Northern Argentina has captured my heart. Perhaps I was ready for a more leisurely travel pace after a seemingly endless stay in Bolivia. Or maybe its blend of culture and modern infrastructure is the much-needed a respite I desired from the more primitive yet endearing nature of that land-locked country. Yet with a hankering to move south with a fully-insured motorcycle I rolled into the sleepy town of Susques just a few hours south of the Chilean border.
Evidence of the more modern and perhaps Euro-influenced Argentina hit me during my first visit to the bathroom in our quiet hotel on the fringe of this desert town. It was the first one I’d seen in my entire journey. Was this an oddity? Why in Susques? While the town had the added benefit of a single ATM machine, I was sure it’s population barely crested 500. But there in this wacky hotel perched on hill overlooking desert mountain of bright red rocks there was a bidet. I would learn over the next few days that this wasn’t an oddity. Regardless of the cost of my room, bathrooms here in Argentina always are fitted with a bidet.
Until last year the road to Susques was torn-up gravel or ripio (dirt or crushed impacted gravel). Now known as the Trans-Andean highway, this road was paved in 2005. It winds through desert landscapes, past dry salt lakes and through towering red sandstone walls and peaks.
It was in this hotel fitted with its bidet that I was first acquainted with my new friends Juan and Daniel. Riding a 2003 Dakar fitted with BMW system cases, at 53 years old Juan is a sturdy-framed Argentinean with large hands and a quiet and easy going demeanor. At 43 with salt and pepper hair riding a GS1200 Adventure fitted with the finest Touratech accessories, Daniel is animated and quick with a joke or a punctuated English word he knows after I spoke the Spanish equivalent. For the next 4 days we’d share stories, cold beers, empanadas and wine as we both journeyed south through Northwestern Argentina.
Leaving this quiet mining and gas town of Susques the road winded down from the Altiplano into more desert and landscapes reminiscent of Utah, Arizona and even the Badlands of South Dakota. Compared to Bolivia, the Argentinean roads were bliss. Low bushes, ands sand blanketed the high-desert while soaring Saguaro cacti provided the scenic Western-states type vistas.
The twists of the road from Susques to Purmamarca wind through scenes reminiscent of Utah, Arizona and formations like the Bandlands.
Doc is running excellent. Though through the blazing heat and on tarmac for the first time in quite a while, at points the aroma of fresh air was interrupted by a smell of burning oil — the pungent nasty smell when oil drips on a hot engine. I wondered if Doc was leaking. Though at 50 mph it would be virtually impossible for my olfactory senses to detect a small drip. When I stopped I found no real evidence of any oil leaking. I figured the sun-baked pavement was recently oiled. Jeremiah noticed it too. Other times there’d be no smell. It was bizarre. I also was pleased that the less than 80 octane fuel of Bolivia was a distant memory and was sure Doc appreciated the 97 octane of Argentinean “fangio” gas found at the YPF gas stations here.
Rolling into Purmamarca for my second night in Argentina I was spellbound by the colors of the otherwise desolate landscape. Jeremiah and I searched for a hotel and while cruising the road outside of town we ran into our friends Juan and Daniel once again. Both of these men own farms outside Buenos Aires. Juan runs a dairy farm, while Daniel a 3,000 hectare farm growing soy and others for livestock feed. The night before I’d asked Daniel why he was going to Purmamarca. He responded quite simply and matter of fact: empananadas and cold beer. So that night they treated Jeremiah and I to dinner and introduced us to our new “amigo”. Amigo soon became the word for Iguana beer. Sporting a graphic of a large Iguana and on the small bottles a small detent perfect for a comfortable fit in your hand, the cold lager served its purpose cooling down the throat and body from the desert heat.
Purmamarca has a feel not unlike Sedona, Arizona. A bustling artisan market wraps around the circumference of a neatly groomed park while in the shadows large trees sits the 17th century church, the Iglesia Santa Rosa de Lima. Towering high above the tiny village is the Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors). Construction abounds in Purmamarca and while guidebooks barely give the small pueblo a couple paragraphs, it’s clear that this is a burgeoning tourist destination and getaway for city dwellers of Cordoba and Buenos Aires. Inspiring desert architecture of beautiful homes blend almost transparently into the red, adobe, tan, orange and yellow colors of the surrounding hills.