one of the most beautiful areas of Argentina.
Farewell Chile
When we left Argentina on December 26th I thought it might be the last time we'd see this great country (on this trip), but since then we've returned three times from Chile. We just can't get enough of it! This latest visit was very much a last minute decision: Bolivia was our next planned destination and the best route in from San Pedro de Atacama seemed to be via Argentina. So we left San Pedro at 10.30am, and all was going fine until close to the border at the Jama Pass. Then, the bus engine started overheating, as it apparently didn't like the altitude! We stopped a couple of times, then struggled onto the border, where there was a 5 hour wait for a replacement bus from Calama. The border pass is at a breathtaking 4200 metres so it was good acclimatisation if nothing else.

We had planned to stop in Purmamarca at 7pm as it was the best town for moving onto Bolivia, but we didn't arrive there till 1.30 am and without a hotel reservation we figured it was safer to stay on the bus, whose final destination was three hours further south in Salta. We
San Francisco StatueSan Francisco StatueSan Francisco Statue

At midday, everyday the statue of St. Francis emerges from behind a door in the Cabildo in Humahuaca to do a little wave and jingle! It's very popular, not just with tourists, there were many locals present too.
rolled into Salta at 4.30 am and as the station was busy at that hour and there was a cafe open, we decided to hang around there until daylight. Most other people on the bus headed off to a hotel but we saved a night's accommodation by staying put - we had an entertaining few hours chatting in the station with Katie & Florice, an English/French couple from our bus.

An unplanned stop in Salta
This wasn't our first time in Salta so as soon as daylight came we went to one of the hostels where we'd stayed before. They didn't have a room till 11am so the much needed sleep had to be postponed for a few hours. It turned out that Katie and Florice were big rugby fans so instead of sleep we went to watch the final round of Six Nations games in The Goblin, Salta's Irish Pub. No luck for Ireland but Ruth was over the moon with Wales winning the Grand Slam. As we'd seen Salta before we didn't bother doing any real sightseeing, though that evening we went to our favourite parrilla, La Rinconada. It was our final steak meal in Argentina -

Our last town in Argentina before moving onto Bolivia. This is a view over the town from the top of the steps.
I'm going to miss the food, especially the steak, from Argentina

From Salta we travelled north up to the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which lies between Jujuy and the Bolivian border. We had stayed in Tilcara when we were in the area four months ago, but this time we pushed further north to Humahuaca to break the journey. I can't think of a nicer place to have spent our last two nights in Argentina than Humahuaca. It's a very scenic village, with an impressive church, a historic cabildo, and some lovely streets. The landscape around Humahuaca is spectacular, and we did one hike up to the mirador, overlooking the town. Humahuaca is at an elevation of 2800 metres so it was ideal preparation for the higher altitudes to come in Bolivia.

Leaving Humahuaca we moved onto La Quiaca, the last town before the border. At the entrance to town and again at the border there is a sign saying "Ushuaia 5121km". It really brought home just how big this country is! After the nightmare type border crossings we've experienced recently between Chile & Argentina, the crossing to Villazon was like a breath of fresh air. Formalities on both sides
Last views of ArgentinaLast views of ArgentinaLast views of Argentina

Ruth in La Quiaca bus station
took only a couple of minutes. So after that rather complicated trip from San Pedro we finally made it to Bolivia! And, perhaps more importantly, I reached country number 30 just before birthday 30!

Into Bolivia
As border towns go Villazon isn't a bad place. We quickly changed our pesos to Bolivianos, before walking six blocks to the bus terminal where we bought tickets for Tupiza. We had wanted to take the twice weekly train but the schedule had changed recently and it no longer ran on Tuesdays. So much for our carefully timed arrival in Villazon!

I'd heard a lot about Bolivian buses before but you really do have to experience one before you can understand them. Apparently only 7%!o(MISSING)f Bolivia's roads are paved - though as we soon learned there are different levels of "unpavedness". The trip to Tupiza took only two hours, but it was the bumpiest two hour journey I've ever been on. It made Ruta 40 in Patagonia feel like a German Autobahn. The difference in the buses and the roads between Argentina and Bolivia was striking. The bus was overcrowded too as they let many people stand in the aisles -
It's a long way to UshuaiaIt's a long way to UshuaiaIt's a long way to Ushuaia

If you travelled 5000 km in Europe you'd pass through many, many countries, but the same distance in South America might only take you from top to bottom of one country!
though it seemed to be mostly locals doing this. I remember thinking afterwards that I'd never manage a 6 or 7 hour journey.

Tupiza is a popular stop in southern Bolivia, and at first there seemed to be as many backpackers as locals around town. We went to Hotel Mitru, said to be one of the best places to stay in town, where we found a double room with TV and private bathroom for about 17 dollars. This is above average for Bolivia but certainly cheaper than we've been accustomed to in South America. Tupiza has recently become a popular alternative to Uyuni for tours to Salar de Uyuni and I think most people we met were planning this trip. The 4 day tour offered by Tupiza tours in our hotel did sound tempting but we preferred to wait for Uyuni to do a 1 or 2 day tour, not available in Tupiza.

