Wednesday, 12 March 2014


3rd - 5th Mar 2014

Part of the colourful Quebrada de Humahuaca gorge
Against my principles of travelling solo and not, unless unavoidable, by air, I joined up with some amusing friends, because they are amusing, and flew with them to the north-western town of Jujuy (pronounced 'Hoo Hooey' of course). 
Things did not get off to a good start as I had to buy my ticket last minute at the airport and for some reason the name on my passport, my real one I hasten to add, was not recognised by the Aerolineas Argentinas computer. I must be on their black-list. After sorting out that little misunderstanding with little time to catch the plane, and in a rush, I nearly broke my leg falling over my suitcase, then had to surreptitiously prop my knee up under the bottom of it at the check-in to make it weigh below the restrictive 15kg max. Luckily that worked and the check-in guy didn't notice the weight fluctuating somewhat. Such are the hassles of air travel, and the dodges.

It was a 2 hour flight up to Jujuy and my friends, who are frightfully well organised, had booked a hire car;  or rather large 4x4 pick-up. I, of course, had booked 'nada' as is my wont. We drove up to the small Andean town of Purmamarca where they were booked into a very elegant hotel, El Manatial del Silencio with all mod-cons; an ex-monastery (silent order) I think. No room for me, thankfully as it turned out, as I found a rather cheaper and more modest place just down the road which was comfortable and the room had good views over the spectacular valley. I must, however, put in a good word for the excellent hotel El Silencio. Despite me not  actually staying there the manager and staff were most helpful in trying to sort out computer problems and letting me use their telephone. I must say, so far all hotel and bar staff in this country have proved incredibly efficient, polite and 'wilco'.

Purmamarca is a quaint Andean 'Quechua' style village/small town situated towards the northern end of the dramatic Quebrada de Humahuaca george, not far from Bolivia, and is a popular tourist venue. It was also, unbeknown to us previously, Carnival Time!

Right: Part of the village taken from a small but steep  (phew) hill nearby.

On first walking into the village we were greeted by a loudish local band and some quite sedate and organised dancing (left), rather like a Scottish reel..........

....then as we moved further in it became a  barrage of loud electrically enhanced music from several venues and much frenetic dancing amid enthusiastic spraying of foam and water. Some en-masse such as this (right)......

Most people were armed, including us eventually as a means of defence only, with cans of foam spray (someone was making a fortune from selling these at 20 pesos a can) and it was impossible to avoid getting blasted at some point whether you were armed of not ( as per left).
What happened to the 'Yellow Card' procedures, I asked myself.

Admittedly some of the hits we took were 'blue on blue' friendly fire engagements. Right; one such example, but she bloody well started it!
Fortunately the foam just evaporated with no lasting marks. It was much worse to get hit by a 'flour and water' combination, something I think we managed to avoid.

In amongst all this mayhem there were many stalls selling all kinds of colourful Andean type clothing and stuff. I remember the woollen garments being sold in Andean Peru around Cusco which always promised '100% baby alpaca' and we were told by all the guides 'Yes, a bit !00% baby alpaca but also 80% acrylic'.

Right: These simple felt conical hats were all the rage. Lots of people were wearing them but I don't recognise their provenance. I bought one anyway, rip-off price I'm sure, and when I put it on it came down over my eyes.

Left: Lots of fancy dress. It mostly seemed to include demonic looking bulls heads with masks through which the occupants made scary roaring noises.

Right: Another example; three small devils posing rather coyly.

...and little bands (left) which paraded loudly and  enthusiastically if somewhat tunelessly around the narrow streets.

Despite frequently asking I don't think we ever  discovered what this carnival was in aid of. What we did find out was that it was due to go on for three days throughout the valley, and this was Day One.

As per the Recoleta cemetery in  Buenos Aires, the Argentinians seem very keen on 'individualistic' graves, tombs and crypts. At the far southern end of the village, up the hill overlooking a simple but dignified little church was the graveyard (right). It was laid out in fairly ramshackle fashion but there was definitely much qudos involved in the size, and frankly, opulent eccentricity of your place of rest. One large tomb was in the shape of Noah's Arc. Some coffins were on open display in locked tombs, others were well buried.

Many of the graves were nothing more than  rough scrapings in the stoney ground with, maybe, a simple wooden cross at the end. Left: These ones are tiny and presumably contain the remains of small children from poor families.
We are most certainly not all equal in death here. Status is very important.

Right: An example of a local family out for an afternoon of fun.

This rave-up went on until goodness knows what time in the early hours of the morning. I had long since gone to sleep despite the noise from 'down-town'.

