Ever faster northwards

Incidents and detours are part of travelling and there are several of them. But sometimes they also lead to beautiful encounters.


The cable car across the town and the first stations.After Mendoza, we want to visit another national park, Talampaya. There are supposed to be red rock formations there, which of course are not to be missed. So we set off, and it is a real feast for the eyes! It goes through beautiful valleys and over steep passes. The landscape changes around every bend. The rocks change colour, we see cacti and as we get closer to the park we even spot some maras, a much larger relative of the guinea pig (although they look very different). We are blown away. As darkness falls, we reach the gate of the national park where we pitch our tent.

The next day we get up early to visit the park. Unfortunately, it can only be entered on a guided tour, so we squeeze into a yellow off-road bus with about a dozen local tourists. Once again, an Argentinian peculiarity catches our eye. We are probably the only ones who don't have a thermos flask of Mate with us. The mood in the bus is exuberant and we bump along a dry riverbed towards the canyon. Once there, we are shown the various sights. The tour is entertaining and we can practise our Spanish a bit. During the break, we are offered cold juice, which is not very popular as the temperature is rather on the cool side. Anyway, the Argentines prefer to stick to their tea...

The next destination is Chilecito, a former mining town. Actually an inconspicuous little town, the kilometre-long cable car immediately catches the eye, running right through the town and up to the adjacent mountain at 4600m. This has not been in operation for a long time, but it bears witness to the town's illustrious past. At the bottom station of the railway is a museum, which we visit and learn something about the history. Then we set off to discover the first two stations. The path leads over bumpy tracks and through various rivers. So Javier can flex his muscles. We enjoy being away from the tourist crowds and the remains of these stations make us travel back in time. Everything looks as if it had been abandoned from one day to the next. Individual gondolas that were used to transport the ore from the mountains still hang from the wire rope. One can only imagine how people worked here under these harsh conditions. This is not to be the last mine we encounter on our way.

But we are not only in Chilecito to explore, we also want to have our spare tyre checked. Since our flat tyre on the Carretera Austral and the broken brake, we are a bit insecure. And since we want to do a bigger round through the backcountry here in the north of Argentina and thus on bad roads, we depend on everything working perfectly. So once again we end up at a "Gomeria", where it quickly turns out that our spare wheel is not made for our car. Oh, well! So we have to find a new one, which turns out to be quite difficult. We rattle through the various small garages and even a scrap yard, without success. And then we also run out of time, because the next day the carnival starts and the shops close for five days straight. So it just doesn't make sense and we decide of necessity to call off the search. We have only one solution, namely to drive through to Salta, the next big city, and then do the round in the opposite direction.

And so it's once again drive, drive, drive for us. This time our route does not lead through the pampas, but is extremely varied and exciting. But since we are going to drive this section again, we don't look at anything yet, but save it for later.

The early arrival in Salta has one big advantage. The brother of one of Beni's former classmates and his wife, Daniel and Noëmi, are in town at the same time, after we had missed each other in the past weeks. Even though we didn't know each other at all or only a little before, we hit it off right away. It also feels really good to be able to just talk again. So we spend three enjoyable evenings together, each of which gets longer and longer. But that's not a problem, because we only adapt to the rhythm of the Argentines. Of course, we don't want to miss their speciality "parilla", i.e. grilled meat. In the end, however, we are a little overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of meat. In future, we would rather stick to the unbelievably delicious and varied "empanadas".

When the holidays are over, we can finally go to the mechanic. He confirms the finding with the wrong rim and sells us a used original rim from Toyota, which we of course test briefly. A few francs poorer, but now with a good feeling, we want to venture on our round after all. But before that, we want to make a detour to another rock (yes, there is plenty of that here) that is not to be missed, the coloured rocks of Humahuaca.

On the way there, we spend the night in a place where we come across all the souvenirs for the first time that we know so well from other Andean countries like Peru, Ecuador or Bolivia. The colourful fabrics and llama motifs are everywhere and it becomes clear that the indigenous culture enjoys a high status here, something that was not really noticeable until now. So we stroll through the colourful hustle and bustle and eat fresh from the grill right on the street.

The next day we visit the coloured rocks at an altitude of over 4000m. Then, on the way back, disaster strikes. We have another flat tyre. We don't believe it! This time everything works fine with the replacement tyre, but we decide to drive back to Salta to buy new rear tyres. The little bit of confidence we had slowly built up is already gone. And we simply don't want to go into the Argentinean backcountry like this. So it's Salta for the second time. We rattle through all the tyre dealers in town to find the best price, but to no use. Due to the strong inflation, imported goods are simply very expensive here and so we have to dig deeper into our pockets for better or worse. We hope that this is worth it, because now there is finally no reason not to set off on our long-awaited tour...