The Argentinian  journey across the Andes from Humahuaca to Tilcara is showcasing magnificent scenery.  It looks like all the intense colors of the Andes decided to meet in this northern part of Argentina and to blend in the valleys of Quebrada de Humahuaca…

Taken from the 1 hour bus ride from Humahuaca to Tilcara.  Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Taken from the 1 hour bus ride from Humahuaca to Tilcara. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Tilcara is a small town with simple identity and spectacular setting. Walking the streets I indulge myself in the rustic and lively ambiance made by its aboriginal inhabitants. Talking to them I recognize, once again, the clearer and more melodically Spanish spoken by people in this part of the country.

Locals with humor painted their houses with scenes from cartoon network. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Locals with humor painted their houses with scenes from cartoon network. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

An old man who sells pancakes in the bus station guides me to Pucara de Tilcara, the archeological site at the outskirts of the town. I find it after about 30 minutes walk on a hot, windy weather.
What makes this Pucara special is the restorations and the build-ups of previous Inca constructions. These are ancient ruins from Tilcara Community, a fortification strategically constructed on an elevated terrain in order to protect the town.

Old, big cactus are everywhere around. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Old, big cactus are everywhere around. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The abundant and large cactus dominating the site are framed by the surrounding landscape with its dramatic colors.
I’m watching the distance at the town of Maimara and Quebrada de Humahuaca mountains and I realize I’m standing exactly where an ancient civilization once existed. It feels like stepping back in both archaeological and geological history.

Maimara town surrounded by spectacular mountains of Quebrada. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Maimara town surrounded by spectacular mountains of Quebrada. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I leave Pucara by late afternoon and I head it to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s throat), a nice canyon leading to a waterfall. I am thinking it must be late for a swim there, as the sun goes down and is windier, but at least I can see it. I get a dirt road that gradually climbs the mountain just outside Tilcara; with every curve I take, the view is more appealing.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Tilcara from above.  Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Tilcara from above. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I stop several times to take pictures and I miss the 4 km shortcut to Garganta del Diablo; I was heading wrong, on the car road, that takes 9 km. I realize I have no time for coming back on daylight to Tilcara and I decide to stop the ascending. The dry wind is blowing stronger and I’m about to run out of water; The Devil can wait for some other time. Right now I’d better just sit down and awe into this moment.

Quebrada de Humahuaca. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Quebrada de Humahuaca. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The next morning I wake up early; my bus to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, leaves from Purmamarca, 40 km away from Tilcara. I get in time there so I can walk around the village and admire another beauty of Mamaterra: the Hill of Seven Colors.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

A little dog keeps walking with me and keeps me company until my coche cama bus arrives. I hurry up to pack the food I bought for the road trip when I find in a pocket of my rucksack a bag with coca leaves.
This was given to me a few days earlier by the taxi driver who brought me up to Serrenias del Hornocal at 4400 meters. The coca leaves were supposed to keep me company and to prevent a headache due to high altitude. And they did.

The coca leaves. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The coca leaves. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

These are commonly used by locals in the mountain areas of Argentina, but I’m not sure what is the custom’s opinion regarding this. I can already imagine myself being stuck at the border and waiting for Carlos (who is a lawyer in Buenos Aires) to come and get me out of a Chilean prison. Dios Mio, I’d better leave these here.

“Hey little dog, would you like some vegetarian food, too?”

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