Sunday, 23 July 2017

Salta to La Quiaca

Fede, me, Fidgit, Isabel and Antonio in Salta

Arriving back in Salta after a longer-than-planned hiatus from Fidgit and our trek, I was immediately welcomed into the home of Isabel and Antonio, family of friends from Bariloche. Fidgit and I (and all the gear I hauled from Peru, which friends and family had collected and hauled from the US) reunited and shared stories about our time apart. As we caught up, we also planned for our route up to higher elevation and into Bolivia. It was tough to imagine higher and drier weather because it was overcast and damp nearly every day in Salta. We ran errands, hung out with the family, and planned for a couple of days. Thankful for the generosity and kindness of the near-strangers we were staying with, we stayed longer than planned before moving along down the trail. The trail was actually a lesser-used road, and I lost both track of time and my new rain jacket along it. The rainy weather cleared up as we walked along. The road led to a dirt path that led down a wash and around a lake, which then led to the city of Jujuy. I promptly (and disappointed-ly) bought another new rain jacket .

A lovely morning along the quebrada
Jujuy was where we would begin our ascent up to the pampas. We debated on how to do this, and decided to day-hike up to another town where we then returned via bus to our hostel. This was my first time 'slack-packing' since the PCT in 2010, so I was interested to see how I would feel about it. After 40 kilometers uphill, I decided I was a fan of slack-packing again. We stayed another night indoors and then returned to the town of Volcan and continued north where we had left off. As we moved further up the 'Quebrada de Humahuaca', we would pass a small town or two every day. The elevation change became noticeable, but not troublesome, as we were moving slowly enough to adapt.

Using old railroads kept us off roads
Near the town of Humahuaca, however, Fidgit was not feeling well. She was congested and struggling with a full-body tiredness. We had hoped to walk to Humahuaca that day, but it wasn't in our best interest, so we again bused, and then came back down the next day to slack-pack into Humahuaca. Fidgit was still ailing, so we took some time to make sure she was recovered before pushing on to Abra Pampa. As we were both feeling antsy to cover ground, we were able to walk each day, then bus back to Humahuaca. After a couple of days, Fidgit was feeling well enough to hike on with our full packs. We once again headed out of town, but not before seeing in person the only point of interested listed on Humahuaca's wiki page - a wooden priest coming out of the small door of a church above a crowd at noon to raise his hand and lower his wooden head.

An Inca ruins site along the Quebrada de Humahuaca
We made our way out of Humahuaca and toward the small town of Azul Pampa, had some lunch, and moved on toward Abra Pampa, able to follow roadside abandoned railroad tracks nearly the entire way. As we got higher in elevation, we noticed the vegetation changing - first the tall cactus disappeared, then the flowers and pointy shrubs left, then we got to a point where the only trees we were seeing were planted around buildings (presumably for wind protection). The sun was strong during the day, and the temperature plummeted at night, freezing our water.

Wandering along
One particular morning right before Abra Pampa at an elevation of 3,700 meters, we awoke after a fitful sleep to find most of our water frozen solid, my feet nearly frozen (I have horrible circulation). Deciding it wasn't worth it to spend more nights than necessary outside this winter, we made our way to Abra Pampa and set up for the night in a local hostel. Thankfully, lodging and food in town are already getting cheaper as we near the Bolivian border, or this would not have been an option. Looking at the weather ahead, we decided to slack-pack once again, taking three days to walk to the border town of La Quiaca. And there we were, after a year of walking, about to walk into a country other than Chile or Argentina.
We made it to the Tropic of Capricorn!

The colors in these mountains are amazing!

