Saturday, May 28, 2016

Amaicha and the Quilmes ruins

A cactus with the Quilmes ruins in the background

Over the hills from Tafí del Valle is the tiny town of Amaicha. Even though it is only a few hours bus ride away the landscape is entirely different to the lush green of Tafí.

Once the bus has driven over the high mountains (3000m) the landscape changes to an arid landscape.

The road to Amaicha

The town itself is a tiny village of dirt roads surrounding a small plaza.

The main plaza

There isn't much to see within the town itself, but close by are several treks through the arid scenery.

Around 8 km from the town is a short trek to a small waterfall. The trek brings you through a spectacular canyon formed by erosion from the river.

The canyon entrance

The trail winds down a steep path to the river that flows out of the canyon.

The river at the canyon entrance

The trail then follows the river as the canyon walls surround you.

Looking back from inside the canyon

Until it reaches a small waterfall.

The waterfalls

There is a ladder that leads to the second set of falls.

The second falls

The trail stops at this point and you have to retrace your steps to exit back into the river valley which you can then follow back to Amaicha.

The river valley

The other point of interest in Amaicha are the Quilmes ruins - the ruins of a pre-Incan town that successfully resisted Spanish control for 130 years.

The ruins are about 15km out of Amaicha and are easily reachable by taxi. They are situated on the side of a steep hill overlooking a flat plain. 

The Quilmes ruins

From the topology of the landscape, it is easy to see just how defensible this settlement was.

The plains overlooked by the ruins

From the entrance you are able to walk through the ruins and there are short free guided tours of the lower parts of the site.

The lower part of the ruins

And after you can climb the steep hills for a birds-eye view of the site. Which at one stage had more than 1000 inhabitants.

The ruins from the hills

A view from higher up

The ruins and the plains

The Quilmes people eventually succumbed to the Spanish invaders and were rounded up and forcibly marched thousands of kilometres to Buenos Aires to a settlement that still bears their name. Inevitably many died on the march and in the new settlement at Quilmes in Buenos Aires.

The descendants of the Quilmes people have now returned to the Quilmes community and have restored and protected the ruins as an important part of their history.

A geko amongst the ruins

Friday, May 20, 2016

The valleys of Tucuman Province: Tafí del Valle and El Mollar

Tafí del Valle

Tafí del Valle and El Mollar are two small towns in Tucuman province, North of the capital, San Miguel.

They are easily accessible by bus which winds up the many curves into the mountains before eventually heading down into the valleys which are still over 2000m above sea level.

A statue of an indigenous messenger on the road up the mountain

Tafí del Valle is the larger of the two towns set in amongst the hills surrounding the valley.

The town is quite rural with horses and other livestock often grazing on the side of the dirt roads in the town.

Llamas grazing

The town is surrounded by many hills from which you can get a panoramic view of Tafí and the surrounding valley.

The trail to the hills starts just out of town across the Rio Banda.

Rio Banda

Soon after the river the trail becomes very steep as you begin the ascent into the hills.

The trail up the hill

From the trail you can see all of Tafí de Valle all the way to El Mollar.

Looking down the valley to El Mollar

At the top of the hill is a cross (of course) and from here you can see all of the valley.

The cross and some four-legged companions I picked up along the way

Tafí del Valle

Looking towards El Mollar

The trail continues into the hills but sadly the weather was turning bad so I had to head back to Tafí to enjoy some local delicacies.

Clouds over the trail

Locro - a local stew of pumpkin, beans and meat

Delicious local wine

Cayote with nuts - the fruit is slow roasted with sugar and eaten with nuts.

After a night's feasting, the next day I was ready to explore the nearby town of El Mollar.

The main square in El Mollar 

El Mollar is a tiny town on the edge of a large dam around 15km from Tafí del Valle. It's accessible by local collectivo via very bumpy dirt roads from Tafí. 

La Angostura dam

The town boasts a collection of important archaeological artifacts - Los Menhires.

Los Menhires

These stones were originally stood in front of the houses of the local indigenous people and could be found all around the valleys. Unfortunately many of the stones were vandalised, stolen and even used to construct bridges and roads so they were all moved to a secure park in El Mollar. The curators of the park have tried their best to recreate the position and orientation of the stones.

Designs carved into the stones - often faces or representations of animals

Unfortunately the reconstruction is mainly guesswork as many of the structures had already been dusturbed.

A reconstructed stone circle

The other reason why many of the stones were moved was to make way for a dam in El Mollar. The dam now provides a recreational area for the locals and a habitat for local birdlife but sadly has destroyed some of the valley's indigenous heritage.

La Angostura dam

Monday, May 9, 2016

The train to Tucuman

The train to Tucuman

One of the surprising things about the trains in Argentina is just how few locals know that long distance trains still exist and those that do know about them are very quick to tell you just how awful the trains are. Everyone I spoke to tried to discourage train travel for the more expensive bus.

However, I had heard that since the government had taken over the train system the trains had been upgraded and were a much more comfortable (and cheaper) option for the very long 26 hour journey from Buenos Aires to San Miguel de Tucuman.

Unfortunately, actually obtaining a ticket is unnecessarily complicated. You can only purchase tickets in the month of your departure despite the fact that if you want to book a private room, you must book very early and you can only purchase a ticket at one of the train stations in person and in cash.

Despite these difficulties I was able to obtain a ticket. I booked a camarote (private room) for $ARS1295 (around $A117). These are exceptional value for two people, however, for one they're around the same price as the bus.

A camarote

The cabin is fairly spacious (the top bunk folds away) and the bed is surprisingly comfortable.

There is also a dining car available for purchasing food.

The comedor (dining car)

The food is not really gourmet but it's cheap and fills a space.

Roast chicken - it was pretty tasty

 If I were to do it again, I'd bring my own food.

The train leaves Retiro Station in Buenos Aires on Fridays and Mondays and heads North to its first stop at the city of Rosario.

Leaving Retiro

Travelling out of the city is slow, but once free of Buenos Aires' suburbs the train speeds up through scenic farmland and several wetland areas.

The wetland

Andean Condor in a tree

Cows near the river

The train also passes through several fairly ugly industrial towns.

San Antonio de Arroyos

But generally the scenery is pretty nice


Cows grazing

Especially as the sun sets.


Sun behind trees

Almost dark

And after a very comfortable sleep, sunrise over the North.


The train passes through many small towns and rural settlements that had obviously sprung up around the train line in the past, but now are just remote settlements as they are far from the highway and the train doesn't stop there anymore.

Passing where the station used to be

The train makes one further stop at La Banda before finally arriving at Tucuman.

San Miguel de Tucuman station