Hiking in Tupiza
We spent most of our day's in Tupiza hiking in the nearby countryside. This area is often compared to the American Wild West, and contains some excellent scenery with numerous options for day or multi day treks. There is no tourist information
Avoid the BridgeAvoid the BridgeAvoid the Bridge

Welcome to bus travel in Bolivia!
office in Tupiza, but Tupiza tours have rough maps showing the different treks and using these we found plenty to do during our four day stay.

The first of these took us to an area simply called El Canon, a few kilometres west of town. We walked past the cemetery, before passing a couple of farms and reaching open countryside. There were a good number of locals working here and they all seemed very friendly and waved or said Buenos Dias. The canyon was easy to find and we hiked for about an hour until we reached an impassable point. (In the rainy season many of these paths are impassable). Walking the other direction we found what looked like a natural rock climbing rock face, and, despite not having gear or ropes, we both clambered up about 7 or 8 metres. It was a perfect spot for lunch. By the afternoon storm clouds were coming in fast, and as there is always a danger of flash floods in these canyons we didn't linger.

I had been told stories by other travellers about the poor quality of Bolivian food, but these turned out to be tall tales, especially judging
Canyon near TupizaCanyon near TupizaCanyon near Tupiza

Our first hike in Tupiza, to the canyon a few kilometres west of the town.
by the restaurants in Tupiza. Pizza Napoli quickly became our favourite, and we ate pizza here as good as anywhere in South America. Tupiza town was also far nicer than I expected, and we found the locals were very friendly. I think the first thing that strikes many visitors to Bolivia, especially in the south, is the number of indigenous people. Apparently over 60% of the Bolivan population is indigenous, a far higher percentage than in other countries in the continent. The traditional clothes that they wear are very striking, especially the women's, whose wide, brightly-coloured dresses and bowler hats stand out. The kids are very cute too, a little shy at first but often quite curious about strangers.

Our second hike was an attempt at Cero la Cruz, which overlooks Tupiza from the northeast. It was easy to find our way to the mountain, but finding a path to the summit was more difficult as it was sheer rock wall most of the way. We passed the last houses in town and went on the road between that mountain and Cerro Elefante, but no path upwards presented itself. What we did pass was a horrible, disgusting sight, a dead donkey whose mangled, half rotten carcass lay near the path. The smell carried for a good 50 metres.

We hiked to the end of the valley, a good 3 or 4 km past the mountain, where we finally found what looked like a path upwards. It was more of a scramble really, quite scary in places but we made it onto the ridge where we had excellent views of the countryside. Unfortunately the afternoon clouds were coming in again, just like the previous day, and we could hear thunder in the distance so we had to descend as the ridge was no place to be in a storm. Once again our hike had ended prematurely and we found ourselves back in Tupiza earlier than planned.

Our final hike took us on one of the most popular trails - it was even signposted so no route finding skills needed - to the Quebrada del Palmira and on to Valle des Machos and the Canon del Inca. Leaving town to the south through a gap in the rocks we reached the Devil's Door after 5km, a very impressive thin rock wall, at the entrance to the canyon. The Valle de los Machos is named after the many phallic shaped rocks it contains - I think Ruth appreciated it more than me! We hiked as far as we could into the canyon before steep rock walls forced us to turn around. On the way home we tried to follow the dirt road to another quebrada but it passed through a basurero - basically a rubbish dump - which smelled so foul that we turned around and left it to the pigs. Such a pity that such beautiful countryside has been ruined in this way!

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Corazon de Jesus StatueCorazon de Jesus Statue
Corazon de Jesus Statue

This is a popular lookout point over Tupiza. From a street one block from the main square steps, a path leads past stations of the cross to the lookout area which contains the statue in its centre.
Lunch with a viewLunch with a view
Lunch with a view

You can just about see me somewhere amongst the rocks.
Hiking near Cerro la CruzHiking near Cerro la Cruz
Hiking near Cerro la Cruz

We hiked all the way down the valley (pictured) before finding a (sort of) path up the rocks onto the ridge.
Hiking near TupizaHiking near Tupiza
Hiking near Tupiza

Ruth takes a rest after scrambling up the rocks.
Top of the ridgeTop of the ridge
Top of the ridge

We had to turn back at this point as the dark clouds were circling and we could hear the thunder!
The afternoon cloudsThe afternoon clouds
The afternoon clouds

Back in Tupiza we just about avoided the storm
Devil's GateDevil's Gate
Devil's Gate

This strange rock wall in the Quebrada de Palmira near Tupiza is known as the Devil's Gate
Macho Valley RockMacho Valley Rock
Macho Valley Rock

One of the many phallic shaped specimens in Valle de los Machos
Lightning over TupizaLightning over Tupiza
Lightning over Tupiza

From the roof of our hotel we had a good view of the storms near Tupiza
Pizza in Bella NapoliPizza in Bella Napoli
Pizza in Bella Napoli

After a good day's hiking our reward was pizza & beer in Bella Napoli, a nice restaurant on the main street.

2nd April 2008

Barry - I would love your pizza.!!!
2nd April 2008


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