We walked out of Tinogasta excited with the promise of clear rivers the whole 70km (three days) through the desert landscape to Londres, as specifically indicated to us by the tourist information office. As we neared the end of our first day having only crossed one muddy stream, we luckily flagged down a utility vehicle (the last car we ended up seeing) that told us we would only have one chance for water (in 4km) until we arrived at Londres. As we walked the remaining 4km to the muddy stream, we contemplated how or if we would be able to continue with only one more water resupply. At full capacity, we each barely had enough room in our water vessels to carry about a day’s worth of water, considering the desert heat. We would have to turn back in the morning. Then we realized we could use the discarded plastic soda and alcohol bottles along the side of the road- we excitedly started collecting bottles until we had armfuls (but sad that this beautiful low-traveled road was so littered). We filled the bottles with muddy water to settle overnight, adding chlorine dioxide tablets to disinfect. The next morning we were on our way to Londres with 6-7.5L of cloudy but settled water each (uff! that equates to 12-15 pounds)! Even though nature was about to stop us, we were able to overcome the obstacle of not having a water source for two days.
We arrived in Londres substantially hydrated. After a restful night in a hospedaje(hotel/hostel/camping), we continued to the Incan ruins of El Shincal, an Incan establishment founded in 1470. El Shincal was nothing short of picturesque. The province of Catamarca for us marked the entrance to land rich with not only a distant natural history but extensive cultural history as well. Tucked into one of the many nooks these rolling, lush mountains provide, it was an obvious and beautiful place to build their fortress.
From El Shincal we set off to follow the Incan trail over a pass toward the town of Belén. After hiking 6km on a good horse trail to a puesto (cowboy outpost) located at the foot of the pass, we ascended the overgrown switchbacks of the Incan trail, occasionally marked by remarkable rock walls built in the 1400s. As we progressed up the pass, the overgrowth became thicker, the trail thinner and the walls fewer and farther between. With the sun quickly setting and the trail disappearing, we made the worthy decision to turn back and sleep at the puesto. Some trails are simply not meant to be hiked- 600 years later, nature took this one back in the end.
The next morning after a night of rain and considering several variables (broken tent zipper, diminishing supplies, a few injuries, inclement weather, unknown trail), we decided to turn back to Londres instead of navigating the undetermined cow trail through a wash over a separate pass.
We are now in Belén getting the tent repaired in addition to upgrading it with a tutu of hot pink tulle (thank you to Phil Armstrong for the inspiration) to keep the mosquitos, beetles, scorpions, tarantulas, and who-knows-what-else-we-don’t-want-to-know-about-out-of-the-tent. Here we also will bid farewell to the “man” as he returns to run North America’s raging spring rivers and we continue north toward Bolivia (we’ll cross the border in a couple weeks!). Josh, we will miss your company and undying dedication to refueling us with beer, liquor, mate(traditional tea), gummy candies, American-style brunch and tapas. However, we will not miss your mystery canned meats at lunch.
- Receiving a parting gift of fresh regional walnuts and raisins from the hospedaje (hotel) owner as we prepared to walk out of Tinogasta
- Our cloudy water tasted better than the over-chlorinated water from Tinogasta’s tap
- Wondering if we were walking in the steps of the Incas over the Cuesta de Zapata- was this the pass they took between these two distinct large valleys?
- Listening to gaucho (cowboy) folk songs on the Spanish guitar around the fire on a clear desert night
- Donkey loving on me and then letting out a sad hee-haw wail as we walked away (okay, so Sonnet the cowgirl says he really just wanted food and was rearing to bite me)
- Staying at an empty hospedaje in little Londres which made it feel like it was our home (most of the day we were the only guests and the owner was not on the premises)
- Camping in the yard of a kind family in El Shincal that brought us hot water and warm torta frita (similar to the Mexican sopapilla). The 13 year old daughter loved hanging out in the tent with us!
- Feeling like Indiana Jones bushwhacking on the Incan trail
- Noticing the cultural differences of Northern Argentina:
- Different accent
- Siesta from 1-6pm
- Using “chao” not only as “goodbye” but also as a casual “hello” (like Hawaiians use “aloha”)
- Different foods or alterations of traditional foods
- Cheaper (yay!)
- Motorcycles of all kinds- mostly mopeds (and no helmets! no bueno!)
- Several tarantula and snake sitings
- Josh’s lunch of canned caballa. Not knowing the definition of caballa, we guessed it was meat because the picture on the can appeared to be meat-pot-pie (which still baffled us why he chose to buy it in the first place). Not meat- he pulled out a mackerel fish head- eyes, bones and all!
- Drunken cowboys riding by our campsite in the middle of the night. Turns out we shared camp with them at a puesto the following night.
- A dog dragged off Sarah’s backpack in the night making a valiant attempt to access her food.
- Cow gut empanadas (not-so-great tapas provided by Josh). Enough said.
- Digging trenches in the night to divert rain water.
- Sonnet is covered in bug bites- it reminds me of when she was a kid and constantly covered in swimmers’ itch and mosquito bites from Minnesota summers.
- Guns. Being passed by a father/son pair on a motorbike- the kid was toting a gun.