Fidgit and another roadside attraction

One of the small villages along the way

Old railroads are best when the bridges
are still intact

Anxiously awaiting the clock to strike noon in Humahuaca

Fidgit crossing a sketchier railroad bridge

Flamingoes! Along the pampas near Abra Pampa

When walking along at 3,000 meters in elevation,
umbrellas against the sun are helpful

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Chile Cito to Hualfin

Unofficial Aide Station near Chilecito
Quattris were also in the race
As we wandered out of Chile Cito, Fidgit and I decided to take a dirt road route that would take us more directly toward our next destination and that wouldn't be on the side of a highway - yay! As we walked along what we thought would be an abandoned dirt track weaving in and out of a wash, we began to notice pieces of plastic/markers hanging in shrubs along the way. As the morning grew warmer, a couple of people on dirt bikes passed by. We walked on and came upon a family gathered around a fire alongside the road. Fidgit asked them about the trail, and we were told there would be a moto race coming through in the very near future. At this point, we were invited over to the fire to have a hot beverage and some homemade pizza. We decided to stay, hang out with the family, and enjoy being spectators along the race course. This would also allow the dirt bikes to pass without us being in their way / them being in our way. As the motos zoomed by, we got to cheer and enjoy some asado that the patriarchs cooked up for lunch.

The unofficial Aide Station crew and
an injured rider
We left the family in the late afternoon, walking our way along a dusty path, though it was no longer choked with motos. We reached the other end of the dirt track and got on the pavement as the sun was going down. Asking a woman in her front yard for some water, we were able to walk into the evening before setting up camp for the night.

We arose the next morning, and walked into the town of Famatina to find some internet, as we had forgotten to do some work items. I ended up having another bout of intestinal distress so we stayed longer than planned. I began on a round of Flagyl in hopes of ridding myself of whatever it is that persisted in tearing apart my intestines. Three pills a day for seven days was looking better than surprise intestinal cramping and diarrhea.

Continuing our walk through the desert
There are times when walking blurs together into an indiscernible blob of towns and similar looking landscape, and that began happening for me. It snuck up on me, beginning earlier, but really shone through on this stretch. It didn't help that many of the towns had similar names. We walked from town to town, with a day or so between. Thankfully, there were edifices between town where we could get water because it was still not flowing wildly in this desert. The route became less blurred for me as we left Tinogasta and walked along an abandoned dirt road out into the desert once more. This road wound up into the mountains and over a pass before dropping down the other side and into the small town of Londres.

How I feel during breaks
Just outside the town of Londres, there is a turn-off to go to some Incan ruins. We had been told about these ruins and debated if we wanted to go or not. As soon as we got to Londres, we unanimously decided to walk out the 5 km to the ruins 'El Shincal', the southern-most of the ancient Incan capitals. Fidgit and I were both glad to break up the monotony of what this section has been, and really enjoyed wandering around the ruins and talking with the guide. Best 30 pesos I've spent so far. Our guide found out what we were doing and asked us nearly as many questions about our trip as we asked her about the ruins. One of her last questions was "Where are you sleeping tonight?" When we said we weren't sure, she invited us to sleep in her yard next door. We slept soundly that night, and in the morning after abrazos and ciaos, we left, walking back to our route and towards the next town.

Belen, our next town, wasn't far, and we rolled into town in the late afternoon. After spending some time at the local YPF gas station using their internet, we decided to check out B&B Belen, which multiple people had suggested as a good information-gathering place as well as hostel. As soon as we met Ale and his wife Laetitia, we knew we were in the right place. They showed us around, warmed up some water for us to shower, and talked trails. Fidgit and I were so glad that Ale gave us a different option than Ruta 40; we didn't care that it went up a couple thousand meters and over a pass. We left Belen in high spirits despite the ATMs not allowing us to withdraw money, and we were running low on pesos.
I love desert blooms

We walked along the road until the turn-off to the trail we would be taking over the pass. As we walked up the dirt road, the mountains loomed and the sun crept behind them just in time for us to arrive at a small trail at the edge of a small town. We were trying to be sneaky, unsure if the trail was public, when an older woman came out of her house and shouted at us from her yard to follow the trail as she pointed it out to us. Trouble avoided, we followed the winding trail and found a small flat area just as it started getting into the twilight hours.

A man and his horse getting water
Fidgit and some cyclists on our road walking
Awaking to a light covering of dew, we packed up and continued up and up to the pass we planned on making it over. As we went higher, the trail we were following would disappear and then reappear nearby. We got back into the head space of looking ahead and guessing where the trail would go, and then finding it among the overgrowth. Nearing the high point of the pass, we found and were able to consistently stay on the trail to go up and over the 3,000+ meter pass. Coming down the other side, we followed a river bed, or wash, the whole way down. There were a couple of down climbs, though nothing to the extent of scaring us out of the wash and we persevered to the base of the valley. As the sun set along the mountain range, we were rewarded for our efforts by finding an abandoned homestead to use as a wind block for the night.

