Beetle tracks
Beetle tracks
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

The whole reason for coming back to Argentina was to visit the far northwest provinces of Salta and Jujuy.  We started in Salta and worked our way northward to the Bolivian border.  Salta was a fairly typical large Argentine city.  It has a nice central plaza, some popular pedestrian malls and ample treats to snack on.  We spent a few days there just taking in the city and its sights.  One highlight was the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña de Salta which displays Incan artifacts including three frozen mummies that were discovered on the summit of a nearby volcano.  Many other  Incan mummies have been discovered but the ones on display in Salta are the only ones preserved in low-pressure and sub-zero temperatures.  Photography is not allowed in that museum so you will just have to visit Salta to see them.

Salta’s food scene was pretty entertaining and surprisingly different from what we saw further south in the country.  For lunch our first day I tucked into a nice big bowl of locro pulsado which is a corn soup with various types of meat and potatoes.  There is also a thriving street food scene in Salta.  Pochoclo (sweetened popcorn) is certainly the king of street snacks but we also saw candied nut vendors, hotdog-encased-in-pancake-batter vendors (don’t ask) and juice vendors.  There was no problem keeping ourselves fed in Salta.

Locro: a corn and meat soup
Locro: a corn and meat soup

From Salta we headed north to Tilcara.  This was supposed to take about three hours on the bus but we ended up killing a full day thanks to the Argentine equivalent of labor day.  Argentines and their holidays…  Tilcara is a small town at the southern end of Argentina’s Quebrada de Humahuaca.  Quebrada is the Spanish term for a steep valley or ravine and, in this case, the geography gives the place an abundance of water for farming.

Purmamarca and its famous colored hillside
Purmamarca and its famous colored hillside

The main attraction in the Quebrada are the colorful mountains that surround the valley.  Purmamarca, a small village about 30 minutes from Tilcara, has a particularly famous “hill of seven colors” that overlooks the town.  We popped in for half a day and had a look around.

A short hike outside of Purmamarca
A short hike outside of Purmamarca

From Tilcara we made a one-day side trip to the remote village of Iruya (population ~1000).  The road into Iruya, called the Obra del Condor, is one crazy mountain road.  It ascends gradually to over 13,000ft before plunging through dozens of switchbacks into the valley.  The town itself is “muy tranqillo” and I believe that donkeys outnumbered cars in the streets.  Smarter donkeys were found napping in the shade under the new pedestrian-only suspension bridge which connects the two halves of the town.

Iruya, Argentina
Iruya, Argentina

After one night in Iruya we hopped a bus back to Humahuaca (bags on the roof, of course!) and made a quick connection to La Quiaca on the Argentine-Bolivian border.  We had heard that is best to get an early start at crossing into Bolivia so we wanted to get as close as possible.  More on that adventure in the next post.


Northwest Argentina
Lots of fruit to choose from at Salta's market
Lots of fruit to choose from at Salta’s market
A very enthusiastic pizza vendor at Salta's central mercado.
A very enthusiastic pizza vendor at Salta’s central mercado.
My very first humita!
My very first humita!
The central plaza in Salta, surrounded by citrus trees
The central plaza in Salta, surrounded by citrus trees
One of Salta's pedestrian streets
One of Salta’s pedestrian streets
Pochoclo con miel: Sweetened popcorn, a favorite snack of Salteños and Amy
Pochoclo con miel: Sweetened popcorn, a favorite snack of Salteños and Amy
Locro: a corn and meat soup
Locro: a corn and meat soup
The place to eat in Salta
The place to eat in Salta
Dog that joined us while we enjoyed a coffee in the plaza.
Dog that joined us while we enjoyed a coffee in the plaza.
Hot dog vendors are also everywhere in Salta
Hot dog vendors are also everywhere in Salta
Purmamarca and its famous colored hillside
Purmamarca and its famous colored hillside
A short hike outside of Purmamarca
A short hike outside of Purmamarca
Amy insisted that I pose like a cactus
Amy insisted that I pose like a cactus
Who needs barbed wire when you've got a bunch of cacti on hand.
Who needs barbed wire when you’ve got a bunch of cacti on hand.
The wood of a cardón cactus
The wood of a cardón cactus
A cactus with moss growing on it.
A cactus with moss growing on it.
Nice view from our room in Tilcara
Nice view from our room in Tilcara
Waiting on the bus and having a staring contest with this guy.
Waiting on the bus and having a staring contest with this guy.
The start of the crazy road into Iruya.
The start of the crazy road into Iruya.
Lots and lots of switchbacks.
Lots and lots of switchbacks.
A great view just outside our room in Iruya.  Also a good place for drying laundry!
A great view just outside our room in Iruya. Also a good place for drying laundry!
Our favorite dog in Iruya.  Amy named him Banana because he wouldn't eat the banana she gave him.
Our favorite dog in Iruya. Amy named him Banana because he wouldn’t eat the banana she gave him.
Home cookin: lentil stew and big bread
Home cookin: lentil stew and big bread
Somebody likes belly scratches
Somebody likes belly scratches
Iruya, Argentina
Iruya, Argentina


