Mini-bus to the Clouds: Top of the World

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Click here for pictures from Salta. Howdy folks, well, I´ve got a rare bit of free time to write up a post in the sort-of middle of the day. It´s just around 4:30, and I just got back from my lunch, and have free time till 8pm, so let´s just pick it up where we left off and talk about yesterdays journey. I talked about getting on the train to the clouds, and then subsequently finding out it would be a mini-bus to the clouds. I´ll have to be honest though, sometimes, these little changes are just what you need. This tripped proved to be well worth it. Although by the end of the trip, we all agreeed that these particular clouds weren´t very soft and fluffy, and could use a spot of pavement 🙂 As it turns out, the road we travelled was pretty bumpy, and filled with lots of cargo trucks laden with lithium brine and borax. These are some of the things that get mined from the salt flats that exist in the altiplano at high altitudes between here and Bolivia. We got an early start to our day, boarding the bus at 8am. The trip was to last for about 12 hours, and we had a great guide named Pablo to fill us in on all the gory details of the areas we´d be seeing. read on…

Our first stop was to have a look at the original locomotive which would have traversed the railroad. It had extra wheels as it needed extra traction for all the inclines, and zig-zags, which is how the train gained the altitude from 1500m to 4200m, which was our final elevation. Yup, pretty high. From this start, we followed a road that more or less twinned the railway all the way. This way, we were actually able to see the railroad, as well as all the interesting bridges and moutains along the way. Oh, I didn´t mention the mountains? Well, they were pretty spectacular. This being an arid region, the vegetation was sparse, and grew sparser as we went. The cactuses were quite impressive. I also learned that whenever we see a large group of cacti, it is a sign that there may have been native people living there in days gone by. You see, cactuses have a very long life cycle, and it takes 50 years before they even bloom. People would eat the fruit, and then when they *ahem* defficated out the seeds, it would cause new cactuses to grow there. Nice little tidbit, eh?

The mountains were really beautiful, exhibiting a lot of interesting and varying geology. The colors of some of the strata were very cool. Hopefully, some of the 200 or so shots we snapped throughout the day between two cameras turn out. We also stopped at a couple of the longer and higher rail spans to check them out. This was clearly not and easy or cheap rail line to build. Under some of the bridges were cemetaries, where the workers were buried in place rather than transporting them back to Salta. We also stopped at some ruins along the way at about 3600m. Although there wasn´t much to actually see, we were told that it was one of the very few sites that exist in Argentina that showed where the ancient cultures lived. At the base of the mountain was a very tiny village that had a museum, including an actual mummy! In this culture, the rich were mummified and placed in large vases, which were buried. I have a picture. It was a bit creepy. The lady running the museum also played me ‘fur elise’ on the ‘bell stones’, which are rocks with a high iron content, causing them to play notes when struck with granite or other hard rocks. Very cool.

The end of the line so to speak for us was a very impressive viaduct rising above the valley floor for 64m, at an altitude of over 4000m. We didn´t stop long, but I couldn´t resist running to the top of the crossing, then for fun trying a flay out sprint at 4200m. That might not have been the best idea, as at the end of the day I was suffering from a pretty massive headache. Yeah, 4000m is pretty high up. We gained about 3km of altitude on this single day, and the air was pretty thin! Jody snapped a few shots of me while I was up there, then I had to more or less run down the hill to get back on the bus to head to lunch. Happily, I was the sole member of our group who went to the top. As you may imagine, true to form, I am now known as the ‘crazy guy’ in our group. I wouldn´t have it any other way.

Lunch was at another interesting little village, which is a mid point of the road for the miners I think. Many of them live in this town, and we had a great little lunch the wandered around, amazed at the lives some people in this world live. No better, no worse, just different. We´ve met nothing but nice people on this trip, and are quite impressed with Argentina. The return bus ride was fairly uneventful, save for the massive trucks that would be in front of us, kicking up so much dust that we had no clue how the driver could find his way. Then, out of nowhere, we´d be passing them, to emerge in the sun again. You had to be there to fully understand 😉

Once back at the hotel, our guide more or less ditched us again (it´s becoming an interesting trend). Before we parted, we had to let hime know what excursions we each wanted to do today, we chose horseback riding with a few others. We´ve decided our guide isn´t working very hard for us, since he seems to disappear frequently, and not provide us with much info on our days´ options. I ended up being the ringleader for a night gathering with our group at one of the nice plazas for supper. The one thing I will say is that we are very fortunate to have an awesome group of 12. We span all ages and countries (canada, switzerland, south africa, germany, united states, united kingdom, and australia), but every one of us gets along. No stress or annoyances. We´ve gotten quite happy to hang out as a group most of the day, save when we are doing different activities like today. So on to the next post!

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