Today I went on an excursion to the town of Cachi and I found out why the Salta province is called “La Linda” (“The Beautiful”)!
The drive was gorgeous!
I was picked up at my hotel at 7:30 and in total there were 9 tourists, the driver, and the guide, in a minivan.
Shortly after leaving the town of Salta we drove through acres and acres of tobacco farms. It reminded me of home (North Carolina)! It was obvious that some of these farms were very wealthy and the guide told us that this area is the third largest tobacco growing region in the world. They don’t create any products here, though; after the crop is picked, they sort and dry the leaves and then it all goes to Buenos Aires.
Shortly after this area, and passing through a few small towns, we veered off onto Route 33 and the landscape started to change quite dramatically, becoming mountainous and thick with vegetation.
We stopped for a bathroom break and then started our uphill drive into the clouds! We started to see our first glimpses of the “seven colors” that the Salta region is known for, but in this specific area they are jokingly refer to the colors as “six and a half” as “seven” was already claimed by another town in the region called Purmamarca!
As we climbed higher, the visibility became quite poor and I think we were all wondering what kind of a disastrous day this may be becoming! The guide commented that the cloud cover in this part of the drive is unfortunately common.
We stopped for a photo op at the top of the climb, at the site of Piedra del Molino, at 3,457 meters (11,341 feet). We couldn’t see a bloody thing! The little church was quite cute, though, and inside there were offerings to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) who is the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. After Christianity was introduced, the indigenous sort of blended the two religious concepts together and as the church is a house of worship they bring offerings here for Pachamama. In this church, we found coca leaves, cigarettes, and a can of cerveza (beer)!
Below is an aside on coca leaves:
- The coca leaf is seen in many areas of South America, especially where there are high altitudes
- When chewed (like chewing tobacco), coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue.
- Coca helps overcome altitude sickness so it is offered in many places in either leaf form (to chew) or in coca tea
- Coca chewing and tea drinking is carried out daily by millions of people in the Andes without problems, and is considered sacred within indigenous cultures.
- Cocaine can be extracted from coca leaves, so the plant is highly controversial and in Argentina they are not allowed to grow it for sale but it is legal to buy/sell it in shops
- Because of its stimulant effect, coca leaf was originally used in the soft drink Coca Cola. In 1903 it was removed and a decocainized coca extract is one of the flavouring ingredients.
Okay, back on track! After we left the church, we drove on very level ground for quite some time and the scenery changed again, this time to a dry, deserty scene full of the most gorgeous mountains and, eventually, millions of cacti!
I am not quite sure when we officially entered the Valle Calchaquies (I assume back when the wild vegetation started), but now we were in the Parque Nacional Los Cardones and there were cacti everywhere! Plus some guanaco! It was breathtaking and I am sure my photos don’t do it justice (haven’t looked at them yet, but will attach!).
We stopped at a roadside vending area where handicrafts and spices were being sold and then continued on the the town of Payogasta for lunch.
The lunch spot was quite cute and we could see where they were sun-drying their own tomatoes and the ovens where they cooked the meat and bread.
Next stop, Cachi!