Argentina: Salta, North Loop

passportThe thought of replacing one’s passports while abroad is a real bummer. Not only because of the cost and inconvenience, but also because of the cool stamps and visas accumulated over the year are lost. Having lost ours the night before, Suzanne purchased flights to Buenos Aires (BA) where the US embassy is located, last-minute flights were not cheap. The US embassy said they could process our new passport in a day, if the money and documents were all in order. Oh yes, it also cost about $125 US each to replace passports in Argentina vs. $55 at home. We had a few cancellation fees for accommodations at our next planned destination in Chile, and the search was on for a place to stay in BA for up to a week. Suzanne was really disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to explore the North Loop of Salta, but she started an agenda of things to see and do in BA, part two.

IMG_2414-001Then came a knock on the hotel door. The pretty, young, 8-month pregnant, woman from the hotel had hurried up the stairs, and in between gasps for air, told Suzanne that the police called and they found our passports! Yahoo! The whole family had a group hug and the kids literally jumped up and down in celebration. After a few minutes the excitement passed, and Suzanne and I got back to work to plan/cancel/change/reserve based on the new information. Suzanne signed us up for a driving tour of the North Loop for the next morning.

Waiting for the paperwork at the local precinct station

Waiting for the paperwork at the local precinct station

The message from the police was that we must be at the Tourist Police station at 3PM that afternoon (after siesta). Unfortunately when she showed up the police only flashed Suzanne a peek of our recovered documents so she could confirm they were ours; but we had to pick them up at the local police station that night at 8PM. When Suzanne and I showed up at the local precinct at 8PM, the police had no idea why we were there. After a halting conversation the local cops called the tourist police and arranged for one of the patrol officers to swing by and pick up our passports – in about an hour. Around 9PM the package with our documents arrived and the paperwork began.

Patrick and Alex learning about the minerals and metals mined in the area

Patrick and Alex learning about the minerals and metals mined in the area

By 10PM the report was updated and double printed (using carbon paper) on both sides of the paper. Then another officer HAND WROTE the entire report into a large hard-bound log book. Efficiency is clearly not a priority in this process, but we were just happy to have our passports back in our possession. Apparently the thief had discarded our passports in a local park. The police picked them up during one of their foot patrols. We are very lucky.

The North Loop to the Salinas Grandes and Purmamarca was more spectacular desert scenery. But this time Fernando, our guide for the day, picked us up before sunrise and drove the gravel, steep, and twisty roads. I relaxed and played at being a tourist, snapping pictures and asking whatever questions came to mind. Over the course of the day we made our way through large canyons, extremely high mountain passes, brightly colored mountains, examples of dramatic erosion, and expansive salt flats. We stopped in a small mining town of San Antonio de los Cobros for lunch where we sampled a bowl of llama stew. Alex was a little upset that we were eating such a “cute” animal as a llama. At the salt flats the kids especially liked creating fun optical illusion photos. The driving tour ended as the sun set behind the mountains and we drug ourselves to bed.

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We paid the extra $6 each for first class seats - worth every penny

We paid the extra $6 each for first class seats – worth every penny

The next day we caught an early morning bus that crossed the Andes, and entered Chile. The bus ride lasted 6 hours and we decided to splurge the extra $6 each for first class seats. Worth it!

The altitude took our breath away on the walk from the bus to the Argentinian passport control

The altitude took our breath away on the walk from the bus to the Argentinian passport control

But even first class seats didn’t come with oxygen masks, so the affects of the altitude as the bus climbed higher and higher took a toll on all of us. As we crossed the pass (over 12,000 feet) we all had head-aches and found ourselves out of breath by just walking across parking lot.

The mountains, sky, volcanoes, salt lakes, and dramatic erosion on this route made for spectacular views. I did my best to snap a few photos through the bus window, but I don’t think the pictures do justice to the real thing.

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The bus dropped us off in a small town called San Pedro de Atacama, where we settled into an adobe room for a few days and regrouped from our adventure in Salta.

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