Us: Yeah we’re not really big city kinda people, y’know?
Also us: Omg we just LOVE Mendoza though! *heart eyes*
Yeah so Mendoza has been fantastic. Of course we’ve been focused on the centre but it’s got so many green spaces breaking up the busy city roads, and they’re nice green spaces too with water features and benches. We’ve found some great places to eat from the outstandingly affordable Cafetal La República with its AR$890 milanesa, fried egg, salad and a soft drink, through to El Patio de Jesus Maria with the best steak I’ve ever had in my life.
A big, fat, juicy slab of bife de chorizo, bursting with flavour accompanied by a delicious Mendozan malbec, obviously, because you don’t come to a famous Argentinian wine region and ask for a little something from South Africa. There are several bars along Avenida Arístides Villanueva offering cerveza artesenal for two for AR$800 during happy hour, or spirit and mixer at two for AR$1200. It’s been a wonderful city to visit, probably one of my favourites, I’m not sure my liver is completely on board with the love though.
But anyway! Off we fucked further north on an overnight bus to Salta. We utterly failed to bring enough food for an eighteen hour journey and instead purchased a milenesa sandwich off a bloke who boarded the bus in San Juan. Yeah nah, that was a shit idea. It didn’t take long for both our stomachs to realise the error. I took a travel sickness tablet which helped, Tarrant managed to sleep through it because she has this infuriating ability to be able to sleep anywhere whilst I glare at her in seething silence. By the time we stumbled off the bus in Salta my guts had turned to knives. I did thankfully make it to the toilet and squirted the contents of my bowels into the loo. It was the consistency of the kind of gravy you get with your Sunday roast in a cheap pub. Warm and watery with a few lumps in it.
After a few weeks of hostels and campsites we’d treated ourselves to a couple of nights in a nice studio flat with a big TV complete with Netflix and that’s how we spent our first night in Salta; sprawled in bed in our pants binging the new season of You. We regret nothing. The following day we were picked up bright and early, or actually probably just early, on account of the fact we were going on a tour to a place called Humahuaca via a few other places with interesting rocks, because we’re of an age now where we’ll part with actual money to go and look at rocks.
We did consider renting a car but by the time we factored in petrol it was actually cheaper to do the tour, plus it’s farrrr. So very far. Another option would be to rent a car for a couple of days and stay in the region but we’re trying to not have to change any more lovely, useful, widely accepted US dollars into a currency that devalues daily. We could afford the tours with what we had, car rental would require a wad more cash. These rocks though. They’re not just rocks, they’re mountains in colours that you’d expect mountains to come in but not all at the same time.
Purmamarca is a really cute little town with a handicraft market and some cracking views over these aforementioned mountains. It’s also got the most indigenous feel to it when compared to everywhere else we’ve been in Argentina. The stalls are selling toy llamas, brightly coloured blankets and shawls, shit made out of dead cactus. Did you realise how pretty dead cacti were? Really fucking pretty as it happens. We had to resist the urge to buy everything made from dead cactus, it wouldn’t fit in our backpacks. We really don’t need a lampshade fashioned from the corpse of a large, spiky plant.
We beelined for a mirador offering great views of some amazing colours. Cerro de los Siete Colores it’s called around here. The Hill of Seven Colours. Our tour was entirely in Spanish so we’ve no idea if we were told why they were these colours but we Googled it. Turns out they’re layers upon layers of different kinds of rocks and minerals, all different ages, and we can see them because the Andes are slowly forcing them upwards. The pink is red clay, the white is limestone, there’s lead and calcium carbonate, and there’s even green in parts made from copper oxides. The layers range from one million to 600 million years old. It’s an incredible sight.
The downside to tours is the fact you’re on someone else’s time schedule. On our own we’d have spent time exploring the trail that leads you to several viewpoints but we only had forty minutes here. We put the hills in our eyeholes, grabbed some empanadas so we didn’t start trying to chew the limbs off bystanders, and headed back to the van. I was regretting not renting a car but Tarrant pointed out how fucking busy it was, packed with tourists, buses, minivans and cars. I’d probably have had a nervous breakdown trying to find somewhere to park.
Next stop was Tilcara and our driver expertly squeezed the van through narrow streets, past parked trucks, mere centimetres to spare on either side. The man is a professional. We pulled up outside Pucará de Tilcara which is the restored remains of a pre-Inca settlement. They were, of course, eventually conquered by the Incas. I was quite enamoured with the huge cacti all over the place. They’re everywhere up here, you can see them dotted all over the mountains and up close they’re incredible. I do love cacti. I have a collection of tiny ones currently living with my sister but if I thought for a second I could cultivate something that size in a British climate you wouldn’t be able to enter the garden without fear of being spiked.
We carried on towards Humahuaca with a brief stop at Uquía to gawp at a church, then we had a half hour stop at some manner of artists’ place but the tour was entirely in Spanish so we skipped it in favour of bothering the llamas they had out the front. We did deliberately book the Spanish tour to be fair, it was a lot cheaper than the tour with the English speaking guide. When we booked it she said we didn’t need to understand Spanish, we just needed to be able to look at stuff but I definitely think we missed out on a lot as there was a lot of talking.
She did say she’d speak slowly, bless her, but she could have painfully enounced every single word as if it were being forceably dragged unwillingly from her very soul but I still wouldn’t understand it. I don’t speak Spanish at any speed beyond telling you if I want rice or chips. It’s not for lack of trying but learning a language involves the ability to remember shit and I’ve still got a lot of cells given over to all (yes, all, and in the correct order) of the words to that 1990 classic “Turtle Power” by Partners In Kryme, and pretty much the entire script of that 1987 cinematic masterpiece, Labyrinth, starring David Bowie. I couldn’t possibly conjugate the verb “tener” right now.
Anyway! We had a couple of hours to kill in Humahuaca so we buggered off for a stroll through the tiny, dusty village and found a place to eat. Llama is very much on the menu here. Llama salami, llama empanadas, llama steak. Tarrant was a bit weirded out by it despite being a staunch carnivore, she’d just been petting one and she didn’t think it was right to then eat one. I mean, she can walk past a field of frolicking lambs and coo over how cute they are before sitting down to one of their brethern, deliciously roasted and served with seasonal veg. I don’t know why she had a mental block with this. I got the llama steak, I guess the closest thing to the taste and texture would be pork.
I think if we were to do this again we’d splash out on car rental and I’d just have to woman up and deal with the tiny, busy streets. Another thing that put us off was the fact there was no affordable accommodation on Booking.com but one we were here I saw plenty of places that probably weren’t online. I even checked the app to see if I could find them and I couldn’t. I bet you could just rock up and find a place for the night. It would have worked out more expensive than the tours but at least you’ll be in full control of your eyehole fodder.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Humahuaca & Purmamarca, Jujuy Province, Argentina
Stayed at: Departamentos Muskuy
Useful shit to know…
- We used Turismo Guadalquivir in the end. Their guides don’t speak English.
- We paid AR$7900 each (US$21 at the Blue Dollar rate).
- Nordic Travel do offer English speaking guides, they wanted AR$10900 each for this trip.
- The entrance fee for Pucará de Tilcara was AR$500 each.
- The mirador in Purmamarca cost AR$100 each.
- I asked at one place about car rental and it was just over AR$16000 a day.