Last week I had the amazing opportunity to go on a weeklong trip to northern Argentina with my mom. We took a three-hour flight up to the city of Salta, a provincial capital of the northwestern region, and then continued our journey by taking a road trip in a rental car up la Quebrada de Humuhuaca, a beautiful trail dotted with small pueblos. We got so far north that we were less than 100 miles away from the Bolivian border—and you could tell! Both the geography and the culture were completely disparate from anything that I have experienced in other parts of Argentina thus far. While in Buenos Aires I usually can’t see beyond one city block due to the massive buildings, in the north, at literally every point you look out from you can see gorgeous, colorful mountain ranges (many of which are pre-cordillera, or in other words, “mini Andes mountains”). My mom had to do a lot of nervous driving through mountainous, twisting roads, but the views were well worth it.
Even more surprising than the differences in geography, though, was the distinct culture we encountered in all of the little pueblos that we visited (some of which had only a few more than 100 permanent residents). The city of Buenos Aires is well known for being very European; from the architecture to the food to the people, sometimes it feels more like I am in Spain than Latin America. I am really interested in more indigenous cultures, so being exposed to this way of life in the north was a unique experience for me. In many of the pueblos that we visited, the primary way of earning a living is to sell small artesanías, or handicraft work, to visitors. I loved looking at all of the beautiful colors and designs that seem so much more bright and colorful than what I am accustomed to seeing in Buenos Aires.
My favorite day was one that took us from the smallest pueblo we visited to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, of Jujuy. My mom and I went with a guide who explained how the salt flats formed and how the industry is important for the indigenous people that live near them (this salt, once iodine is added, is used for human consumption all over Argentina). The best part of the tour in my eyes, though, was that the guide brought his four llamas out into the flats to help carry a picnic for the three of us.
I feel as though I say this every time I go somewhere new in Argentina, but once again, I am awed by the diversity of this country. Going to the north (and befriending llamas) was definitely another unique experience that I won’t soon forget.