Paso Jama

Argentina, Chile Comments Off
May 162011

Before heading north to Bolivia we wanted to make one last stop in Argentina to explore the northwest.  Buses from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta, Argentina go via the Jama pass.  The road is relatively new (constructed in the 1990′s) and climbs east from San Pedro to a maximum altitude of 4,400m (14,432ft).  The total trip takes about 12 hours but the scenery along the way is absolutely incredible so it is hard to be bored.

Vicuñas
Vicuñas

After clearing the Chilean border formalities in San Pedro, the bus started its slow crawl out of the San Pedro basin.  Being an Argentine bus, we were able to enjoy a delightful selection of films including direct-to-DVD favorites such as “Blood and Bone” on the climb out of San Pedro.

We reached border about three hours into the ride and then got to unload (people and bags) for the usual border antics.  An exceptionally lazy working dog made a humerous attempt at sniffing all of our bags before he went back to sleeping along the road.  All in all, we were stopped at the border for about an hour.

Once we were on the Argentine side of the border drove for a few hours more across desolate terrain and salt flats.  We passed through Salinas Grandes (Argentina’s baby version of Bolivia’s Salar) and then down through dozens of switchbacks into the Quebrada de Humahuaca.  We pulled into Salta about 9PM and made our way to the hostel.

Paso Jama
Volcán Licáncabur
Volcán Licáncabur
Vicuñas
Vicuñas
Altitude!
Altitude!
Argentine customs facility just after the pass.  The Chilean equivalent is located in San Pedro.
Argentine customs facility just after the pass. The Chilean equivalent is located in San Pedro.
Pulling in to Salinas Grandes
Pulling in to Salinas Grandes
Starting the descent into the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Starting the descent into the Quebrada de Humahuaca

4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!

The day after our trip to El Bolsón it was time for us to cross the Andes to a new country for the both of us – Chile! One of the classic ways to cross is the famous “cruce de lagos” which is a full day of switching between buses and boats as you trace your way across the mountain range.  Unfortunately, this trip is quite expensive and from what we read the quality of the experience is highly weather dependent.  To save some precious pesos we bought a Bariloche to Puerto Montt bus ticket for about 30USD each from the ever-present Via Bariloche.

A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.

I had visions in my mind of a harrowing 14,000ft mountain pass on a gravel road but in reality the Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass is pretty tame: below 1300 meters and beautiful tarmac the whole way.  About an hour of the journey is spent on border formalities and most of that was on the Chilean side.  Chile is very protective of their agriculture and import bans on fruits, vegetables and animal products are strictly-enforced.  At the border they completely unloaded the bus and ran all the bags through the xray.  Meanwhile they have a working dog sniffing the ins and outs of the bus.  It was impressively thorough, I have to say.

Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.

Within thirty minutes of our arrival in Puerto Montt we were already on another bus headed south to Ancud on Chiloé Island.  The total journey (8 USD) takes about three hours and maybe 30 minutes of this are spent on a drive-on, drive-off ferry.  Cruz del Sur, the bus company, also operates the ferries so the timing is nicely orcestrated and wait times are minimal.  The water crossing was smooth and we even managed to spot a few penguins.  We pulled into Ancud around 5PM and made our way to an excellent hostel (Hostal Mundo Nuevo) on the waterfront that was to be our home for the next three nights.

Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Bariloche to Chiloé Island
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!
Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.
Penguins!
Penguins!
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Hostal Mundo Nuevo - a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Hostal Mundo Nuevo – a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Apr 092011

We woke up way too early to catch an 8 o’clock bus to El Bolsón.  The small hippy town is a couple hours south of Bariloche and is known for its thrice-weekly market.  We had to take a taxi to the bus station because we couldn’t find a collectivo going the right direction.  There were plenty going in the opposite direction, much to my annoyance.

We had seats right up front which allowed us to enjoy the 20 or so feet of visibility thanks to a thick morning fog.  The driver seemed to have things well under control though and we arrived safely right on schedule at 10AM.  The market was supposed to start at 10AM but since this is a hippy town and an Argentine town, the schedule was a bit more flexible.