Looking out on the valley as we go up to
the pass before Londres
Starting out the next morning, we followed what seemed to be a well-worn horse path. With the way it was built, it wouldn't surprise me if the current path was built over an old Inca road. As we moved along, we came down to a larger drainage with towering sandstone cliffs around it. Thankfully the wash was aide and we also discovered a horse path along it, which later turned into a narrow road. At the end of our day, we reached the end of the valley and wandered through a few small towns before finding a campsite for the night.

Walking along a very dry wash
Waking up to frost on everything, we waited a bit for the sun to assist with the frost removal before packing up and find our way down the road. We had heard word of a hot springs near the town of Hualfin, so we were trying to find a way to get to the springs for the evening. We were walking along the road, but decided that a cross-country route could be faster. We made our way up a wash that looked like it would go into the next valley where the hot springs were located. Instead, we found ourselves on the edge of a steep cliff. As we are sometimes too stubborn to go back, we decided to attempt to find a way down this area. As we picked our way down an area that wasn't as steep as the rocky lumps around it, I realized that even though this may not be the fastest or safest way to get where we were going, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Llamas at the ruins
We ended up making it to the 'hot springs', which were disappointing so we camped elsewhere and made it into the small town of Hualfin the next morning. We were able to resupply and found a hostel. Unfortunately, we were still running low on pesos, and the ATM in town was out of money, so we were scrimping to try and make sure we had enough to get to the next large town. Everyone was very helpful, they even gave us a couple of discounts so we were able to scrape by on the small amount of money we had between us, phew!

Ruins- 'El Shincal'

Neon, Fidgit, and the ruins 

Learning about archaeological findings at the site

Fidgit learning new route options


Walking along the wash at 3,000 meters
in elevation

Old horse path/potential Inca road

So many beautiful washes. This
one was flowing!

Walking up another lovely wash instead
of the road into Hualfin

This is part of what we scrambled/climbed down to get
to the disappointing hot springs

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Rodeo to Chile Cito

Walking along 'the windiest lake in Argentina',
or so they say...

Following the river down to Jachal
Fidgit and I spent a day in Rodeo to work before setting off again. We left as the wind whipped around us in the valley. We walked along the reservoir outside of town and then into the narrow valley that would connect us to the next town. A policeman had warned Fidgit about this stretch of road being very narrow and dangerous, so we were cautious as we wound along the riverside and down. The road was indeed narrow and winding, but every vehicle was being careful along it and most honked encouragement. We spent the night along the river, and in the morning hours, the valley opened up for us. We arrived in the next town shortly after lunch and parked ourselves in the corner of the YPF - an Argentine gas station chain that usually has wifi. It got to be late quickly, and since we still needed to resupply, we decided to stay the night in town. The plan was to resupply and head out the next morning.

It was a good thing we decided to stay, because nearly as soon as we found a place, I was hit with a bout of intestinal distress. Grateful for a bed, I zonked out that night. In the morning, I wasn't feeling much better, and everything was closed because it was Easter Sunday, so we ended up staying for longer in the town of Jachal. Again, I was grateful because even though my intestines weren't cooperating, the weather outside was cold, cloudy and rainy.

Sunrise along the way
The dam looks small, really the
canyon is just big
My intestines and the weather cleared up around the same time, and we were able to continue our journey. We walked on, into some beautiful mountains for a day before coming out and making our way onto Ruta Nacional 40. Getting onto Ruta 40 is something I've been hearing about for so long and we are finally there! I was concerned it would be a very busy road. As it turned out, Ruta 40 is a 2-lane highway in a rural area, so the traffic was more, though not enough to endanger us.

