With a hot cup of tea and homemade bread, I sit on a large stone warmed by the sun, gazing Westward.
Before me, a massive rock face—red sandstone, partly overgrown with green, wrapped with clouds in places.
A condor spirals majestically above the rock face. Even with several hundred meters separating us, I can easily imagine how big this bird must be up close—Otherworldly and yet sensational to watch such a giant in flight.
The day was a visual feast even Hollywood couldn’t match. Toucans flitting from tree to tree, flocks of green parrots raucously bursting in and out of site. I’m continually thrilled with an endless array of bird species I’ve never seen before.
Not only do the birds sweeten and inspire my day, but the plant life is all new. Fruits and flowers I’ve never encountered in my travels. Along with giant trees that leave me wondering how old they must be.
At the moment, I would love to have a quality pair of binoculars and flora & fauna identification books to enhance my experience in this wonderland.
On the doorstep of Calilegua National Park, we spend a night in a cabana recovering from the exertions of the past few days of travel.
Having had my fill of silence and being alone in the desert these past weeks, I’m hungry for contact with people, especially since the connections I’ve had so far have been very positive.
Our experience thus far in Argentina has been entirely different from that of Chile. Every day, we have been welcomed in the warmest of ways.
We have been in the country for about three weeks now, and so far, I am thrilled by the eighth-largest country in the world.
So while I enjoy my cup of tea, warm my butt on the rock and gaze at the red sandstone wall, a deep sense of gratitude overcomes me. A shiver of joy, endless curiosity, and a permanent grin. Relief and happiness.
I know from the past that there were always situations where I thought: Oh, maybe it would be much more exciting here or there right now. The food tastes better in country X, and it’s currently light longer in the evenings in country Y. There were always many reasons why I was once again supposedly in the wrong place, in the wrong country, or even on the wrong continent.
Yup, I’m guilty; second-guessing or feeling like I will miss out on something comes easily for me. In truth, I want to experience it all and maybe all at once. Thankfully, in recent years, I have begun to calm down considerably.
I’m saying to myself these days: Wow, I wanr to see more of Argentina at my leisure. There seems to be so much to see here. In our three weeks on the road in this country, I barely touched 1% and it’s been so fascinating that I wonder what I can still see and experience.
While I sort through these moments of happiness, more parrots fly back and forth above our heads, and the family I am currently staying with calls me to dinner.
I find it best to remember that your impression of a country is always shaped by what you have already experienced. If I had not entered Argentina from Chile but directly, for example, from the U.S. or Iran, I might have thought: Yes, the people are friendly, but no more or different than elsewhere. Coming from Chile, on the other hand, every friendly encounter, every smile, and every welcome has an entirely different impact.
For this reason, it is always tricky to answer: Where did you like it best? External circumstances always play a significant role. What mental state am I in? Who did I meet? How was the weather and the food?
It’s pretty standard for people to think that because they have visited a country and had a great time, your experience in that country should match their experience. But this may not be true at all; conditions can change rapidly in countries just as they do in our personal lives, and of course, we all have our personal preferences. Some prefer beaches and seasides, while others desert, mountains, or cities.
Change of scene. The border.
It was crazy cold when we crossed the border at 4200 meters and in the middle of winter. The wind whipped the cold violently around our ears. Even Butch was cold.
I could only rejoice in the speed and simplicity of our crossing into Argentina. Our Tuk-Tuk was granted a six-month stay where, as I would have to leave and return after only three months.
Argentina was my first new country since 2019, my 102nd country and Butch’s fourth. Here at the border, Santiago de Chile was now 3800 kilometers of Tuk-Tuking behind us.
The border village at Paso Jama was pitch black. It was admittedly a bit creepy. The non-excisting sidewalks had been rolled up many hours ago, and if not for the barking of dogs everywhere, I would have thought we had landed in a ghost town.
The mud houses and dusty streets were in darkness except for the brightly lit gas station.
Fortunately, with the help of a local woman, I found a small hospedaje (boarding house). If not for her, I would never have imagined there was a place to stay in this village.
The house’s mother, an Indio, was kind, cooked me something to eat in the middle of the night, and let me warm my hands at the wood stove. I was delighted by the warmth, not only from the stove but also from the warm welcome in a new country.
Less than an hour into this new country, it was clear that life would be different at last.
Next to our room was a stable for llamas. Butch was greeted enthusiastically by the dogs of the house. However, we were both too tired to have anything else in mind besides snuggling up in bed and sleeping.
