Saturday (Sabado) 22nd May, 2010
Day 435

Salta, Argentina
Salta, Argentina
Miles: 44,504
S 23.79156°
W 66.02186°

Overnight we got a taste of the bicentennial celebrations. A local disco played loud music until 5:00 am. We could not so much hear it as feel it. The bass tones actually made parts of the Tiger resonate in sympathy with the music. It would be an understatement to say that the entertainment made sleeping a little difficult.

Today we headed back to high altitude and the high plateau of the Andes. We traveled along Ruta 51 to the town of San Antonio de los Cobres. This route follows the railway line to Chile and the Salta famous tourist attraction - Tren a las Nubes (train to the clouds) - which climbs from Salta at 1100 m to an imposing viaduct at 4200 m, just past SanAntonio de los Cobres before returning to Salta. We decided not to take the train but to drive. We see this as the first stage of our acclimatization to high altitude as we head into Bolivia. For a number of months now we have been at low altitudes and we are definitely not ready for the heights of Bolivia with out some preparation.

Ruta 51 showed us the whole spectrum of scenery and road conditions. Heading out of Salta the road is paved and the scenery is that of a temperate climate with orchards and green lawned country houses. Next the road drops into a river gorge and actually runs along the river bed. It is obvious that the road was once somewhat higher up on the wall of the river but rock slides destroyed that road and now travel is along the river bed. At the end of the river valley a steep and twisting road climbs up onto the Andean high plans at 3500 m and onto dusty gravel roads. The land is dry, a mix of sand and rock, with sparse clumps of grass, wide valleys with rounded mountain peaks shooting above us for many more hundredss of meters.

The town of los Cobres is surprisingly large with many more houses than we had expected, probably due to the need for labour for nearby mining operations. It is also windy and dusty, dusty .. dusty. We climb beyond the town an additional 20 kms along Ruta 51 to see the famous viaduct at 4200m. The road was rough and in places deteriorated into a 4x4 track - even though this is a national highway and a recognized route into Chile.

From los Cobres we joined Ruta 40 and headed north towards the salt lake of Salinas Grande, hoping to find a place to camp that was closer to 3000m. After all acclimatization is about gaining altitude gradually and going from 1100 m to 4000m in one day would not qualify as gradual. We eventually got down to 3400 at our roadside camping spot.


North of San Antonio de los Cobres on Ruta 40 beside Salinas Grande, we just pulled off the road and parked near an old falling-down adobe house.