Cachi and Parque Nacional los Cardones

Me and the cactus

Back in Salta, again, after my latest little excursion into yet another tucked away valley in the North. Not fancying one the whirlwind, in-out-and-shake-it-all-about tours from the city I decided to make my own way to Cachi along yet another long, windy, unpaved expanse of road on the only bus of the day, which left at the thoroughly uncivilised hour of 7am, to arrive in Cachi fiv

Cemetary at Cachi

e hours later. One reason local bus trips that cover relatively short distances on the map take so long here is that they stop for pretty much anyone, anywhere, plus the actual scheduled stops and the odd detours around small towns to deliver random packages and items of post. I did however have the scenery to keep me entertained. I missed the very lovely green stretch of valley along the river out of the Salta area as I was asleep (caught it on the way back!) but woke up as we were driving along the side of high cliff faces covered in soft green vegetation with rose coloured rock peeking though the gaps. Soon the vegetation grew gradually more sparse until we entered into the Parque Nacional los Cardones, an area with more than your average count of the huge cardon cacti, some of them more than two hundred years old.

Finally we started descending into the Cachi Adentro, a valley hidden by the large mountain range of the Nevado de Cachi with the highest peak ever so slightly dusted with snow. Cachi is a beautiful town set around a central plaza with white washed buildings, church complete with cactus wood roof, and porticos all with dark green painted doors. I made the obligatory trip up to one of the miradors and went to explore the cemetary. The cemetaries in the north are surprisingly cheerful places, usually with amazing panoramic views. Some of the more wealthly families in the town have imposing cement tombs but most of the graves were simply mounds of earth covered with stones displaying simple metal or wooden crosses, all decorated with brightly coloured garlands of paper or plastic flowers. I walked silently and carefully between the graves looking a few of the inscriptions and occaisional photographs when I stopped short at an area towards the back of the cemetary with three rows of tiny mounds of stones, the graves of chidren, maybe not such a cheerful place after all…

That afternoon I went for a long stroll in the sunshine along the track out of Cachi to the nearby hamlet of La Aguada 6km away. The road wound past farmyards, low adobe brick houses, sheep pastures, churches and out across the valley towards the imposing peaks of the nearby mountains. I got barked at by several dogs, hooted at by a few locals on motorbikes and simply stared at by some workmen digging up the road near the church where I stopped to take silly photos of myself standing behind the cacti. I got back to Cachi rather dusty and feeling a little light headed from the heat. Nothing a radioactive coloured ice cream brought from the Heladeria on the plaza couldn’t cure. I went out to eat earlyish and was writing my diary in the restaurant when I heard a guy ordering from the table in front in the unmistakable accent of a british person speaking spanish. Well it seemed fairly ridiculous for us both to be sitting at either end of the restaurant alone so I invited him to join me. So we spent all dinner talking about various places in Latin America as he had been travelling south all the way from Mexico city to here. It’s reminded me how much I want to go back to Central America and that I still want to see Ecuador, Panama, Columbia and Venezuala…too many places and too little time. I know I’ve only been away for less than three months but life in London does seem to be a whole world away, and I’m not sure that come May 2008 that I am going to be able to go back for good…

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