Morning light confirmed our impression from the night before. The village was dusty and poor. Despite this, the locals were amiable and open. And I enjoyed a tasty and surprisingly cheap meal in a tiny comedor next door to my accommodation.
Argentina has suffered for many years from high inflation. Cash is King, and the so-called Blue Dollar (USD) allows a traveler far more buying power than the Argentine Peso. This situation also makes Argentina cheaper for travelers than Chile, where everything is expensive. I loaded up on US Dollar before leaving Chile, knowing I could travel with less care after exchanging them in the black market.
I wanted to leave the vastness of the Altiplano behind me for the time being and move into warmer areas.
It was just too cold and uncomfortable for me here.
We enjoyed an excellent asphalt road, which brought us to a family at the end of the day. They operated a small pub a few meters from the main road. The lady of the house prepared delicious and incredibly cheap meals for me, and they also invited us to pitch our tent next to the house. Relief and pleasure came with this newfound hospitality and environment of trust and open friendliness.
We set our sites on reaching Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO-protected area. Our route on an asphalt road took us past the Salinas Grandes. A large salt lake, which I quickly realized had far too many tourists for my liking, so we passed it by. The next highlight was the long, winding pass road to get into the beautiful valley of Quebrada de Humahuaca.
As is my habit, I drive steep and winding passages in first or sometimes in second gear. That means we are only moving between 10 and 15 km/h. I find the braking power of the Tuk-Tuk not particularly convincing and, therefore, prefer to play it safe. This slow mode also allows us to take in the world in a much more detailed manner.
I also left the tourist town of Purmamarca and searched for a beautiful place in nature, but not before enjoying some BBQ llama.
While I was enjoying the llama meat, preferring to leave Butch in the Tuk-Tuk and give him his share later, a man approached me. He pointed at Butch and said, “Put your car in the shade so the dog doesn’t have to sit in the sun, it’s way too hot for him.”
Wow, I thought—finally, humanity. Someone is interested in and worried about Butch’s well-being. When I told him it doesn’t get hot in the Tuk-Tuk because it is so open, not having doors, he didn’t seem convinced because 10 minutes later, he returned and asked me again to park the Tuk-Tuk in the shade.
At the end of the day, I found a particularly great tent site in the midst of giant cacti. A man who lived near the small track I discovered off the main road directed me to the gorge and peaceful campsite. His three dogs greeted Butch playfully, and the four ran together next to the Tuk-Tuk until I found a flat spot for our tent.
The warm evening light magically lit the huge rocks, and the presence of the giant cacti made it a perfect camp for a few days.
It was wonderful. We hiked, made fires in our hobo stove, played, cooked, and admired the landscape. Like the Wild West, the valley’s nature resembled Utah and Arizona‘s—massive red rocks, canyons, and cacti.
By this time, I was feeling so comfortable here in Argentina I had no trouble closing my eyes and sleeping peacefully despite the man and his dogs knowing exactly where I was camped
Humahuaca, at just under 3000m, didn’t make much of an impression at first glance, but I soon fell in love with this small village. Many streets were car-free, so I could let Butch run the streets without any worries.
He got along great with most of the street dogs, so it was an excellent time for both of us because I could move around carefree and concentrate on my photography, people-watching, and enjoy the hustle and bustle.
The town offered the chance to enjoy a bit of civilization; I sat in various cafes, treating myself to delicious meals without worrying about breaking the bank, or as we say in Germany, “if you usually have to turn over a penny three times before spending it.” Here, I was free to indulge myself for a whole week.
There was a cafe that served delicious homemade pasta with fancy sauces, and brownies with ice-cream for dessert. It could hardly be more delicious. Even the tea was tastier in the little cafe than anywhere else. Butch played in the street and greeted each new guest with extensive tail wagging, always sending the message, please pet me!!! 🙂
I met Americans, Germans, and French, not many, but just the right amount that you still greet and talk to each other.
After one week, we already felt a little at home because people now knew us. The woman from Germany with the cute dog and the funny Tuk-Tuk just stood out.
Iruya was our next destination, a village at the end of the world. Almost. And yet, I was surprised at how much traffic there was. The road snaked endlessly up to 4,000 meters and then down again to the river valley of Iruya. The landscape was sensational.
