Layers were necessary from Uyuni...

The further we go,the more extremes we find in South America. Setting off from Uyuni at 6am last Sunday we shivered our way towards Tupiza in freezing temperatures. Typically Bolivian, the bus ran late and the windows were jammed open, necessitating hats, scarfs and hoods. After an hour and a half’s unexplained and unnecessary break in the less than enchanting and toilet-poor town of Atocha, we snaked along unmade roads, hugging the sides of deep canyons and trying hard not to look to long at the steep drops. A 4wd jeep is one thing to travel in on these tricky roads, a freezing bus was another.

Of course, by the time we reached the small town of Tupiza it was early afternoon and the layers had become a burden in what turned out to be baking dry heat. We’d found Sam and Nellie, another English couple we’d shared a dorm with in Uyuni, on the bus that morning, and so with them we found places to stay and eat and, on the following day, a place to test our Wild West skills in an area famous for the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The scenery would have complimented a giant cowboy on steroids. Huge rock formations, dry riverbeds, phallic cacti and imposing mountains were the backdrop as we donned our cowboy hats (no helmets, it’s Bolivia, silly!) leather leg-guards and mounted up. Unfortunately, our riding experience and not-so-trusty steeds didn’t quite match up to the image, as what seemed to be exhausted horses trudged begrudgingly along the dusty tracks and all of us, at one time or another, worried about not having any brakes and it “having a mind of its own…”

As thunder and lightnening rumbled and flashed a few miles away, Helen’s horse took out some of its frustration on that of the fourteen-year-old bareback riding guide (Bolivia, remember?), kicking both back legs off the ground to buck the other horse on the flank. Albeit spectacular, that was as exciting as it got, and it took some imagination to fit our experience of the animals to that of the backdrop, and see ourselves fleeing from a bank robbery or rounding up a herd.

Yee-hahaha? Helen, Paul, Sam & Nellie.

The next day was border crossing day and, despite a slightly disturbing guy on a bus who liked licking our hands, some more pretty horrendous Bolivian toileting and an extensive search by Argentinian police (more interested in the locals actually) we found ourselves heading for Tilcara, a small town in North-Western Argentina.

A few things immediately struck us as we took in the new country. The roads were better, the buses better, the pavements better, the people slightly fatter, the accents thicker and the prices higher. Eventually, as we came closer to our destination, the buildings improved too. We had certainly left Bolivia (and annoyingly its easier to work out exchange rate) behind.

We found Tilcara to be a very pleasant town, reminding us of an English Lake District resort. There are extensive Inca ruins nearby but we opted instead for a walk to the nearby Cascada Del Diablo. Of course, as four Brits in temperatures of over 30C we chose to go at around 1pm, as the rest of Argentina was retiring for siesta (just another thing to get used to as this was virtually unheard of in Peru and Bolivia.) the waterfall was pleasant but nothing spectacular, but the thirst-inducing walk set us up well for beers, an event topped off by meeting a chance meeting with Pablo and Isobel from our Uyuni trip. A trip to the butchers later and we were enjoying steaks and wine in our hostel courtyard. A trip to a local ‘peña’ (restaurant/bar with live folk music) and a couple more bottles of the excellent local malbec later, and we found ourselves playing drums, flutes and the rest at about three in the morning. Our first Andean jam!

Our last stop on this leg of the Argentinean trip was Salta. A city of half a million we arrived a little the worse for wear to temperatures touching 38 degrees. The Indian summer in the UK might be making folks sweat but this was really something. Furthermore, the wave of relief at shops, better sanitation and modernity showed us that what we had been missing in the Andes. Delicious empanadas and tomales, a cable-car up a nearby mountain, a taste of Argentinian night-life and an attempt to cook a curry were about as active as we got on this slightly wine-soaked four days, but we have enjoyed great company in a comfy hostel. A flight to the far eastern triple-border with Paraguay and Brazil awaits, as does yet another change of climate.

Tamale - a meat-filled corn snack

Salta from above (more high flying)

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