Written by Neon
As we wandered out of Chile Cito, Fidgit and I decided to take a dirt road route that would take us more directly toward our next destination and that wouldn’t be on the side of a highway – yay! As we walked along what we thought would be an abandoned dirt track weaving in and out of a wash, we began to notice pieces of plastic/markers hanging in shrubs along the way. As the morning grew warmer, a couple of people on dirt bikes passed by. We walked on and came upon a family gathered around a fire alongside the road. Fidgit asked them about the trail, and we were told there would be a moto race coming through in the very near future. At this point, we were invited over to the fire to have a hot beverage and some homemade pizza. We decided to stay, hang out with the family, and enjoy being spectators along the race course. This would also allow the dirt bikes to pass without us being in their way / them being in our way. As the motos zoomed by, we got to cheer and enjoy some asado that the patriarchs cooked up for lunch.
We left the family in the late afternoon, walking our way along a dusty path, though it was no longer choked with motos. We reached the other end of the dirt track and got on the pavement as the sun was going down. Asking a woman in her front yard for some water, we were able to walk into the evening before setting up camp for the night.
We arose the next morning, and walked into the town of Famatina to find some internet, as we had forgotten to do some work items. I ended up having another bout of intestinal distress so we stayed longer than planned. I began on a round of Flagyl in hopes of ridding myself of whatever it is that persisted in tearing apart my intestines. Three pills a day for seven days was looking better than surprise intestinal cramping and diarrhea.
There are times when walking blurs together into an indiscernible blob of towns and similar looking landscape, and that began happening for me. It snuck up on me, beginning earlier, but really shone through on this stretch. It didn’t help that many of the towns had similar names. We walked from town to town, with a day or so between. Thankfully, there were edifices between town where we could get water because it was still not flowing wildly in this desert. The route became less blurred for me as we left Tinogasta and walked along an abandoned dirt road out into the desert once more. This road wound up into the mountains and over a pass before dropping down the other side and into the small town of Londres.
Just outside the town of Londres, there is a turn-off to go to some Incan ruins. We had been told about these ruins and debated if we wanted to go or not. As soon as we got to Londres, we unanimously decided to walk out the 5 km to the ruins ‘El Shincal’, the southern-most of the ancient Incan capitals. Fidgit and I were both glad to break up the monotony of what this section has been, and really enjoyed wandering around the ruins and talking with the guide. Best 30 pesos I’ve spent so far. Our guide found out what we were doing and asked us nearly as many questions about our trip as we asked her about the ruins. One of her last questions was “Where are you sleeping tonight?” When we said we weren’t sure, she invited us to sleep in her yard next door. We slept soundly that night, and in the morning after abrazos and ciaos, we left, walking back to our route and towards the next town.
Belen, our next town, wasn’t far, and we rolled into town in the late afternoon. After spending some time at the local YPF gas station using their internet, we decided to check out B&B Belen, which multiple people had suggested as a good information-gathering place as well as hostel. As soon as we met Ale and his wife Laetitia, we knew we were in the right place. They showed us around, warmed up some water for us to shower, and talked trails. Fidgit and I were so glad that Ale gave us a different option than Ruta 40; we didn’t care that it went up a couple thousand meters and over a pass. We left Belen in high spirits despite the ATMs not allowing us to withdraw money, and we were running low on pesos.
We walked along the road until the turn-off to the trail we would be taking over the pass. As we walked up the dirt road, the mountains loomed and the sun crept behind them just in time for us to arrive at a small trail at the edge of a small town. We were trying to be sneaky, unsure if the trail was public, when an older woman came out of her house and shouted at us from her yard to follow the trail as she pointed it out to us. Trouble avoided, we followed the winding trail and found a small flat area just as it started getting into the twilight hours.
Awaking to a light covering of dew, we packed up and continued up and up to the pass we planned on making it over. As we went higher, the trail we were following would disappear and then reappear nearby. We got back into the head space of looking ahead and guessing where the trail would go, and then finding it among the overgrowth. Nearing the high point of the pass, we found and were able to consistently stay on the trail to go up and over the 3,000+ meter pass. Coming down the other side, we followed a river bed, or wash, the whole way down. There were a couple of down climbs, though nothing to the extent of scaring us out of the wash and we persevered to the base of the valley. As the sun set along the mountain range, we were rewarded for our efforts by finding an abandoned homestead to use as a wind block for the night.
Starting out the next morning, we followed what seemed to be a well-worn horse path. With the way it was built, it wouldn’t surprise me if the current path was built over an old Inca road. As we moved along, we came down to a larger drainage with towering sandstone cliffs around it. Thankfully the wash was aide and we also discovered a horse path along it, which later turned into a narrow road. At the end of our day, we reached the end of the valley and wandered through a few small towns before finding a campsite for the night.
Waking up to frost on everything, we waited a bit for the sun to assist with the frost removal before packing up and find our way down the road. We had heard word of a hot springs near the town of Hualfin, so we were trying to find a way to get to the springs for the evening. We were walking along the road, but decided that a cross-country route could be faster. We made our way up a wash that looked like it would go into the next valley where the hot springs were located. Instead, we found ourselves on the edge of a steep cliff. As we are sometimes too stubborn to go back, we decided to attempt to find a way down this area. As we picked our way down an area that wasn’t as steep as the rocky lumps around it, I realized that even though this may not be the fastest or safest way to get where we were going, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
We ended up making it to the ‘hot springs’, which were disappointing so we camped elsewhere and made it into the small town of Hualfin the next morning. We were able to resupply and found a hostel. Unfortunately, we were still running low on pesos, and the ATM in town was out of money, so we were scrimping to try and make sure we had enough to get to the next large town. Everyone was very helpful, they even gave us a couple of discounts so we were able to scrape by on the small amount of money we had between us, phew!