Things I Have Learned In Jujuy, Argentina
‘Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.”
The Train to the Clouds makes up one of the most important attractions in this area because of its distinct building and engineering.
It is now closed but you drive along this route of unique beauty where the mountains touch the clouds.
The Puna is part of the barren high altitude landscape that stretches across the Altiplano in Northern Argentina. It is around 4000 meters high.
The Altiplano (high plain) is the most extensive high altitude plateau outside of Tibet.
You don’t see much except wild vicunas and guanacos.
The viaduct at La Polvorilla is the last stop of the Tren A Las Nubes at 4200 meters above sea level.
Las Nubes means the clouds. It is a word you quickly learn in Salta and Jujuy (between 10-14,000 ft. above sea level most of the time.) There is the train to the clouds, restaurant in the clouds, farm in the clouds, gym in the clouds, winery in the clouds, hotel in the clouds, store in the clouds, etc. In other words, you are very high up in the Andes.
San Antonio de Los Cobres is one of the highest altitude towns on the Puna and is known because it is one of the stops on the Train to the Clouds. That’s about it.
The cold wind rips through us and it turns out that it is the windiest day in thirteen years. We are at our highest altitude of 14,000 feet. The altitude headache is kicking in and it is freezing. But I have been in a cozy restaurant drinking fresh coca tea, eating llama and lentils, and talking about the rainy season and mine exploitation.
It is not a good day for a drug test when you are at high altitudes in the Andes chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea. The test is for coca, not the chemicals that turn it into cocaine.
It takes about three hours on an unpaved dirt road to go from San Antonio to Salinas Grandes. When someone tells you that you are taking the road alongside the train to the clouds, it sounds so exciting, but why do they forget to tell you it is unpaved and very rocky?
A stunning natural phenomenon, these salt flats took about 22 million years to form the current topography. Salt deposits from a since-disappeared body of water cover the ground here, forming a durable surface that appears snowy from a distance and almost fossil-like up close.
Salt can have a big glare, when not in a salt shaker and laid out in salt flats of 8,290 kilometers.
The pueblos of Purmamarca, Tilcara and Huamahuaca are on the main highway to the Bolivian border. (Pucara of Tilcara-pre Inca fort)
This entire area is the Quebrada de Humahuaca . a UNESCO site for its villages and natural scenery.
The towns are more interesting in Jujuy than Salta.
We see no tourists here from the United States but you can always find South Americans, a few Germans and Australians, and of course the British. They go everywhere.
The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be directly overhead.
One of the markers of the Tropic of Capricorn is in Jujuy province in Northern Argentina.
This beautiful church in Uquia is one of the many colonial churches in Jujuy. It has a fine collection of paintings from the Cusco School of Art . (the Incas were taught to paint for the Spanish and put their own symbols in the paintings)
There are nine angel paintings. When the Indians were told to paint angels, they did not know what they looked like. The Spanish told them that they look like us, but with wings. They painted soldiers with swords, spears and wings. The most beautiful wings that the Indians knew were the ones from the flamingos of the highland lakes and so the wings in the paintings on the soldiers are pink. The angels have very red cheeks from the wind in the northern Andes against the Spanish fair skin. (no photographs please)
The seven colored mountain of Purmamarca pink, green, grey, purple, orange, brown, white) is pretty impressive as far as colored stone goes .
It shows many geographical ages.
The mountain is a backdrop for the village. Everyday, there is a big handicraft fair in the main square of the village which adds even more colors.
Purmamarca was my favorite place on this trip. Hiking in the colors of the mountain made me feel like I was in some amazing painting.
I have so many beatuiful photos it was hard to pick just a few.
Tilcara is a lively Andean village . There is an arts and crafts market and many restaurants around the main square. There are many gatherings in restaurants at night with live traditional music (sometimes from the guests) and local food.
Indigenous cultures are very much alive in these mountain pueblos.
Humahuaca is a pueblo in the Humahuaca Valley, 10,000 feet above sea level. Many Bolivian immigrants sell traditional Andean crafts and coca leaves. The architecture, adobe houses, street lamps and cobblestone streets are all from another time. The ancestral customs continue here.
The historic Cabildo building (town hall) is the home of the main tourist attraction. There is a stellar performance by San Francisco Solano, a mechanical statue with waving arms that blesses the audience of tourists and locals every day at noon. It comes complete with music blaring from the nearby Church of the Candelaria..
Gauchito Gil is another folk saint. He was the Argentine Robin Hood who got tired of fighting in the Civil War and protected the poor instead. He was found in the forest by a general and pleaded for his life. He said to his murderer, “Your son is very ill, if you pray to me, he will live.” This turned out to be true. Again the story spread. Today, small red shrines can be found on the roadsides of most northern Argentine motor-routes, and great pilgrimages are organized to his sanctuary in Corrientes. Drivers believe that if they fail to acknowledge or leave offerings to the saint during their journeys, they may crash or breakdown. You can find red flags along the route. When I was checking the facts (yes, I do that) I found out that Gauchito Gil also has a facebook page.
Traveling with Daniel Salazar from Cultural Xplorers is never boring. His sense of humor, adventure, kindness, shopping skills, intelligence and knowledge of many things made this trip so much fun. I also have to thank him for being my personal photographer most of the time, and I hope we will remain friends.
It is always good for a New York city kid to spend some time in small villages in Argentina. When you are young, it looks like just the kind of places to escape from, when you get older, you are not so sure.
Buen Dia And Fly Safe,