Yesterday was an amazing day, one of those rare days when eveything seems to come together to create an unforgettable experience. I can remember every detail, from A trying to get me to sing along to Bob Marley to the first sight of the Salinas.
Snaking our way up the Cuesta del Lipan, each corner offering a more stunning viewpoint, it finally felt like we were up in the mountains. Up on the altiplano, dotted with vicunas, the cactus disappeared as the landscape shifted again. Rocks shaped over time into strange formations, one looking remarkably like a tortoise marked the way to the Salinas Grandes.
Stepping out onto the salt lake for the first time was a visceral experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more literally jaw-dropping place, one which produced such a physical reaction of amazement and pure elation at just being there. All the more wonderful for being unexpected – photos cannot do the contrast between the dazzling white salt flats, mountains and sky justice. The effect is so dramatic that it’s difficult to fully take in, even after an hour spent walking across. I couldn’t stop myself from spinning round and round to get the full 360 degree experience.
As the afternoon drew on we stopped for a late lunch at a little comedor in Barrancas, a tiny village where most of the salt pan workers live. Just beyond Barrancas are a series of cliffs, yellowy-orange in the afternoon light which hid a series of paintings and rock carvings from Incan and pre-Incan times. A road carved upwards across the rock represents the ‘Inca trail’, with ostriches which used to roam here and llamas carved along the way.
There are no signposts to this place and it’s not always easily accessible when the river cuts the road off but it is worth the effort. It’s amazing to be able to get up so close…there’s no fences, just a gentle reminder not to touch.
Driving back across the plain as the sun highlighted the cliffs on one side and outlined the mountains in shadow on the other, listening to people talking about the upcoming Carneval, I felt a really strong pull to stay in the area. Spend the weekend enjoying Carneval in the Quebrada’s different villages, checking out the restaurant A raved about… but we had plans in Mendoza, hotel room already paid for. Not for the first time I wished we had a little longer to stay in one place.