Our bus ride from Salta to Humahuaca did not go as smoothly as we expected. We did not realise that Salta is 1200 m above sea level, while Humahuaca is 2900 m above sea level. Everything went smoothly until we got to about 2400 m, where Cobus started experiencing sinus pains (he has not fully recovered from his flu in Buenos Aires). The last 45 min (and 500 m climb) of the journey was extremely intense as the sinus pressure increased and was joined by a headache and dizziness (to the point where we were even thinking of turning back). We arrived in Humahuaca at around 3 pm and started towards the tourist information situated below the bell tower in the main square (of course ;-)). Unfortunately it was closed, so I left Cobus with all the baggage on a bench next to the square in order to search for a place to stay. I was rather worried about him and the altitude was also starting to have its effect on me, so I just quickly checked a few nearby hostels. I decided on a local place (that did not really cater for backpackers) which seemed clean and comfortable, and had its own restaurant. Cobus went straight to bed dosed with sinus pills and diamox. I explored the town a little bit more, and bought some water and coca leaves. When I got back, Cobus got his mouth stuffed with coca leaves. The leaves are very bitter, it’s almost like putting raw spinach leaves into your mouth. After a few hours of sleep, Cobus felt a little bit better, and hungry, so we stumbled into the small restaurant area across from our room. We had costeleta (beef ribs) and humitas (again; it was nicer than the one in Salta, but the one in Cafayate remains unbeaten).
The next morning Cobus felt a lot better, but still not 100%. We decided to stay another two nights in Humahuaca to acclimatise, making sure that the next increase in altitude would be less painful. We found a cheap hostel near the main square where the rooms looked clean. Again we were lucky to have the dorm room to ourselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t really check the beds or the kitchen or the warm water, so were surprised by the condition of the place. The beds had really uncomfortable mattresses, the kitchen facilities were scandalous and the not even luke warm water (24 hours hot water is advertised), even though it was freezing outside, ensured that you are colder after a shower than before. Hostel Humahuaca is really not a good option to stay in – it seems like the owners do not really care about the place or anyone who stays there. Honestly, I think the only good thing about the hostel is the dog Canella! But, we were not up for moving to a third place in three days, so we bit the bullet ;-).
Humahuaca is a small town with cobble stone roads and a beautiful surrounding. The town may seem a bit touristy as there are plenty of hostels and on a Sunday scores of tourists arrive by bus to visit the weekly markets. Apart from the markets and the surroundings, the only real attraction in town is the massive Monumento a los Héroes de la Indepenciathat towers above the main square (their independence seem to be celebrated everywhere). Other famous towns that we passed on our way to Humauca include Tilcara and Purmamarca, also known for their beautiful coloured earth. A less touristy option further Northeast on the road to the Bolivian border would be the the town called Iruya, where homestays are offered for a more cultural experience.
We decided to book the Hornocal trip for the afternoon, which is a trip to a beautiful sight high up in the mountains at around 4300m above sea level. Just before the trip we gave the kitchen at Hostel Humahuaca a go, and managed to cook some carbonara in the very cold room with almost zero facilities – we were a bit proud of ourselves ;-). The trip up to the Hornocal was bumpy and dusty and we had to stop a couple of times for the vehicle’s engine to cool down. Once at the top, the views were stunning as the sun illuminated the bright coloured ridges of the Hornocal. We only managed to stay a little while due to a blazing wind, but it was worth the trip.
Back at the hostel we had leftover carbonara for dinner, while chatting to 2 german girls studying Latin American studies in the nearby city of Tucuman. We found the conversation to be a bit lobsided – one would expect someone studying sociology and history would have some very strong opinions, but they did not really have a lot to say about anything. We later concluded that maybe it was due to the big difference in age, hehe ;-).
Our last day in Humahuaca was spent sleeping till 11 am, enjoying a decent, self-made breakfast (egg mayo sandwiches, cereal and cappuccino) and walking about the small town. Believe me, if you had dry toast and coffee every morning for a couple of weeks, an egg mayo sandwich tastes like heaven. We decided to buy a typical maté cup from Argentina (before we went over the border) and a tarca flute (typical instrument in northwest Argentina and in Bolivia). Our dinner consisted of pasta again (anything else was impossible to make in the kitchen) with a tomato based sauce and olives.
The next day we got onto the 10h10 bus to the border town of La Quiaca. Obviously the bus was half an hour late: South America time seems to be similar to Africa time…
The bus journey to La Quiaca took more or less 2 hours with some pretty scenery along the way. Luckily Cobus didn’t experience any sinus pain at the increased altitude, yeah! From the bus station in La Quiaca we walked the 2 km to the Bolivian border town called Villazon. The border crossing went smoothly – it only took us a little more than an hour from the bus station to getting our passports stamped.
Our stay in Humahuaca were supposed to be only one night, but the extra two nights made it possible for Cobus to recover. He gained a special insight into the following Psalm (especially verse 1 ;-)) :
I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.