Right as we made it to Ruta 40, a young man on a bike came up behind us. He was a Scotsman and had been out for about three months, making his way north. He was going to stop along the Ruta and attempt to get a ride further north. We said our goodbyes and made our way along, enjoying the warm weather until it got too hot; then we made our way to the shade of a nearby tree. As we were semi-dozing waiting for the evening to cool off, the Scotsman, Peter, rolled by again. We talked for a bit before deciding to camp together nearby. We set up camp and chatted for a good while before bed. Fidgit and I figured out that this was only the third time that someone had camped with us on-trail this season, and I very much enjoyed talking bike gear with him that evening.

Scenery along the route
Looking out from a look out

Fidgit and I parted ways with Peter the next morning, as walking is much slower than biking. Making our way towards the small town of Santa Clara, we were able to get some water from some construction workers. We were running low in the afternoon, so Fidgit hung her trusty 'AGUA' sign from her backpack once more. I am thankful these dry stretches have been along traveled roads so we don't have to carry more than two days of water at a time. We flew the sign as our water dwindled, and we pushed for a big kilometer-age day.

As early evening settled in, two people stopped in quick succession. One car stopped and turned around to give us water, smiling and wishing us luck. The other vehicle that stopped was a truck marked 'explosives' on the back - the driver got out and put water and snacks on the side of the road, telling Fidgit that he had seen us on his way past earlier. Water AND snacks?! What amazing people inhabit this earth! Boosted again by the kindness of strangers, I was able to walk a bit into the night to complete our first 40 kilometer day this season. It also happened to be day 300 of our entire trip, so there was a lot to celebrate. I celebrated by eating dinner and falling fast asleep.

I was relieved not to be sore the next morning, and we walked into and through the small pueblo of Santa Clara quickly. We stopped in the nearby YPF for a bit, then walked on after loading up on water for the next 40 kilometers. On our way towards Villa Union, we passed between some mountains that I had been watching get closer for a few days. The red rocks and sandstone had me frequently thinking of my home in Utah. It is amazing how places so far from each other can look so similar.

We made a friend and he camped with us for the night!
Peter is a biking Scotman, and spent a night in the
desert with us.
We camped in a wash, out of view from the vehicles passing, and enjoyed a cooler evening among the red rocks. In the morning, we watched the rocks light up as the sun rose, before we walked on into Villa Union which was having a power outage. It was the second power outage we had heard of this section, and it didn't seem like an unusual thing, so we'll see if it continues. The power was back on within a couple of hours, so Fidgit and I were able to find a place to stay for the night. Tired from a full day of walking and being exposed to the sun, I showered and fell into a deep sleep quickly after.

Dinner time!

We left Villa Union and again walked into a chunk of mountains after crossing the valley floor for half a day. It seems around here the only place that water stays is in the mountains. The rest of our walking is quite arid. In the elevation and terrain change, we found a cool wash to follow instead of the road. We were so happy to be not along the road, and plunged in head first. Fidgit found some quicksand, so we were more careful after that, but to be immersed back in nature among the sandstone and dirt was reinvigorating.

We found our way back onto the road in the morning, and went up to a 2,000 meter pass and then down into the valley that held the small town of Sanogasta. At our lunch break, we figured out that we could get into town that evening, resupply and camp somewhere north of town. So that's exactly what we did, and as a result, ended up doing another 40 kilometer day. We also found our way through the unofficial town dump before camping nearby. I laid my weary body down and was soon fast asleep.

Trail magic of water and snacks!
We awoke the next morning to soaked sleeping bags and threw them over our packs to dry in the morning air as we walked. With road walking, we don't have to be as concerned with our bags snagging on branches and tearing as they dry. The cool morning warmed up quickly as we made our way to another mountain pass. Thankfully as we crested the pass, a breeze came up and cooled us for the walk down to the largest town we've seen in a while - Chilecito.

We meandered into town late afternoon and weary from the sun exposure as well as a 30 kilometer (so far) day. After walking a few kilometers into the center of town, we found a small hostel and posted up for the night. We left town the next day after properly filling up on empanadas.

Pack it in, Pack it out also applies to trail magic
Got water?

