Purmamarca to Huacalera

This was to be our last stop in Argentina and only 40 km up the road so we decided to take a side trip on Route 52 towards the Chile border to see the Salinas Grandes, literally Large Salt Flats.  220 sq km of salt flats high up on the Andean plateau which we felt we had already seen because they adorn hotel walls throughout northern Argentina and appear in so many tourist brochures .  A walk after breakfast sounded good, so before jumping into the cars we took the 3 km walk around the two hills behind the town to see the coloured mountain sides for which Purmamarca is famous.  Very spectacular and once we were around the first corner we could have been miles from anywhere just enjoying the scenery.  The walk took us back through town which was still mopping up from overnight rain and setting up for the last day of Carnival.  No spray cans of foam at this time of morning thankfully.

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By the time we got back to the hotel the mist was still hanging low over the hills but we guessed that somewhere over the top of the pass it would clear.  This was a serious hill, rising from 2200m to 4200m in around 30 km so it was 3rd gear most of the way and fortunately little traffic to get in our way.  Even though the MGs are rather underpowered by current standards, there are few cars here which can pass us on the hills – one of the benefits of old fashioned SU carburettors is their ability to self compensate for loss of air density at high altitude, unlike many other cars which run very rich and belch black smoke.  Sure enough we sailed over the top and the clouds cleared to give us a view right down the valley towards the salt flats.  And they were very impressive, just like the pictures.

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The drive back was just as entertaining and this time the drive up to Tilcara was much easier.  Carnival was winding down and everyone was heading out of town so we made our way through the narrow streets and remaining crowds to the fort strategically located at the top of a hill giving a clear view up and down the valley.  Similar in some ways to Quilme which we had visited some days ago, the original structures date back to around 1000 AD but in this case they were taken over and further developed during the Inca period.  Excavation and restoration has been going on since the early 1900s and there is controversy about over-restoration in many areas.  Even more controversial is the dominating structure built right on top of the hill as a memorial to the early archaelogists.  It is built in the shape of a truncated pyramid reminiscent of structures in Central America and not at all appropriate for this area.  Suppose they could always demolish it and start again…

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