Tag Archives: puna

Salta (5): Down from the puna and back to the city.

(Here’s the last set of pics and narrative from our long trip to Salta.)

Following our big trip up to Socompa we headed back to Salta, following the same incredible road.  We were able to stop in the “Colorado” area and took some amazing pictures.  Along the way we saw more vicuna and then some (likely domesticated) llamas.  In the pictures you will see an ironic one depicting the “shrine” for Pachimama (goddess of safe travel in the puna) with the pick-up truck in the background getting its flat tire changed.  Back in Salta we spent two more nights at the La Selva Lodge in San Lorenzo to clean the dust off ourselves (and the final ticks?) and a little birdwatching.  Then we moved to a hotel in the city center and enjoyed Salta’s colorful churches (one of which contains a sign admonishing visitors NOT to use holy water for witchcraft) and a visit to a museum in the former home of Pajarito Velarde (one of Salta’s most famous and flashier citizens and author of various well-known salsas and tangos).  The highlight of the trip was a visit to the ‘High Altitude Anthropology Museum’ which displayed one of the mummified Inca children that was found at >20,000 feet on one of the volcanoes we had passed by two days earlier.  But no pictures were allowed.  We also had a fun evening at a “peña”, sort of a dinner theater with Argentinian folk music and dancing (I got a chance to don a gaucho hat and join in) .  We then flew to Mendoza and boarded the overnight bus back to Bariloche.    Full pics HERE.

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Salta (3): Up to the puna (highlands)!

Following our return from El Rey, we spent the night in Salta and then met a colleague, the amazing Dr Maria Farias, for an expedition to her study systems in the “puna” (highlands) to the west of Salta.  She studies an incredible set of ecosystems very high in the Andes, including the world’s highest stromatolites in Laguna Socompa, plus the microbes in some salty pools at Tolar Grande (our destination today).  A big group came along, including Maria’s husband, several of her students, and a pair making a TV special.  One goal of my trip was to gather video and photos and Gigapan imaging of her study sites for production of a “Virtual Field Trip” for the NASA Astrobiology program.  The drive to Tolar Grande was spectacular but long (12 hours?).  We started by stocking up on a couple of bags of coca leaves that Maria claimed would help stave off the effects of altitude sickness.  The drive followed the route of the famous Tren de las nubes (“Train of the clouds”), proceeding up the Quebrada del Toro (with its saguaro-like cacti!) over a couple of high passes (max: 4500 m, or 14,750 feet) up to the “city” of San Antonio de Los Cobres.  We then headed south, across a large salida (salt pan) and then into the incredible, Mars-like “Colorado” area.  Late in the day we finally reached Tolar Grande and were able to reach her study ponds as the sun began to set.  I managed to complete one Gigapan image (about 200 shots) and got some other really amazing pictures.  Unfortunately, while most of us were off at the pools, someone drove one of the vehicles off the road and, as you can see in the pics, mired it in the mud and salt.  This person spent the next day finding a tractor to haul it out.  After the photo/filming session, we scampered to the “town” of Tolar Grande (3510 m above sea level = 11,515 feet) and grabbed dinner before the lights went out (they turn the town generator off at midnight).  Next: onward and upward to Socompa!  Full set of pics HERE.  (There is also a lot of video but it is too much to pull together right now.)

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