About a week ago, I packed a small bag and set out for Jujuy in northern Argentina. I didn’t have much information about where I’d be going before I left except that the air would be thin and cold. As a chronic over-packer, I had to work to convince myself that for this weekend adventure in “la naturaleza” I’d be fine with just a scarf and jacket, and to leave my wool winter coat in Buenos Aires. While the information I had was great for letting me know what to pack, it gave me no idea about what I could expect to see when I got off the micro (or small bus) in Tilcara. In this area where my group would be staying, I found a tiny town of only a few thousand people, a few hundred thousand cacti, and an archaeological site managed by the University of Buenos Aires. In the trip as a whole, I got so much more.
As a Texas native, albeit a decently traveled one (if I do say so, myself), I’m not the most accustomed to mountains or altitude of any kind. The sage brush-covered, parchment colored hills of central Texas are really the only topography I see on a regular basis. It was thus the best kind of shock for me to wake up from a three hour nap (having lost the fight against my exhaustion almost the moment I sat down in the micro) to find myself looking up at bare, purple and orange mountains set off against a cloudless blue sky. The first look was all I needed to convince myself that the weekend was going to be one of my favorite experiences in Argentina yet, and Jujuy didn’t prove me wrong.
There’s definitely something to be said for long car rides spent watching the scenery go by and listening to music; namely that it’s just about the most relaxing and underrated activity ever. With Tilcara as our base, my group spent a considerable amount of time each day travelling down winding mountain roads. This gave me hours to sit with my nose pressed against the window unabashedly marveling at the mountains, and the sheer cinematic scale of the place.
It was never a sad moment however, when those hours ended and the bus stopped to let us off, because on the other side of my window there was always something completely new waiting. Questions leaped to the front of my mind faster than my feet could leap down the micro’s short steps. Would this altitude give me a headache? What are the effects of coca leaf tea? What do the salt flats feel like under foot? Does thinner air smell different? What does a llama steak taste like? Luckily, I was able to answer all those questions and more. – For those of you who were wondering, the answers are: yes; it fights altitude headaches; like a mix between hard-packed gravel and sand; no; and like a mix between beef and chicken. – The only question I wasn’t able to answer by the time I left was this: when can I come back to Jujuy?
Living in cities, with lives as busy as the average 21st century anyone – over-scheduled and over-analyzed – we can very easily forget what lies beneath our concrete sidewalks, outside the city limits, and beyond the bubbles of light and sound pollution that surround us. I know that before last week, my memories of nature, the true number of stars in the sky, the smell of a breeze sans engine exhaust and distant motor roars, were certainly more than a little faded. Now it’s as though they’ve been rewritten in fresh, vibrant ink and carry with them a new footnote that reads, “Never let these memories disappear. Refresh them – and your peace of mind while you’re at it – regularly.” I feel like this new resolution could help me answer my last unanswered question from my weekend in “la naturaleza”; but in order to have a concrete answer, I’m going to have to sign off here, and go look up when the next flight to Jujuy leaves from Buenos Aires.