Amy had a vegetarian (calabaza) milanesa sandwich from the vegetarian sandwich stand.
Amy had a vegetarian (calabaza) milanesa sandwich from the vegetarian sandwich stand.

After a bit of coffee and tea (and wifi stealing) at a nearby bakery we ventured out to check out the offerings.  In particular,  Amy was on the hunt for vegetarian goodies.  She was a bit disappointed to find only one stand selling vegetarian food.  Nevertheless, she turned up a nice calabaza (butternut squash) milanesa sandwich on whole wheat bread.  I went with the more typical and popular fair food: papas fritas and empanadas.

After walking the market a few times to admire the goods, we decided to hike up Cerro Amigo to enjoy the mirador.  It was an easy 45 minute hike and we passed some very nice mountain homes properly outfitted with horses grazing nearby.  The view from the top allowed us to see the entire city and the mountains across the valley.

El Bolsón, Argentina
What to do with a dead tree? In a hippie town, you carve it into a awesome sculpture!
What to do with a dead tree? In a hippie town, you carve it into a awesome sculpture!
Weird hippy contraption/art
Weird hippy contraption/art
Scenes of Patagonia captured on sugar packets.
Scenes of Patagonia captured on sugar packets.
Very large milanesa sandwiches seemed to be the most popular food item at the market.
Very large milanesa sandwiches seemed to be the most popular food item at the market.
Amy had a vegetarian (calabaza) milanesa sandwich from the vegetarian sandwich stand.
Amy had a vegetarian (calabaza) milanesa sandwich from the vegetarian sandwich stand.
We saw walnuts on trees all over town.
We saw walnuts on trees all over town.
Wood bowl carving
Wood bowl carving
It is fall in El Bolsón
It is fall in El Bolsón
Amy's dream house along the walk to a mirador.
Amy’s dream house along the walk to a mirador.
A jeep with Alberta plates!  Turns out that the guy has a website: www.theroadchoseme.com
A jeep with Alberta plates! Turns out that the guy has a website: www.theroadchoseme.com

Apr 072011

San Martín de los Andes proved to be a smaller and quieter version of Bariloche.  Like Bariloche, it is situated on the bank of a nice blue lake and is completely surrounded by pine-covered mountains.  I guess it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the surrounding forests and parks are the main attraction.

A photo of me taking a photo.
A photo of me taking a photo.

On our first morning we climbed the Mirador Bandurrias for a view of the town and the far eastern end of Lake Lácar.  It is an easy 45 minute hike from the edge of town once you find the trailhead.  There are a couple houses near the top and an old lady that charges you a couple of pesos to enter (private property?) but it is certainly worth it.  The views were spectacular and the old ladies’ goats were also fun to watch.  I gave one a crab apple that I found on the trail and he seemed very pleased with it.

Volcán Lanín - 3776m
Volcán Lanín – 3776m

Later that day we hopped in the car and drove north to Lago Huechulafquen to get a peek at the Lanín volcano.  It was late in the day so we opted to not enter the park (around $12 per person) but were still able to see it from the windy shore of the lake.

On day 2 in San Martín we headed west on a dirt road that hugs the north shore of Lago Lácar.  The road goes all the way to Chile but we only wanted to go as far as Yuco Park to check out the lake shore.  We rolled into the park in our tiny Chevy Corsa and discovered a couple dozen other vehicles in the parking area: all of them were SUVs.  At first I thought that perhaps I had misjudged the quality of the road on the way in (it was dry and mostly downhill).

Arrayanes trees
Arrayanes trees

It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when we came across a group of 40 or so American/Canadian tourists, that I put two and two together.  Their guides were packing up their fancy catered lunch and they were all piling back into their SUVs.  The way I had it figured, they were each traveling two to a vehicle.  That’s an environmentally conscious way to tour a national park.  Either way, after the group left we had the place more or less to ourselves.  It was gorgeous.