Iruya was not quite my cup of tea. A splendid valley, a church clinging to the slope, and alluring alleyways, maybe my expectations had been too high. However, I met a few interesting people—an Argentine from Buenos Aires who had lived for some time in Australia and thus spoke excellent English.
I also met a Swiss couple traveling with their 4×4 motorhome, and we talked for a long time. They kindly gave me their maps of Argentina. I love holding paper maps in my hands and marking places people have recommended to me.
Unfortunately, I sprained my injured right foot again while hiking around Iruya, so I had to miss out on the other hikes in the area.
We retraced the route to Iruya because it is located on a dead-end spur, arriving in a small village shortly before nightfall.
My first impressions reminded me of my childhood; my aunt lived, separated from us, in the GDR, and during summer vacations, I was often allowed to visit her by train. It was a great adventure at that time because the GDR had always been fascinating—just a completely different country with endless adversities.
Similarly, the houses in this small village were colorless, the walls gray and loveless. The streets were dusty and shaded by big trees. The shelves in the small stores barely held the basics for life, like in my aunt’s village 40 years ago.
But it also had a few beautiful murals, ultimately making the village shine again.
One of the girls in the village ran after us, waving as if we were visitors from the West, who were always looked at with intense curiosity in the GDR, too.
Arriving anywhere here with a Tuk-Tuk is even more exotic than with a touring bicycle. Over and over again, people ask me where I bought it, how much fuel it takes, how many horsepower it has, and much more. It creates connections and makes us unique. Butch especially loves this because he loves nothing more than getting attention.
Lodging in a little house in this village cost $1, and so did dinner. However, it wasn’t that cheap anywhere else.
The next day, as we were turning onto the main road, a car overtook us, and two men jumped out of the car and got in our way so they could take our picture. Funnily enough, they were German—five brothers on vacation together.
“We saw you back in Iruya. Where did you get the Tuk-Tuk? We were amazed that this thing could drive these bad roads, especially getting you over 4000-meter passes. We are thrilled.”
This time, passing through Humahuaca, I only intended to refuel and then drive over the mountains to Santa Ana and from there to the Chaco. But the gas station was out of fuel, and this was the case for the next four days. So I enjoyed the homemade pasta, delicious tea, and brownies in my favorite cafe, where I also met a French woman traveling on a 125 Suzuki motorbike.
I guessed she was in her late 60s and had tinkered her simple luggage rack herself. She had just come from Bolivia.
While waiting in a small hotel for fuel, I tripped and fell in my room. Having landed on my left hand, I wondered if I had broken it for several days before it recovered.
Laurent, a touring cyclist from France whom I had met in West Africa and still kept in touch with, raved about the route to Santa Ana, so I had to tackle this route.
At first, it was a bit boring; the higher we went, the more adventurous the route became. At around 4500 meters, we started to descend through fantastic landscapes. The scenery was fabulous, but the descent was a little terrifying.
The wind blew in violent gusts, buffeting the Tuk-Tuk around like a toy. With each bend in the road, I hoped the gusts wouldn’t take us over the edge into the valley below. As a precaution, I loosened Butch’s leash because I typically have him strapped in so he can’t accidentally fall out when it gets particularly bumpy.
He had fallen out once before, and luckily, no vehicles were behind us that time.
I wanted to ensure that if we were blown towards the abyss and I couldn’t stop the Tuk-Tuk, we could both still jump out in time.
Once, a gust caught us and pushed us along the road at breakneck speed, but as soon as we came around the next bend, we were back in the lee of the mountains and under control again.
For safety’s sake, we were driving very slowly, and I worried about our progress as it was getting dark. The road wound on up and down endlessly. We were nowhere near Santa Ana, and camping on the steep slopes would be impossible, as well as freezing cold.
Driving such curves at night with the Tuk-Tuk’s meager lights is not easy, but we arrived around 9 p.m. and were warmly welcomed by a group of Argentines. It had taken us about 11 hours for 100 kilometers. A snail’s pace, but we were safe.
The lovely Argentinians from Buenos Aires invited me to eat in a small comedor and were glad we had made it safely down the mountain. So was I.
Unfortunately, I discovered that I lost my hiking backpack on the mountain. The wind had blown through the Tuk-Tuk so mightily that the attachment must have loosened, and the backpack was blown out along the way.
A heartbreaker, the backpack was expensive, and it is one of the very few that fit me without causing pain. Sadly, we won’t be doing multi-day hikes any time soon.
