Monday, 30 April 2007

4000 metres up and freezing cold

I decided I needed to get away from the city at the weekend to get some fresh air and stetch my legs a little. With the Andes looming over this city, I opted to head up to one of the highest and loneliest towns of the Puna, San Antonio De Los Cobres.

San Antonio lies along the railway line built in the early 1920's from Salta to the Chilean port of Antofagasta. It was built to transport the various ores and minerals that are still mined today high up on the Argentinian Puna and Altiplano. The railway today is only used for a tourist train, although it has not run for the past few years, due to the need to do track repairs. The train is called El Tren A Las Nubes (the train to the clouds).

My bus up there was old and battered. I shared it with the indigenous people (I think they are Quechua) going back home for the weekend. The bus ride took six hours to cover 100 miles, as it stopped so very often. The ride up was spectacular.Up through the coloured sediamentary rocks, grey gullied slopes, following the Rio Tores.

As the bus got higher and higher, even the cacti could grew no more. Prickly bushes were the only vegetation. Hitting 4000 metres, the road levelled out, we had reached the stark high Puna. By now it was dark, and stars as bright as chrystal orbs. But it was so cold, and it just got colder and colder.

I was the only person to stay at Grandma Indigena's. There was not heating so I took the blankets from the next bed to add to mine. I was not surprised to see ice in the river the following morning. High up here, when in the shade it was cold, but in the strong sunshine it was warm.

The town was just a windy, dusty place, typical of the high plains. Certainly not touristy, but I liked it, as it was so very different. I asked in the small yourist hut how I could visit the one site up here, the 64m high, 224m long, railway viaduct. Got there in a Paul Culley style builders van.

On Sunday I took the bus back to sultry Salta, ready for more Spanish.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the Labour Day holiday, so I get a break from verbs and adjectives. But on Wednesday it's past tense time. Hopefuly tomorrow I will share some pictures of Salta.