San Martín de los Andes
The town as viewed from the mirador.  A short 45 minute walk from the center.
The town as viewed from the mirador. A short 45 minute walk from the center.
...and the view in the other direction down Lake Lácar.
…and the view in the other direction down Lake Lácar.
A photo of me taking a photo.
A photo of me taking a photo.
San Martín has a nice selection of dogs.  Here is a particularly furry model.
San Martín has a nice selection of dogs. Here is a particularly furry model.
The central plaza (either Sarmiento or San Martín, I can't remember which.)
The central plaza (either Sarmiento or San Martín, I can’t remember which.)
They have strange pine trees in these parts.
They have strange pine trees in these parts.
Volcán Lanín - 3776m
Volcán Lanín – 3776m
La costa de Lago Huechulafquen
La costa de Lago Huechulafquen
The next day back on Lago Lácar
The next day back on Lago Lácar
Arrayanes trees
Arrayanes trees
More arrayanes trees
More arrayanes trees
Our own private beach
Our own private beach
A hummingbird!  Check out what happens when he turns his head...
A hummingbird! Check out what happens when he turns his head…
Yep, it is red when viewed from the front.  Same bird.
Yep, it is red when viewed from the front. Same bird.
The view from our room at Siete Flores Hosteria.  Got this place for $40/night thanks to a groupon deal in BsAs.
The view from our room at Siete Flores Hosteria. Got this place for $40/night thanks to a groupon deal in BsAs.
Killer breakfast with all sorts of locally made jams.
Killer breakfast with all sorts of locally made jams.


Birthday Dinner

Argentina Comments Off
Apr 052011
My main: Trout Navarra
My main: Trout Navarra

Last week, Amy treated me to dinner at a little place we read about called El Mesón in San Martín de los Andes.  The restaurant is in a small house that is just off the main street.  We showed up at 9PM, about the time the dinner crowd starts in Argentina, and found the place completely empty.  We were eagerly greeted by the owner and shown to a table.

The Lakes District in Argentina is known for its trout so I wanted to have that as my main course.  For the starter, we picked out some sort of toasted bread covered in smoked eggplant, red peppers and anchovies.  The owner surprised us by comping a plate of salmon and trout ceviche along with some homemade mint liquor at the end of the meal.  I was one happy (and stuffed) camper on my birthday!  There are more pictures below (those of you reading via email subscriptions will have to visit the web site).

An entrada complements of the owner!  Trout and salmon ceviche and caprese salad skewers with toasted bread.
An entrada complements of the owner! Trout and salmon ceviche and caprese salad skewers with toasted bread.

I am sorry that there haven’t been more regular posts over the past few days but we have been very busy touring Chiloé Island here in Chile.  I hope to pick up the pace over the next few days!

Birthday Dinner at El Mesón
One of the best restaurants in town is actually in a small house on a side street.
One of the best restaurants in town is actually in a small house on a side street.
The dining room was ready for guests but we were the only ones that night.
The dining room was ready for guests but we were the only ones that night.
Birthday boy considers the options.
Birthday boy considers the options.
Amy shows her sparkles...
Amy shows her sparkles…
...and is always planning.  How to take over San Martín here.
…and is always planning. How to take over San Martín here.
An entrada complements of the owner!  Trout and salmon ceviche and caprese salad skewers with toasted bread.
An entrada complements of the owner! Trout and salmon ceviche and caprese salad skewers with toasted bread.
Our actual entrada: a big piece of toast with smoked/marinated eggplant and red pepper topped with anchovies.
Our actual entrada: a big piece of toast with smoked/marinated eggplant and red pepper topped with anchovies.
My main: Trout Navarra
My main: Trout Navarra
The trout was sauteed with garlic and topped with crispy ham.  On the side: veggies and a twice baked/fried potato.
The trout was sauteed with garlic and topped with crispy ham. On the side: veggies and a twice baked/fried potato.
Amy's main: grilled veggies
Amy’s main: grilled veggies
A cafe to finish and afterwards some delicious homemade mint liquor on the house.  Almost in a food coma by this point.
A cafe to finish and afterwards some delicious homemade mint liquor on the house. Almost in a food coma by this point.


After a brief one-night stay in Bariloche to get our bearings we rented a newish base-model Chevy Corsa.  When I say base-model, I mean it.  No aire acondicionado, no power locks, no power windows and, best of all, no power steering.  Good times!  On the plus side, it did have a Sony radio that could receive AM, FM and shortwave.  Renting cars in Argentina is pretty easy with a US drivers license though you do have to be cautious of the prices.  They may be higher  than advertised (~10%) if you aren’t paying cash.

Setting out from Bariloche we followed the famous Siete Lagos drive to San Martín de los Andes.  The drive is less than 200km but it took us a good six hours.  Part of this was due to the fact that you have to stop every 5-10 minutes to enjoy the views.  Another reason was the condition of the dirt road which comprises about one third of the route.  We had to be cautious with our vehicle’s generous 8 inches of ground clearance through areas where there was construction.  The great thing is that there were very few other cars out that day.  Based on the number of companies hocking tours of the route, I gather that the road is packed with tour buses in high-season.

Along the way we quickly lost track of the number of lakes we had seen or their names so I’m not even going to try to reconstruct that for you.  I think the photos below will give you the general idea though.

