Today was a rest day, dedicated to sightseeing, souvenir shopping and a visit to the ancient fortifications at the Purcara de Tilcara, which also included the local botanical garden. At 2,500 m (c 8,200 ft) it was also a good place to acclimatise to high altitudes before our trip north to La Quiaca, tomorrow. In this respect, the town currently serves the same purpose as San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, towns focussed on tourists with pan pipes music coming from most artisan souvenir shops and bars.
As usual, internet cafes were closed when you needed them – I had been unable to send messages home to Angie for quite a few days. There are three time adjustments that need to be made on these trips. The first and obvious one is due to the different time zone where we find ourselves, with, in my case, four hours difference with the UK. The second is caused by the different seasons – it was Spring in Argentina with nature waking up for another growing season, while in England the days were noticeably shortening when we left. The third adjustment is down to local custom and our routines during the trips that just did not fit in. We’d be up early with the sun rising and the sound of cockerels ringing in our ears.(there were a few cockerels in mortal danger by insisting on crowing all night long). We were eager to get on the road and take in today’s cactus adventure. The staff of the hotels in general were used to tourists enjoying a lie in after enjoying themselves in the local bars the previous evening. So it was not unusual to find 14 tourists pacing up and down on the pavement outside the hotel to welcome the staff who would have to climb over our luggage in the foyer, ready and waiting to be squeezed onto the bus, while they went to the kitchen to squeeze our oranges and prepare breakfast. As we’d set off, towns began to bustle with kids walking to school – yes kids can still walk to school, unlike in England where mums drive a fleet of Chelsea Tractors through narrow streets not designed for this purpose, blocking roads as they stop for a chat or try to reverse into parking spaces large enough to park a bus. . At this time, we’d settle down and doze off during the drive to our first stop of the day, usually about an hour later. We’d be oblivious to the village pace of life, expecting dinner to be waiting when we’d arrive at the next hotel at around 6:30 in the evening. Argentineans rarely start thinking about their evening meal before 8:00 p.m. Any night life as such starts around 11:00 p.m. as we found this evening as we waited in a bar, watched the band set up and groups of exchange students arriving for their Saturday night on the town, just as we were ready to turn in for the night, ready for an early start the next day. Perhaps I was just becoming a grumpy old man. Naahh!!
Anyway, back to the main activity of the day – sightseeing. at one of the extensive (8 hectare) fortifications (Purcaras) built by the indigenous people along the Rio Grande valley, intended to stop the invasion by the Incas some 900 years ago, from the north. Some 500 years later, they had to defend themselves against the enemy from the south – the Spanish Conquistadors. The small botanical garden at the foot of the hill on which the fortress was built contained a cactus garden with most of the local cacti displayed in one place. Oreocereus celsianus was on tomorrow’s list of ‘first-time-in-habitat’ plants, but as they were in flower here, it did no harm to take a few images of flowers in captivity. Small rebutias, single headed specimens, planted out, some in flower looked out of place – I’m just too used to see large clumps covered in flowers in cultivation. (Ralph, these looked ‘cultivated’ – planted out, but not cared for and I wrote this before our discussion in cacti_etc). Here they were of course growing in habitat-like conditions with a ‘survive-or-die’ approach to the maintenance activities. Then on to the restored ruins of the fort. If each of the Trichocereus pasacana cramped onto the hill had been an indigenous inhabitant back in history, it must have been a bustling town. As the tourist guide says: ‘the long gorge of intensely coloured rock, arid mountains of warm terracotta, yellow, pink, cream and malachite green, speckled with giant cacti…’ could not help but impress. As we followed the trail through the fort, we spotted many Opuntia sulphurea and Gymnocalycium saglionis, with Tillandsias hanging from the Tricho stems. More than enough plants to merit the award of a PK Stop number (S471) – just to help me to arrange the images later.
I’ll extend the concept of a rest day to this short report.