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Making a U-Turn in Northern Argentina

Written By: jeff

Posted On: January 16th, 2011

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Ischigualasto Park

Valle de La Luna. Valley of the Moon. Copyright

With Kim not feeling well, we got a slower start on Thursday than planned but still had no problem getting our bus to San Juan.  Our next stop was the Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon) and Talampaya National Parks located just north outside the town of San Agustin.  Entering the parks required tour guides so we immediately started trying to find and book tours, lodging and bus schedules.  We also had to figure out how to get from here to Corrientes, a city significantly further east but on our way to the infamous Iguazu Falls, our final stop before returning to Buenos Aires.

We entered the tourist office in San Juan and saw three people at the agent’s desk being helped.  When they left, we approached to get the information we needed.  To book the tour in the national parks, we needed to have a minimum of 4 people – meaning we needed 2 more.  The agent suggested that we speak to the threesome ahead of us since they were planning the same trip as us.  We thanked the agent and went to buy our bus tickets to go to San Agustin deciding that was the best place to stay for the night.  And, since our next destination was further north, we wouldn’t have to return south to go north again later.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Ischigualasto

¨The Sphinx¨ at Ischigualasto National Park. Copyright

We bought our tickets and sat down at the cafe to have a bite to eat.  After lunch, I approached the threesome to gauge their interest in traveling together.  There was one guy from BA, Andres, and a couple from Barcelona, Spain, Josep (aka Pepe) and Noemi.  We had a good chat, exchanged pleasantries and really clicked right away.  I went back to Kim to relate to her what I had found out from the three amigos.  We went back and forth on some small details, but decided that it would be a good idea to join up to travel together for the next day.  Now, we just had to solve one final problem – getting in touch with the hostel and the tour operator in San Agustin.  All of us had tickets for the 7:15PM bus but as of 3:00PM, none of us could get in touch with anyone in San Agustin.  I began hearing the Jeopardy theme song in my head.

Finally, Andres pulled through and found a pension in San Agustin that could book our trip to the parks and included a pickup at the bus terminal.  We booked it and relaxed over some beer waiting for our bus to leave. Our trip was delayed a bit, but we finally got in to San Agustin, checked in and went off to bed anticipating our 7:00AM wake up knock on the door.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Ischigualasto

¨The Worm¨ at Ischigualasto National Park. Copyright

After a quick breakfast, we boarded our shuttle for the day, loaded our bags and went to our first National Park, Valle de La Luna, aka Ischigualasto.  The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is popular for its rock formations, painted desert valley and home to the oldest dinosaur ever found in the world.  The place is also full of fossils still waiting to be found.

Being in the middle of the desert, the windblown, dry  landscape had an ethereal feel to it.  At times, it reminded me of Arizona, while at others it reminded me of parts of southwestern Texas, western Colorado or the little Karoo in South Africa.  The soil was a bland off-white color and even the few shades of color we saw (reds, greens and purples) were faint in hue.  We made five stops along the way to see various points of interest.  While the coloring was not too exciting, the landscape was nonetheless, vibrant, beautiful and stunning.  There were areas of flat land with rock formations arising from the ground seemingly for no reason at all.  There was also a beautiful painted desert and several other geologically significant formations.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Ischigualasto

¨The Bowling Alley¨ at Ischigualasto National Park. Copyright

Afterwards, we headed towards the second park, Talampaya.  This park too is a UNESCO Heritage World site offering visitors beautiful vistas from inside a vibrant red canyon including petroglyphs, vegetation and the occasional desert animal.  The highlight had to be the echo chamber where we yelled to hear the echos reverberate and take amazing pictures from inside the chamber.  We made 4 stops in the park to see various points of interest.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Talampaya

High read canyon walls inside the Talampaya National Park. Copyright

The tour company dropped us off at a small bus stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere so we could get to La Rioja, a larger city where we could catch a bus to our next stop.  Now, over the course of the day, our new friends, Andres, Josep and Noemi, invited us to go with them for the week further north to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy.  These places come highly recommended from the Argentines, yet Kim and I originally ruled them out to go to Iguazu Falls instead.  But, we were getting along so well with our new friends and they seemed to travel in a similar style like us.  And, we figured that we could more easily get from BA to Iguazu than from BA to Salta and Jujuy.  In other words, if we didn’t go now to Salta and Jujuy, we probably wouldn’t ever go.  So, we decided to scrap our previous plans and head north with our new friends and go with the flow.  This was a true umwhynot moment.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Talampaya

¨The Camel¨ inside the Talampaya National Park. Copyright

The night was long.  While waiting for the bus to arrive, we enjoyed an Argentinean tradition of drinking mate, a bitter herbal tea shared amongst close friends and family.  The three spoke mostly Spanish which gave Kim a chance to try out her newly acquired Spanish skills.  As the sun set and the stars came out, we enjoyed the bright, clear night sky.  There was a certain vibe about the evening that made me feel relaxed knowing that these nights are rare. Here I was in the middle of Argentina, without a plan, waiting for a bus that may or may not have space on it, and joining up with three people we had just met.  But, the night was exquisite just as the day had been.  And all I felt was peace, the thrill of being alive, and ready for the adventure that would unfold the following week.

career break travel adventures in Argentina, Talampaya

¨The Monk¨ inside the Talampaya National Park. Copyright

We arrived in La Rioja at 11:30PM and bought our bus ticket to Salta which left at 4:00AM.  In the meantime, we got cleaned up, found a cafe a block away from the bus terminal and enjoyed getting to know our new friends.  After a 9 hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Salta, ready to explore northern Argentina.

Originally Published September 8, 2007

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4 Responses to “Making a U-Turn in Northern Argentina”

  1. Dave and Deb says:

    Sounds like a wonderful experience. I love those travel moments when you just go with the flow. What an incredible site those national parks were. did you have time to walk around in them much, or was it just quick stops. Either way, it is beautiful.

  2. jeff says:

    We had a good deal of time to explore. Unfortunately, you can’t explore either without being part of a tour group. But, I didn’t feel like we were rushed at all. At the major stops they allowed us a lot of time to roam. They are a little out of the way, but worth it!

  3. Kristin says:

    Excellent article and description – would have love to seen more pictures : )

    This line you write: “And all I felt was peace, the thrill of being alive, and ready for the adventure that would unfold the following week.” That’s the beauty of travel, especially in such a place like Argentina.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dave&Deb Travel Duo, Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: Exploring Talampaya and Ischigualasto National Parks in #Argentina #travel #rtw #rtwsoon #rtwnow [...]

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