In the next few days I will be posting more about our time in San Martín de los Andes including my special birthday dinner. We are back in Bariloche now but will be saying goodbye to Argentina tomorrow as we plan to take a morning bus across the Andes to Puerto Montt in Chile.  After a hopefully brief connection we will be off to the town of Ancud on Isla Chiloé.

Siete Lagos Drive
Ruta 231 heading north out of Bariloche
Ruta 231 heading north out of Bariloche
Our base model Chevy.  Stick shift with no power steering.
Our base model Chevy. Stick shift with no power steering.
A lizard!
A lizard!

 

One final post on Bahia Bustamante before the blog moves on to the mountains of Bariloche.  We spent our last day at Bahia exploring the nearby peninsula in our tiny VW Gol.  The terrain on the peninsula is quite varied: scrub land, sand dunes and tidal pools.  There are also three landing strips, a solar-powered lighthouse and the ruins of many small buildings.  The pictures below tell the story better than I can so I will just leave it at that!

It was sad to leave Bahía Bustamante but we had a bus to catch later that night from Comodoro Rivadavia.  From a backpackers standpoint, Bahía Bustamante was definitely a splurge ($110/night plus rental car expenses) but we felt that it was certainly worth each and every centavo.  We would highly recommend it to other travelers!

Bahía Bustamante – Day 3
Bahía Busttamante from the peninsula
Bahía Busttamante from the peninsula
Our rental car on the landing strip.
Our rental car on the landing strip.
Ñandú, sheep and guanacos!
Ñandú, sheep and guanacos!
Rush hour!
Rush hour!

 

Our second excursion at Bahía Bustamante was a trip to the nearby petrified forest.  We drove about an hour across a landscape that looked much like eastern Montana or Wyoming except for the dozens of ñandú and guanacos we spotted along the way.  Our destination was the base a cliff where fossilized pieces of wood were slowly being revealed by the dry and windy climate.  We were told that most of it comes from trees that were alive about 65 million years ago.

As a kid I remember finding small pieces of fossilized wood and plants during my summers in Montana but this place was different.  There were dozens of intact tree trunks laying all over the ground.  Many of them had a bark-textured surface that was remarkably similar to a real tree.  I kept picking up pieces out of disbelief that they were actually rock and not real wood.  Of course, the weight of each piece was a bit of a giveaway!  While most of the pieces were an reddish color there were a few there and there that were blue, green and yellow.  Apparently this is caused by different trace elements mixing with the quartz in the fossil.

Bahía Bustamante – Day 2 (Petrified Forest)

Rise and shine!  7AM departure
Rise and shine! 7AM departure

Each night at Bahia Bustamante, the staff goes over the planned excursions for the next day.  They tailor the schedule each day based on weather conditions and the guests’ interests.  As luck would have it, conditions were looking to be perfect for a boat trip to the nearby islands early the next morning.  We were told to be in front of the village cantine at 7AM.

We met with one other couple and our guide and then climbed into a well-used Land Rover for the short drive to the boat.  Matias, whose grandfather founded the village, was already there prepping the boat for departure.  We grabbed some life vests and off we went.

The winds were calm that morning so we had a very smooth ride out on the Caleta Malaespina.  We visited a total of four or five islands during the three hour trip and saw a huge variety of birds as well as many lobos marinos (sea lions). 

The Magellanic penguins were definitely a highlight even though we only were able to see adults.  The juveniles left for the open ocean a few weeks ago.  It was also fun to watch the sea lion pups chasing each other around both on land and sea while their mothers slept lazily nearby.  Below are many more pictures from the boat excursion.

Bahía Bustamante – Day 2 (Boat Excursion)
Rise and shine!  7AM departure
Rise and shine! 7AM departure
Sunrise as we made our way out on the Caleta Malaspina
Sunrise as we made our way out on the Caleta Malaspina
Magallenic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)
Magallenic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)
Steamer ducks and a lone penguino
Steamer ducks and a lone penguino
Either a juvenil or a molting adult
Either a juvenil or a molting adult
Lobos marinos (sea lions)
Lobos marinos (sea lions)
Two females have a conversation.
Two females have a conversation.
The king of the island.  Adult male sea lion.
The king of the island. Adult male sea lion.
It was quite entertaining to see him scratching himself like a dog.
It was quite entertaining to see him scratching himself like a dog.
Apparently the sea lions leave the birds alone.
Apparently the sea lions leave the birds alone.
Imeperial Comorants (white necks) and Black Neck Comorants
Imeperial Comorants (white necks) and Black Neck Comorants


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