I met a friendly group of tourists from Buenos Aires; they were heading for Caspala the next day and suggested I go there also, as it was supposed to be super.
Not surprisingly, the route to Caspala was another winding mountain road.
The village celebrated a festival with a lot of noise and little content, at least in my eyes. We could hardly sleep, and fireworks banging put Butch on edge most of the night, so we had little joy from the nighttime festival.
During the day was another story. The village came together for lunch and invited us to join in. Clay ovens provided the main course, Asado. Even the dogs were allowed portions, and Butch got an extra plate full of goodies from one of the women, making him a happy fellow.
I was also allowed to participate in a Pachamama ceremony celebrated in Argentina in August. Pachamama is Mother Earth, and you give back to her what you like. Some alcohol, cigarettes, money, and much more are placed into a hole and then decorated with streamers and confetti… Everyone was happy and satisfied with a bit of smoke and tam-tam, a little dance around the hole.
I found it amusing but also enjoyable.
We also did some hiking around Caspala, but not quite as long as usual because my foot was still not okay again, and my hand wasn’t back to normal.
Back in Santa Ana, I once again admired the incredible murals and enjoyed the indigenous people’s atmosphere very much. Their traditional clothing is colorful, just like their paintings. They tend not to like to be photographed, which I respect.
An early observation in Argentina was that macho posturing is not present, at least not so far in Jujuy, the state I’m currently exploring. I don’t think that women are only responsible for having children, cooking, and tending to the house while men do the rest.
So far, men have treated me with respect. Also, there haven’t been any strange jealousy dramas like in Mexico, where women constantly feared I would steal their husbands. Both sexes behave towards me in a friendly and self-confident manner. Uncomplicated and pleasant.
The education level here also makes a very good impression. Even in the mountains, remote villages, and among the indigenous population, I do not think people have been left behind.
I do not see any aggressiveness, although I perceive an excessive consumption of alcohol among the indigenous population. Nevertheless, I feel a pleasant coexistence,
Argentina has nourished and replenished us in so many ways!
Heading away from Santa Ana’s 3300-meter heights, the road snaked ever downward through gorgeous landscapes. We enjoyed a delicious lunch served by a spirited and funny woman in a comedor in one of the villages along the way. One of the best things we’ve experienced here in Argentina is that Butch can always accompany me everywhere, restaurants, hotels, where ever he’s always been welcomed.
On entering a restaurant, we sometimes find four or five dogs lying under the tables, hoping for floor scraps. Butch never knows what to expect, tail wags or attacks.
Everything is new daily, and I think Butch is doing a great job adapting to the new environments.
Argentines are definitely animal-friendly and make life very easy for us.
Eventually, we arrived in San Francisco, where four travelers from Buenos Aires let us sleep in the same cabana. I was invited for dinner the next day, after which I was warming my butt on the warm stone and admiring the toucans.
And best of all, while here, a neighbor repaired the zippers on my tent.
The journey from San Francisco to Calilegua National Park offered more brilliant and varied scenery. We had hoped to see some animals on our drive through the park, but we were disappointed in this respect but were richly rewarded by the flora and dense fog of the day. The fog created a mystical atmosphere for our day.
After many months in deserts, the greenery, flowers, and birdlife were refreshing—the humidity not so much, but something different.
Dogs are not allowed on trails or in the campgrounds in the National Park, so we camped outside next to the information center along the main road. Reminding me how much I dislike lots of traffic and cities.
After five minutes, I would have loved to have turned away from the hustle and bustle. But I have to say it was a pleasure to wear a T-shirt once again rather than a down jacket. However, I was not very enthusiastic about the mosquitoes hungrily waiting for us at the tent entrance.
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“What do you want in the Chaco? There’s nothing to see there,” people kept saying to me. Well, we’ll see, that was my thought. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that I have to see things for myself to judge whether they’re worth seeing or not. Most of all, […]
With a hot cup of tea and homemade bread, I sit on a large stone warmed by the sun, gazing Westward. Before me, a massive rock face—red sandstone, partly overgrown with green, wrapped with clouds in places. A condor spirals majestically above the rock face. Even with several hundred meters separating us, I can easily […]
It is dark, and Butch and I are already in the tent. Outside, the wind is raging, and it is freezing cold. We are at 3800 meters. It is winter in the southern hemisphere. Northern Chile is within the borders of the driest desert in the world, the Atacama: the landscape is rocky with little […]