The place was a ghost town at 9.00am the next morning. They certainly know how to enjoy themselves up here and, despite much drink taken, there was never any hint of aggro or drunken loutishness.  It was all smiles and good humour.

Right: Llamas made their appearance in the grounds of the El Silencia Hotel. I may have explained before that, for purely idiosyncratic reasons, I dislike these silly 'camelid' creatures intensely, and especially their cousins, Alpacas. They have a rather supercilious look ( especially alpacas ) and spit at you if you are not careful. It's always tempting to kick one up the arse, I find.
llamas are much on the menus here. In Peru they refuse to eat Llamas because their meat is considered tough and sub-standard. They also consider their fleece too coarse to make decent clothes from. Llamas in Peru are only used as mountain pack animals (max legal load 80kg). Alpacas have excellent, tender and totally cholesterol free meat and their fleece, when not diluted by acrylic, is vastly superior. Guanaco and Vicuña are another rarer, protected, relation and live above 14,000'. So the only good alpaca is a dead one as far as I am concerned. I can't think why the Argentinians don't eat more of them in preference to Llamas. They may worship the stupid creatures for all I know.

Left: This cactus was lurking somewhere in the village. I think it is trying to tell us something.

Right: One of the tracks leading into the village. The  colours of these rock formations is quite extraordinary, varying between yellow, pink, red and various shades of brown and they are often exaggerated in different light conditions. I have no knowledge of geology so perhaps someone else can explain. A book describes the scene as 'a jagged formation resembling the marzipan fantasy of a megalomaniac pastry chef'.

Left: The view from my hotel window

The next day we motored further north up the valley, initially to the little village of Uquia which boasts very little indeed except for a pretty church inside which there are several large portraits of saints, all armed to the teeth, apparently. I didn't actually go in. I chose to go to the village shop to buy a large bottle of beer instead (it was hot). There is a custom in Argentina, strange to us but with a sound reason, that when you buy a bottle of beer, and they normally only sell very big ones, you pay extra for the bottle. When you return the bottle you get your money back. I didn't understand this at first, but have now got the hang of it. It seems another sensible idea, to avoid people chucking bottles away, that we should adopt in UK.

Then on for another hour or so down to the town of Humahuaca, from which the name of the river gorge/canyon (mostly dry at this time of year) is taken. It is a bigger version of Purmamarca and it was just beginning to wind up for Day 2 of the carnival. Similar scenes as yesterday with maybe a few extra flourishes and more food and clothes stalls.

Right: The monument in the centre of Humahuaca.

Left: The massed bands of the Humahuaca  Household Brigade strutting their stuff amid much spraying of foam. I must remember to buy shares in the company that makes this stuff. By mid-afternoon the ground is covered in empty cans.

Right: Sharing a joke with my new best friend at the festivities. Not sure what he was saying but he was making strange grunting noises. I am wearing my new local style hat. Devilish smart, don't you think?

After a decent lunch of delicious empanadas, I've taken a fancy to empanadas, in a local cafe we drove back south to Purmamarka. I decided I was far too knackered for more touring, so the others went on without me to see the salt flats (salinas grande), about 60 kms to the north-west. I thought it would just be a long flat drive to see long flat salt flats. I was proved wrong. For a start the drive took them up a winding road from 5000ft to about 12,000ft! The salt flats themselves are, apparently, impressive expanses of well....white salt. Unworldly, as someone described them.

Some of the photos they brought back I relay here. This is touring without moving as far as I am concerned i.e. cheating, anyway...........

Left: The winding road up a few thousand feet to the salt flats.

Right: An energetic salt flat leap. Surprised she had the breath and energy up that high.

Left: A salt flat family group photograph.

Right: Oh yes, there were some alpaca up there. They can stay there for all I care. Actually the really irritating alpaca are the small fluffy 'aren't they cute' coochy-coochy white ones that the Chechua ladies, in colourful full-fig Andean dress, drag around so that tourists can pay to have their photos taken alongside. These here are blameless in that respect I suppose.

Despite the raucous shenanigans outside, we had a great supper, plus mandolin music, in the Tierra del Colore restaurant in Purmamarca that evening. Recommended, so do drop in if you are passing.

Next off down southwards to the area around Salta. I think we are staying at a Finca.

 On the losing end, as always.

1 comment:

  1. Poor you! Thieving little bastard was probably working for the Peruvian git who cleaned out our truck in Tacna south Peru. What is your plan in Chile?
    Remember, the romantic Che was a murdering, revolutionary wretch.
    Keep up the good work.