A small band of parrots can make a surprising amount of noise

Fidgit and the wavy mountain

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Barreal to Rodeo

Fidgit getting water north of Barreal
In Barreal, we were looking for internet and ended up on the front porch of a hostel. The hostel was closed for the season, but the owner kindly gave us his wifi password and some water. We sat on the porch for a few hours, catching up with business stuff before we decided to ask if we would be able to stay for the night. The owner, Maoro, said yes and showed us a room. As he was showing Fidgit around, it turns out that another person who was on an endeavor to walk from Ushuaia to Alaska stopped through here ten years ago. His name was Ian and he spent a month in Barreal!

I checked a water source with my feet and found oil
in the mud near Calingasta
We were able to do all of our town chores in a day and made our way out of Barreal the next morning, walking towards Calingasta. Having so many town stops along our route has made resupplies easier because we only need food for a few days at most. The thing that is most concerning for us is the stretches between towns that don't have any water.

We made it to Calingasta in a couple of days, with minimal concerns for water because we were walking along a valley floor with a river flowing to our east. In Calingasta, we were able to quickly resupply and left town in a blowing wind, which is common along the anteplano down here, and we have had the luck of not experiencing much thus far.  We had a sidewind, and then a tailwind, pushing us forward to where we finally camped - in some shrubs next to a schoolhouse protected from the winds howling around us. I slept fitfully that night, until the winds died down and the near-full moon set.

Enjoying the view in the distance.
Road walking
The next morning, the day was calm and cloudy- perfect for walking. We packed up and walked through two small 'villas' of a few houses each. At the last villa, we also reached our last water source for what we believed to be 90 kilometers. We decided to nap by the water and head out later in the evening after making dinner to save on water consumption. Also, the full moon would be enjoyable and help light our way through the desert. I'm not generally a night owl, but I was up for trying to night hike, and the sun has been setting around 7:30, so it how bad could it be? We ate dinner and left the small villa with high hopes and 8+ liters of water on our backs. I tried for a few hours to enjoy hiking in the light of the full moon, and I believe I failed miserably. I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, I blamed it on the cold wind, the extra 17 pounds on my back, and that I couldn't nap when we tried earlier in the day. In the end, maybe I'm just not a night hiker. We found a flat spot along the dirt road and passed out around 11 pm.

We found some shade under this sign
I slept horribly, and woke up to a cold morning and a hiking partner who also slept poorly. We ambled on, trying to be positive until the sun warmed our bones so much we shed our layers and enjoyed the slight breeze that came up. We saw that Fidgit had marked an abandoned estancia along our route and planned to make it the 35 km there. As we closed in on our goal, we noticed it didn't look as abandoned as it perhaps once was. We came upon the 'abandoned estancia' and walked up to a Gendarmeria, where there were warmly greeted by one of the four men stationed there. They invited us in, shared their fire and dinner with us, and set up mattresses in front of the fireplace for us to sleep on. Many stories were shared, but I was mostly deliriously tired and struggling to sit upright, so I didn't have much capacity for much else.

A full moon rises near the Gendarmeria
We both slept well that night, and left the next morning refreshed and headed downhill into town, knowing we would have enough water to get there. We made it down to the small town of Bella Vista and decided to stealth camp in an abandoned lot and walk into the larger town of Rodeo the next day. We found a small lot full of prickly shrubs and situated ourselves in for the night. We awoke the next morning to cool temperatures and made our way to a gas station to warm up and get some internetting done - we have recently figured out that the YPFs of Argentina have some of the best internet around!

The men of the remote Gendarmeria and us

At the gas station, we ran into a guy from Minnesota working on his Masters Thesis. He was also volunteering at a nearby National Park, and we talked with him more than we got things accomplished. It's been a while since I've spoken in person to a native English speaker, and I realized through speaking with him how much I'd simplified my language and forgotten words. As Fidgit and I left the gas station to make it to Rodeo, we made plans with our new friend Andy to meet up later for dinner. We then busted our butts to walk the 15 kilometers to Rodeo before nightfall, and we made it just in time! Unfortunately, Andy's ride picked him up super late, and we were unable to have dinner together. Fidgit and I found a place to stay in Rodeo, then promptly showered and collapsed into our beds.

Dirt road walking- our longest dry stretch