After a week in Mendoza we flew to Salta which is in the far North West and has a population of about 600 000. It has a sense of being a frontier town with a lovely town square and a couple of beautiful churches. We visited the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM) where we saw the mummified remains of one of the three children, known as
the Children of Llullaillaco. Archaeologists have determined that they were human sacrifices made more than 500 years ago by the Inca people to call on the gods to bring them good fortune and peace. It was a very sombre experience.
From Salta we drove to Purmamarca where we had two nights booked in an adobe cabana -very cool.
Actually, it was cool. We were at 2500m and while the day time temperatures were very pleasant it dropped significantly at night- not freezing but 6 or 7 is cool for us. We stayed in. The village is at the western edge of the UNESCO listed Humahuaca Gorge, and is nestled into the Hills of Seven Colours – Cerro de los Siete Colores. The scenery is breathtaking and I haven’t seen a photo to do it justice.
We were hungry and our host suggested taking the Los Colorados path which basically began at our hotel and ran through the mountains for about three kilometres ending back in the village. He recommended a ‘mystic’ restaurant, set into the hills called Wiphala Cultural Restaurant. Basically, I think we got to eat llama and maybe some other ‘mystic’ food,
still it was delicious and our host was just wonderful pointing out paintings of his native ancestors he had displayed around the room and proudly explaining how the building was built into the adobe cliff face. Of course, this was all in body language, facial expressions and gesticulations as he didn’t speak English and our Quechua, is a bit light on!!!!
At this altitude, we were very aware of any exertions. John still had the remnants of a cold and that didn’t make things easier. Being in our sixties changes our whole perspective to scrambling over rocks, climbing over and through fences, ditches and drains- now we consider the physical challenges and possible injuries where previously we would have been oblivious. Age just creeps up and surprises us, despite this or maybe because of it we are driven to continue our adventures.
I was pretty chuffed to drive the pass to Salinas Grandes at 4170m and then drive on the lake!! We were driving across the paved highway in the middle of the lake when we saw the little igloo type structures with tourismo signs and some sort of market stalls scattered around the perimeter. Had no idea what we were doing but hey nothing ventured… So..we drove off the road into a type of car park and waltzed confidently into an unmanned igloo. In the centre was a table with a set of laminated pictures and some tourist comment books. Suddenly a little man appeared and started selling us the tour…I suppose. He was speaking Spanish. When he drew breath, we spoke and suddenly a stillness settled over us. Ummm communication is going to be interesting. A moment later a young man appeared and we fathomed he was the guide. We negotiated somehow that we wanted to do the trip out onto the lake and that it was going to cost us ARP200. We took out a 500 bill but the older man looked quizzically as he saw we had the 200 in hand. Ohh it’s just 200 for both of us!!! OK so the “coche” would be here any minute and we would be off. It was freezing so I raced back to the car to get a few more layers. I cannot describe the looks of confusion on the faces of these men as I placed layer over layer and we waited for the coche (which sounds exactly like “Coach”). I do not know how the penny dropped but it did. There was no coach coming. I was to drive the coche/car and he would be in the back as our guide. The Spanish word for car = coche!!!
We headed out over the salt pan our guide indicating left, right or straight- or sometimes turn around …um that was interesting. We figured it out eventually. We arrived at the mirror lakes which unfortunately due to the gale-force winds that challenged us to stand upright looked more like crumpled alfoil. Our guide indicated we would get out and walk the 200m to the lakes. Again we entered into a pantomime of language confusion. He asked us to form a queue. What? A queue? He definitely said queue. There were three of us!!! We are in the middle of a 6000 square kilometre Salt Lake? WTF!!!! Suddenly he danced a metre or two to his left and again to his right indicating each time a hole in the salt. We looked and saw that we were suspended above a watery lake. We instantly fell into line and mimicked his footfalls.
The obligatory photos snapped we were back over the pass and down the hairpin highway returning to the ancient village wrapped in its magical rainbow of ochre, sienna, umber, grey, red and green earth. Stunning!!!